Disclosure of Cabinet Note for introducing The Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority Bill, 2011 under RTI
The appellant sought for a copy of the Cabinet Note prepared by the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) seeking approval of the Union Cabinet for introducing ‘The Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority Bill, 2011’ in the Lok Sabha along with all annexures; the total number of records and live files held by the DAE Secretariat and its units that have been assigned the security classification: top secret’, ‘secret’ and confidential’ along with their subject matter or topic. He also wanted a copy of the information submitted by DAE to the Central Information Commission under Section 25(3) of the RTI Act for a certain period.
The Public Information Officer (PIO) denied the copy of the Cabinet Note under section 8(l)(i) and the subject matter of the top secret’, ‘secret’ and confidential’ files under section 8(a) of the RTI Act. He also denied the total number of files stating that the information requested for is not available as no records are kept regarding the total number of such files centrally. He provided an extract of Annual return for the year 2010-Il submitted by DAE to CIC under Section 25(3) of the RTI Act. The appellant filed an appeal stating that the PIO has not given any reasons how it is exempted and on which ground. The First Appellate Authority (FAA) upheld the PIO’s order stating that The Department-related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science & Technology, Environment & Forests has deliberated on the report and forwarded its observations to the Hon’ble Chairman, Rajya Sabha and Hon’ble Speaker, Lok Sabha and thus the information cannot be provided.
The appellant filed second appeal with the Central Information Commission (CIC) stating that as the proviso to section 8(l) (i), the decision of the Council of Ministers, the reasons thereof, and the material on the basis of which the decisions were taken shall be made public after the decision has been taken and the matter is complete, or over. He submitted that as the Minister of State for Public Grievances and Pensions has tabled the said bill in the Lok Sabha in September 2011, the purpose of the Cabinet note was completed upon securing Cabinet approval and the subsequent tabling of the said Bill in Parliament. The contents of the Cabinet note now qualify for disclosure under the proviso to section 8(1)(i) Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, there shall be no obligation to give any citizen, cabinet papers including records of deliberations of the Council of Ministers, Secretaries and other officers: Provided that the decisions of Council of Ministers, the reasons thereof, and the material on the basis of which the decisions were taken shall be made public after the decision has been taken, and the matter is complete, or over: Provided further that those matters which come under the exemptions specified in this section shall not be disclosed; as the matter is over. During the hearing, both the parties agreed that the cabinet note has been put up to the Cabinet, and after due approval a bill has been presented to the Parliament.
The PIO claimed that the matter was not complete and over until the bill is enacted, duly gazetted, and a notification is issued that the bill comes into force. The appellant stated that section 8(2) Notwithstanding anything in the Official Secrets Act, 1923 (19 of 1923) nor any of the exemptions permissible in accordance with sub-section (1), a public authority may allow access to information, if public interest in disclosure outweighs the harm to the protected interests. suggests that if public interest in disclosure outweighs the harm to the protected interest, then access may be allowed. He also claimed that the disclosure of Cabinet papers at this stage of the bill will be in public interest. The PIO failed to give any explanation on the harm which could accrue if the information was disclosed. The appellant further stated that the NSRA bill has proposed amendments to the RTI Act and the DOPT has stated to the Parliament that no amendments are proposed to the RTI Act. He therefore needs to know the contents of the Cabinet note so that he may make representations to the elected representatives to ensure that no amendments are made to the RTI Act without widespread consultation. The PIO argued that the bill is already in the Public domain and hence, he is not able to appreciate the appellant’s contention.
View of CIC
The Central Information Commission (CIC) noted that the Bill is a property of the Parliament and hence the objective of the cabinet note is over with the presentation of the bill in Parliament. It may be worthwhile to glimpse the mind of the Parliament when passing the RTI Act to understand the frame of mind of the elected representatives. Once the Cabinet decision has been taken, the first part of the proviso that the decision had been taken would be fulfilled. With the tabling of the bill in Parliament the second part of the Proviso that the matter is complete or over would also have been met.
The Commission observed that the PIO has not given any valid reasons showing that any harm could come to any protected interest, whereas it is obvious that if Citizens knew the contents of the Cabinet note based on which Parliament proposed to enact a law, it would lead to a better and meaningful democracy and enactments of laws which would indeed serve people’s needs. The Commission also stated that the citizen who gives legitimacy to the Members of Parliament and thereby to the institution of Parliament itself must be provided reasons which are behind the laws being made by Parliament. The Commission directed the PIO to provide an attested photocopy of the Cabinet Note sought by the appellant along with all the annexures. Under section 19(8)(a)(iii) of the RTI Act, the Commission also directed the Secretary, Department of Atomic Energy to display this Cabinet note and all Cabinet notes in future on the department’s website where such Cabinet notes relate to proposing a new bill to be tabled in Parliament.
From the order, one may infer that in all cases of bills tabled in the parliament after the cabinet nod, the contents of the cabinet note are liable to be made public. This would open up the cabinet note for critical examination by the citizens.
Citation: Mr. Venkatesh Nayak v. Department of Atomic Energy in Decision No. CIC/SG/A/2012/001023/19365
RTI Citation : RTIFI/2012/CIC/472
Click here to view original RTI order of Court / Information Commission