Govt slammed for shielding parties from RTI Act

NCPRI to hold protest and open forum discussion at Jantar Mantar on August 6

jasleen

Jasleen Kaur | August 6, 2013


(left to right) NCPRI member Anjali Bharadwaj, veteran editor Vinod Mehta, former NAC member Aruna Roy, former burreaucrat Harsh Mander, NCPRI co-convenor Nikhil Dey
(left to right) NCPRI member Anjali Bharadwaj, veteran editor Vinod Mehta, former NAC member Aruna Roy, former burreaucrat Harsh Mander, NCPRI co-convenor Nikhil Dey

Transparency crusader Aruna Roy is right — the “opaque and hasty manner” with which the government has proposed amendments to the RTI Act to exclude parties from its ambit is a loss of a historic opportunity for the parties to become and be seen as transparent.

With the government bulldozing for the parties a way out of the transparency law’s purview, the activists who had fought for the landmark law’s creation, the members of the national campaign for peoples’ right to information (NCPRI) met in Delhi to consolidate civil society opposition to the move. The activists also demanded the urgent passage of the whistleblowers’ protection Bill which is pending in the Rajya Sabha and the grievance redress Bill in Lok Sabha. Apart from Roy, veteran journalist Vinod Mehta, former bureaucrat and activist Harsh Mander, NCPRI senior members Nikhil Dey and Anjali Bharadwaj.

Roy slammed the government for deciding to amend the RTI Act instead of approaching the courts if there was any opposition to the chief information commissioner’s order that held parties to be public bodies, and therefore, under the purview of the Act.

In June, the central information commission had brought six national political parties under the ambit of the transparency law, on the grounds that they receive substantial financial support from the government and were public bodies.

The union cabinet on August 1 cleared amendments exempting political parties from the Act. The amendments would now be introduced in the monsoon session of parliament.

This is not the first attempt of the government to dilute the landmark law. Since the implementation of the Act in 2006, activists have resisted several attempts by the government to restrict transparency and accountability.

In 2009, when the government had proposed amendments to the act, it had assured parliament that non-governmental organizations (NGO) and social activists would be consulted.

The activists want that the government hold consultations with non-governmental organisations (NGOs), just like it did with political parties, before the RTI amendments are introduced in parliament.

The activists condemned the manner in which the amendments were brought to exempt parties and made an open appeal to the prime minister to not go forward with the amendments in the monsoon session.

Mander summed up the overall attitude towards RTI as being one of ‘applicable to others only’. He said that if parties had problems with the CIC order then they should engage with people on it and have public discussions. He said that the use of parliamentary power to address an issue which affects political parties is a clear conflict of interest.

He said, “CIC made a very interesting observation and it should be left open for debate. Political parties are public authorities and they must accept this. They can’t use the parliamentary power to block transparency. Similarly, even NGOs should be declared as public authorities.”

Nikhil Dey, co-convenor of the NCPRI, said that if all the parties are in agreement with each other on a issue like this, none of them will raise the concerns of people on the floor of the house. “They say they are committed to financial transparency but are seeking blanket exemptions by way of amendments,” Dey noted. He added that people must have the power to directly ask parties about their functioning and funding. “If they want they can appeal against the CIC decision. But amending the act all together is no solution,” he said.

Earlier, activists had written a letter to MPs opposing the proposed amendments to the RTI Act. This has been signed by 300 eminent citizens.

Read: Open letter to our RTI-scared politicians

Time to clean up politics, but will India's netas allow that?

In this hamam, all our political leaders are together

Speaking for safeguarding the RTI Act, Roy said that the first draft of the Act, shaped by a committee under justice P B Sawant in 1996, had kept political parties, NGOs and judiciary in its ambit.“This is a step required for the great cleansing of the political system and to bring back ethics in the system,” she added.

The NCPRI and other activists will be holding a protest demonstration and open forum discussion at Jantar Mantar on August 6. They have  invited representative of political parties for a public debate on the proposed amendments

Roy said that a series of protests have been planned across the country including Bangalore, Hyderabad and other cities. She said that over 6,000 people had signed the online petition in Gujarat, and similar campaigns have been started in Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Odisha.
 

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