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14 Years On, RTI Movement Battles ‘Amendment’ Roadblock

Fourteen years after RTI Act was passed, government departments continue to dodge transparency & accountability.

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Video Editor: Ashutosh Bhardwaj

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How many of you can recall the story ‘Bholaram Ka Jeev’ in Hindi written by Harishankar Parsai?

A satire on the state of bureaucracy, ‘Bholaram Ka Jeev’ narrates the story of an aam aadmi whose soul is trapped in government files, struggling to make its way to heaven. Bholaram’s soul was stuck waiting for his pension while alive, but the babus wouldn’t tell him what was causing the delay, even after his death.

Such is the state of red tape and corruption in India, a country that was ranked at 78 among 175 countries in 2019 by the global corruption watchdog Transparency International.

It was with the intention of curbing this corruption menace that the Right to Information (RTI) Act was passed in 2005.

Fourteen years later, the RTI movement has hit a roadblock after the BJP-led government introduced certain amendments in July 2019.

For activists who have been at the forefront of RTI campaign, it’s a battle that they will continue to fight on several fronts.

Founder members of the NCPRI (National Campaign for People’s Right to Information) that had spearheaded the RTI movement, Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey, are disturbed by the recent amendments.

“The amendment of the RTI Act is not a simple technical matter. The reduction of power of the Information Commission really hits you and me in a fundamental sense. Because, the power of the RTI to act as a watchdog, the most powerful one in the country, is reduced.”
Aruna Roy, Founder Member, NCPRI
Fourteen years after RTI Act was passed, government departments continue to dodge transparency & accountability.
“The government succeeded in ramming through amendments in Parliament without any consultation. These amendments weaken the backbone and the strongest part of the RTI Act, which is the Information Commissions which can make sure that information can be extracted from the highest offices and given to citizens.”
Nikhil Dey, Founder Member, NCPRI
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While RTI activists from the newly created union territory of Kashmir are apprehensive about the efficacy of the central RTI Act when compared to the erstwhile J&K’s version of RTI law, grassroots-level workers in Bihar are living in fear amidst a spate of murders of RTI activists in the state.

Dr Sheikh Ghulam Rasool whose RTI intervention had led to the clearance of the Tosa maidan firing range in Budgam in 2014 explains how the erstwhile state’s version of RTI law was superior to that of the central Act.

“In India, people don’t know that the J&K RTI Act 2009 is better than the central RTI Act in terms of two provisions. First, under the J&K Act, the first appellate authority has the power to recommend a penalty or fine against the PIO (Public Information Officer) if it’s found that he (or she) is denying RTI requests frequently. Second, another provision which is not therein the central act is Sec 16 (k), which states that the information commission will have to dispose of the second appeal within 60 to 120 days.”
Sheikh Ghulam Rasool, RTI Activist
Fourteen years after RTI Act was passed, government departments continue to dodge transparency & accountability.

For Ashish Ranjan, an RTI activist from Araria in Bihar, it’s the nexus between corrupt officials, middlemen and local traders that often results in brutal murders of those who approach government departments with RTI pleas.

“Usually, the department from which information is sought leaks details about the RTI activist. This nexus usually prevails and that leads to murders of activists.”
Ashish Ranjan, RTI Activist

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