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Came to power on anti-corruption plank, BJP is now "undermining" transparency laws

Counterview Desk
On December 12, hundreds of people protested against the proposed amendments to the Right to Information (RTI) Act in Delhi, demanding operationalisation of anti-corruption laws. People raised the slogan "RTI nahi toh vote nahi!", even as opposition party leaders, participating in the protest, pledged support to defeat RTI amendments.
A National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information (NCPRI) statement, signed by senior activists Anjali Bhardwaj, Nikhil Dey, Pradip Pradhan, Rakesh Dubbudu, Pankti Jog, Venkatesh Nayak and Dr Shaikh following the protest, said that this is happening at a time when 8 out of 11 posts are currently lying vacant in the Central Information Commission (CIC), including that of the Chief Information Commissioner. As a result, nearly 26,500 cases now pending before the CIC.

Text of the NCPRI statement:

Today a Jan Manch and protest march was held in Delhi to protest against the proposed dilution of the RTI Act and to demand implementation of anti-corruption laws -- the Lokpal Act, the Whistle Blowers Protection Act.
In the protest march, the protestors took out a Ghotala Rath Yatra to expose the government’s double speak on issues of corruption. Whereas the BJP came to power on the plank of anti-corruption, all the key laws and institutions of transparency and accountability are being systematically undermined by the government. People shouted slogans of “RTI nahi toh vote nahi”.
People from 10 states including Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Jammu & Kashmir, Odisha, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar participated in the protest and Jan Manch. Leaders of various political parties pledged support and assured that they will oppose the RTI amendment bill. Leaders of Congress, CPI and RJD attended the Jan Manch.
RTI activists from across the country highlighted that the government is undermining the RTI Act through the proposed amendment bill and also by not appointing information commissioners. In an ongoing case in the Supreme Court regarding vacancies in information commissions across the country, the counsel for the central government in the last hearing on December 3, 2018 had stated that the RTI Amendment Bill 2018 will be taken up during the ongoing winter session. Further, the government has also failed to operationalise and implement any of the anti-corruption laws.
The Lokpal and Whistle Blowers Protection Act which were passed in 2014 have not been operationalised by the government. The government has also not re-introduced the Grievance Redressal Bill which was introduced in the previous Lok Sabha and provided a statutory framework for effective and time-bound redress of grievances.
Rajeev Gowda stated that the Congress will steadfastly oppose any proposed amendments to the RTI Act. He said that the RTI Act was crucial as it empowered people to seek information about decisions of the government. He highlighted how the government was undermining accountability by not disclosing the price of the Rafael planes in Parliament. Further, he said that the government was undermining the anti-corruption laws through proposed amendments to the Whistle Blower Protection Act. Further he said that secrecy in party funding through electoral bonds must be opposed.
Manoj Jha of the Rashtirya Janata Dal (RJD) said that his party will not allow the government to weaken the RTI Act. He said that the Act had empowered people to hold the government accountable and was furthering democracy. He said that the RJD will support all efforts inside and outside Parliament to save the RTI Act.
D Raja of the CPI said that the left parties had supported the passage of the RTI Act in 2005 and since then had opposed every attempt of the government to weaken the law. He said even this time, the left parties will oppose the proposed amendments.
Prashant Bhushan, senior advocate of the Supreme Court said that the government was interfering with every independent oversight institution and that it was amending laws to shield the corrupt. He highlighted how amendments to the Prevention of Corruption Act mean that abuse of power by officials is no longer an offence. He said that the RTI Act was critical to empower people and must be protected.
Prof Sridhar Acharyulu, former Central Information Commissioner, said that the government was undermining the independence of information commissioners to prevent them from functioning properly. He said that people must oppose the amendments.
The proposed amendments to the RTI Act will completely destroy the autonomy of Information Commissions set up under the RTI Act to adjudicate on appeals and complaints of people who have been denied their rights under the RTI Act. The amendments seek to empower the Central government to decide the tenure and salary and allowances of Information Commissioners of the Central Information Commission and also of State Information Commissions through rules.
Vacancies in information commissions
In the Central Information Commission (CIC), 8 out of 11 posts are currently lying vacant, including that of the Chief. There are nearly 26,500 cases now pending before the CIC and the backlog is rising at an alarming rate due to the paucity of commissioners. Even the advertisement issued by the government was defective as it did not specify the salary and tenure, even though these are specifically defined in the RTI Act and, therefore, the advertisements were not in keeping with the RTI law.
In several other commissions also there are large backlogs of cases as vacancies are not being filled in a time bound manner. In Andhra Pradesh, RTI activists highlighted that the commission is completely dysfunctional. Even though now 3 commissioners have been appointed, as there is no chief, the commission is not hearing any matters.
Further, the commission is unable to provide information on the number of appeals/complaints pending post bifurcation of the commission. In Madhya Pradesh, more than 15,000 cases are pending and even though the chief is set to retire soon, there has been no move by the government to initiate the appointment process.
The case in the Supreme Court regarding vacancies in information commissions is scheduled to be heard on December 13, 2018.
The rally and Jan Manch were organised by National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information (NCPRI), in collaboration with various campaigns and groups including the National Alliance of Peoples Movements (NAPM), the National Right to Food Campaign, and the National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW).

Comments

Uma said…
The only platform BJP has is telling people how corrupt Congress is. In none of the election rallies did I come across any mention of plans/remedies for improvement of the so-called mistakes of UPA

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