Representational Image. Image Courtesy: Outlook India
Shanno Devi, who is deaf and dumb, lost the recognition of her ration card owing to a software error. Her case was filed with the Central Information Commissioner; it is only then that she, along with seven others, could manage to get a compensation of Rs. 18,000 per person.
“This is the reason why freedom of information is important. It is for people like us whose rights we have to fight for,” said Ashok who handles queries like this on a daily basis.
With the Modi government tabling the proposed amendments to the RTI Act, activists are taking to the streets in multiple states across India to voice their dissent against the proposed amendments.
The tabled Bill amends Sections 13 and 16 of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005. Section 13 of the original Act sets the term of the central chief information commissioner and information commissioners five years (or until the age of 65, whichever is earlier). The amendment proposes that the appointment will be “for such term as may be prescribed by the Central Government”. Again, Section 13 states that salaries, allowances and other terms of service of “the Chief Information Commissioner shall be the same as that of the Chief Election Commissioner”, and those of an Information Commissioner “shall be the same as that of an Election Commissioner”.
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A protest march was held in Delhi, following which a jan sabha (public meeting) was organised. The meeting was addressed by members of political parties who are opposing the suggested changes such as D Raja, general secretary of the Communist Part of India, Sanjay Singh, Rajya Sabha member of the Aam Aadmi Party, lawyer Prashant Bhushan and activist Nikhil Dey among others. Speaking at the meet, Anjali Bhardwaj of the National Campaign for Peoples' Right to Information (NCPRI) said, “Since the government cannot stop citizens from obtaining information, it is now trying to crush the independence of the institution. In terms of transparency, the sunshine law guaranteeing citizens their fundamental right to information has been under constant attack in the last five years. The new amendments seek to empower the central government to decide the tenure, salaries, allowances and other terms of service of all information commissioners in the country. This will do the job of scaring the commissioners.”
The activists said that the Bharatiya Janata Party, using its might, is trying its best to get the act passed without any delay. As a part of the campaign, the activists said that they had called up MPs voting in the Parliament today, but found out that the MPs were not aware of the proposed changes of the act, but were instructed to vote in favour of the amendment.
The bill was introduced in the current session on July 19 and will be taken up by the Rajya Sabha in the next few days. The activists are demanding that the bill should be referred to a select committee of the Rajya Sabha.
D Raja said, “Tomorrow at 10, there is a meeting of the opposition parties to stall the passage of the bill in the Rajya Sabha. This is one law that holds exemplary significance for common people and it is a product of their struggle. It is absolutely undemocratic and regressive to see it being diluted.”
Bhushan said, “It is through this law that massive corruption in this country stands exposed. This government is trying to shield all information from the people and is trying to murder the RTI act.”
With its proposed amendments through the RTI Amendment Bill 2018, the Modi government had tried its best to weaken the original Act of 2005, giving the Centre unchecked power to decide on salaries and tenures of information commissioners. Only after protesters took to the streets across India during the Monsoon session of Parliament last year and growing pressure from activists, that the proposed amendments were dropped.
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