Don’t vote for exemption amendments, eminent citizens urge MPs

A group of eminent citizens, including the former Delhi High Court Chief Justice A.P. Shah and the former Cabinet Secretary T.S.R. Subramanian, has opposed the proposals for amendments to the Right to Information Act, exempting political parties from the purview of the transparency law.

In a letter, endorsed among others by the former Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi, RTI activist Venkatesh Nayak and the former Mumbai Police Commissioner Julio Ribeiro, the eminent citizens have also appealed to parliamentarians not to vote for any such Bill.

“There are reports in the media that a Bill is likely to be presented in Parliament to amend the RTI Act. The reasons being given publicly are that the CIC order declaring political parties, as public authorities, subject to RTI is bad in law.” If it was so, the letter said, “the CIC order can be challenged in a writ petition in the High Court.” There were many instances of “these orders having been quashed in courts.” But none of the parties had filed for a stay of this order and they “expect to amend the law in Parliament to justify and legitimise their defiance of a statutory order.”

Addressing parliamentarians, the letter said, “Defying a statutory order by anyone sets a wrong example, and leads to breakdown of the rule of law.”

The letter argued that the transparency law had been used extensively and it had uncovered arbitrariness and corruption. “The key principle in defining the bodies to be covered by the RTI Act was based on the movement’s slogan, hamara paisa, hamara hisab. Hence all government bodies were covered by the RTI Act and also other institutions which may be ‘substantially funded’ by the government were covered.”

Arguing that the RTI Act never damaged any institution, the letter said: “Some political representatives have claimed that they would not like to be questioned about their processes of decision making. RTI only gives access to citizens to the records of a public authority, and does not entitle the citizen to question the merits of the decisions.”

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