Citizens protest bid to dilute RTI Act

As Lok Sabha MPs debated the Right to Information Act Amendments Bill inside Parliament House on Monday, a small group of Delhi citizens – mostly women – for whom the Act is a lifeline — took to the streets less than a kilometre away to protest the proposed changes.

According to critics, the amendments to give the Centre power to set the tenure and salary of Information Commissioners will compromise their autonomy and independence.

Sanno Devi can personally testify to the importance of the Central Information Commission. The physically challenged resident of Jagdamba Camp had filed an RTI request when her ration supply was stopped a few years ago. After her case went up to the Central Information Commission (CIC) – the highest appeal body under the RTI Act – her rations were restored, and she was granted an additional sum of ₹18,000 in compensation.

“I do not have a proper ration card. Others in my community are struggling to get pensions. We have used the RTI Act to hold the government to account and get our benefits,” said Ramesh Kumari, a senior citizen from Savitri Nagar.

“We are fighting for the right to question the government. They say that this [amendments] law will make it harder to do that,” added 60-year-old Raheesa Begum.

Having marched from Jantar Mantar to Constitution Club, the women, accompanied by a sprinkling of activists from the RTI, Right to Food and land rights movements, settled down to a Jan Manch of leaders denouncing the Bill, including Members of Parliament.

“The UPA brought in laws to promote transparency and expose corruption, such as the RTI Act and the whistleblowers law. But this government is only interested in weakening and diluting these laws,” said Congress MP Rajeev Gowda.

Rashtriya Janata Dal MP Manoj Jha said the amendments would kill the spirit of the RTI Act and emphasised the importance of a strong people’s resistance against the Bill. He vowed to oppose the Bill in the Rajya Sabha and send it to the Parliamentary standing committee for further discussions. As the Lok Sabha passed the Bill on Monday, the ball is now in the court of the Upper House.

Other politicians who spoke included Sanjay Singh of the Aam Aadmi Party, Ghanshyam Tiwari of the Samajwadi Party and D. Raja of the Communist Party of India.

“The government has repeatedly said that it wants to establish a corruption-free society. However, if they really want to do this, what is the need to amend the RTI Act?” asked former Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah. “If the people who bring information to you are scared to tell the truth, how will the information reach you?”

“It may seem like a technical issue – debating the salary and tenures of officials – but I think it is important to recognise that this is a people’s issue. To expose daily corruption through the RTI Act, it is important that people can trust the independence of the Information Commissions,” said Anjali Bhardwaj, co-convenor of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information.

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Printable version | Feb 19, 2020 6:07:10 AM |

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