Skip to main content

Govt of India "seeks to limit" citizens' right to information through RTI amendment, data protection bills

By Pankti Jog*
The Right to Information (RTI) Amendment Bill and the Data Protection Bill are attempts to limit citizens’ access to information. These bills contradict the promise to give transparent and accountable government. This was the conclusion of a seminar organized by the Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel (MAGP), Gujarat’s RTI watchdog, at the Ahmedabad Management Association (AMA), on August 7.
Attended by representatives of voluntary organizations, RTI activists, journalists, column writers, development workers, and all those who are deeply concern over the Government of India’s (GoI’s) attempt to weaken transparency and accountability framework, thereby limiting citizens’ access to Information, the participants discussed various provisions of the new draft bills and their impact on the transparency regime.
The RTI Act has proved to be one of the most powerful tools in the hands of citizens for seeking information and accountability from government. There have been many attempts even in the past to amend the RTI Act, but the GoI did not succeed.
RTI activists' poster for social media
The RTI Amendment Bill was directly tabled in the Rajya Sabha, and surprisingly it was kept a “top secret” till then. It was not put in public domain for discussion, violating the Government of India’s own Pre-legislative Consultation Policy.
The RTI Amendment Bill concentrates powers of appointing state and Central information commissions in the GoI’s hands, changing the current provisions of giving autonomy to states. In the current law, the state and Central information commissions’ term is only for five years, and there can’t be any reappointment, whereas in the proposed bill, the GoI has been empowered to decide on the terms of any commissioner across the country.
Their designation and salary will no more be on par with that of the Election Commission of India (ECI), thereby hampering their autonomy, which is crucial for the implementation of the RTI Act. The Central and state commissions are proposed to be dis-empowered from hearing cases of denial of information at higher offices of the Centre and states, including offices of government secretaries, chief minister’s offices, the Prime Minister’s Office, courts etc.
Pankti Jog
The amendment proposals contradict the rationale formulated by the October 2017 recommendations of the Law Commission of India for harmonizing salaries, terms and conditions of service of all statutory tribunals established under various Central laws. In fact, last year, the GoI hiked salary of officials of 19 tribunals and adjudicating authorities, making them on par with those in ECI.
The second bill, proposed by the GoI, Data Protection Bill, claims to protect of one’s private and personal data lying within the government domain. However, regrettably, it gives clear indication that citizens’ access to information will be under government control and get restricted in the name of data privacy. Worse, some of the most crucial data are proposed to be left open for research purpose.
The Data Protection Bill demands amending more than 50 legislations along with the RTI Act. It will surely have an overriding effect on RTI as far as so-called private and personal information is concerned, thereby disempowering public information officers (PIOs) to take decisions on disclosures in good faith.
The bill defines “harm” very widely, exempting data information in cases of loss of reputation, humiliation, mental injury, and fear of being observed or surveillance. This actually means that PIO may interpret any RTI query as “harmful” if it supposedly causes mental injury or loss of reputation, and can be withheld, especially when it comes to information related to issues of misconduct.
Clearly, the bill would have an overriding effect over the freedom of speech and expression and RTI, thereby violating fundamental rights of citizens.
Speakers at the seminar raised serious concern over the GoI’s attitude towards transparency and accountability, and also about curbing the autonomy of the Central and state information commissions. It was unanimously resolved that any attempt to dilute the RTI Act will not be accepted by citizens and the GoI should strictly adhere to the Pre-legislative Consultation Policy. Consultation should be held with public at large on the proposed bill and their rationale should be debated.
---
*Executive secretary, MAGP; co-convener, National Campaign for People’s Right to Information

Comments

TRENDING

Noam Chomsky, top scholars ask NRIs to take stand on human rights violations in India

Counterview Desk
Renowned world scholars, including Noam Chomsky, James Petras, Angela Davis, Fredric Jameson, Bruno Latour, Ilan Pappe, Judith Butler, among others, have issued a statement castigating the Narendra Modi government for allegedly creating an environment of fear through arrests, intimidation and violence.

