Aruna Roy Files RTI to Seek More Information on the Controversial CAA and NCR Legislations
While protests are still simmering with the chorus of “Hum kagaz nahi dikhayenge” (We won’t show you the papers) against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC), leading social reformer and Right to Information (RTI) activist who pioneered the RTI campaign in India, Aruna Roy has filed RTI applications requisitioning detailed information on these legislation.
 
Ms Roy, the founder of Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, has filed a series of RTI applications to the ministry of home affairs, demanding copies of all the minutes of inter-ministerial, intra-ministerial meetings and public consultations held by the minister of home affairs. 
 
She has also sought documents pertaining to recommendations relating to the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 that it received and hence recorded. She has also asked for details about the department and authority responsible for preparing and maintaining the National Population Register (NPR) and the NRC. She has demanded file notings, minutes of meetings, discussions and correspondences to establish the link between the NPR and the census. 
 
Ms Roy has filed a series of RTI application as a part of the National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information (NCPRI)’s ‘Use RTI, Demand Accountability Campaign’ which is in its fifth month. 
 
The campaigners, led by RTI activist Anjali Bharadwaj, are building a nationally coordinated effort towards pursuing transparency and accountability across a range of issues where she says, “the government is acting without any public scrutiny and with questionable claims to serving public interest”.
 
 Ms Bharadwaj says, “Fuelling some of this debate is also a huge amount of confusion on the authenticity of official statements and their chronology. At a time like this it is crucial to know whom the government of India consulted before finalising the text of the Bill and what the nature of discussions that emerged in the consultations were. RTIs can give us answers to these questions and become critical to constructing a credible timeline of statements. The pre-legislative policy of the Government of India itself mandates that government undergo a transparent consultative process with citizens and other organisations, and record the suggestions received, before bringing any Bill to cabinet. RTIs have been filed by us.’’
 
The NCPRI has also filed an RTI application on the appointment of information commissioners. Says Ms Bharadwaj, “On 15 February 2019, the Supreme Court delivered a judgement in the public interest litigation (PIL) on non-appointment of information commissioners by the Central and state governments and the lack of transparency in the appointment process. In the judgement, the Supreme Court observed that the right to information is a constitutional right and directed the Central and state governments to fill vacancies in the information commissions in a transparent and time bound manner. As part of the campaign, RTI applications have been filed with various state governments, seeking details of steps taken to fill vacancies in information commissions, in compliance with the judgement of the Supreme Court.”
 
As many as 375 RTIs have been filed since the campaign was launched in August this year. Under the Use RTI to Save RTI campaign on the 1st of every month RTI applications are filed across the country in conjunction with social movements and people’s groups to seek information on key issues of public interest. 
 
As per this campaign steered by noted RTI activists Ms Bhardwaj, Nikhil Dey, Rakesh Dubbudu, Pankti Jog, Pradip Pradhan and Venkatesh Nayak, “We are in an extended crisis of democracy but with peoples’ resistance to exclusionary and divisive legislative decisions building across the country there is renewed vigour in the questions we ask, the information we seek and the action we demand.’’
 
(Vinita Deshmukh is 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

    P M Ravindran

    7 months ago

    I am bemused by the use of terms like social reformer for people like Aruna Roy. The RTI Act was doomed from day one due to not keeping former bureaucrats away from information commissions. And even now we hear of only filling up vacancies of information commissioners being raised by these band of 'reformers'. They seem to be conveniently ignorant of the fact that the RTI Act has been murdered by these very information commissioners.

    Yes, inspite of my awareness of the fact that the RTI Act has been murdered by the information commissioners I do use it but with the following mission statement:

    SAVE RIGHT TO INFORMATION. USE RIGHT TO INFORMATION ACT.
    GET INFORMATION OR......
    EXPOSE ATLEAST THREE IDIOTS/TRAITORS* AMOUNG PUBLIC SERVANTS!
    1. THE PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER
    2. THE FIRST APPELLATE AUTHORITY (AND THE HEAD OF PUBLIC AUTHORITY WHERE THE HEAD OF THE PUBLIC AUTHORITY IS NOT THE FAA!) AND
    3. THE INFORMATION COMMISSIONER

    * An idiot is one who does not know the job s/he is getting paid to do and a traitor is one who knows it but does not do it. Provided that even an idiot can be branded a traitor based on the consequences of his/her action

    And the claim '“We are in an extended crisis of democracy but with peoples’ resistance to exclusionary and divisive legislative decisions building across the country there is renewed vigour in the questions we ask, the information we seek and the action we demand.’’ is all bunkum given the fact that our Constitution itself is the foundation on which the divide and rule policy of the colonialists has been perpetrated with viciousness. The UCC and competence based employment are all still dreams even after 70 years of the Constitution coming into force with the promise of securing to all its citizens :

    JUSTICE, social, economic and political;
    LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;
    EQUALITY of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all;
    FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the nation.

