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Aruna Roy: don't mess with Information Act

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Aruna Roy
Aruna Roy

Vidya Subrahmaniam

Amendments put on the backburner in response to growing public opinion: sources

  • Not a single case of misuse have come to Government attention: Prashant Bhushan
  • IAS today is not a steel frame but a wooden frame with white ants: Roy

    New Delhi: Two days after the Centre backed off on the proposed amendments to the hard won Right to Information Act, including most crucially an amendment to withhold ``file notings'' from public scrutiny, there is no easing of anxiety among RTI activists, who apprehend a fresh offensive from the Government sooner rather than later. On Saturday, official sources indicated that the amendments had been put on the back burner following Congress president Sonia Gandhi's intervention.

    Activists wary

    However, RTI activists are wary of these assurances and feel that the Government has put off the fight for another day. Aruna Roy, who is spearheading the campaign against the amendments, told The Hindu : ``The amendments have been shelved under public pressure public pressure of a kind not seen before. There is nobody and no area that the issue does not touch, and you can see it from the people who have been drawn to it from Narayana Murthy through the Left parties, V.P. Singh, jurists, poor peasants, women activists, performing artists, human rights activists, electoral reform advocates to thousands and thousands of young people. This is not about one voluntary organisation, it is a whole, wide movement. Yet precisely because this is a mass movement, the establishment will hit back. They will hit back because they are losing power, losing control.''

    Rebutting the notion that file notings could be misused or that their disclosure could open the flood gates of complaints and recriminations, fuelling intra-departmental tensions in the civil service, Ms. Roy said: ``You can only blackmail those who have something to hide. As for frivolous resort to file notings, for every one mischief maker, there are 99 others for whom the information is relevant.'' The Magsaysay award winner said there were enough sections under the Indian Penal Code to proceed against misuse.

    Civil liberties lawyer Prashant Bhushan pointed out that so far not a single case of misuse of notings had come to the Government's attention: ``In our recent meeting with Suresh Pachauri [Minister of State for Personnel and grievances], he conceded that he was not aware of even one case where file notings had created problems." To the criticism that the Indian Act was way too radical, Mr. Bhushan said: ``Why not? The biggest democracy ought to have the best, most powerful law."

    "People are sovereign"

    Ms. Roy refuted the suggestion that the mandate to disclose confidential information would lead to more secrecy, to a situation where Government officials resisted writing file notings, or resorted to maintaining shadow files: ``Any Government servant who will not put down his opinion must be sent home. It is a criminal offence to mislead the public. The people are sovereign. Thanks to years of secrecy, today the IAS is not a steel frame but a wooden frame riddled with white ants."

    Ms. Roy's parting comments: If the Government messed with the Act it could forget about getting votes from the people.

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