Friday, July 28, 2006

Infanticide - RTI amendments

In the beginning, there was darkness. Then after a sustained campaign by activist for around 10 years, the UPA government gave us the right to information (RTI). Right to information is one of the most progressive laws that has been enacted in past 58 years. The aspects of the act was revolutionary, as it attempted to smoothen the wide gap between the rulers and the ruled. The act made no distinction between the official machinery and ordinary individuals. It tried to expose the government, by removing the cloak of secrecy that used to shroud our executive.

For many years the working of our government remained a hush-hush secret affair. This is a legacy of the colonial rule, and the mindset of the “steel frame of India” never changed after independence. Every citizen of the country was treated as a mischief maker, a potential enemy. Even the constitution faled to bring the masses at an equal level as that of the organs of the state. While the rationale behind this treatment can be argued when a foreign power was ruling the country, it was beyond comphension why the Indian government treated all its own citizens as enemy of the state. Time passed, and with defunct courts, we the Indians learned to live as bovines. Sarkar was sarkar, and we left it to decide what is good for us. “By the people, of the people, for the babus” was our principle of democracy. That was until the right to information act.

One of the first decision that the UPA government took was the passage of RTI act. This act was preceded by 10 years of committed activism by some of the best brains of India. Aruna Roy, Shekhar Singh, Arvind Kejriwal, Anna Hazare and many more crusaders led the campaign for citizen’s right to information. For the first time the state had consulted actively with the civil society, and incorporated most of their suggestions while framing the bill.

But perhaps RTI was too successful. The bureaucracy tried tooth and nail to stop its implementation. They added imaginary clauses, and used every unethical means to subvert genuine RTI applications. The information commission, dismissed petitions after petitions illegally. Many state made their own laws, or paid no heed to the provisions provided in the national RTI act. They were successful in keeping file notings out of the purview of the right to information. Thankfully the chief information commissioner (CIC) passed an order that file notings are within the purview of right to information.
In a panic reaction, hardly 8 days after the CIC ruling, the union cabinet decided to significantly alter the RTI. In the list of amendments it has proposed, file notings do not come within the ambit of RTI. Without the file notings, RTI has nothing. The decision making process will not be disclosed henceforth. This has dangerous precedent and bureaucrats will be able to work with same impunity and secrecy as before. The worst part is that we as citizens can do absolutely nothing about it. The RTI is still in its infancy. There are no mass awareness campaigns by the government, with the media and some NGO’s fulfilling that role. There is still considerable resistance among the officials in sharing information. There is no concept of proactive disclosure or disclosure of meeting minutes. The information officers are in most cases bureaucrats themselves, and many of them have a corrupt past. If the amendmends pass through, it will snatch the little recourse to justice that the individuals have in our state. It will be nothing less than an infanticide.

Please sign the online petition How much will an online petition help is a matter of debate. However this can help ingenerating awareness of the issue.

Aruna Roy’s and Nikhil Dey write against the amendments in the Hindu
and in the Indian Express


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