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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Agitate for RTI implementation, urges Aruna Roy

MUMBAI, 6th OCTOBER ’09: Leading activist Aruna Roy expressed disgust at the way bureaucrats were being appointed as State and Central Information Commissioners (SICs and CICs) through non-transparent procedures. “It violates the principles of checks-and-balances – a bit like staffing the Human Rights Commission with former CBI officers,” she said. “We must firstly agitate to ensure that no more than one-fifth of the Information Commissioners are former civil servants. Also, selection procedures must be made transparent. Secondly, we must ensure stringent Section 4 implementation by every public authority. And thirdly, we must fight for substantial budget allocations for training PIOs. The time is ripe to start organizing a mass agitation now,” she said.

At an afternoon round-table meeting organized by Narayan Varma of BCAS Foundation and Bhaskar Prabhu of Mahiti Adhikar Manch, Aruna Roy interacted with prominent Right-to-Information (RTI) activists of Mumbai on various issues.

“I meet RTI activists in every city and town that I visit. There are over 10 lakh RTI users and activists around the country… but they are all feeling fractured and disenchanted with Right to Information. They are not feeling united and empowered,” remarked Aruna Roy, who was in Mumbai yesterday to receive the Nani Palkhiwala Award for her work towards preserving civil liberties.

“The original forces behind the RTI Act are no longer acting in concert. RTI is truly a People’s Act – the hard-earned fruit of many agitations from 1994 to 1997, and intellectual inputs from diverse kinds of professionals, including journalists, former judges, legal brains and bureaucrats. But, after the Act was passed, we all have drifted apart and followed our own individual agendas,” she lamented. It was urgent to re-ignite the passion in RTI activists nationwide, including stalwarts and founding-fathers of RTI. For this, a convention lasting many days was being organized in Hyderabad towards the end of November, she said.

“Every political party is doing things that the common people are opposed to, such as establishing SEZs. It is necessary to oppose those things by various means, including agitating on the streets. To make this a truly participatory democracy, we have to widen the scope of politics. We need people’s politics, and not just parliamentary politics. To build up public opinion on various issues, we need various levels of networking, from organizing street-corner meetings to setting up websites and email-forums,” she said. She urged activists to initiate and propagate such a national-level movement.

She suggested that activists could urge citizens to send postcards in large numbers for protesting on various public issues, such as the Supreme Court judges’ refusal to disclose their assets. “The postcards could ask: ‘In the land of Gandhi, how can you do this?’” she suggested.

Discussing the indiscriminate granting of court orders indefinitely staying SIC/CIC orders against various public authorities, Aruna Roy said, “We must move the Information Commissions to appoint lawyers to have such Stay Orders vacated. For this, we may request retired judges and advocates to lend their services in the public interest.”

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