Malala’s fighting spirit needed to save RTI

The only law that empowers people — the Right To Information Act — is facing its worst danger within seven years of its birth from the government which created it and judiciary, mandated to uphold the law.

The overtones against the law were being heard since it came into force in 2005 but the first blow was severed in 2011 when the Central Bureau of Investigation was exempted from its ambit. Another government bid to restrict one right to information was checkmated by Sonia Gandhi headed National Advisory Council.

But, 2012 saw the attack getting more brutal and lethal. First, the government notified new RTI rules imposing a restriction of “ordinarily” 500 words on the RTI application and then the Supreme Court asked the government to appoint retired judges as head of the information commissions and introduced a system of bench, having one judicial member, in functioning of the commission. So far, individual members in the commission were hearing RTI appeals.

On Friday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh severed hit the last nail by suggesting circumscription of people right to information if it encroachers upon someone’s private information and checkmating possible expansion of the RTI law to Public Private Partnership projects. He also warned against use of RTI to ridicule public servants, which goes against the spirit of the transparency law.

RTI activists led by NAC member Aruna Roy are up in arms but what they should be inspired by the fighting spirit of teenager Malala to protect rights of a common Indian citizen, rather than just diatribe.

Malala had fought against threats of Taliban in Pakistan to uphold a girl’s right to formal education and was brutally attacked by the pro-Islamic militant groups.

Indian RTI activists had been vocal against the increasing direct and indirect ways to restrict the law but have not taken sufficient steps to prevent such bids.

Not even a single RTI activist or groups have launched an agitation or movement to SAVE RTI against the government. If they are really serious about they should organize large scale public awareness campaigns to mobilize public opinion against the governments of the day and hold candle light marches to depict slow-death of RTI law. Talking big on television channels will not work.

I feel absence of persons like Arvind Kejriwal is hurting the RTI movement as he and his NGO Parivartan showed guts to hold the Central Information Commission siege for failing to protect the rights of RTI activists.

Kejriwal had started his civil society career as an RTI activist for which he won Magsaysay award. He has shifted his focus to bigger issue of corruption and had sadly forgotten that RTI is a key tool to fight corruption. Many RTI activists have either lost their lives or have been attacked for raising their voice against corruption and their martyrdom cannot be wasted to protect whims and fancies of those in power at the highest levels of government and judiciary.

I agree with Roy that the space for dissenting voice was reducing in India. But, if Malala can raise her voice in Pakistan where such a space does not exist, we can do better in the limited space we have. We have to gear up for a fight or RTI is doomed, as former Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi says.

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