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Sunday, November 1, 2009

Amendment to RTI Act 'an obviously retrograde step'

Amendment to RTI Act 'an obviously retrograde step'

New Delhi, October 26, 2009

More than 200 eminent citizens have urged Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to abandon the “ill advised move to amend the RTI Act”. This is the full text of the letter signed by Aruna Roy, Magsaysay Award winner, and others.
25th October, 2009

Dear Dr. Manmohan Singh,

We are alarmed and distressed to learn from media reports that the Government of India proposes to introduce amendments to the RTI Act. This is despite categorical assurances by the Minister of State, DoPT that any amendments, if at all necessary, would only be decided upon after consultations with the public. We are further dismayed to read that far from strengthening the RTI Act, as stated by the Honourable President of India during her speech to the Parliament on 4th June 2009, the government's proposition would in fact emasculate the RTI Act. The proposed amendments include, introducing an exemption for so-called “vexatious and frivolous” applications, and by excluding from the purview of the RTI Act access to “file notings” and the decision making process, this time by excluding “discussion/consultations that take place before arriving at a decision”.

Two current nation-wide studies, one done under the aegis of the Government of India and the other by people’s organizations (RaaG and NCPRI), have both concluded, that the main constraints faced by the government in providing information is inadequate implementation, the lack of training of staff, and poor record management. They have also identified lack of awareness, along with harassment of the applicant, as two of the major constraints that prevent citizen from exercising their right to information. Neither of these studies, despite interviewing thousands of PIOs and officials, has concluded that the occurrence of frivolous or vexatious applications is frequent enough to pose either a threat to the government or to the RTI regime in general. Certainly no evidence has been forthcoming in either of these studies that access to “file notings” or other elements of the deliberative process, has posed a major problem for the nation. On the contrary, many of the officers interviewed have candidly stated that the opening up of the deliberative process has strengthened the hands of the honest and sincere official.

We strongly believe that it is impossible to come up with definitions of “vexatious” and “frivolous” that are not completely subjective and consequently prone to rampant misuse by officials. We also feel that it is a hollow promise to have legislation for ensuring “transparency” and encouraging “accountability” in governance which excludes the basis on which a decision is taken. Would it be fair to judge a decision (or the decision maker) without knowing why such a decision was taken, what facts and arguments were advanced in its favour, and what against? Can one hold a government (or an official) accountable, just on the basis of what they did (or did not do) without knowing the real reasons for their action or inaction? We, the people of India, already directly or indirectly know the decisions of the government, for we are the ones who bear the consequences. What the RTI Act facilitated was a right to know why those decisions were taken, by whom, and based on what advice. This right is the bedrock of democracy and the right to information, and cannot be separated or extinguished without denying this fundamental right.

In any case, in case the government has credible evidence, that despite the findings of the earlier mentioned studies, and despite the safeguards inherent in the RTI Act, “vexatious and frivolous” applications, and access to the deliberative process, are posing a great danger to the Indian nation, these should be placed in the public domain. We are confident that the involvement of the people of India will result in evolving solutions that do not threaten to destroy the RTI Act itself. For a government that has been repeatedly been appreciated for bringing about this progressive legislation, such a move would strengthen the spirit of transparency and public consultation. Surely that is the least that can be expected of a government that propagates the spirit of transparency.

It is significant that even among the collective of Information Commissioners from across the country, whom the government recently “consulted”, the overwhelming view was against making any amendments to the RTI Act at this stage of its implementation. These Commissioners, all appointed by the government, have a bird’s eye view of the implementation of the RTI Act. They have the statutory responsibility to monitor the implementation of the Act, and the moral authority to speak in its defence. Since the government works with the democratic mandate of the people, the collective wisdom, of people across the board who use and implement the law with an ethical base cannot be put aside. In any case we feel the advice of the information Commissioners should be taken into account.

We urge the government to therefore, abandon this ill advised move to amend the RTI Act. Instead, we request it to initiate a public debate of the problems that it might be facing in the implementing of the RTI Act and take on board the findings of the two national studies that have recently been completed. It is only through such a public debate that a lasting and credible way can be found to strengthen the RTI regime.

This government gave its citizens the RTI Act, and there has been no crisis in government as a result of its enactment. In fact the Indian state has, as a result greatly benefited, and the RTI Act and its use by ordinary people is helping change its image to that of an open and receptive democracy. An amendment in the Act would be an obviously retrograde step, at a time when there is a popular consensus to strengthen it through rules and better implementation and not introduce any amendments. We strongly urge that an unequivocal decision be taken to not amend the RTI Act.

