RTI Activists Boycott PM’s Address at CIC Annual Convention

New Delhi:  The Central Information Commission’s annual conference, which began today,  is especially important as it marks a decade of the existence of the Right to Information Act. But its decision to restrict civl society participation to just seven persons from the RTI movement led members of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information – Aruna Roy, Anjali Bharadwaj, Nikhil Dey, Venkatesh Nayak, Shekhar Singh, Amrita Johri and Lokesh Batra – to boycott the Prime Minister’s address at the convention. They will, however, participate in the technical sessions of the convention.

Reportedly, the CIC wanted to invite activists and users from around the country but was prevented from doing so by the government. Furthermore, the Intelligence Bureau conducted background checks on the RTI activists that were invited and asked for information about the activists’ parents as well as the activists’ opinion of the current central government. Several activists were even sent emails that stated they would not be invited to the convention for “security reasons.”

Every year since 2006, the Prime Minister of the day has addressed the convention and there have never been these restrictions. In every single convention (barring last year when no convention was held) activists and RTI users from across the country had the chance to participate and engage with government to further strengthen the RTI Act. “We do not understand why this year these intelligence and security checks were felt to be necessary and were further used as justifications to restrict civil society participation”, said the NCPRI in a statement. “Activists from Maharashtra, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and several other states had taken the time out to attend this convention and then they were suddenly told that they would not be allowed to attend the Prime Minister’s address for security reasons. They have spent their own money and taken the time to be a part of this convention, therefore this arbitrary action is unacceptable to us,” said Nikhil Dey of the NCPRI.

If the reports are correct, this interference of the government hampers the independence and freedom of the CIC to engage with people at large. Addressing a press conference on Thursday, the NCPRI released a joint statement that addressed this arbitrary action. “With the clear understanding that this process runs counter to transparency, accountability and participation, and threatens the independence and mandate of the CIC. We have resolved that the members of the NCPRI who have received invitations (and have not as yet been uninvited) will not attend the inaugural session. The NCPRI will use the RTI to probe the sequence of events and will fight to establish the independence and pro-people democratic mandate of the CIC. The RTI is a people’s law and we will use RTI to save RTI”, reads a section of the statement.