Amendment to RTI Act 'an obviously retrograde step'

25 th October, 2009

Dear Dr. Manmohan Singh,

We are alarmed and distressed to learn from media reports that the Government of India proposes to introduce amendments to the RTI Act. This is despite categorical assurances by the Minister of State, DoPT that any amendments, if at all necessary, would only be decided upon after consultations with the public. We are further dismayed to read that far from strengthening the RTI Act, as stated by the Honourable President of India during her speech to the Parliament on 4 th June 2009, the government's proposition would in fact emasculate the RTI Act. The proposed amendments include, introducing an exemption for so-called “vexatious and frivolous” applications, and by excluding from the purview of the RTI Act access to “file notings” and the decision making process, this time by excluding “discussion/consultations that take place before arriving at a decision”.

Two current nation-wide studies, one done under the aegis of the Government of India and the other by people’s organizations (RaaG and NCPRI), have both concluded, that the main constraints faced by the government in providing information is inadequate implementation, the lack of training of staff, and poor record management. They have also identified lack of awareness, along with harassment of the applicant, as two of the major constraints that prevent citizen from exercising their right to information. 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. Certainly no evidence has been forthcoming in either of these studies that access to “file notings” or other elements of the deliberative process, has posed a major problem for the nation. 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.

We strongly believe that it is impossible to come up with definitions of “vexatious” and “frivolous” that are not completely subjective and consequently prone to rampant misuse by officials. We also feel that it is a hollow promise to have legislation for ensuring “transparency” and encouraging “accountability” in governance which excludes the basis on which a decision is taken. Would it be fair to judge a decision (or the decision maker) without knowing why such a decision was taken, what facts and arguments were advanced in its favour, and what against? Can one hold a government (or an official) accountable, just on the basis of what they did (or did not do) without knowing the real reasons for their action or inaction? We, the people of India, already directly or indirectly know the decisions of the government, for we are the ones who bear the consequences. What the RTI Act facilitated was a right to know why those decisions were taken, by whom, and based on what advice. This right is the bedrock of democracy and the right to information, and cannot be separated or extinguished without denying this fundamental right.

In any case, in case the government has credible evidence, that despite the findings of the earlier mentioned studies, and despite the safeguards inherent in the RTI Act, “vexatious and frivolous” applications, and access to the deliberative process, are posing a great danger to the Indian nation, these should be placed in the public domain. We are confident that the involvement of the people of India will result in evolving solutions that do not threaten to destroy the RTI Act itself. For a government that has been repeatedly been appreciated for bringing about this progressive legislation, such a move would strengthen the spirit of transparency and public consultation. Surely that is the least that can be expected of a government that propagates the spirit of transparency.

It is significant that even among the collective of Information Commissioners from across the country, whom the government recently “consulted”, the overwhelming view was against making any amendments to the RTI Act at this stage of its implementation. These Commissioners, all appointed by the government, have a bird’s eye view of the implementation of the RTI Act. They have the statutory responsibility to monitor the implementation of the Act, and the moral authority to speak in its defence. Since the government works with the democratic mandate of the people, the collective wisdom, of people across the board who use and implement the law with an ethical base cannot be put aside. In any case we feel the advice of the information Commissioners should be taken into account.

We urge the government to therefore, abandon this ill advised move to amend the RTI Act . Instead, we request it to initiate a public debate of the problems that it might be facing in the implementing of the RTI Act and take on board the findings of the two national studies that have recently been completed. It is only through such a public debate that a lasting and credible way can be found to strengthen the RTI regime.

This government gave its citizens the RTI Act, and there has been no crisis in government as a result of its enactment. In fact the Indian state has, as a result greatly benefited, and the RTI Act and its use by ordinary people is helping change its image to that of an open and receptive democracy. An amendment in the Act would be an obviously retrograde step, at a time when there is a popular consensus to strengthen it through rules and better implementation and not introduce any amendments. We strongly urge that an unequivocal decision be taken to not amend the RTI Act.