With regards,

Aruna Roy, Shekhar Singh, Nikhil Dey

Justice P. B. Sawant - Signed
Anil B. Divan - Senior Advocate Supreme Court - Signed
Prashant Bhushan - Senior Advocate Supreme Court - Signed
Smita Divan - Signed
Dr. Azgar Ali Engineer - Writer & Activist, Centre for Study of Society and Secularism
Swami Agnivesh - Social Activist
Sanjit Bunker Roy - Social Work Research Centre, Tilonia, Rajasthan
Tarun Tejpal - Editor-in-Chief, Tehelka
Arundhati Roy - Writer and Activist
Neelabh Mishra - Editor, Outlook (Hindi)
Ram Jethmalani - Senior Lawyer
Medha Patkar - Signed
Mallika Sarabhai - Cultural and Political Activist & Danseuse
Sandeep Pandey - Human Rights Activist & AASHA Parivar, UP
Arvind Kejriwal - Parivartan, Magsaysay Awardee
Muzaffar Bhatt - RTI Activist, J&K
Prabhash Joshi - Eminent Senior Journalist
Bharat Dogra - Freelance Journalist, New Delhi
Amitabh Behar - Director, NCAS
Prof. Jagdeep Chhokkar - IIM-Ahmedabad (rtd.)
Alok Mehta - Editor-in-Chief, Naiduniya
Binayak Sen - General Secretary, PUCL, Chattisgarh - Signed
Prof. Trilochan Sastry - IIM- Bangalore
Harsh Mander - Supreme Court commissioner, Right to Food
Kuldip Nayar - Eminent Senior Journalist
Soli Sorabjee - Former Attorney General of India
Nandita Das - Cultural and Political Activist & Film Maker & Actor
Ajit Bhattacharjea - Senior Journalist & National Campaign for People's Right to Information - Signed
Prof. Jayati Ghosh - Jawaharlal Nehru University
Dunu Roy - Director, Hazard Centre Delhi
Kamla Bhasin- SAHR
E.A.S. Sarma - Former Secretary, Ministry of Finance
Admiral Ramdas - Former Chief of Naval Staff
Venkatesh Nayak -Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative
O. P. Jain - Signed
Lalita Ramdas - Social Activist
Sharda Jain - Educationist
Anand Patwardhan - Film Maker
Maja Daruwala - Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative
Prof. Jagmohan - National Campaign for People's Right to Information
Anjali Bhardwaj - National Campaign for People's Right to Information
Teesta Setalvad - Lawyer and Human Rights Activist
Lalit Mathur - Former Director General NIRD
Jean Dreze - Visiting Professor G B Pant University, Allahabad
Admiral Tahiliani - Former Chief of Naval Staff
Leela Samson - Director Kalakshetra
Prof. J. G. Krishnayya - Director, Systems Research Institute, Pune
P.S. Appu - Former Director LBS National Academy for Administration
B. Yugandhar - Former Member Planning Commission
Vinita Deshmukh - Editor, Intelligent Pune
Arundhati Dhuru - Right to Food Campaign, UP
Sumit Chakravarty - Editor, Mainstream
Baba Adhav - Eminent Socialist ad Social Activist, Maharashtra
Romila Thapar - Historian
Julio Ribeiro - Retired I.P.S Officer and Civil Servant
Vrinda Grover - Lawyer and Human Rights Activist
Amar Kanwar - Film Maker
S. R. Sankarna - Former Secretary Rural Development & Human Rights Campaigner
Kavita Srivastav- General Secretary, PUCL
Pamela Philipose - Senior Journalist
Commodore Lokesh Batra - RTI Activist - Signed
Vinay Mahajan- Loknaad & National Campaign for People's Right to Information
Charul Bharwada - Loknaad & National Campaign for People's Right to Information
Kamini Jaiswal - Senior Advocate Supreme Court
Shanti Bhushan - Former Law Minister
Harsh Sethi - Editor, Seminar
Justice Dave - Supreme Court Justice (retd.)
K. S. Subramaniam - IPS (retd.) - Signed
Partho Kumar Dey - Air Marshall (rtd.), Indian Air Force
Dr. Amita Baviskar - Academic
Prof. Kamal Mitra Chenoy - Jawaharlal Nehru University
Madhu Bhaduri - Former Ambassador GoI
Shomi Das - Educationist
Sowmya Kidambi - RTI activist
Major General S.C.N. Jatar (retd)
Kamal Jaswal - Director, Common Cause, India
Suren Khirwadkar
Shahid Burney - RTI activist, Pune
Avinash Murkute- RTI activist, Pune
Roda Mehta
Sanjay Shirodkar - RTI activist, Pune
Yogendra Yadav - Fellow, Wissenschaftskolleg Zu Berlin (Institute for Advanced Study)
Annie Raja - General Secretary NFIW - Signed
Shyam Benegal - Film maker
Madhu Kishwar - Editor Manushi
Ashim Jain
S.R. Hiremath - NCPNR
Suman Sahai - Gene Campaign & NCPRI
Prof. Nandini Sundar - Delhi School of Economics
Justice J.S. Verma - Former Chief Justice of India
Sanjay Kak - Film Maker
Ashish Kothari - Kalpavriksh
Usha Rai - Journalist
Nitya Ramakrishnan - Senior Lawyer
