New Delhi: Cabinet notes on proposed laws have to be made public within a week of such Bills being introduced in Parliament, the Central Information Commission (CIC) said on Tuesday.
The government’s present stand is that such cabinet notes are secret and should be made public only after the Bills are passed in Parliament.
“Once the decision is taken by the cabinet to table the Bill in Parliament, the ‘decision has been taken’; when the Bill is tabled in Parliament ‘the matter is complete or over’ as far as the cabinet is concerned,” the CIC said in its order, adding that such cabinet notes should be published on the websites of the respective departments under the criteria for suo-motu disclosure in the transparency law.
Government officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
The CIC issued the directive while hearing an appeal against the department of atomic energy (DAE), which had refused to provide a copy of the cabinet note on the Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority (NSRA) Bill in reply to a Right to Information (RTI) application dated 20 January.
DAE argued that the process of framing a law is not complete until the Bill is passed, gazetted and notified for the law to come to force, and cited a section of the transparency law which states that “cabinet papers... shall be made public after the decision has been taken, and the matter is complete, or over.”
The CIC, however, did not agree with the argument and said, “...there is a larger public interest in disclosing cabinet notes regarding introducing any new Bill in Parliament, after the cabinet has taken a decision to table such a Bill and the Bill is tabled.”
Such disclosures will lead to a “better and meaningful” democracy, it added. “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,” it said.
The RTI application was filed by Venkatesh Nayak of the New Delhi-based Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative on the grounds that the NSRA Bill had “proposed amendments to the RTI Act”, adding that he wanted to know the contents of the cabinet note to make representations to the elected representatives to safeguard the RTI Act.
“The DAE is the nodal authority for the NSRA Bill and the DoPT (department of personnel and training) is the nodal authority on RTI Act. We wanted to know what were the comments made by DoPT and other ministries in consultations during the inter-ministerial meeting,” Nayak said.
The NSRA Bill that was introduced in the Lok Sabha on 7 September seeks to establish two regulatory bodies as part of measures to strengthen safety in atomic power plants.
“Once a Bill is placed in the Parliament, it no longer ceases to be confidential,” Jagdeep Chhokar, founding member of the Association for Democratic Reforms, said. “Once the Bill is introduced, it means it is available to the public and therefore there is no reason why any background on the Bill in any form should be held back.”