    And 50 years after Indira Gandey gave the slogan Garibi Hatao we still get to read reports, even in the most 'literate' and 'politically aware' state like Kerala, of children eating mud to keep the wolves away and adivasis being killed for stealing a handful of food grains.

    Year 2019 Puts RTI in the Firing Line from Courts, Lawmakers
    Even though the Central government’s statement in the Lok Sabha at the close of the year 2018 came, loud and clear, that there is “no specific information that the Right to Information (RTI) Act is being misused” and that there are enough inbuilt clauses for denial of information within the RTI Act in case someone seeks information that should not be revealed, the year 2019 saw heavyweights in the judiciary and political arena badmouthing the Act and humiliating those who have been effectively using it and spreading its use.
     
    Just to recall, as the year 2018 ended, Ram Kumar Sharma, the member of Parliament (MP) from Bihar asked a question in the Lok Sabha to the prime minister (PM), whether there is gross misuse of the RTI Act; and if so, the reaction of the government in this regard; whether the government has obtained proof of this misuse and; the steps taken by the government to check this misuse.
     
    Dr Jitendra Singh, the minister of state in the ministry of personnel public grievances and pensions and minister of state in the PMO office, replied on 19 December 2018 in the Lok Sabha that “no specific information of gross misuse of the RTI Act 2005 has been brought to the notice of the government of India and that “the right of seeking information under the RTI Act 2005 is not unfettered. The safeguards against misuse are built inter-alia in Section 8 - exemption from disclosure of information, Section 9  - grounds for rejection to access in certain cases, Section 11 – third party information, Section 24 – Act not to apply to certain organisations etc.”
     
    However, throughout 2019, several bigwigs insisted on destroying the image of the one and only citizen-friendly and citizen-empowering law of our country, the RTI Act. 
     
    The most recent critic is Sharad Arvind Bobde, the Chief Justice of India at the Supreme Court.  While hearing an application in December 2019,  filed by RTI activists Anjali Bhardwaj and Commodore Lokesh Batra about the lack of transparency in the appointment process of information commissioners despite an order of the apex court  early this year, the Chief Justice stated that the RTI Act has created a sense of 'paralysis and fear' in the government. He also said that government officers are hesitating to take decisions because of this fear. He insisted that the law is being abused and told the activists’ lawyer Prashant Bhushan, that “don’t say as if there is no abuse and…the RTI Act had become a source of criminal intimidation by people with an axe to grind. Criminal intimidation is a nice word for ‘blackmail’.”
     
    Commodore Batra says that, "I humbly plea to the Hon'ble Bench of SC to withdraw their remarks made during hearing held  on 16th December.2019, as my dignity and respect in the society has been badly  damaged as Transparency Campaigner. I am deeply hurt."
     
    In August 2019, Ajoy Mehta, commissioner of BrihanMumbai Municipal Corp (BMC) was dragged to the Bombay High Court when he made uncharitable remarks about RTI activists. He termed RTI activists as 'professional complainants' and seeking a list of RTI activists who regularly filed applications regarding building violations so that they could be blacklisted. And what provoked him? Well, all because an RTI activist sought information from the BMC or Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) after the horrendous fire tragedy at Kamla Mills compound, which had claimed many innocent lives, who had gone out for dinner in the restaurants of its rooftop.
     
    Former central information commissioner and RTI activist Shailesh Gandhi, pained by the remarks of the CJI, feels that, “RTI activists have been persuading the government to put most information on the website as per the mandate of Section 4 of the RTI Act. If governments go completely paperless and digital, it would be easy to put most information on the website. At the very least most of the information and dashboards presently on computers should be available to citizens. This is not being done.”
     
    “Another simple way to stop all blackmailing using RTI information would be to put all RTI applications and responses on the websites in a searchable manner. The department of personnel and training (DoPT) and many state governments have issued instructions for this. But this is not being implemented since this would expose the wrong and illegal actions. Citizens, media and courts should put pressure on the government to implement this properly. Citizens need to get accountability from the government and for this they need to get more information. This is ‘rule of the people, by the people, for the people.’ The citizens fulfill their role as the rulers of the nation by using RTI,” he added.
     
