The Narendra Modi government is trying to amend the Right to Information (RTI) Act 2005, but RTI activists in the country have raised concerns that the proposed amendments would weaken the legislation, which has empowered millions of people to hold public authorities accountable.
On 25 May, the National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information (NCPRI) wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressing “anguish and concern” regarding the “regressive” amendments to the RTI Act 2005 being proposed by the BJP-led NDA government.
Urging Modi to not dilute the Act, the activists associated with the NCPRI have demanded that the government make the text of the draft RTI Amendment Bill available in the public domain for scrutiny and discussion, before it is introduced in Parliament.
Among the most worrisome proposed amendments, said the NCPRI while citing media reports, was the proposal that the central government and state governments would decide the salaries of information commissioners through rules — a move that is likely to compromise the independence and autonomy in the functioning of the commissioners.
What is the issue?
The draft rules in the amendment bill, issued by the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) of the Government of India, has reportedly been approved by the Cabinet.
There are also several other issues, raised earlier by the RTI activists, with the proposed amendments that will complicate the process of seeking information from the government.
But the text of the amendment bill has not been made public, and no comments and suggestions from the public have been sought yet.
“This manner of legislating important laws undermines people’s democratic right to know and participate in the legislative process and prevents public scrutiny of the provisions of a proposed bill.”
The first thing that Congress decided to do after coming to power was to give people the right to seek information about how the govt is functioning.
— Priyanka Gandhi (@WithPGV) July 14, 2018
The RTI activists — including Aruna Roy, Anjali Bhardwaj, Nikhil Dey, Venkatesh Nayak, Shailesh Gandhi and Shekhar Singh, among several others — have demanded that the Modi government make the amendment bill public in keeping with the pre-legislative consultation policy of the government of India.
The History of Law
“In 2014, a Pre-legislative Consultation Policy was adopted by the Government of India which mandates that all draft legislation (including subordinate legislation) be placed in the public domain for 30 days for inviting public comments and a summary of comments be made available on the concerned ministry’s website prior to being sent for Cabinet approval,” the NCPRI reminded the BJP-led NDA government.
“The necessity and significance of public consultation in the process of law-making is widely recognised by democratic governments across the world,” the letter added.
More than six million RTI applications are filed every year, and the RTI Act is “the most extensively used transparency legislation globally,” to quote the NCPRI. “The law has been used by people to fight corruption and wrongdoing in the system.”
“We strongly urge you to ensure that the RTI Act, 2005 is not diluted in any manner,” said the NCPRI.
— Anjali Bhardwaj (@AnjaliB_) July 14, 2018
“The text of the proposed RTI Amendment Bill must be immediately put in the public domain, along with reasons for proposing the changes, to enable wide discussion and public debate before it is introduced in Parliament. An effective participatory consultative process must be adopted to invite public comments and suggestions on the proposed legislation.”
The importance of the Right to Information, and the threat that it poses to public authorities by holding them answerable can be gauged by the rising number of attacks and murders of RTI activists in the country. In fact, the states of Gujarat and Maharashtra — which have been ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for over two decades and one-and-a-half decades, respectively — have seen the highest number of attacks on RTI users.
Advantages of RTI:
- Empowerment of the common man: The entire range of common man in the nation has been empowered by such an initiative in which they have got the full rights to be informed about anything that affects their lives directly or indirectly and the responsible bodies have to answer them positively.
- Easy mode of spreading information rightfully: The RTI has incubated a very concrete and easy mode of spreading information of all kind in all form where apt information will be received by only the person concerned and this will, in turn, result in easy access to information on one hand and time conservation of all.
- Protection of Information: Since, the selected people with selected queries will be entertained and informed rightfully and aptly, so this will lead to protection of information thereby protecting everyone from being wrongly or inappropriately informed or misinformed.
#SaveRTI. We demand no dilution or amendment of RTI. Secondly this Govt which came on the Sabka Sath Sabka Vikas slogan has become so opaque in its policy decisions that no one knows what are the amendments they are proposing. We shld know@PMOIndia @shaileshgan @suchetadalal
— Dolphy Dsouza (@dolphydsouza) July 14, 2018
- Corruption will decrease gradually: If a person asking for information on certain products and services and the answer has to be delivered by a competent and responsible authority then the chances of corruption will certainly minimize. People will not have to bother about being cheated or victims of frauds and scams.
- Unnecessary chaos all over: There is a big drawback that sustains in our nation, and that is a fact that in this immensely populated nation and that is the habit to create unnecessary disturbance and chaos over a newly incorporated plan just to create a nuisance. Cases have been filed against fetching wrong information and asking for abrupt information from different officials at various levels and this creates nothing but an overall chaos.
- An extra burden to the Authorities: Since the authorized persons are already having loads of works and tasks to be delivered at their end and after this new act passed they have additional burden to be done and delivered.
— Fairoz Khan (@Fairoz_JK) July 14, 2018
- Multiple Public Information Officers (PIO): The government has appointed multiple PIO’s. This results in running of citizens from office to office in search of correct PIO who can yield correct information.
- People’s accessibility is hectic and time-consuming: There are many offices of PIO where the access of common man is very prolonged and it becomes very hectic to carry out the process. The subsystems created beneath the system is basically problematic.