With regards,

Aruna Roy, Shekhar Singh, Nikhil Dey

  1. Justice P. B. Sawant - Signed
  2. Anil B. Divan - Senior Advocate Supreme Court - Signed
  3. Prashant Bhushan - Senior Advocate Supreme Court - Signed
  4. Smita Divan - Signed
  5. Dr. Azgar Ali Engineer - Writer & Activist, Centre for Study of Society and Secularism
  6. Swami Agnivesh - Social Activist
  7. Sanjit Bunker Roy - Social Work Research Centre, Tilonia, Rajasthan
  8. Tarun Tejpal - Editor-in-Chief, Tehelka
  9. Arundhati Roy - Writer and Activist
  10. Neelabh Mishra - Editor, Outlook (Hindi)
  11. Ram Jethmalani - Senior Lawyer
  12. Medha Patkar - Signed
  13. Mallika Sarabhai - Cultural and Political Activist & Danseuse
  14. Sandeep Pandey - Human Rights Activist & AASHA Parivar, UP
  15. Arvind Kejriwal - Parivartan, Magsaysay Awardee
  16. Muzaffar Bhatt - RTI Activist, J&K
  17. Prabhash Joshi - Eminent Senior Journalist
  18. Bharat Dogra - Freelance Journalist, New Delhi
  19. Amitabh Behar - Director, NCAS
  20. Prof. Jagdeep Chhokkar - IIM-Ahmedabad (rtd.)
  21. Alok Mehta - Editor-in-Chief, Naiduniya
  22. Binayak Sen - General Secretary, PUCL, Chattisgarh - Signed
  23. Prof. Trilochan Sastry - IIM- Bangalore
  24. Harsh Mander - Supreme Court commissioner, Right to Food
  25. Kuldip Nayar - Eminent Senior Journalist
  26. Soli Sorabjee - Former Attorney General of India
  27. Nandita Das - Cultural and Political Activist & Film Maker & Actor
  28. Ajit Bhattacharjea - Senior Journalist & National Campaign for People's Right to Information - Signed
  29. Prof. Jayati Ghosh - Jawaharlal Nehru University
  30. Dunu Roy - Director, Hazard Centre Delhi
  31. Kamla Bhasin- SAHR
  32. E.A.S. Sarma - Former Secretary, Ministry of Finance
  33. Admiral Ramdas - Former Chief of Naval Staff
  34. Venkatesh Nayak -Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative
  35. O. P. Jain - Signed
  36. Lalita Ramdas - Social Activist
  37. Sharda Jain - Educationist
  38. Anand Patwardhan - Film Maker
  39. Maja Daruwala - Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative
  40. Prof. Jagmohan - National Campaign for People's Right to Information
  41. Anjali Bhardwaj - National Campaign for People's Right to Information
  42. Teesta Setalvad - Lawyer and Human Rights Activist
  43. Lalit Mathur - Former Director General NIRD
  44. Jean Dreze - Visiting Professor G B Pant University, Allahabad
  45. Admiral Tahiliani - Former Chief of Naval Staff
  46. Leela Samson - Director Kalakshetra
  47. Prof. J. G. Krishnayya - Director, Systems Research Institute, Pune
  48. P.S. Appu - Former Director LBS National Academy for Administration
  49. B. Yugandhar - Former Member Planning Commission
  50. Vinita Deshmukh - Editor, Intelligent Pune
  51. Arundhati Dhuru - Right to Food Campaign, UP
  52. Sumit Chakravarty - Editor, Mainstream
  53. Baba Adhav - Eminent Socialist ad Social Activist, Maharashtra
  54. Romila Thapar - Historian
  55. Julio Ribeiro - Retired I.P.S Officer and Civil Servant
  56. Vrinda Grover - Lawyer and Human Rights Activist
  57. Amar Kanwar - Film Maker
  58. S. R. Sankarna - Former Secretary Rural Development & Human Rights Campaigner
  59. Kavita Srivastav- General Secretary, PUCL
  60. Pamela Philipose - Senior Journalist