    Not to forget that in the winter session of the Nagpur Assembly in 2018, members across party lines had unanimously supported the contention of Pratap Sarnaik, a Shiv Sena member from Thane that RTI users are blackmailers and action must be taken against them. He claimed that RTI activists have opened ‘corporate offices’ through such extortion. He charged that instead of solving peoples’ problems, helping government officials and exposing corrupt officers, RTI activists indulge in extortion in the name of transparency.
     
    This led to much enthusiasm amongst members of all political parties present in the Assembly with several voicing their experiences of extortion by RTI activists. They said a high percentage of RTI users indulge in blackmail. 
     
    Finally, in the Supreme Court, during the hearing of the Rafale deal case, India’s attorney general KK Venugopal had put the Official Secrets Act over and above the RTI Act when in the RTI Act, it is clearly stated that RTI overpowers the Official Secrets Act.
     
    Nevertheless, here is wishing all citizens a pro-active 2020 in using the RTI Act, which is the most empowering tool that is available to them in our democracy which is presently facing a crisis of enormous proportions.
     
    (Vinita Deshmukh is 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

    Col Vijay Yadav

    7 months ago

    I have yet to understand that who is criminally intimidated unless some truth is hidden. Govt or govt servant must have courage of conviction to write resoned notings or issue direction within framework of rules,My conviction tells me that ,we may exercise our vote once in five year , but RTI has given us right to seek answers from govt each day . My experience suggest , application or representation in office may not be attended for months ,but RTI to know the status of application electrify every rank and file of concerned office.

    Praveen Godbole

    7 months ago

    No dount RTI Act is a momentous step in introduction of transparency in governance and must be welcomed by all. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that provisions of Act have been misused (abused) in stray cases. What Chief Justice emphasized was to ensure that it does not become a tool for 'criminal intimidation', that is to say that there should be suitable filters to ensure that information sought will not be misused/abused to harrass someone, particularly government servants, to settle score. I believe RTI activists should support this view to 'Filter out' undesirable RTI applications and come forward to suggest how should such filtering be carried out.

    Praveen Sakhuja

    7 months ago

    Who is to be blamed GOI Or CJI? It is a million dollar question for entire population. In my opinion it is CJI to be blamed, who has forced himself in anti public activity killing the left over breaths in RTI. Bolo Mera Desh Mahan, kayuin ke Iss Desh ke rakshak buun gaye bakshak.

    m.prabhu.shankar

    7 months ago

    RTI Act should be strengthened

    P M Ravindran

    7 months ago

    Yes, there is one lot of persons who can and should be suspected of misusing RTI Act- the information commissioners. They are the only ones who can pretend not to see the failures of the public information officers in providing the information sought and be defaulters themselves in imposing the mandated penalty under the law. Since we know that there is no such thing as a free lunch we can only guess what price the defaulting PIO must be paying and how.

    I can only plagiarize an English poet and say Balakrishnans and Bobdes may come and go but this nation and its people will go on for ever.

    Dr V S Prasanna Rajan

    7 months ago

    It is very much disheartening to hear from the CJI himself that -"the RTI Act has created a sense of “paralysis and fear” in the government. He also said that government officers are hesitating to take decisions because of this fear. He insisted that the law is being abused and told the activists’ lawyer Prashant Bhushan, that “don’t say as if there is no abuse and…the RTI Act had become a source of criminal intimidation by people with an axe to grind. Criminal intimidation is a nice word for ‘blackmail’.”
    However, such a remark by the CJI himself is contrary to the the law is well settled judicially by a majority opinion of a three judge bench of the Supreme court itself vide Martin Burn Ltd vs The Corporation Of Calcutta - 1966 AIR 529 - that - "A result flowing from a statutory provision is never an evil. A court has no power to ignore that provision to relieve what it considers a distress resulting from its operation. A statute must of course be given effect to whether a court likes the result ,or not."

    PETER SALAZAR

    7 months ago

    The faith of the people in the judiciary at the highest level is crumbling and your article is the last hammer blow . It is indeed shameful and despicable that the revered institutions are succumbing to bigotry , partisanship and subjectivity in their observations. A sad day for democracy . On the other hand , my deepest respects to you, Vinita and Moneylife for the courage you display in lending your voice to truth and probity,- a sincere Thank you

    Sandeep More

    7 months ago

    Only if there was complete transparency and sharing of all information with the citizens of the country, there would have been no demand for RTI in the first place. Alas, the guilty ones feel the necessity to strangle RTI under the guise of blackmailing and what not. It seems that only a revolution can change the system for the better.

