People from more than 13 states marched to Parliament on Thursday to protest against the proposed amendments to the Right to Information Act, and to share their experiences on how the Act had empowered them.
The march, organised by the National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information (NCPRI) was held to celebrate 13 years of the use of the RTI Act that has empowered millions of people across the country.
It may be recalled that during the Monsoon session of Parliament, the Narendra Modi government had listed a Bill to amend the RTI Act. The proposed 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.
However, the NCPRI feels that this move would "completely destroy the independence and autonomy of information commissioners."
"Another amendment to the RTI Act (to section 8(1)(j)) has been proposed through the Data Protection Bill (DPB) put forth by the Sri Krishna Committee. If passed, the amendments would have a chilling effect on the RTI Act," NCPRI said in a release.
The march was held to register the protest of people on the ground who felt that the proposed amendments would infringe on their fundamental right to information, which must be protected and strengthened.
Among the testimonies narrated at the meeting was one by Bhoop Singh, a resident of Savitri Nagar in Delhi, who spoke about how through the use of the RTI Act he was able to access his old age pension.
"The social welfare department was refusing to sanction his pension without any reason and it was only when he filed an RTI application that the department released Rs. 18,000 as his pension for the last 12 months," NCPRI said in the release.
"Nirmala, a resident of Kusumpur Pahari testified that she had applied for the Ladli Scheme for her daughter. Upon not receiving any benefits and being made to run from pillar to post, she filed an RTI application seeking the status of her application. Finally after the first appeal, Rs. 23,000 was transferred to her daughter’s account," said another account, cited in the release.
RTI activists said that the functioning of information commissions needed to be strengthened, but the Modi government was doing the exact opposite by weakening the commissions through the proposed amendments.
The Chief Information Commissioner of the Central Information Commission, R. K. Mathur, the Chief of the Kerala State Information Commission, Vinson Paul, information commissioner of Haryana, Hemant Atri and Lalit Mathur (former commissioner) also participated in the Jan Manch.
Mathur said that along with the RTI Act, there was a need to put in place a comprehensive anti-corruption and grievance redress legislative framework, adding that a large percentage of RTI applications seek information related to redressal of peoples’ basic grievances about non-delivery of rights and entitlements.
NCPRI said it would be organising campaigns across the country to oppose amendments to the RTI Act and to demand implementation of Lokpal, Whistleblowers Protection and grievance redress laws.