Monday, April 03, 2017

"Elitist" Govt of India draft rules put RTI activists' life, security at risk, termed bureaucratic, citizen-unfriendly

By Our Representative
Is the Government of India, wittingly or unwittingly, trying to jeopardize the life and security of Right to Information (RTI) activists through the new set of Draft Rules, which have been made public for discussion? An analysis by well-known RTI activist Vankatesh Nayak says, this is exactly what would happen, with the draft rules seeking to legally allow withdrawal of RTI appeals.
"If the rules are provided with legal sanctity", contends Nayak, “vested interests will feel emboldened to pressurize RTI users to withdraw their appeals before the Central Information Commission (CIC)”, the RTI watchdog for the Government of India. 
Pointing out that in 2017 alone, there are more than 375 recorded instances of attacks on citizens who sought information to expose corruption and wrongdoing in various public authorities, Nayak says, “Of these, 56 are murders, and at least 157 cases of physical assault and more than 160 cases of harassment and threats some of which have resulted in death by suicide.”
“Uttar Pradesh alone accounts for 6 alleged murders, 10 cases of physical assault and at least 9 cases of harassment since 2005”, says Nayak insists, “Allowing for the withdrawal and abatement of appeals is like a death sentence”, with the draft Rule 12 seeking to “empower the CIC to permit withdrawal of an appeal if an appellant makes a written request.”
“Pending appeals proceedings will come to an end automatically with the death of the appellant”, Nayak says, recalling, “In 2011, the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) had proposed a similar provision which civil society vehemently opposed”, and thankfully it had to be dropped “because civil society actors were able to highlight media reports of murderous attacks on RTI users who sought information of public interest.”
Pointing out that while the RTI Act provides for the disclosure of information concerning the life and liberty of a person on an urgent basis, within 48 hours it is “silent on the timelines for disposing appeals and complaints in cases relating to life and liberty”, Nayak says, “This lacuna could have been corrected in he Draft Rules, 2017 but they are silent on this issue.”
Currently, Nayak says, “A citizen is compelled to wait for 45 days for the First Appellate Authority’s (FAA's) order and then endlessly for the CIC's order” even on issues concerning life and liberty.
In fact, Nayak says, “A major problem that almost every RTI user and also studies commissioned by the DoPT and civil society recognise is the long delays in disposal of appeals and complaints filed before the CIC.” Yet, it adds, “the Draft Rules do not prescribe a time limit for the CIC to dispose of such cases.”
Calling the RTI draft rules “bureaucratic” and “citizen-unfriendly”, Nayak gives the example of how it seeks to overlook the NDA's digital revolution by prescribing fees for “providing information in the form of 'diskettes and floppies', the two outdates electronic storage methods. 
Also characterizing the draft rules “elitist”, Nayak says, “The DoPT's notification (in English) states that comments may be offered on the Draft RTI Rules, 2017 only via email by 15th April, 2017”, adding, “With barely 25% citizens having access to the Internet, let alone email and most of them not conversant in English, this consultation exercise does not seem to adhere to the principle- 'sab ka saath'…”

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