    RAMACHANDRAN THARKABHUSHANAM

    7 months ago

    I HAVE SOME EXPERIENCE IN HANDLING REFERENCES UNDER RTI. IT IS TRUE THAT THERE ARE CASES OF INTIMIDATION BY BOTH SEEKERS OF INFORMATION AND PROVIDERS OF INFORMATION. TO SAY THE ACT IA NOT SPECIFIC ON WHAT TO PROVIDE OR NOT TO PROVIDE.

    REPLY

    Atul Arya

    In Reply to RAMACHANDRAN THARKABHUSHANAM 7 months ago

    I agree what you said. I myself have dealt so many cases of RTI. It is one of the best way to paralyze Govt of Day. I have seen so many cases when tender notings are being asked and then vigilance cases filed based upon that basis. It is best way to intimidate Govt officials particularly honest ones. In Present form, RTI act is really bad as it does not seek information what is the purpose of information seeker in seeking that information???

    Meenal Mamdani

    In Reply to Atul Arya 7 months ago

    I assume that when you say tender it means a proposal or bid to execute a project. If that is so, then someone could file a vigilance case based on that information only if there is something nefarious in that proposal such as inflated costs, etc.
    If that is the situation then by filing a RTI, the public has been saved from a crime being committed.
    Your contention that honest officials are intimidated and thus paralyzed is similar to the excuse given by doctors that fear of lawsuits makes them ask for unnecessary tests. Being a physician I can tell you that is nonsense. If an honest person documents her/his reasoning for an action, she/he has nothing to fear from a litigation.

    Meenal Mamdani

    In Reply to RAMACHANDRAN THARKABHUSHANAM 7 months ago

    Your willingness to explain what is happening is very helpful.
    I request you to describe a situation without giving any names.
    We would all benefit from understanding the difficulties faced by PIOs as well RTI seekers.

    P M Ravindran

    In Reply to Meenal Mamdani 7 months ago

    Please read my blog at https://www.slideshare.net/raviforjustice/rti-subversion-by-ksic281219. Though I have listed only the major problems with the Kerala State Information Commission I am sure it will apply in its totality to any information commission in the country. As I have brought out in the article I had actually challenged the current Chief Information Commissioner, Vinson M Paul, through a press conference held at Palakkad in Jul 2018, to produce at least 4 of his decisions that would stand scrutiny of law in terms of correct procedure followed and correct decision arrived at. Of course the presstitutes did not cover it in their reports. So I had sent it to him directly at his official e mail id. Do I need to say there has been no response to that till date?

    GLN Prasad

    In Reply to P M Ravindran 7 months ago

    They will victimize you and the decisions may not be in favor. In the end the sincere applicants that demand proper justice, have to become victims. A sorry state of affairs with all commissions without exception.

    GLN Prasad

    7 months ago

    The article should have been more informative if a survey on decisions of all state and central commissions reports on levying of penalty by SIC and CIC and public opinion on the functioning of such commissions from public and available data. There are cases even PIOs abused the RTI Act for reasons best known to them by providing incorrect/false information and misleading innocent citizens.

    Meenal Mamdani

    7 months ago

    If the CJI himself chooses to make allegations without evidence what can we expect from less well educated Indians!! This statement smacks of the attitude "We know best, don't question us". This attitude may have passed muster in days gone by but is unlikely to be tolerated in the current society.

    nadeem

    7 months ago

    Disempowering citizens... withering democracy...

    Are RBI and Banks Frustrating Citizen’s Fundamental Right to Information while Misguiding Supreme Court?
    On 18 December 2019 the Supreme Court has given a very concise and brief order saying “Upon hearing the counsel the court made the following order, inspection reports and risk assessment reports or annual financial inspection reports of the banks including State Bank of India (SBI) shall not be released by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) until further orders.”
     
    In various Supreme Court judgments it has been mandated that all orders must give reasons. I have tried to understand the reason for constraining the citizen’s fundamental Right to Information (RTI) in this order and have completely failed. 
     
    Let us begin at the beginning. In 2010-2011, about 10 RTI applications had been made with RBI seeking various bits of information like audit reports, inspection reports, non-performing assets (NPAs), list of defaulters and so on. The RTI act allows refusal of information to the citizen only on the basis of the 10 exemptions in Section 8. RBI refused to give the information claiming three of the ten exemptions under clauses:
    8 (1) (a)  Economic Interests of the country
             (d)  Harming the competitive interests of the banks
             (e)  The information was held by RBI in a fiduciary capacity.
     
