Activists against proposed amendments to RTI Act

The Hindu, June 15, 2009

The campaigners for transparency and right to information are worried about the proposed amendment to the country’s path breaking law, the Right to Information Act 2005, diluting its effectiveness. If the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government goes ahead with the changes, as announced by President Pratibha Patil in her address to Parliament on June 4, nothing good is to come out of it, they insist.

After the Magsaysay award winner Aruna Roy last week expressing serious doubts about the intention behind the move to amend the existing Act, it was the turn of Shailesh Gandhi, Commissioner with the Central Information Commission, to give out similar sentiments here on Saturday. “We have to fight this move as it is not an attempt to improve upon the existing law,” said Mr. Gandhi, speaking as the chief guest at the launch of an orientation workshop on the second phase of the RTI project being implemented by the Jaipur-based NGO, CUTS Centre for Action, Research and Training(CUTS CART).

“My fear is that with the amendment the present provision in the law to provide copies of file noting would go. In the next 100 days this can happen and the people have to remain vigilant against any such move,” said Mr. Gandhi, a businessman turned RTI activist. “People are only familiarizing themselves with the existing law and changes in them would only complicate the situation and obstruct the implementation of the law,” he warned. “The Governments in general are no great advocates of right to information,” he pointed out.

As such education of the masses was taking considerable time in making the law more effective, Mr. Gandhi, who created a record of sorts in clearing the pending applications with the Central Information Commission, said. “What I have come across while dealing with the applications is that many of the applicants do not know how to seek information. Perhaps people should be taught to be more focused in their queries,” he felt.

“In three years the Act has made a big impact. However it should be pointed out that initially only 15 per cent in Rajasthan knew how to file an application under the law to get information. With advocacy their number has gone up to 35 per cent in the past three years,” observed George Cheriyan, director CUTS CART.

The collective concern of the civil society organizations (CSOs) was about the dilution of the provisions of the Act to suit the powers that be, he said.

Harinesh Pandya of JANPAT, a network of civil society organizations in Gujarat, said RTI had rekindled a new hope in the minds of the public on the effectiveness of the system. The law had not only opened up immense possibilities for the ordinary citizen but also was helping the bureaucracy in withstanding undue pressure from the politicians, he pointed out.

The gathering , which included grass root level of RTI activists and CSOs from Rajasthan unanimously resolved to raise their collective concern to the Government of India over the announced ‘suitable amendments’ to the RTI.

It also asked the Rajasthan Government to take necessary steps for the effective implementation of the RTI act by appointing required number of Information Commissioners and by providing required infrastructure.

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