Citizens' Issues
After spate of attacks, CIC passes resolution for protection of RTI users

The CIC has provided a fresh format for registering complaints regarding attacks on RTI activists. If an attack is reported, the CIC can direct the concerned departments to take ‘suo moto’ cognisance and publish the details of the same on their websites

The Central Information Commission (CIC) has passed a resolution to ensure the protection of Right to Information (RTI) activists, following a slew of attacks on them and murder of RTI activists in recent times. The CIC says that in case an attack is reported, it will examine the pending applications of the victim and order the concerned department(s) to publish the requested information suo moto on their websites as per the provisions of law.

The CIC has also provided a format for registering complaints about attacks on RTI activists. When a complaint is registered, the Information Commission will issue an order to the departments concerned that the information sought by the victim be displayed on the authorities’ websites in less than four weeks.

“Even if any of the information is exempt under Section 8 (1), the Commission is requested to order disclosing it, since it appears that the attack/murder was motivated by the desire to ensure that this information must not be revealed. Also, revealing this information will ensure that RTI users will not be attacked in future. Thus on both counts there is a larger public interest which would be served by revealing the information which was sought by (name of RTI user),” the CIC has observed. Apart from that, the police departments will also be required to display on their websites a monthly update on the investigation in the attack/murder.

The CIC has said that in case of an attack, a complaint must be filed immediately to the concerned Information Commission under Section (18) of the RTI Act, and must include details of the attack, police and hospital reports and details of the RTI applications which may have been the cause of the assault. Even in cases where no complaint is registered, the Information Commission can suo moto initiate an inquiry.

In 2011, many attacks on RTI users have been reported. In January alone, five attacks were reported from Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Jammu & Kashmir. In June, 72-year-old advocate and RTI activist Bhagu Devani was stabbed in Porbandar, Gujarat. On 15th August, RTI activist Shehla Masood was shot dead. In 2010, some 28 attacks were reported, including 10 murders.

“The Commission strongly believes that it is the duty and responsibility of the respective Governments to safeguard the life and liberty of the RTI users… and  also resolves that it will take proactive steps in ascertaining the status of investigations/prosecutions of the cases involving information-seekers and endeavour to have these processes expedited,” says the resolution.


Are we losing our hard-earned Right to Information?

The RTI Act has become a powerful tool in the hands of social activists and it has managed to thwart many possible scandals in the government and the bureaucracy. Is that why a few political leaders in the current regime are trying to water down the stringent provisions of this Act?

Does the RTI (Right to Information) Act hurt governance? That seems to be the argument from the current government at the Centre. In fact, the Congress returned to power in 2009 with its coalition UPA-II by showcasing the RTI Act as its biggest achievement to empower people.

Now we are tempted to ask this question—was the RTI Act passed only for the purpose of returning to power? Now it appears that the current regime is having a hard rethink over the Act. With the RTI Act playing a key role in exposing the UPA’s various mega-scams (too numerous to be detailed here) especially by bringing into the public domain the explosive note by the Finance Ministry on the then Finance Minister P Chidambaram’s alleged role in the spectrum scandal, the Act has indeed become a source of major worry for the government.

Law Minister Salman Khurshid and Corporate Affairs Minister Veerappa Moily are already demanding a relook at the RTI, declaring that “it has not found favour with jurists and activists (read NAC, or National Advisory Council, activists)”! In fact, this outburst is yet another attempt by the UPA to water down the law whose main aim was to make government functioning more transparent.

The Congress now favours a debate on the aspect of RTI impinging on governance. Its spokesman Manish Tewari says that there was no denying the fact that RTI was empowering people but “whether this efficacy is impinging on governance is to be seen.” An invigorating debate is going on over RTI with an entire spectrum of views coming from various stakeholders; and the Congress is to hear all sides on the issue before formalising its stand.

A senior Congress leader, (according to media reports), on condition of anonymity, has said that in the prevailing situation, “the bureaucrats will be scared to put their views in writing on various issues.” Terming these bureaucratic sentiments as “legitimate apprehensions,” the leader says that the RTI issue should be handled in a “sensitive manner”.

This is in sharp contrast to the earlier stand of the Congress, which never missed an opportunity to tom-tom the fact that RTI was one of the most important pieces of legislation which the party had managed to bring into law.
The credit, of course, for passing the Act was given to party President and NAC Chairperson Sonia Gandhi. To avoid the wrath of the activists and civil society, the Congress is still short of openly coming out and saying if the RTI Act should be amended or diluted.

J S Verma, former Chief Justice of India, does not buy this contention. Even former civil servant-turned-activist Harsh Mander, also a member of the Sonia Gandhi-headed NAC feels there should be no tinkering with the Act.
Mr Khurshid had recently said that RTI “misuse” was affecting “institutional efficacy and efficiency”, with even the bureaucracy becoming reluctant to record its opinion. Demanding a relook at RTI, he feels that a “balance” has to be maintained between transparency & accountability and institutional efficiency.

Mr Moily complains that RTI “transgresses into the independent functioning” of the government. “In the context of RTI exposures, people are misreading things,” he has said. “Transparency, yes, but it cannot scuttle the independence of individuals and ministries expressing difference of opinion. It’s time for a national debate on this issue,” he has declared.

