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Updated: October 23, 2009 15:16 IST

Abandon ill-advised move to amend RTI Act: intellectuals to PM

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Magsaysay Award Winner and Right to Information activist, Aruna Roy. File photo: Sandeep Saxena
The Hindu
Magsaysay Award Winner and Right to Information activist, Aruna Roy. File photo: Sandeep Saxena

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.

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The methodology employed to nullify the flow of information through "RTI ACT" is similar to that applied to all those acts meant for welfare of poor and downtrodden in this country, i.e.,let it be there only for record and to hide the corrupt nature of beauracracy while in practice deny information asked by public. Even today the beauracracy does not think they are servants of Indians, who are paying them salaries, but their masters as they did in the days of British rule.

from:  R. Subbarao
Posted on: Oct 25, 2009 at 07:43 IST

Let me repeat Pandit Nehru's observation that he would rather have a free press with all its faults than a press "regulated" to become acceptable.

RTI could be the only reason that the people retain Congress in power. Politicians always try to keep people as dumb and mute as possible so that they can continue with their addiction to money and power. They give very good reasons such as frivolous, meaningless etc. There may be some genuine concerns. But there is no other way for politicians to atleast understand that their purpose is to make money and claim power but not that easy like before. This is a tool at least to force the next generation politicians to sit back and think for the country first and make money later with all constraints.

from:  Jayapaul
Posted on: Oct 25, 2009 at 07:23 IST

RTI is one great acheivement of UPA that we Indians are all proud about. We shoud nuture this Act by adding more value rather than to dilute it. It is very unfortunate that such an idea comes from the office of the President, who is the first citizen.

It is our sincere and kind request to all the architects of this RTI not to dilute the RTI provisions.

from:  Prathap Singh
Posted on: Oct 24, 2009 at 12:40 IST

The Right to Information Act is the only arm in the hands of common man. Any attenmpt to dilute it by the so called 'amendments to correct faults' should be opposed. Though independence was declared in 1947, the right to self governance for common citizens was truly realized only in 2005 through the RTI Act.

from:  Boby Philip
Posted on: Oct 24, 2009 at 12:16 IST

Hello great people of India! A RIGHT to information is a RIGHT, not a privilege. Whether vexatious, frivolous or even flirtatious, we must be able to exercise our right WITHOUT ANY question.

from:  B. S. Kumar
Posted on: Oct 24, 2009 at 10:25 IST

I agree with the activists. The government should forget about amending this proposal. I am sure some of these officials are probably scared of the power of RTI so want to cut it down. Get real guys.

from:  Bernard Malik
Posted on: Oct 24, 2009 at 10:02 IST

The RTI Act was one of the boldest moves by the UPA to bring transparency in governance. Diluting it is simply a method to protect the illogical and corrupt officers/ministers in the Government. The problem with our politicians is that they have too many things to hide. It is high time that they are deterred in some way or other in order to reduce the corruption

from:  S.N. Iyer
Posted on: Oct 24, 2009 at 07:25 IST

The Government's action is true to its nature i.e.rob the poor, gift the rich.

from:  R.Subbarao
Posted on: Oct 24, 2009 at 05:13 IST

Unless the Act is strengthened, there is no meaning to transparency and accountability. C.I.C. and S.I.Cs. should be given powers to punish defiant public authorities. In most cases orders are not obeyed by the officers because the Commissions have no powers to enforce the orders and punish disobedient public authorities. The individuals who style themselves as R.T.I. Crusaders and hit front page headlines are mere award seekers. They are not interested in Right to Infromation.

from:  Chamaraj Bangi
Posted on: Oct 24, 2009 at 04:04 IST

The proposal of the government gives the game away. The president was not in the right to suggest such a dilution of the RTI.It is still early days for the RTI in India. The president has a duty to nurture as well as uphold constitutional values which involves boosting the flow of information to the citizenry. In this context, we may well recall Pandit Nehru's observation that he would rather have a free press with all its faults than a press "regulated" to become acceptable. It is unfortunate that such statesmanship is at a high premium today.

from:  ravindran.P
Posted on: Oct 23, 2009 at 21:09 IST

The RTI act needs further strengthening instead of curtailing its purview. RTI is the only provision which when used by common public can build effective defence against corruption in bureaucracy that threatens to eat our system inside out.

from:  Manish Ranjan
Posted on: Oct 23, 2009 at 19:39 IST

The activists are absoultely correct. Who is to decide that an application is vexatious or frivolous?On what grounds? It would definitely be a very bad move to amend the RTI Act like that.

from:  Senthil Rajan
Posted on: Oct 23, 2009 at 18:23 IST

I too support the move opposing the amendment of RTI. Currently, RTI is the only tool present with a commoner to get the details that are otherwise occluded by rampant corruption and bureaucracy. Any amendments to the existing RTI, which is performing well, would necessarily leave the commoner with no means to prevent his peril.

from:  Sakthi
Posted on: Oct 23, 2009 at 17:19 IST
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