'Save RTI, Save Democracy': Hundreds Protest Attempts to Dilute the Law

Activists slammed the Centre for seeking to amend the Act, which they cautioned would destroy the independence and autonomy of information commissioners.

New Delhi: On the eve of the 13th anniversary of the passage of the Right to Information Act 2005, a protest and public meeting were organised by the National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information (NCPRI) here on Thursday to highlight the “on-going attempts to dilute the law” by bringing in certain amendments which, it cautioned, would destroy the independence and autonomy of information commissioners.

As part of the protest, first, a march was organised from Mandi House to parliament in which RTI activists and users from Delhi, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Karnataka, West Bengal, Assam, Himachal Pradesh, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Manipur, Jammu and Kashmir, Haryana and Gujarat participated.

Holding placards and posters reading “Save RTI, Save Democracy,” protestors also urged the Centre to implement the Whistleblowers Protection Act that was passed four years ago.

The march culminated at the Constitution Club where a public meeting or “Jan Manch” was organised where several members of NCPRI, including Anjali Bhardwaj, Nikhil Dey, Venkatesh Nayak, Dr Shaikh, Rakesh Dubuddu, Pradip Pradhan and Pankti Jog spoke. They recalled how during the monsoon session of parliament, a bill to amend the RTI Act was listed on the legislative agenda.

Activists caution amendments to RTI would have ‘chilling effect’

Stating that the amendments under it had sought to empower the Central government to decide the tenure, salaries, allowances and other terms of service of all information commissioners in the country, thereby completely destroying their independence and autonomy, the speakers said this amendment was only put on hold on account of the protests lodged in July by RTI activists against the move.

They said the transparency movement faced another threat in the form of an amendment to section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act which has been proposed through the Data Protection Bill put forth by the Justice Srikrishna Committee. “If passed, the amendments would have a chilling effect on the RTI Act,” they cautioned.

Also read: Data Protection Bill a Serious Threat to Press Freedom

The gathering was also addressed by chief information commissioner R.K. Mathur who said that along with the RTI Act, there was a need to put in place a comprehensive anti-corruption and grievance redress legislative framework. This, he said, was essential as a large percentage of RTI applications seeking information related to redressal of people’s basic grievances regarding non-delivery of rights and entitlements.

Prashant Bhushan at the Jan Manch. Credit: Twitter/@AnjaliB_

Modi government trying to kill the RTI Act: Prashant Bhushan

Senior advocate Prashant Bhushan alleged that the Narendra Modi government was trying to kill the RTI Act by not appointing information commissioners. He said though the government had come to power on the plank of anti-corruption, it had failed to operationalise the Lokpal and Whistleblowers Act. He exhorted the activists to launch a nation-wide movement to save institutions of transparency and accountability in the country.

Also read: Transparency Suffers as Vacancies, Pending Cases in Information Panels at All-Time High

The Jan Manch also witnessed speakers from several states narrating their experiences about how the RTI had empowered them and how they faced various problems in accessing information.

SIC head accused of terming RTI users as ‘extortionists’

Kathyayini Chamaraj from Karnataka testified that while more than 30,000 matters were pending before the state information commission, the chief information commissioner of the state had given a public statement calling RTI users extortionists and blackmailers and had demanded that FIRs be filed against those who sought information about public servants.

Also read: With Attack on Himachal Man, Number of Murdered RTI Activists Rises to 73

A number of activists from Bihar, Himachal Pradesh and Odisha spoke about threats, attacks and recent murders of RTI activists in their states.

The activists also noted that while the functioning of information commissions needed to be strengthened, the government was, in fact, trying to weaken them through the proposed amendments.

The NCPRI declared that it would be organising campaigns across the country to oppose amendments to the RTI Act and to demand implementation of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act 2013 and the Whistleblowers Protection Act, 2014, and that the Grievance Redressal Bill 2011, which had lapsed on dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha, be reintroduced and passed.