This change in thinking both within the Congress and the government has come against the backdrop of the political crisis faced by the UPA government recently, as the RTI had “accidentally” helped Delhi lawyer Vivek Garg get the controversial Finance Ministry note which accused the then Finance Minister P Chidambaram of failing to stop the 2G spectrum scandal by not insisting on an auction.

We citizens are upset over the words coming from the government and the Congress on the RTI Act. The Act has emerged as a major instrument for exposing scams taken place in the past and can effectively put a stop to any future scams. What do these ministers want? Should the guilty not be punished? Should scams be allowed to happen? Should the truth not come out before the public?

No change in the transparency act should be brought about without taking us, the users of the RTI Act, into confidence.

Surely, Mr Khurshid finds the recent spat between the Finance Minister and the Home Minister a little too hot to handle. That’s why he wants a “balance to be maintained” between transparency & accountability and institutional efficiency. Not surprisingly, he wants a dispassionate examination “at what stage confidential documents, particularly communication between the PM and ministers, can be given under the RTI Act”. The days of ‘a rethink to amend the law on file notings’ resurface again. The RTI Act was modelled on the US Freedom of Information Act. The main premise of the Act itself was that there would be maximum disclosure and minimum confidentiality. Why should any honest officer have anything to worry about, in case his file nothings are provided under the RTI Act? Also, the Act itself has adequate safeguards to check its misuse.

Let Mr Khurshid specify what he means. If it’s the government’s new line of thinking, it must be because of the material provided under the RTI Act that has led to scams being unearthed. Don’t we have the right to monitor the functioning of the government? If not, what then is the use of the RTI Act?

This Act has done more to check corruption than any other administrative reform. It has created a billion-plus Lokpals among us, with each and every citizen armed with the power to inspect the functioning of the government.

It is a misplaced premise that civil servants are scared due to the (possible) misuse of the Act. Having spent a major part of my active life in the Union Government, I can say that any government servant, who does his work conscientiously, need never be bothered about his decisions being subjected to inspection. In fact, there is an urgent need for the government to further strengthen and consolidate the Act.

Team Anna member and senior Supreme Court advocate Prashant Bhushan feels the newfound unease within the government on the RTI Act is because the corrupt are afraid of the consequences if their misdeeds are exposed through the Act.

There’s a strong possibility of the Lokpal being set up soon. The Hisar by-poll is almost a referendum on the proposed Lokpal. No wonder ministers have suddenly started seeing the ‘danger’ in the Act.

One can only ask: Are we losing our hard-earned “Right to Information”?



Nagesh Kini FCA

5 years ago

The pluses and minuses of the RTI Act are many.
First the plus side - the present well crafted Act has ferreted many mal-governance issues and exposed scams that were investigated and confirmed by a detailed CAG audit.
On the down side is the gross abuse of the Act, by the so-called self-styled
'intellectuals' - the aam admi and tycoons care a damn - are misusing the Act by filing multiple and frivilous applications on the same issue making a mockery of this useful tool.
Both Mr. Khurshid and Moily have hidden agenda in wanting to tinker with the RTI Act.
The applicant has to prove his locus standi and let an independent panel oversee any irregular rejections.

Strike at Maruti enters 5th day, no production at Manesar

“The Manesar plant remains captive in the hands of workers. There is no production possible there. Due to the impact of components from SPIL, production at Gurgaon will be even lower compared to yesterday,” a Maruti Suzuki India spokesperson said

New Delhi: The strike by workers at the Manesar plant of Maruti Suzuki India (MSI) entered its fifth day today and with no signs of an end to the stalemate, the management said its overall production will be lower than yesterday, reports PTI.

The strike by workers at Suzuki Powertrain India (SPIL) and Suzuki Motorcycle India Pvt Ltd in support of their colleagues at Maruti’s Manesar plant also continued.

“The Manesar plant remains captive in the hands of workers. There is no production possible there. Due to the impact of components from SPIL, production at Gurgaon will be even lower compared to yesterday,” a Maruti Suzuki India spokesperson said.

Yesterday, the company said the Gurgaon plant produced around 1,800 vehicles, as against the normal 2,800 units a day.

SPIL supplies engines and transmissions to MSI’s Manesar and Gurgaon plants for different car models.

The MSI management claims workers have indulged in random acts of violence like beating up company managers, supervisors and those co-workers that are not supporting the strike, the statement alleged.

“They have also damaged equipment and property. In the situation, production remains at a standstill at the plant,” it added.

Workers at MSI’s Manesar plant went on a stay-in strike in the afternoon on Friday (7th October), affecting production.

The total number of workers who went on a stay-in strike inside the Manesar plant was around 2,000. This included all categories of workers, like regular and contractual employees, apprentices and trainees.

On Sunday, MSI dismissed 10 workers, terminated five trainees and suspended 10 employees in connection “with the strike and violence at the Manesar factory premises”.

Shares of MSI were being quoted at Rs1,077.55 per share on the Bombay Stock Exchange in noon trade today, up 0.54% from their previous close.


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