Statement issued by RTI activists gathered together in Delhi at the RTI festival organized by NCPRI and other civil society groups.
BeyondHeadlines News Desk
We are deeply dismayed and concerned by some of the statements made by the PM in his speech delivered on the occasion of the Annual CIC Convention to mark the 7th anniversary of the Right to Information Act. The RTI Act that has been used and owned by the people of India and has gone a long way towards giving ordinary citizens a tool by which they can fight corruption and the arbitrary use of power to ensure accountable, transparent and democratic government.
It was our hope that the PM’s speech would call for a more energetic and vibrant RTI regime where both users and custodians of information would work together to build a culture of openness, helped along by the RTI Act. However, the following concerns expressed by the PM will support and pass a signal to those who want to dilute and weaken the Act that they have support from the highest quarters. Citizens will be deprived of a transparent and accountable system.
Frivolous and vexatious use of the RTI Act– The PM has repeated the concern voiced even last year by him regarding frivolous and vexatious RTI applications. This matter has since been discussed and deliberated in various forums across the country. The DOPT framed a set of amendments which were discussed in the public domain (including on DOPTs website) and in the NAC, and it was finally decided to drop the amendments seeking to empower PIOs to reject frivolous and vexatious applications. These terms are undefinable and arbitrary and any application can be termed “vexatious and frivolous” as per the whim and fancy of a PIO. Any move to sanction rejection of applications on this basis would cripple the RTI act. The law has adequate provisions under section 8 to reject applications that are not legitimate.
Personal privacy: The RTI Act has provisions for protecting privacy concerns of individuals. It has not been made clear by the PM as to why this provision is inadequate to protect person privacy nor has the government laid out those cases in which personal privacy has been infringed because of the RTI Act. We feel that any mechanisms evolved for the protection of privacy of individuals must be harmonious with the RTI Act. The PM’s concerns about personal privacy being affected again gives rise to the fear that privacy that this will be used as an excuse to curtail peoples’ right to information.
PPPs: We are extremely alarmed by the PM’s statement that PPPs should not be held to the standards of disclosure of the RTI Act because it might discourage private enterprises to enter into partnership with government. We feel that if anything, a PPP should have greater standards of transparency& accountability because a public service is being entrusted in the hands of a private body. Infact, many ordinary people see the PPP as a ploy by government to escape its responsibilities and accountability.Removing them from the purview of the RTI act in any way will make them unaccountable and opaque. We see no justification for this suggestion.
We believe that users of the RTI Act are doing a great service to the nation and the benefits of greater transparency will always outweigh the burden that public authorities may feel in its implementation.
We are glad that the government has decided to file a review petition on the SC judgement regarding the composition of information commissions. We feel this judgement will result in inordinate delays, increase pendency and make information commissions ineffective. We feel that norms and standards for time bound disposal of appeals and complaints in the information commissions and a transparent system of appointment of ICs are urgently needed.
We agreewith the PM that the RTI Act should not be taken as an irritant but something that is good for all collectively. But infact the areas of concerns outlined by the PM and potential proposed changes will promote just the opposite. We feel that RTI is the most important tool to restore peoples’ faith in governance, deal with issues of corruption and create an atmosphere conducive for a strong economy. We will strongly oppose any move to dilute this important peoples’ right.
We welcome the fact that the government is serious about bringing in other legislations that the people of the country have been demanding such as the Whistleblower’s Protection Bill and the Time-Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of Grievances Bill.