Achin Vanayak
Devaki Jain - Economist
Vandana Shiva - Navadanya
Prof. Hargopal - University of Hyderabad - Signed
Harish Dhawan - Professor, Delhi University & People's Union for Democratic Rights - Signed
Prof. Randhir Singh - Professor (retd.), Delhi University - Signed
Manoranjan Mohanty - Professor (retd.), Delhi University - Signed
Pushkar Raj - General Secretary, PUCL - Signed
Ravi Hemadri -The Other Media - Signed
Suhas Borker - Convener, Working Group on Alternative Strategies - Signed
Mukul Mangalik - Professor, Delhi University - Signed
Apoorv Anand - Professor, Delhi University - Signed
Mukul Priyadarshini - Professor, Delhi University - Signed
Shashi Saxena - Professor, Delhi University - Signed
Moushumi Basu - Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University - Signed
Rajni Bakshi - Citizens for Peace - Signed
Deepika Tandon - People's Union for Democratic Rights - Signed
Ranjoy Kumar Reddy - Researcher, Delhi University - Signed
Shahana Bhattacharya - People's Union for Democratic Rights - Signed
Amrapali Basumatary - New Socialist Initiative - Signed
Madhu - Jagori - Signed
Mayil Samy- Advocate - Signed
Kalaiyarasan - JNU DSU
Deepti Bharti - NFIW - Signed
Surendra Mohan - Signed
Sudhir K. Sahu - Signed
Anil - PDFI, Delhi - Signed
Jeevan - PDFI - Signed
Mamata Dash - NFFPIW - Signed
Manas Ranjan - Journalist, The Tribune - Signed
Kiran Shaheen - Media Action Group - Signed
Sunita Kumari - Daanish Books - Signed
Ramchandra Prasad - ICAN INDIA - Signed
Bipin Chandra - Historian and Director, National Books Trust
Kiran Bhatty - UNICEF - Signed
V.M. H. Banna - Journalist, Madhyamam Daily - Signed
Surinder Singh
Shailesh Haribhakti - Signed
Sarwar Kashani
Madhav Godbole
Diwan Singh - Ridge Bachao Andolan
Yogendra Narain - ICAN INDIA
Arundhati Roy - Writer
Suma Josson - Film Maker
Ramaswami Iyer - Former Secretary, Water Resurces Ministry
Ramchandra Prasad - ICAN-India
Pradeep Ghosh - Ashoka Fellow & OASiS
Ashwani Goyal
Manish Jain
Siddhartha Basu
Dr. H. Sudarshan - Karuna Trust & VGKK, Bangalore
A.L. Ragarajan - Rejuvenate India Movement, Chennai
Vijayan Menon - Kormangla Initiative, Bangalore
Urvashi Sharma - Social Worker, RTI Mahila Manch UP
Prithvi Sharma - MD, FACC, USA
Surekha Sharma - MD, FAAP, USA
Prof. Mridula Mukherjee - Director NMML
Swapan Ganguly - PBKMS, West Bengal
Y. Singh N. Rajput - Gujarat
Nitin Sonawane - IFA
Sampad Zantye
Dr. Hari Dev Goyal - Indian Economic Service (Rtd.)
Ajay Pandey - Assc. Professor of Law, Jindal Global Law School
Chitrangada Choudhury - Journalist
Mahendra K. Gupta
Dr. Ashok Sharma
Gayatri Sahgal - Centre for Equity Studies
Chandra Krishnamurthy
Biswajit Mohanty - FCA
Vijay Kapoor
Paromita Vohra - Film Maker
Vijendra Singh - UP
Ravi Duggal - Research & Activist - International Budget Partnership
Joyjeet Pal - Academic
Ashok Gokhale
Tara Warrior - Pune
Damodar Warrior- Pune
Col Mohite (rtd.)
Dr. Anand Lakshmi
Geeta Mohite
Dr. Renu Singh - Save the Children, India
Alankrita Isha Mrigakshi - Institute of Aerospace Medicine, Koln, Germany
Himanshu Thakkar - South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, Delhi
Arindam Jit Singh - Tema Nishant
Prof. Rajinder Chaidhary - Dept. of Economics, University of Rohtak, Haryana
Sandeep Thakur
Dr. Kamla Ganesh - Prof. and Head of Department, Sociology, University of Mumbai
Sindhu - National Election Watch, Karnataka
Amit B. Jethava - President, Gir Nature Youth Club, Gujarat
Amman Madan - Assc. Professor, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Kanpur
Malay Bhattacharyya - West Bengal RTI Manch
Rahul Varman - Department of Industrial and Management Engineering, IIT Kanpur
Ghyansham Shah
Daniel Mazgaonkar
G.L.N. Reddy - Hyderabad
Girish Mahajan
Anil Taparia
Dr. Vednata Kabra
S. L. Chowdhury
Faisal Khan - NAPM, Asha Parivar
Saraswati Kavula - Film maker and activist
Somesh Bagchi - Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata
Pankaj Joshi - Executive Director, UDRI
Dr. Anil Joshi
Dhan Raj Bansal - Mumbai
Subodh Abhi - Jan Ekta Samiti, Ponta Sahib
Ramesh Agrawal - Jan Chetna, Chhattisgarh
Bardwaj Ananthem - Asha for Education, USA
Dr. J.N. Sharma - Advocate and RTI Activist, Lucknow

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