  61. Commodore Lokesh Batra - RTI Activist - Signed
  62. Vinay Mahajan- Loknaad & National Campaign for People's Right to Information
  63. Charul Bharwada - Loknaad & National Campaign for People's Right to Information
  64. Kamini Jaiswal - Senior Advocate Supreme Court
  65. Shanti Bhushan - Former Law Minister
  66. Harsh Sethi - Editor, Seminar
  67. Justice Dave - Supreme Court Justice (retd.)
  68. K. S. Subramaniam - IPS (retd.) - Signed
  69. Partho Kumar Dey - Air Marshall (rtd.), Indian Air Force
  70. Dr. Amita Baviskar - Academic
  71. Prof. Kamal Mitra Chenoy - Jawaharlal Nehru University
  72. Madhu Bhaduri - Former Ambassador GoI
  73. Shomi Das - Educationist
  74. Sowmya Kidambi - RTI activist
  75. Major General S.C.N. Jatar (retd)
  76. Kamal Jaswal - Director, Common Cause, India
  77. Suren Khirwadkar
  78. Shahid Burney - RTI activist, Pune
  79. Avinash Murkute- RTI activist, Pune
  80. Roda Mehta
  81. Sanjay Shirodkar - RTI activist, Pune
  82. Yogendra Yadav - Fellow, Wissenschaftskolleg Zu Berlin (Institute for Advanced Study)
  83. Annie Raja - General Secretary NFIW - Signed
  84. Shyam Benegal - Film maker
  85. Madhu Kishwar - Editor Manushi
  86. Ashim Jain
  87. S.R. Hiremath - NCPNR
  88. Suman Sahai - Gene Campaign & NCPRI
  89. Prof. Nandini Sundar - Delhi School of Economics
  90. Justice J.S. Verma - Former Chief Justice of India
  91. Sanjay Kak - Film Maker
  92. Ashish Kothari - Kalpavriksh
  93. Usha Rai - Journalist
  94. Nitya Ramakrishnan - Senior Lawyer
  95. Achin Vanayak
  96. Devaki Jain - Economist
  97. Vandana Shiva - Navadanya
  98. Prof. Hargopal - University of Hyderabad - Signed
  99. Harish Dhawan - Professor, Delhi University & People's Union for Democratic Rights - Signed
  100. Prof. Randhir Singh - Professor (retd.), Delhi University - Signed
  101. Manoranjan Mohanty - Professor (retd.), Delhi University - Signed
  102. Pushkar Raj - General Secretary, PUCL - Signed
  103. Ravi Hemadri -The Other Media - Signed
  104. Suhas Borker - Convener, Working Group on Alternative Strategies - Signed
  105. Mukul Mangalik - Professor, Delhi University - Signed
  106. Apoorv Anand - Professor, Delhi University - Signed
  107. Mukul Priyadarshini - Professor, Delhi University - Signed
  108. Shashi Saxena - Professor, Delhi University - Signed
  109. Moushumi Basu - Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University - Signed
  110. Rajni Bakshi - Citizens for Peace - Signed
  111. Deepika Tandon - People's Union for Democratic Rights - Signed
  112. Ranjoy Kumar Reddy - Researcher, Delhi University - Signed
  113. Shahana Bhattacharya - People's Union for Democratic Rights - Signed
  114. Amrapali Basumatary - New Socialist Initiative - Signed
  115. Madhu - Jagori - Signed
  116. Mayil Samy- Advocate - Signed
  117. Kalaiyarasan - JNU DSU
  118. Deepti Bharti - NFIW - Signed
  119. Surendra Mohan - Signed
  120. Sudhir K. Sahu - Signed
  121. Anil - PDFI, Delhi - Signed
  122. Jeevan - PDFI - Signed
  123. Mamata Dash - NFFPIW - Signed
  124. Manas Ranjan - Journalist, The Tribune - Signed
  125. Kiran Shaheen - Media Action Group - Signed
  126. Sunita Kumari - Daanish Books - Signed
  127. Ramchandra Prasad - ICAN INDIA - Signed
