Terming the right to information a fundamental function in democracy, Aruna Roy, RTI pioneer and social activist, who recently quit the National Advisory Council, said here on Sunday that on the last day of her term, NAC had sent a suggestion to the Prime Minister for making public changes in laws.
“If any amendment is made to the new laws and regulations, it should be put in the public domain for scrutiny, before it goes for drafting. The draft law should be put up on the website,” Ms. Roy said. She was delivering the Pradhan Jwala Prasad memorial lecture on “The Challenge of Transparency and Accountability in Indian Democracy.”
Critical of middle class cynicism, Ms. Roy warned against such a “defeatist” attitude. She said the landmark right to information law was born from the distress of the poor. She stressed engaging with the government. In her first term at NAC, important legislation related to forest rights, domestic violence and employment guarantee were brought into force.
Ms. Roy said her departure from NAC had been “sensationalised” in the media.
“I was not against anybody. I only said that there were two thought processes in the country — one that believed that market growth would solve all problems and the other that advocated socialistic measures.”
The Indian government was highly averse to participatory decision-making, she said.
Raising concerns over the harassment faced by information-seekers, Ms. Roy said asking questions had become difficult.
“What is the price of asking a question in this country? IAS and IPS officers can’t ask questions. Students can’t ask questions and these days even journalists can’t. We have been suppressed for long … Those who are asking questions on sensitive issues, like the Kudankulam nuclear power plant, are called extremists and Maoists. They are harassed and killed,” she said.
About 30 lakh people in India were asking questions under the RTI, but it had cost the lives of 30 people, from all sections of society, including engineers, intellectuals, and farmers. They paid with their lives because “they had the audacity to ask questions.” Earlier in the day, Ms. Roy attended a meeting of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information, where she met RTI activists in Bihar and learnt about the threat and intimidation they faced.
Ms. Roy questioned the Unique Identification project for being ambiguous on the issue of privacy.