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Weary, wary of RTI regulars, PSUs drawing up list to block them

SCOPE seeks list of ‘habitual seekers of queries’ from public sector enterprises, former CIC says existing RTI law does not allow such segregation

Written by Subhomoy Bhattacharjee | New Delhi |
July 12, 2015 12:00:00 am
Right to Information, RTI, PSU, Standing Committee, Central Information Commission, CIC RTI, nation news, india news The CIC estimates that each year, the 290 public sector companies receive about a million RTI requests.

Central public sector companies are trying to identify people who repeatedly use the Right to Information (RT) route to ferret out information from them. Companies are trawling their records about such people and will match data to draw up a checklist. And they plan to use this list to block such requests.

The companies claim they have the right to do this, since repeated information sought from them can be pieced together by rivals as price sensitive data. They says this allows rivals in the private sector, even competitors abroad, to draw up strategies to checkmate them.

The agency helping them is their umbrella lobby organisation, Standing Committee on Public Enterprises or Scope.

U D Choubey, Director General of Scope, said habitual seekers of “irrelevant clarifications” under RTI are affecting the productivity of public sector enterprises.

“Scope has written to all its constituent public sector companies for providing the list of habitual seekers of queries. Once the list is obtained, (we) shall take up the issue with the august institution of Central Information Commission (CIC),” he said.

While the public sector companies have at times complained that the 10-year-old RTI regime has made their competitive position unequal, this is the first time they have decided to come together on a joint strategy.

The CIC estimates that each year, the 290 public sector companies receive about a million RTI requests.

Former CIC Satyananda Mishra said he is not sure if state-owned enterprises can create a defensive wall even if they determine who is repeatedly seeking information from them.

“The RTI law does not allow for any such segregation requests. The companies have to provide the information and live with it the best they can,” he said. Unless the Act is amended, there is little the CIC can do to help them, he said.

The companies plan to approach the CIC with their data to press for an amendment.

Mishra said the problem is genuine but the companies often err by not appointing or training officers on how to handle such queries. He said for repetitive queries, the companies should preserve answers and dash it off again.

Incidentally, several cases of corruption in state-run enterprises have been nailed by the use of RTI. Mineral and manufacturing companies including Coal India, NMDC and Nalco have had to scale up inquiries against senior officers after such queries made investigating agencies take note. But Choubey said their effort to streamline RTI requests is not meant to block corruption-related cases.

The RTI exercise comes close to another one begun by the government last week to clip the role of chief vigilance officers in public sector enterprises, including a possible downgrade. The Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) has asked for a revamp of the role of these vigilance officers in state-run units for which it has sought a feedback from them.

Proposals on the table include clubbing the office of vigilance officers for more than one company and modifying their position in the organisation hierarchy. As of now, chief vigilance officers in public sector units report directly to chief executives — since 1999 — but the DoPT has asked if this too needs to change.

“Whether the post of CVOs is required to continue with the current posts or wishes to upgrade/downgrade or to abolish the posts in view of the workload and requirement of vigilance related matters,” states the office memorandum issued by the department to state-run companies.

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