More than 100 eminent persons and activists including Aruna Roy, Medha Patkar and Prashant Bhushan have written to the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, requesting the government to drop plans to amend the RTI Act which will “emasculate” it.
In the letter to Dr. Singh, these citizens expressed their anguish over the proposals of rejecting “so-called vexatious and frivolous applications”, excluding “file-notings” and discussion or consultations that take place before arriving at a decision from the purview of the Act.
Making their views clear, the group led by Ms. Roy urged the government to “abandon this ill-advised move to amend the RTI Act.”
The letter, also signed by personalities like Nandita Das, Jean Dreze, Romila Thapar, Arundhati Roy, Bipin Chandra, Binayak Sen and lawyer, Ram Jethmalani, among others cited two nation-wide studies on the implementation of RTI Act in the country to support their arguments against the proposed amendments.
“Neither of these studies, despite interviewing thousands of PIOs and officials, has concluded that the occurrence of frivolous or vexatious applications is frequent enough to pose either a threat to the government or to the RTI regime in general,” the letter said.
In their letter, the activists wrote that these nationwide studies — one done under the aegis of the Government of India and the other by people’s organizations (RaaG and NCPRI) — did not show any evidence that access to “file-notings” or other elements of the deliberative process, has posed a major problem for the nation.
“Strengthens the honest and sincere official”
“On the contrary, many of the officers interviewed have candidly stated that the opening up of the deliberative process has strengthened the hands of the honest and sincere official,” they said.
The activists said that it was impossible to come up with definitions of “vexatious” and “frivolous” that are not completely subjective and consequently prone to rampant misuse by officials.
They also said that it was a hollow promise to have legislation for ensuring “transparency” and encouraging “accountability” in governance which excludes the basis on which a decision is taken.
President Pratibha Patil in her speech at the annual convention of Central Information Commission recently had said there was a need to cut down on “frivolous” RTI applications.
Later, Department of Personnel and Training, the nodal department for implementing the Act, had convened a discussion with Information Commissioners from across the country to deliberate on proposed changes in the Act which saw strong opposition from the majority of the Commissioners.