Files of the Government of India (GoI), Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), relating to the Right to Information - 1997 to 2009
Given below are copies of Government of India (GoI), Department of Personnel & Training (DoPT) files relating to the right to information (RTI) or freedom of information, as it was earlier referred to. This collection consists of fifteen files, arranged in eight bundles, separately for each year or, where files cover more than one year, together for two or more consecutive years. The last three bundles, apart from being organised year-wise, also specifically deal with the setting up and staffing of information commissions.
In total they comprise nearly 3000 pages of correspondence and notes (or file ‘notings’, as they are popularly known). These have been accessed by various RTI activists, over the years, using the RTI Act, and I am particularly grateful to Amrita Johri, Anjali Bhardwaj, and Prashant Sharma for sharing these documents with me. I am grateful to Chandra Kaushal and Rubina Mondal for helping me organise and scan these files.
Unfortunately, these files are not well organised, as is usually the case with government files, and there are many gaps and misplaced pages. This is aggravated by the fact that it seems that some pages have been removed from the files before they were made available to the RTI applicants. Also, they have not been properly photo-copied and many pages are partly or wholly illegible.
Nevertheless, they give an interesting glimpse into how civil servants, political leaders, and even NGOs and activists have thought and acted when faced with the prospect of adopting a more open system of governance. As examples of the thinking of prominent political leaders, your attention is specifically drawn to a 2005 letter from Narender Modi, who was then Chief Minister of Gujarat, to the then Prime Minister (pages 496-498, file: 2005 DoPT) Also, you might like to see the 2005 letter from Abdul Kalam, the then President of India, to the then Prime Minister, and the response of the Prime Minister (pages 536 to 542, file: 2005 DoPT).
Another interesting fact is that in the files leading up to the enactment of the RTI Act (October 2005), almost every page in the file was marked ‘SECRET’, making it impossible for any ‘unauthorised’ person to either read it or be in possession of it, without attracting the very stringent provisions of the Official Secrets Act,
till the RTI Act came into force. The frequency with which even routine correspondence was marked secret also highlighted the crying need for an RTI Act.
Three sets of files, from 2005 to 2009, deal almost exclusively with the setting up of the information commissions and the appointment of central information commissioners. These files illustrate that there was little application of mind or even the semblance of fair-play in the selection of central information commissioners. Though hundreds of applications were received for these posts, the files only contain curriculum vitae of serving or retired high-ranking government servants and letters of recommendation from political and administrative VIPs. There is no record of any process by which the other applicant’s names were considered and, inevitably, the ICs were chosen from among these high ranking officials or those recommended by a high-ranker!