  128. Bipin Chandra - Historian and Director, National Books Trust
  129. Kiran Bhatty - UNICEF - Signed
  130. V.M. H. Banna - Journalist, Madhyamam Daily - Signed
  131. Surinder Singh
  132. Shailesh Haribhakti - Signed
  133. Sarwar Kashani
  134. Madhav Godbole
  135. Diwan Singh - Ridge Bachao Andolan
  136. Yogendra Narain - ICAN INDIA
  137. Arundhati Roy - Writer
  138. Suma Josson - Film Maker
  139. Ramaswami Iyer - Former Secretary, Water Resurces Ministry
  140. Ramchandra Prasad - ICAN-India
  141. Pradeep Ghosh - Ashoka Fellow & OASiS
  142. Ashwani Goyal
  143. Manish Jain
  144. Siddhartha Basu
  145. Dr. H. Sudarshan - Karuna Trust & VGKK, Bangalore
  146. A.L. Ragarajan - Rejuvenate India Movement, Chennai
  147. Vijayan Menon - Kormangla Initiative, Bangalore
  148. Urvashi Sharma - Social Worker, RTI Mahila Manch UP
  149. Prithvi Sharma - MD, FACC, USA
  150. Surekha Sharma - MD, FAAP, USA
  151. Prof. Mridula Mukherjee - Director NMML
  152. Swapan Ganguly - PBKMS, West Bengal
  153. Y. Singh N. Rajput - Gujarat
  154. Nitin Sonawane - IFA
  155. Sampad Zantye
  156. Dr. Hari Dev Goyal - Indian Economic Service (Rtd.)
  157. Ajay Pandey - Assc. Professor of Law, Jindal Global Law School
  158. Chitrangada Choudhury - Journalist
  159. Mahendra K. Gupta
  160. Dr. Ashok Sharma
  161. Gayatri Sahgal - Centre for Equity Studies
  162. Chandra Krishnamurthy
  163. Biswajit Mohanty - FCA
  164. Vijay Kapoor
  165. Paromita Vohra - Film Maker
  166. Vijendra Singh - UP
  167. Ravi Duggal - Research & Activist - International Budget Partnership
  168. Joyjeet Pal - Academic
  169. Ashok Gokhale
  170. Tara Warrior - Pune
  171. Damodar Warrior- Pune
  172. Col Mohite (rtd.)
  173. Dr. Anand Lakshmi
  174. Geeta Mohite
  175. Dr. Renu Singh - Save the Children, India
  176. Alankrita Isha Mrigakshi - Institute of Aerospace Medicine, Koln, Germany
  177. Himanshu Thakkar - South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, Delhi
  178. Arindam Jit Singh - Tema Nishant
  179. Prof. Rajinder Chaidhary - Dept. of Economics, University of Rohtak, Haryana
  180. Sandeep Thakur
  181. Dr. Kamla Ganesh - Prof. and Head of Department, Sociology, University of Mumbai
  182. Sindhu - National Election Watch, Karnataka
  183. Amit B. Jethava - President, Gir Nature Youth Club, Gujarat
  184. Amman Madan - Assc. Professor, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Kanpur
  185. Malay Bhattacharyya - West Bengal RTI Manch
  186. Rahul Varman - Department of Industrial and Management Engineering, IIT Kanpur
  187. Ghyansham Shah
  188. Hansabahen
  189. Daniel Mazgaonkar
  190. G.L.N. Reddy - Hyderabad
  191. Girish Mahajan
  192. Anil Taparia
  193. Dr. Vednata Kabra
  194. S. L. Chowdhury
  195. Faisal Khan - NAPM, Asha Parivar
  196. Saraswati Kavula - Film maker and activist
  197. Somesh Bagchi - Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata
  198. Pankaj Joshi - Executive Director, UDRI
  199. Dr. Anil Joshi
  200. Dhan Raj Bansal - Mumbai
  201. Subodh Abhi - Jan Ekta Samiti, Ponta Sahib
  202. Ramesh Agrawal - Jan Chetna, Chhattisgarh
  203. Bardwaj Ananthem - Asha for Education, USA
  204. Dr. J.N. Sharma - Advocate and RTI Activist, Lucknow
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