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

World Bank clarifies: Its 26th rank to India not for universal access to power but for ease of doing business

By Our Representative
In a major embarrassment to the Government of India, the World Bank has reportedly clarified that it has not ranked India 26th out of 130 countries for providing power to its population. The top international banker’s clarification comes following Union Power Minister Piyush Goyal’s claim that India has “improved to 26 position from 99” in access to electricity in just one year.

Mental health: India's 95% patients "deprived" of medical care, treatment gap 70%

By Moin Qazi*
Among the many challenges India faces, the most underappreciated is the ongoing mental health crisis. Mental illness is actually India’s ticking bomb. An estimated 56 million Indians suffer from depression, and 38 million from anxiety disorders. For those who suffer from mental illness, life can seem like a terrible prison from which there is no hope of escape; they are left forlorn and abandoned, stigmatized, shunned and misunderstood.

Modi model? "Refusal" to build Narmada's micro canals, keep Kutch dry; help industry

By Medha Patkar*
This is the latest photograph of the Kutch Branch Canal (KBC) of the Sardar Sarovar, as of April 8! What does it show, expose, and what memories do you recall? Is it dry or dead? Is it a canal or a carcass of the same?

Bill Gates "promoting" GMO, Bt cotton, like cartels that have roots in Hitler's Germany

By Our Representative
World-renowned environmental leader and ecologist Dr Vandana Shiva has expressed concern that Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft Corporation, has joined the bandwagon of “a poison cartel of three" – Monsanto and Bayer, Syngenta and ChemChina, Dow and DuPont – all of whom allegedly have “roots in Hitler’s Germany and finding chemicals to kill people”.

Indian talc products contain "contaminated" asbestos structures, can cause cancer: Study

Counterview Desk
A recent study, using polarizing light microscopy, transmission electron microscopy (TEM), electron diffraction, and X-ray analysis on multiple over-the-counter Indian talc products for the presence of asbestos, has concluded that large quantities of body talc products are likely to pose a public health risk for asbestos-related diseases, especially for the cancers related to asbestos exposure.

Why are you silent on discrimination against Dalit jawans? Macwan questions Modi

By Rajiv Shah
Close on the heels of releasing his book in Gujarati, "Bhed Bharat", which lists 319 cases of atrocities against Dalits and Adivasis across the country over the last five years, well-known Gujarat Dalit rights leader Martin Macwan has shot an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, telling him the reasons why he does not want vote for the BJP.

Emergence of a rare Dalit teacher in IIT-Kanpur "disturbed" certain faculty members

By PS Krishnan, IAS (Retd)*
Dr Subrahmanyam Sadrela, a faculty member in the Department of Aerospace Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Kanpur since January 1, 2018, and one of the rare Dalit members of the faculty in IIT group of institutions, is facing the threat of revocation of his PhD thesis, and thereby also jeopardizing his job and career.

RTE in remote areas? Govt of India "plans" to close down 2.4 lakh schools

By Srijita Majumder*
The Right to Education (RTE) Act, 2009, came into effect on April 1, 2010, for the first time made it obligatory on the part of the State to provide free and compulsory education to all children from 6-14 years of age in India. The Act, despite its limitations, had progressive elements like neighbourhood schools, community participation, ban on corporal punishment, no detention, continuous and comprehensive evaluation and it hence it appeared that India was not far from achieving universal elementary education.

Election Commission suffering from worst-ever "credibility crisis": Ex-bureaucrats

Counterview Desk
In an open letter to President Ram Nath Kovind, a group of ex-bureaucrats have lamented ‘weak-kneed’ responses of the Election Commission of India (ECI) in the run up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Citing various violations of the model code of conduct, and pointing towards how ECI has taken little action, the letter asks the President to tell ECI to “conduct itself in a manner where its independence, fairness, impartiality and efficiency are not questioned.”

Investigation shows Narmada downstream "seriously" polluted. Reason: apathy, greed

By Rohit Prajapati, Krishnakant, Swati Desai*
Our investigation regarding quality of water flowing in the Narmada river downstream of the Sardar Sarovar Dam (SSD), dated April 6, 2019, between 11.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m. reiterates, what is commonly known now, that the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) is planned without considering its impact on the downstream Narmada River stretch of 161 kilometres, its ecology, biodiversity and fishery, and lakhs of people living close to and dependent on the river directly or indirectly. This, in turn, has led to its present disastrous state.