CIC for public discussion on draft laws

In a recent order the Central Information Commission (CIC) has recommended the Cabinet Secretariat to consult citizens while formulating cabinet notes including draft laws.
The CIC said that the Secretariat should consider amending its April 15, 2002 circular ‘to allow for public consultation in appropriate form’.

The circular contains procedural requirements to be met while preparing and submitting notes for the Cabinet, Cabinet Committee and Group of Ministers.

The CIC quoted section 4(1) (c) of the RTI Act which says that the public authority should proactively disclose all relevant facts while formulating important policies or announcing the decisions which affect public.

The order pertains to the complaint filed by Delhi resident Venkatesh Nayak. The complainant had discovered that the details of the draft Whistleblower Bill were not in public domain. He wrote to the DoPT requesting it to disclose details of the draft Bill as it was required under the RTI Act.

Nayak then filed a complaint with the CIC regarding non- compliance of section 4(1)(c) of the RTI Act.

He cited the “Draft Direct Taxes Code Bill (Draft Code)” which the Finance Ministry had put in public domain along with a discussion paper. A revised discussion paper was also made public on June 15 this year.

However, the Commission rejected the request for disclosure of the Whistleblower Bill as by that time it had become part of a Cabinet paper and was exempted from disclosure under the RTI Act.
Later the CIC constituted a full bench to decide the matter.

“The Commission further recommends u/s 25 (5) that Cabinet Secretariat considers amending Part V of Circular No. 1/16/1/2000‐Cab of15.4.2002 to allow for public consultation in appropriate form,” read the order.
The bench also declared that all the preparatory information which goes into the making of a cabinet note is open for disclosure.

“This Commission holds that exemption under section 8 (1) (i) will apply only when a Note is submitted by the Ministry that has formulated it to the Cabinet Secretariat for placing this before the Cabinet. All concomitant information preceding that, which does not constitute a part of that Cabinet Note will then be open to disclosure u/s 4 (1) (c), but in a manner as will not violate the provisions of Sec 8 (1) (i),” said the CIC on 30th October.

Cabinet papers are exempted from disclosure under section 8(1)(i) of the RTI Act.

The CIC said that it is only when proposals formulated are actually taken up for consideration by the Cabinet that they become so exempt.

“We await the Government’s reaction to these decisions at the systemic level. We hope the Governments will not challenge these decisions before the Delhi High Court as no public interest is harmed by disclosure of draft Bills. Now we must all insist on compliance with these recommendations,’ said Venkatesh Nayak.

“We will have to advocate with the DoPT to issue Office Memoranda instructing all ministries to create mechanisms for public consultation on draft Bills before they are finalized for introduction in the legislature,” he added.

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