LETHAL: Govt-CIC tirade to kill RTI

With the Central Information Commission joining hands with the Government, country’s Right to Information (RTI) Act is surely heading for slow death, a desire of both politicians and bureaucrats.

Although the Central government had been trying dilution of the transparency law for years, it succeeded to some extend this week through new Right to Information (RTI) Rules 2012.

The new rule supersedes the Central Information Commission (Appeal Procedure) Rules, 2005 and the Right to Information (Regulation of Fees and Cost) Rules, 2005 and was issued without any prior consultation with civil society or citizens.

In fact, the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) — government’s nodal office for the RTI — treated the rules as a “top secret” and did not place them on its website even after the notification was issued. It was my colleague Aloke Tikku who placed the detrimental rules in public domain with his stories on Friday and Saturday.

The way the rules were notified to dilute the parent law shows the intention of the government that is obstructionist in its approach towards RTI. Instead of making getting information easier for people the government has made it tough.

For the first time a condition of the application should not be of more than 500 words had been made applicable and the poor will have attach below poverty line certificate to claim exemption from the RTI fees of Rs 10. Several civil society members such as National Advisory Council (NAC) member Aruna Roy had opposed such conditions saying it will interfere in citizen’s right to seek information.

It is a well known fact that the bureaucrats and politicians are extremely unhappy with people asking them uneasy questions such as how much of public money has been spent on their travel. RTI has exposed that bureaucrats and politicians in a year travel a distance between earth and moon in a year with no accountability linked to such travels.

If that was not enough the body of retired bureaucrats — the Central Information Commission — has been ensuring through its orders that people feel defeated in the long battle to seek information.

Recently, Chief Information Commissioner Satyananda Mishra rejected an appeal seeking correspondence between the Prime Minister and Chief Justice of India on the ground that it did not specify which information was needed. Another Information Commissioner Sushma Singh has a standard format to revert back the RTI appeals in cases where the first appellate authority had failed to decide on the issue within the specified time period. As a result, the battle to get information from cloaks of government secrecy gets longer and longer.

Many of the other information commissioners appointed by the government without any transparency and selection process are no better. They have been helping the government to curb the voice of dissent, essential for a matured democracy. It is resulting in growing frustration among civil society using RTI to bring in a positive change.

As, National Advisory Council member Aruna Roy had said, the space for dissention in India is crunching with the governments cracking upon those who stand to oppose them. May be media controlled through government advertisements or civil society members through state repression.

The trend — obvious with increase on attack on RTI activists — is lethal and a sad commentary for our independence heading for 65 years.

Sadly, it is happening during the tenure of UPA government credited with bringing a people friendly transparency law and involving civil society in governance through NAC.

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