Amendment in the RTI Act through the Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority Bill averted
A Bill was introduced in the Parliament by the Central Government in September 2011 in order to create a regulatory mechanism for nuclear safety. This bill, termed as “The Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority Bill, 2011(NSRA Bill)” was to be vetted by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science Technology, Environment and Forests chaired by Shri T Subbarami Reddy, MP. The NSRA Bill has been the cause of heated debate amongst the RTI activists.
Reasons for dispute
Mr. Shekhar Singh of the National Campaign for People's Right to Information commented that "The RTI Act over-rides all laws. To counter this, new laws are coming out with specific clauses." The RTI activists and the organisations associated with the transparency have been skeptical of any move of an attempt to cause an amendment in the RTI Act. The basic reasons for the dispute in respect of the NSRA Bill are:
- The NSRA Bill has been under fire from the RTI activists and NGO’s who claim that the bill seeks to add a new exemption to Section 8(1) of the Right to Information Act (RTI Act).
- It has been claimed that the bill also seeks to exclude an unspecified number of nuclear safety regulatory agencies established by the Central Government for national defence and security purposes from the purview of the RTI Act.
Mr. Venkatesh Nayak, programme coordinator with Access to Information Programme of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative came up with some interesting statistics to buttress the claim that people are not seeking sensitive information that may jeopardize nuclear safety issues. The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board established under the Atomic Energy Act, 1962 (which shall be replaced by the Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority if the NSRA Bill becomes law) received a total of 43 applications during 2010-2011. It provided information in all cases without rejecting any. Mr. Nayak also stated that if this is the case why exempt other safety regulatory boards established under Clause 25 under the Bill by putting them on Schedule 2 of the RTI Act?
Mr. Nayak also explained that as per the RTI statistics provided by the Dept. of Atomic Energy, there have been only two occasions to deny access to information on grounds of defense, scientific or strategic interests which closely relate to the public interests that cover nuclear and radiation safety matters. This rare usage of Section 8(1) (a) also indicates that people are not seeking sensitive information that may jeopardize nuclear safety issues. The existing provisions of the RTI Act appear to be adequate for the purposes of AERB.
Outcome of the campaign
Many individuals and organisations joined the campaign to put an end to the proposed amendment to the RTI Act through the Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority Bill, 2011. The Parliamentary Standing Committee has recommended deletion of all clauses that seek to amend the RTI Act. The Bill is yet to acquire the status of an Act and the future course of the bill would be keenly watched by the stakeholders. This process is a major victory for all those involved with the process and re-affirms the faith in the democratic institutions of the country.