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No relook at RTI Act: Khurshid

New Delhi: Amid a raging debate on RTI, union law minister Salman Khurshid has made it clear that there is no proposal for a "relook" at the Act but noted that not only the government but the judiciary too had experienced "difficulties" because of it. "We are proud of RTI. We are pleased that we gave RTI to this country. Even if it causes inconvenience to this country to an extent, we will bear that inconvenience.

"But we must ensure that in totality, the efficiency and functioning of government is strengthened," he said. On whether the RTI would be revisited, Khurshid said, "there is no proposal to relook at the Act". He went on to add, "Today, we are only absorbing the experience of the RTI and now whether after a period, looking at the experience, looking at the demands, looking at the consensus that can emerge, we can bring about any changes or not is something that is futuristic. It is something which I cannot say today."

The law minister, however, ruled out making fundamental changes in the legislation. "If you say that we`ll make any fundamental changes in the RTI, the answer is no. We are proud of RTI," he told PTI in an interview recently. Queried whether some more exemptions like the one granted to the CBI could be brought into the Act, the lawyer-turned-politician noted, "No legislation is perfect."

"You will have to see any legislation, you will have to, from time to time, how it is working. If it needs to be tightened, you tighten it; if you need to broaden, you broaden it; if you need to deepen, you deepen it; if you need to make exceptions, you make exceptions as the CBI exception has now been made," the law minister said.

Replies to some RTI queries have generated major controversies recently like the one by a Finance Ministry note to the PMO which suggested that the 2G scam could have been averted if then Finance Minister P Chidambaram had insisted on auction. Khurshid noted that the government and the judiciary have faced "some difficulties" in dealing with RTI queries.

"We certainly know, we (government) are not the only ones. Government is not the only one. Government meaning political government, not the only ones which felt some difficulties. "Bureaucrats have felt difficulties, independent agencies have felt difficulties, the courts have felt difficulties," he said.

Elaborating on his point, he said the high courts and the Supreme Court are being asked questions, which include demands for draft judgements to see "how a draft judgement and the final judgement differs". There have been demands to know why a certain judge is elevated to the Supreme Court and the other one was not, he said.

Referring to certain grey areas in dealing with RTI applications, Khurshid said what goes into the preparation of a Cabinet note is "today not clear. So, I think experience, either through judgements or in due course to amendments, you`ll probably have to clarify this".
Asked if it was time to introduce fresh exemptions in the RTI Act, he said he could not say that. "It is a collective view that must emerge from society, from Parliament…"

When referred to `voices` seeking changes, he said there are "all kinds of voices". "There are some voices which say don`t dilute. Some voices say don`t touch RTI. Some voices say it is inconvenient, you have to chisel it," Khurshid said. To a question on the exclusion of correspondence between a minister and the Prime Minister from the ambit of RTI, he referred to the oath which ministers take to maintain confidentiality.

"Now when the RTI was drafted, I don`t think anybody looked at the oath, because if I can`t disclose it to you, but whatever I do is disclosed to you by a clerk, then what is the point in having this oath. We should change this oath," he argued. The ministers take oath that whatever comes to their knowledge is part of their functioning as a minister and they will not disclose to anybody unless they required by their duty to do so. Khurshid said there are certain things that are kept confidential and secret for good reasons, and "not to defeat anybody`s rights."

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