Actionable programme for 2019 polls amidst lynch mobs, caste violence, hate mongering

Counterview Desk
Reclaiming the Republic, a civil rights network, has released a document prepared under the chairmanship of Justice AP Shah (retired) -- and backed, among others, by Supreme Court advocate Prashant Bhushan, bureaucrat-turned-human rights activist Harsh Mander, economist Prabhat Patnaik, Right to transparency activist Anjali Bhardwaj and social scientist Yogendra Yadav  (click HERE for full list) -- with the "aim" of putting forth policy and legislative reforms needed to “protect” and “strengthen” the Constitutional safeguards for India’s democratic polity.

India under Modi "promoted" crony business, protected financial fraudsters, fueled bigotry

By Sandeep* and Rahul Pandey**
Narendra Modi's ascension to power was accompanied with jubilation and expectation. His supporters were expecting an end to era of corruption and initiation of good governance which was described as Achche Din. His party's adherence to idea of nationalism was believed to make India a vibrant country and guide India to be a world leader. He gave the slogan of 'Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas' conveying that his government was for all.
Corruption The government system is infested with corruption. A minimum of 10% is siphoned off from government schemes and projects, some of which goes back to political party in power and remaining is pocketed by various administrative, executive and political functionaries. This corruption continues and has increased. Now an additional Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) person working as Official on Special Duty or some equivalent position in every government department also has a share in this booty.
The Narendra M…

Inviting Rajapaksa to India "insult" to 1,40,000 Tamils killed by Sri Lankan army

Counterview Desk
In the context of Sri Lankan opposition leader Mahinda Rajapaksa being invited in India, about 75 human rights activists*, claiming to be concerned about rights violations during the civil war in Sri Lanka, especially in 2009, have joined together to express their dissent through a statement.

Modi wants Pak govt be held responsible for JeM terror strike: World doesn't agree

By Sandeep Pandey*
I went to participate in a candle light homage paying event at Dr BR Ambedkar's statue organised by about 200 Dalit students on Hazratganj main crossing in Lucknow on February 16, 2019 evening, two days after the dastardly terrorist act in Pulwana, Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), in which 44 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel was killed.

Post-advisory, Govt of India appears reluctant to ban e-cigarettes, "harmful" to kids

By Rajiv Shah
Is the Government of India dilly-dallying over the issue of banning e-cigarettes, which have been declared by anti-tobacco activists across the world as providing “an entryway to nicotine addiction”, especially among the kids? It would seem so, if the latest developments are any guide.

A Godse legacy? BJP rulers have "refrained" from calling Gandhi Father of the Nation

By Dr Hari Desai*
What an agony! On one hand, the entire India is celebrating the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but on the other side, so-called Hindu Mahasabha members have been found mock-enacting the killing of the Mahatma and celebrating the murder by distributing sweets!

No aadhaar, no ration? Hard blow by Gujarat govt on poor and marginalized

By Pankti Jog*
Only those who have aadhaar registration and linked it with ration card will get ration from a Public Distribution System (PDS) shop. This decision of the Gujarat government has hit very badly thousands of poor and marginalized communities of Gujarat, especially during the drought year.

Not just Indian women engineers, men too face sexual harassment at workplace: US study

By Rajiv Shah
A recent research, carried out jointly by two US-based non-profit organizations, Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and Center for WorkLife Law (WLL), based at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, has found that 45% of women engineers as against 28% of men engineers complained that it was perceived as “inappropriate when women argued at work, even when it was work-related.”

Anti-liquor march: Women padyatris "resolve" to occupy Karnataka state assembly

By Abhay, Swarna Bhat*
At a huge public convention held at Siddaganga Mutt on the Republic Day, January 26, 2019, in the presence of Sanehalli Sri Panditaradhya Swamiji, padyatris of the Madya Nishedha Andolana decided to intensify the ongoing liquor ban movement. A resolution passed at the convention, in which thousands of rural women joined in, the marching women declared that on reaching Bengaluru will “occupy Vidhan Soudha” on Mahatma Gandhi’s martyrdom day, January 30.