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”.