    These ultimately reached the Central Information Commission (CIC), which rejected all these contentions of RBI as not being legitimate. Detailed reasons were given arguing that the exemptions were not applicable legally. 
     
    The CIC also noted that “The RBI is a regulatory authority which is responsible for inter alia monitoring subordinate banks and institutions. Needless to state significant amounts of public funds are kept with such banks and institutions. Therefore, it is only logical that the public has a right to know about the functioning and working of such entities including any lapses in regulatory compliances. Merely because disclosure of such information may adversely affect public confidence in defaulting institutions, cannot be a reason for denial of information under the RTI Act. If there are certain irregularities in the working and functioning of such banks and institutions, the citizens certainly have a right to know about the same. The best check on arbitrariness, mistakes and corruption is transparency, which allows thousands of citizens to act as monitors of public interest. There must be transparency as regards such organisations so that citizens can make an informed choice about them.”
     
    RBI challenged all these orders and the Supreme Court finally upheld all these in December 2015 stating scathingly: “By attaching an additional ‘fiduciary’ label to the statutory duty, the Regulatory authorities have intentionally or unintentionally created an in terrorem effect.”
     
    It further castigated RBI and others who deny the citizen’s right in these words: “baseless and unsubstantiated argument of the RBI that the disclosure would hurt the economic interest of the country is totally misconceived. In the impugned order, the CIC has given several reasons to state why the disclosure of the information sought by the respondents would hugely serve public interest, and non-disclosure would be significantly detrimental to public interest and not in the economic interest of India. RBI’s argument that if people, who are sovereign, are made aware of the irregularities being committed by the banks then the country’s economic security would be endangered, is not only absurd but is equally misconceived and baseless.
     
    It had long since come to our attention that the public information officers (PIO) under the guise of one of the exceptions given under Section 8 of RTI Act, have evaded the general public from getting their hands on the rightful information that they are entitled to.”
     
    Despite the clear order of the apex court that such information must be provided, RBI in its arrogance did not comply. RBI did not ask for a review but just defied the judgment with lawless disdain. If such information had been displayed by RBI sou moto as suggested by the CIC, perhaps citizens would have got some warnings in cases like PMC Bank and other such failures. There is a reasonable possibility that many frauds could have been avoided with citizen vigilance. 
     
    Since RBI defied the Supreme Court order contempt petitions were filed in 2016. These were decided by the Supreme Court in April 2019 with a warning to RBI to comply with its orders and honour its duties as per the RTI Act. 
     
    It appears from the Supreme Court order of 18 December 2019 that the banks and RBI are again challenging the very clearly reasoned judgment of the apex court. This is really unfortunate. 
     
    It appears that RBI and the banks together are frustrating the citizen’s fundamental right to information and are now misguiding the Supreme Court. 
     
    The earlier judgment of the Supreme Court is a very well-reasoned one. Even though RBI committed contempt and the Court has given a warning, the Supreme Court has given one more chance to the contemnors to defy citizen’s fundamental rights. Such an approach will give no finality and it appears the only strategy is to frustrate the law.   
     
    In many matters regarding fundamental rights the apex court has refused a stay when writs have been filed by citizens to defend them. In this case it is impossible to fathom the reasons for giving a stay on an earlier order to the contemnor. Citizens are worried about this and I hope the Court will withdraw this stay.
     
    (Shailesh Gandhi served as Central Information Commissioner under the RTI Act, 2005, during 18 September 2008 to 6 July 2012. He is a graduate in Civil Engineering from IIT-Bombay. Before becoming a full time RTI activist in 2003, he sold his packaging business. In 2008, he was conferred the Nani Palkhivala Memorial Award for civil liberties.)
     
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    COMMENTS

    manojkamrarti

    8 months ago

    RBI must disclose its corrupt deeds of illegal amendments made in Banking regulation act-1949 to significantly reduce RBI supervision by omission, addition, modifications of importants sections of BR act. It is surprising that such illegal amendments have been passed by the parliament in 1984 especially during tenure of Dr manmohan singh as Governor of RBI (1982-1985).

    B Ravi

    8 months ago

    Public has power to take over the bank or over rule the restrctions set by these So called RBI, SEBI andso called other institutional bodies if you try to test public pessions. We obey the rules is our kindness and respect. Do not try to supress public. Our money in Pacard club and Marartha sahakari bank stucked up and you all enjoy the time. Madar...

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