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Did former Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh take voluntary retirement from service?



By NewsGram Staff Writer

Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government has maintained silence on the issue about the sacking of former Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh five months ago. Without disclosing much details about the matter, the Cabinet Secretariat stated that Singh had sought voluntary retirement from the service.

As reported by ET, the Cabinet Secretariat has not divulged the Cabinet note, file notings and papers related to the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC) meeting on January 28, which had decided to replace Singh with S Jaishankar.

“Copies of available file notings/ papers on this matter (related to ACC’s approval) being ‘Cabinet papers’ are exempted from disclosure under Section 8 (1) (i) of the RTI Act,” the Cabinet Secretariat was reported as saying.

An application was filed by RTI activist Venkatesh Nayak, who sought a photocopy of the Cabinet note, file notings, the names of the people who attended the ACC meeting and the minutes of the meeting.

However, as reported by leading English daily, the Cabinet Secretariat did not even divulge who attended the ACC meeting. It only said that Singh had sought voluntary retirement from service, repeating information already available in the public domain.

“External affairs minister had, while approving the voluntary retirement, sought approval of the Prime Minister for curtailment of tenure of Ms Sujatha Singh and suggested appointment of Dr S Jaishankar (IFS:1977) as foreign secretary vice Ms Sujatha Singh,” the Cabinet Secretariat was reported as saying.

Reportedly it further stated that file notings cannot be disclosed as the matter is sub judice in some other cases before Delhi High Court.

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RTI Act 2005: All You Need To Know About The Right To Information Act

Right to Information Act, 2005 codified the fundamental right of 'Right to Information'

rti act 2005 logo
Logo of Right to Information Act, 2005. Facebook
  • RTI Act 2005 mentions exemptions to access to information that may put stakeholders at risk
  • RTI Act 2005 applies to private companies through the government body they are registered with
  • RTI Act 2005 is considered one of the best legislation in the history of Indian parliament

Right to Information Act (RTI Act 2005) codifies a fundamental right of citizens. Under the provisions of the RTI Act 2005, any citizen of India can request information from a ‘public authority’. The concerned instrumentality of State must reply within the time of thirty days. The Right to Information Act also requires each governmental body to computerize their records for wide dissemination, so that the citizens need minimum recourse to request for information formally.

RTI Act 2005 serves as a replacement for Freedom of information Act, 2002. The Act was passed by the Parliament of India on 15th June 2005; it provides the ‘right to information’ to citizens of India. The Right to Information Act also relaxes restrictions on disclosure of information mentioned in the Official Secrets Act 1923.

ALSO READ: Supreme Court Declares Right to Privacy as a Fundamental Right in Indian Constitution

The RTI Act 2005 stands as a powerful milestone in Indian legislation. Wikimedia Commons
The RTI Act 2005 stands as a powerful milestone in Indian legislation. Wikimedia Commons

RTI Act 2005: Section 8

The right to information is not absolute. Not all information that the Government generates will or should be given out to the public. There are some pieces of information, which are so sensitive that if they were released to the public, they might actually cause serious harm to more important interests.

For example, at a time of conflict, if someone wanted to know how many troops were being deployed and where they were being sent, the Government might legitimately want to keep these details secret because if this information fell into the wrong hands, it could pose a great risk to the national security of India. Nevertheless, if someone requested the same information two years after the war, it would be less clear that the information should be kept secret because the likelihood of harm being caused by disclosure would probably be less.

The key issue is that information can legitimately be kept secret in some circumstances, but only where disclosure would be likely to cause serious harm to specific, important public interests. All right to information laws include provisions that allow certain types of information to be withheld from the public. These provisions are commonly called “exemption provisions” or “exclusion clauses”.

Unfortunately, although exemption provisions can serve a useful function, experience has shown that they are often abused by officials who are determined to keep their actions hidden from the public. This is not acceptable. Information should not be withheld just because it ’embarrasses’ the government, or because it will get officials into trouble. Recognizing that exemption clauses are often misapplied to protect government interests, it is important that you have a good understanding of the exemptions provisions that might apply to your application so that you can check to see if they have been properly applied.

