Politicians across party lines are facing the heat from social activists, so they want certain provisions of the RTI Act to be toned down. But activists cry foul; consider any amendment to the RTI Act as ‘dangerous and regressive’
While the Prime Minister’s statement about RTI (Right to Information) “interfering with governance” has made headlines, the introduction of a Private Bill to amend the RTI Act has gone unnoticed. The proposal has been made by Bhausaheb Wakchaure, Shiv Sena Member of Parliament (MP) from Shirdi, Maharashtra.
The draft Bill says that an RTI applicant has to give reasons for seeking information, which was not there in the original Act. Moreover, the Bill also says that a public information officer (PIO) may reject an application, and refuse to disclose information of ‘personal nature’, unless he is satisfied that it is for larger public interest.
Activists have slammed the draft Bill as ‘regressive.’ Some activists have decided to write to the Prime Minister to register their protest. Activist Krishnaraj Rao, in a letter, says, “The draft Bill seeks to nullify the biggest protection that the RTI Act gives to citizens, namely, Section 6(2), which categorically states that an applicant making request for information shall not be required to give any reason. The proposed amendment seeks to shift the focus to the identity and motives of the RTI applicant. This shift of focus is perverse and mala fide. Such an amendment will encourage corrupt officers to hound the RTI applicants and deny information to them.”
Mr Rao said that instead of seeking to dilute the Act, the government should work towards proactive disclosures and ensure safety for activists. In 2009, a government appointed PricewaterhouseCoopers committee had submitted its report on implementation of the RTI Act—pointing out the shortcomings of the government and offering suggestions for overcoming them. However, the recommendations, which included setting up of facilitation centres in rural areas, conducting awareness campaigns and maintaining records—have not been implemented.
In the seminars on the RTI Act conducted by Moneylife Foundation, Wajahat Habibullah, former chief information commissioner and Shailesh Gandhi, central information commissioner, have said that the Act does not need any amendment. “The Act is pretty powerful, and amendments will only dilute it,” Mr Gandhi had said.
The government had talked about amendment several times earlier, but had to backtrack following severe criticism. After the 2G scam caused considerable embarrassment, many ministers, including the Prime Minister, have said that RTI is ‘taxing’ the time and resources of the public authorities, and is interfering with governance.
Renowned activist and National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information (NCPRI) spokesperson Aruna Roy slammed the statement; saying that the government should be more concerned with the killing of RTI activists and take action against corruption that is being exposed by the Act.
RTI is today faced with many hurdles. Recently, the Supreme Court Registry locked horns with the Chief Information Commission (CIC) over maintaining records and disclosing information. Shortly before that, taking note of the increasing number of attacks on RTI activists, the CIC issued an order that authorities make public the information which may have been the reason for the attack.
The economy grew 9.1% in Q3 from a year earlier, the slowest pace since 2009; banks are faced with more bad-debt risks; funding for small businesses is drying up and local governments have to repay huge amounts of outstanding loans. Rail projects and road building have also been halted due to a cash crunch.