Right to Information
Activists fear Ordinance soon to keep political parties out of RTI

The Central Information Commission has ordered political parties to designate Public Information Officers and Appellate Authorities by 15th July. As the deadline nears, RTI activists are gearing up to counter the government’s alleged proposal to bring in an Ordinance to put political parties out of the ambit of RTI Act

In early June, the Central Information Commission had ordered all political parties to not only designate their Public Information Officers (PIOs) and Appellate Authorities (AAs) but also to implement voluntary disclosures under Section 4. Quite predictably, all the major political parties opposed the CIC decision vehemently and are now huddled together, cooking up an Ordinance, allegedly within hours from now, but in any case before 15th July, to put political parties out of the ambit of the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
 

Stalwart RTI activists across the country had raised their up their antennas and are planning vociferous protests to nullify the Ordinance. Members of the National Campaign for the Peoples’ Right to Information (NCPRI) steered by Nikhil Dey and Anil Bahirwal, the RTI petitioner who along with Subhash Agrawal had filed the series of RTI applications in the Income Tax and other relevant public authorities, met on 9th June in Delhi, to draw out a series of protests against the promulgation of the Ordinance. These include memorandum to the UPA chief, president of India and heads of political parties; petition by eminent people; signature campaign and dharna in Delhi during the Monsoon session of the Parliament.
 

States Bhaskar Prabhu, co-convener of NCPRI, “As per reliable sources, it is a few hours from now left to issue the Ordinance, so we need to send at least 10,000 petitions to the president of India, today itself. Letters can be sent in individual capacity or in the name of your organisation. Within the organization, volunteers, members, associates etc can also send them in individual names.” (at the end of the article, the draft letter and the email id of the president of India has been published.). Leading Mumbai-based RTI activist and former Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi has already sent the letter to the president of India and has urged citizens and activists to do the needful as early as possible.
 

The letter states that, “…citizens cannot see any reason which justifies an Ordinance. Curtailing citizen's fundamental right and issuing an Ordinance to frustrate a statutory order are morally and legally repugnant. Frustrating an existing law arbitrarily, will not promote the rule of law. I plead with you to consider whether it would be right to curb citizen’s fundamental rights by ordinance when there appears to be no need for immediate action.” 

 

The letter also states that, “I am sure you realise that an Ordinance should only be promulgated when there is a great urgency. Article 123 of the Constitution states (1) If at any time, except when both Houses of Parliament are in session, the president is satisfied that circumstances exist which render it necessary for him to take immediate action, he may promulgate such Ordinance as the circumstances appear to him to require.”

 

The NCPRI meeting on 9th June  was attended by RTI activists AnjuTalukdar, Vipual Mudgal, Anjali Bhardwaj, Nikhil Dey, Aheli Chowdhury, NandiniDey, Anil Bairwal, Manoj (ADR), Kamal, Karamveer Shastri and Amrita Johri.

 

Following is the plan of action of the NCPRI:

  1. Action plan against proposed RTI amendments: It was decided that the NCPRI will strongly oppose any move by the government to amend the RTI Act either by way of an Ordinance or by passing an amendment in Parliament. This will be done by-
    1. Memorandum to the president, PM, Sonia Gandhi and heads of political parties-The CIC had granted a period of six weeks to political parties to appoint PIOs and Appellate Authorities in compliance with the RTI Act. This period expires on the 15th July and it was felt that if the government is planning to amend the RTI Act through an Ordinance then this could be done before the 15th July. Therefore, it was decided that a memorandum opposing any amendments to the RTI Act will be prepared and will be submitted to the president, PM and Sonia Gandhi by 15th July. After submitting the memorandum, a press conference will be held.
       
    2. Petition by eminent people- It was decided that in order to build pressure, a petition opposing any amendments would be drafted and eminent citizens would be requested to sign the petition which would then be shared with the media and also sent to political parties. A similar campaign had been done in 2006 when the government had proposed amendments to the RTI Act. We could reach out to the same people.
       
