An amendment to the RTI Act to exempt political parties from the Act is likely to be considered today in the Parliament. Citizen groups continue to fight against it
Activists of the Delhi based National Campaign for People's Right to Information (NCPRI) have demanded that the Right to Information (RTI)Amendment Bill, instead of being put to vote, should be referred to the Standing Committee or the Select Committee of the Parliament in order to facilitate public consultation.
Reiterating the unprecedented popularity of the RTI Act and earlier attempts to dilute it, the NCPRI letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh states, "Any amendment that dilutes the people's right to information would weaken this important avenue of reform, and even undermine the process of realizing constitutional promises. There have been a series of attempts to amend the Act since 2006, which have been nullified by public pressure, and the political will of a part of the establishment and government. It is not often that there is a legislation that has become so popular and has been so resolutely defended by the ordinary citizen.
"You will recall that your government made an assurance in Parliament in 2009 that the RTI Act will not be amended without public consultation. It would be a travesty of this assurance if such an important issue, which has drawn a sharp public outcry, were to be passed without deliberation and consultation in the Parliamentary Standing Committee,'' the letter says.
The letter also mentions Singh's praise in last year's Independence Day speech for the Act. "…most importantly, as you so powerfully stated in your Independence Day address 'through the RTI Act, the common man (sic person) now gets more information than ever before about the work of the government'...The Act brings to light irregularities and corruption and opens the door for improvements."
Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey and Anjali Bharadwaj of the NCPRI believe that political parties could be having some legitimate concerns that this order could impinge on political activity but it could be solved by informed dialogue and consultation.
Their letter states, "We feel that the order from the Central Information Commission (CIC) could have been used to open the door for improving the political and electoral system and to bring to light the corruption and irregularities that are plaguing it. Over one lakh people from across the country, have signed an online petition urging you to not amend the RTI law, and there are numerous other petitions with the same message addressed to different authorities that are gaining momentum and popularity.''
The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) along with Satark Nagrik Sangathan too has put up a petition. The organizations urge citizens to sign the petition in large numbers as the voting for the Bill is likely to happen today. The link to sign the petition.
In the meanwhile, Maharashtra State Gazetted Officers' Federation has publicly declared that all political parties must come under RTI; if they seek such exemption then the political parties have no moral right to implement it for others.''
In defence of staying out of the RTI Act, political parties in a chorus had stated that information pertaining to their expenditure is available with the Election Commission and hence, they need not come under RTI.
However, Delhi based RTI activist Subhash Agrawal's experience has been otherwise. Agrawal had sought information from six state political parties regarding their land allotment, contributors made by party members to the party fund and legislators involved in corrupt practices. The parties were Samajwadi Party (SP), All India Trinamool Congress (TMC), Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), All India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), Janata Dal United (JD-U) and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD).
Agrawal says, "Political parties and Union government, while opposing political parties coming under purview of RTI Act, are telling people that information relating to them can be obtained by filing RTI petitions at Election Commission. But even Appellate Authority at Election Commission has expressed its inability to provide any such information under provisions of section 2(f) of RTI Act. Before amending RTI Act to keep political parties out of purview of RTI Act, Union government should ensure that people may get required information concerning political parties from Election Commission and other concerned public-authorities under provisions of section 2(f) of RTI Act.''
Will today be the dark day? Lets wait and watch.
(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”.)