Sunday, May 04, 2008

RTI Act facing problems vis-a-vis state assemblies

The issue of the separation of powers is becoming a more tricky issue in the Indian context. Earlier, there was a greater separation of powers of the executive, legislature, and the judiciary. It could be argued that the judiciary would keep to its limit earlier and is now encroaching on the powers of the other 2 now, but the fact that most people would admit to is that earlier, instances of corruption and malpractices were far less prevalent in the executive and legislatures, and have become more widespread now.
Whether it be in terms of policy decisions and contracts in the case of the Government/executive, or in the cases of Governments falling / wrong speaker or Governor decisions, the judiciary is being invoked by more people now, and the judiciary is not afraid to step in where it feels that the step taken by the other 2 bodies are wrong in law. This however provokes the other 2 bodies who feel that their powers are supreme in their own areas and even the court system cannot question them.
So what happens in the case of a powerful law such as the RTI Act that mandates that only essential items such as treaties, security matters and trade secrets will remain inviolable, and for everything else, the common citizen is entitled to know details if the citizen asks for it. However, such a openness seems to run foul of both the legislatures and the judiciary which believe that such laws don't apply to them. Read this article for more details:

Amid a raging national debate over the Right to Information Act, the UP assembly has triggered a new controversy by seeking to initiate contempt of the House proceedings against the State Information Commission (SIC) and petitioners who sought information.
The assembly has crossed swords with the commission for the issuance of its notices to furnish information sought by a couple of petitioners under the RTI Act. While one petitioner, Romesh Tiwari, had sought to know — (a) Whether an MLA could bid for a contract? (b) What are the provisions for this? and (c) Whether an MLA becomes liable to lose his or her membership on the basis of the profit earned through the contract? Another petitioner, Motilal had sought information about the proceedings of the Petition Committee of the 13th assembly.

These are seemingly not information that are in any nature secret or can affect state security, but what seems to have got the goat of the UP speaker is the summons issued by the State Information Commission. The House considers its actions inside the legislature body as supreme and nobody has the right to question them until the Speaker allows it, something that will prevent the RTI Act from being implemented in these areas. It is either for the central Parliament or for courts to take this issue further and set the applicable policy.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 3:44 AM