Information that may put the following mentioned below ‘under risk’ is exempted under Section 8(1) of the RTI Act 2005:

  • National Security or Sovereignty
  • National Economic Interests
  • Relations with the Foreign States
  • Law Enforcement and the Judicial Process
  • Cabinet and Other Decision-Making Documents
  • Trade Secrets and Commercial Confidentiality
  • Individual Safety
  • Personal Privacy 

Section 8(1)(J) or Personal Privacy provision of the RTI Act 2005 states:

“Information which relates to personal information the disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest, or which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual unless the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer or the appellate authority, as the case may be, is satisfied that the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information: Provided that the information, which cannot be denied to the Parliament or a State Legislature shall not be denied to any person.”

Definition of ‘invasion of privacy’ by Central Information Commission (CIC):

“One, who intentionally intrudes, physically or otherwise, upon the solitude or seclusion of another or his private affairs or concerns, is subject to liability to the other for invasion of his privacy if the intrusion would be highly offensive to a reasonable person.”

Is the Right to Information Act Applicable to Private Companies?

In the landmark judicial pronouncement of Sarabjit Roy v. Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission, the Central Information Commission (CIC) cleared that privatized utility companies are also under the RTI Act 2005. One of the common misunderstandings among the general public is that only those entities which are a subsidy to the government or are funded by the government are under the purview of the Right to Information Act. However, the fact is that private bodies also falls under the RTI Act 2005 whether or not they are substantially funded or aided by the government.

Section 2(f) of the RTI Act 2005 states: 

“‘Information’ means any material in any form, including records, documents, memos, e‑mails, opinions, advice, press releases, circulars, orders, logbooks, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, data material held in any electronic form and information relating to any private body which can be accessed by a public authority under any other law for the time being in force;”

ALSO READ: Right to privacy—what it entails and what not

Ideal Road Builders (IRB) is a private body that collects tolls on highways in the state of Maharashtra. However, it is not possible to obtain information about the amount of toll collected by them. Though, when the applicant approached Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC), IRB was compelled to provide information about the tolls. Wikimedia Commons
Ideal Road Builders (IRB) is a private body that collects tolls on highways in the state of Maharashtra. However, it is not possible to obtain information about the amount of toll collected by them. Though, when the applicant approached Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC), IRB was compelled to provide information about the tolls. Wikimedia Commons

MM Ansari stated that “As long as the private bodies and companies were answerable to a regulatory body or any department of the government, they also fall within the purview of the law.”

For instance, if a person wants any information about the telecom companies, they can access the information through the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, and any information relating to the banking sector can be accessed through the RBI.

How To File A RTI Application?

Steps to file a Right to Information application: 

1. Identify the department you want information from.

2. On a sheet of white paper, write out the application by hand, or type it, in English, Hindi or the official language of the area. You can also ask the public information officer to put it in writing

3. Address the application to the State/Central Public Information Officer. Write the name of the office from which you seek information. Also, clearly mention ‘Seeking information under the RTI Act, 2005’ in your subject line

4. State your request in the form of specific, detailed questions, and mention the period/year your request falls into. Ask for documents or extracts of documents, if required. The applicant has to make a payment of Rs. 2 per page to obtain documents

Right To Information Act Application Fee: Pay Rs. 10 to file the plea

Note: Applicants below the poverty line (BPL) need not make the payment but have to attach a copy of the BPL certificate along with the application

5. Provide your full name and address, contact details, email address and sign the application clearly. Put in the date and the name of your town

Right To Information Act Application Format:

6. Take a photocopy of the application and keep one with you for future reference. Send your application by post or hand it in person to the department concerned. Don’t forget to get an acknowledgment

7. The law mandates that information be provided in 30 days. If this does not happen, you can file an appeal. The first appeal should be addressed to ‘The Appellate Authority’ with the name of the department and the address. The concerned authority is required to revert within 30 days from the date of receipt of the appeal. If it fails to reply, further appeals lie with the Information Commission, the Chief Information Commissioner, State/Central Information Commission