Utpal Borpujari

June 22, 2009

There is a move to amend the RTI Act secretively: Kejriwal

Filed under: Deccan Herald,India,Indian Politics,Media,Politics — Utpal Borpujari @ 3:02 pm
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By Utpal Borpujari

Right to Information activists are up in arms over the alleged “hush hush” manner in which the UPA government has initiated moves to amend the RTI Act, many of them accusing the government of trying to dilute its avowed goal of having a transparent government in all senses of the term. The reported moves to exclude file notings from the purview of the Act, except those on social and developmental issues, has particularly disturbed the activists who apprehend that if that is done, the whole purpose of having the Act would be defeated. Magsaysay Award-winning social activist Arvind Kejriwal, whose NGO Public Cause Research Foundation (PCRF) has instituted the first-ever National RTI Awards this year to promote use of the Act, talks to Deccan Herald’s Utpal Borpujari on the issues involved:

The President’s address to the Joint Session of Parliament talks of the government’s aim to amend the RTI Act. How do you view the move?

It is very interesting to see that when the UPA came to power the first time in 2004, the first thing they did was to pass the historic RTI Act, and this time when they retained power, the first thing they are trying to do is to clip its wings. Even in 2006 they tried to do it, but withdrew the proposed amendments in view of stiff opposition from the public. Now they are again proposing the same amendments, about which we have only read in media reports.

How do you view the reported move to amend the Act to take out file notings from the purview of the Act?

The logic given by the government for trying to do so is quite general and theoretical. When the last time it tried to do so, we had asked the government to give us two or three instances of when its or the country’s interests were hampered due to release of information under the act, the reason now being cited for the move, and it could give not a single example. So, that fear is completely misplaced. The reported logic is that bureaucrats are apprehensive about putting notings on files because of RTI, but if they are putting down the right notes onto the files, why should they be afraid of anything? The UPA government started its first tenure with a pro-people move by enacting the Act, and it should not begin its second tenure with the anti-people move of amending it.

Has the government got in touch with civil society organizations like PCRF or Parivartan, which are working in the field of RTI, regarding the proposed changes?

The most unfortunate thing is that the RTI Act, which is all about bringing transparency to public life, is being sought to be amended in a secretive manner. Till now, no civil society body has been contacted regarding the issue. I have spoken to Anna Hazare, and he and people like Aruna Roy too are really disturbed about the way things are going. We yet do not know what are the planned amendments, but what the media reports are saying is quite disturbing – if they remove file notings from the purview of the Act, they will remove the very intention of the Act.

The government is reportedly not against giving out file notings related to social and developmental issues?

But how would you define them? Finally, it will be decided by the Public Information Officer (PIO), and he is likely to define everything as sensitive, which will result in every RTI application ending up with the Central Information Commissioner, which means it will take 3-4 years for every application to be answered, defeating its very purpose. The whole move is also against the Article 19 (1) of Constitution, which already has certain restrictions built in on the issue of freedom of speech and expression, and you cannot have further restrictions beyond it.

Are all the RTI activist bodies planning to have a coordinated move against the reported amendments?

We will come together on a common strategy once the government makes its intent public and clear. The list of the proposed amendments should have been first put up for public consultation and then framed. Now, even if they go for public consultation, it will appear to be a farce or a formality.

From the experience of working in the field, what do you think are the main drawbacks of the RTI Act as it exists today?

The main problems are two: firstly the process of appointment and removal of Information Commissioners (ICs) is quite ambiguous. The process needs to be made participatory and transparent; and secondly there is no time limit prescribed for disposal of cases by the ICs – a time limit is a must. The main bottleneck in the whole process is actually the ICs – they are being seen as agents of the government rather than protectors of people’s rights.

And the positives?

A large number of success stories, definitely. In just four years of its existence, it has reached every nook and corner of our country, which we have seen even through the nominations received for the RTI Awards, some of whom have come from remote tribal areas of states like Jharkhand. But it will take time before it reaches every household of the country, to achieve which RTI activists have been undertaking awareness campaigns. We are trying to do our bit by adding the RTI Awards to the campaign, so that by honouring deserving people, we are able to create more awareness about the Act.

(Published in Deccan Herald, www.deccanherald.com, www.deccanheraldepaper.com, 22-06-2009)




  1. Dear sir,
    My name is mohan
    sir i have attenened one meeting on 24.06.2009
    The chief guest is Mr.Arvind kejriwal. really the RTI must used by all the citizen’s. your sincierity in this RTI publicity is really high. But one suggestion to u sir. Please make a short film about this RTI and publish all over the INDIA. U are great sir

    Comment by mohan — June 25, 2009 @ 8:07 am | Reply

  2. Dear sir,

    From mohan

    Sir your contribution for making awarness about this RTI is really great. i am not expectinf your reply. but i am expecting the short film about the RTI. Because today the media is the power of source to publish. many peoples are not using this media for good manner. This is my kind request to you sir.
    We love India. God will helps you Sir.

    Comment by mohan — June 25, 2009 @ 8:17 am | Reply

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