    3. Signature campaign/ Referendum- It would be useful if groups/people could organize signature campaigns in their states and send the NCPRI regular updates on the activities undertaken to oppose the amendments. These could be put out on the website and included in press releases. It will be useful to do meetings to discuss the issue and build peoples’ awareness. We could reach out to universities and colleges and organize these meetings across the country. For this, pamphlets explaining the issue could be prepared. Signature campaigns could be carried out as part of the awareness meetings. The signature campaign could also be posted online.
       
    4. Dharna in Delhi- A dharna could be organized in Delhi during the Parliament session to oppose any amendments. A probable date will be decided once the dates of the Parliament session are announced.
  1. Discussion on CIC order- The CIC order on political parties was discussed and it was decided that the NCPRI position continues to be the same as was expressed in the NCPRI press release – i.e. we welcome the order and believe that transparency and accountability in the functioning of political parties is critical. It was suggested that a meeting could be held in August with political party representatives to discuss their apprehensions about the CIC order.
     
  2. It appears that the political parties do not really doubt the legal validity of the CIC order.

Calling citizens to send a letter to the president of India today itself, along the following lines:

 

To: President of India <[email protected]>

Shri Pranab Mukherjee,

President of India.

 

Dear Sir,

          There are reports that the government has decided to promulgate an ordinance to amend the RTI Act. The ostensible purpose is to counter the decision of the CIC declaring six political parties as Public Authorities which are subject to the Right to Information Act. Representatives of all political parties have stated that they believe the CIC decision is unsound legally and hence they are opposing it. If they are being truthful, they can certainly go in a writ to the courts. Hundreds of CIC decisions have been quashed by the courts. 

 

I am sure you realise that an Ordinance should only be promulgated when there is a great urgency. Article 123 of the Constitution states (1) If at any time, except when both Houses of Parliament are in session, the president is satisfied that circumstances exist which render it necessary for him to take immediate action, he may promulgate such Ordinance as the circumstances appear to him to require. 

 

 In the instant case citizens cannot see any reason which justifies an Ordinance. Curtailing citizen's fundamental right and issuing an ordinance to frustrate a statutory order are morally and legally repugnant. Frustrating an existing law arbitrarily, will not promote the rule of law. I plead with you to consider whether it would be right to curb citizen's fundamental rights by Ordinance when there appears to be no need for immediate action. 

If you do issue the said ordinance, I am hoping you will share the reasons for the immediate action with citizens.

 

Best regards,

 

(Name of the person)

 

See my earlier stories on this issue: Political parties asked to designate PIOs and Appellate Authorities within 6 weeks

Indian political parties fear RTI consequences; skip CIC hearing

Congress brags about bringing in the RTI Act but was the only party to skip the CIC hearing

 

(Vinita Deshmukh is the consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)

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COMMENTS

Dr Paresh Vaidya

3 years ago

If by chance parties succeed in having an ordinance, they need to return the freebies/ concessions they received from the government. Pay up for the lands they occupy etc. That is apart from the ordinance.

K M Nair

3 years ago

I have just forwarded a letter to the Hon'ble President.
I believe that the political parties are the pioneers and root cause of corruption. They should be accountable to the public. Coverage under RTI can atleast expose them so as to be careful.

Manoj Dhyani

3 years ago

All the RTI activists, people who are concerned and believe in transparency and good governance shall come out in open against any kind of venture by the political class to avoid themselves from scrutiny by a commoner in Indian system and society. This shall not be tolerated under any cost. We all shoud join hands to curb this menace forever...pl also visit http://www.facebook.com/rti4all our an small initiative in this regard.

MOHAN

3 years ago

RTI is not a panacea for all. A separate legislation is needed for transparency in Political parties.

REPLY

S BHASKARA NARAYANA

In Reply to MOHAN 3 years ago

Whether there are two different medicines (acts) to the doctor (who promulgated the RTI act), as well as the patient (corrupted person), when both of them hailing from the same disease (being corrupted)?

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