Indian CIC Elaborates on Access to Cabinet Papers

29 June 2012

India’s Central Information Commission has ruled that Cabinet documents should be disclosed after a bill had been offered in Parliament and that requesters do not need to wait until after Parliament acts.

The Commission ordered the Department of Atomic Energy to produce the Cabinet note, papers and file notings relating to the Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority Bill, 2011, according to the decision and media reports including articles in The Hindu and The Times of India.

The agency has argued that without parliamentary action disclosure was not required, but Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi disagreed.

Under Section 8(1) (i) of the Right to Information Act disclosure of Cabinet papers can be made “after the decision has been taken, and the matter is complete, or over.”

Venkatesh Nayak had of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative sought the materials because the proposed legislation includes provisions limiting on right to information relating to nuclear energy. Gandhi also has criticized the bill, which is still pending in Parliament.

In his decision, Gandhi said: “Once the decision is taken by the Cabinet…‘decision has been taken’” and “when the Bill is tabled in Parliament, ‘the matter is complete or over’.” Further: “The heart and essence of democracy is the concept that each individual citizen is a sovereign in her own right, and she gives up a part of the sovereignty to the state, in return for which she gets the rule of law. The citizen has a right to know the basis on which decisions were taken by the Cabinet before the law is finally made… This would facilitate a reasoned discussion and debate in the country among citizens and their public servants.”

Nayak recently explained in a bog post why he made the  request:

How could such proposals have reached the Union Cabinet without the views of the [The Department of Personnel and Training] was our concern. In order to get to the bottom of the matter we sought a copy of the Cabinet Note that was put up to the Union Cabinet for approving the NSRA Bill for tabling in Parliament. We wanted to understand the views and/or objections filed by all departments including the DoPT in relation to the NSRA Bill. The reasonable expectation was that the DoPT being the administrative department for the RTI Act may have filed objections to the amendment proposed to the RTI Act during the Inter-Ministerial Consultations (IMCs). Whenever a draft Bill is prepared by a department whose provisions may affect laws and policies being implemented by other departments, it is mandatory to hold IMCs. If any department disagrees with the contents of the draft Bill then those objections must be summarized in an Annexure to the main Cabinet Note. The purpose of attaching the summary of views is to provide the Cabinet access to the collective wisdom of all departments consulted and pros and cons of the Draft Bill or any matter that is the subject of the Cabinet Note, so that the Cabinet may make an informed decision taking all views into consideration.

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