Skip to main content

RTI Act holy cow for Govt of India? Official insists, don't ask why, when, what, where

By Pankti Jog*
The Government of India appears to have begun treating the Right to Information (RTI) Act as a holy cow. Its officials seem to believe that the Act is a sacred law, under which people shouldn't be questioning its functioning. One recalls what Prime Minister Narendra Modi said while addressing an RTI convention in 2015: “Why should government wait for people to ask information, we will have all information out in the domain, we have nothing to hide."
Modi's speech was appreciated as one with vision of “proactive governance”. And yet, nearly five years down the line, we find his government failing to practice what he said, with the RTI Act slowly turning into a law of secrecy, a sacred law which does not allow people to question its decision-making process.
In reply to an RTI application filed with a government TV channel, its Central public information officer (CPIO), appointed for providing RTI replies, outrightly denied information saying the RTI Act is "sacred" and shouldn't be used to question government actions.
The applicant had asked for a copy of the contract signed with an expert engaged by the government TV channel, which is a public authority, and also details of service conditions, rules and remuneration paid to this expert as per the contract. Denying the plea for information, CPIO also insisted that the Act can only be used for a "bona fide" purpose and queries like "why, when, where and what" shouldn't be made.
This is a matter of deep concern. For, one of the circulars dated June 1, 2009 states that RTI cannot give justification to particular a thing, or a document, but can provide the copy of a document. This came to light in the judgement given by the Goa Bench of the Mumbai High Court in the Dr Celsa Pinto vs Goa Information Commission case. The judgement said that RTI can provide copies of documents, but need not answer the question “why”.
“All document related to any decision, noting, can definitely have answers to these questions, PIO can provide relevant documents, even if citizen asks certain question”, says the government resolution (GR), but nowhere does it say questions are banned. Despite this, the CPIO of the TV channel, while refusing to give information, mentions some judgement without quoting the source. This is a clear case of misuse of GR as also different orders by the Central Information Commission (CIC).
This detail has been shared on Twitter, too. It reveals the truth as to how RTI, which is a law of transparency, is misinterpreted as "law of secrecy", and is being called “sacred law”. We at the Gujarat RTI Helpline No 9924085000 have received more than 67 calls over the last one month, citing PIOs of different public authorities denying information when there is a “question mark” in the RTI application.
Actually Section 6 of the RTI Act clearly states that the RTI applicant should be assisted by PIO whenever needed in framing queries. If one wants to see copy of the list of people who got support for building toilets, and if she/he can't frame a query, one may ask, “How many toilets were built?” PIO is supposed to give copy of the list of toilets built with government support.
Statistics from different commissions show that every year around 60 lakh citizens apply under RTI to different public authorities. Over the last few years, the number of RTI applications have decreased. A major reason is, the government does not like people to question its functioning, decision making, budgeting, expenses etc. The vision of proactive governance and transparency appears to have vanished in the air.
In fact, as things stand today, the government seems to have turned itself into a “holy cow”, which cannot be questioned anytime.
---
*With Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel, Ahmedabad

Comments

TRENDING

Communal rhetoric? Hindutva preached by RSS-BJP is 'monolithic', not Hinduism

By Prem Verma*  I am a devout Hindu but not a believer of RSS Hindutva form of Hinduism which brings about hatred of other religions. My Hindu religion has not taught me to look down on other religions and neither has it instilled in me to go about converting others to my religion because my religion is superior.

Gross 'injustice' to children: Rs 5000 cr cut in education budget; 15 lakh schools shut down

Counterview Desk  More than 100 dignitaries, including educationists, academia, social activists, teachers’ union, civil society organisations (CSOs), various networks and people working on child rights, in a letter to Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman have sought reversal of reduction in allocation for education in the Union Budget 2021-22, even as demanding substantial increase in it.

India sees 62 journo deaths, 4th highest, amidst pandemic: Swiss media rights body

By Our Representative The Switzerland-based media rights body Press Emblem Campaign (PEC) has noted that India is the fourth most affected country as far as mediapersons’ death on account of Covid-19 is concerned. According to Blaise Lempen, secretary-general of PEC, the global tally of casualties among media persons in the Covid-19 pandemic has reached 1,036 journalists in 73 countries till date.

Buddhist shrines massively destroyed by Brahmanical rulers in "pre-Islamic" era: Historian DN Jha's survey

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

RSS love for 'killer' Myanmar junta behind Indian military presence at Tatmadaw Day?

By Shamsul Islam*  If a shameful act means an action which is criminal and nauseating, it would be an understatement to describe the attitude of the present RSS-BJP rulers of India towards the demolition of democracy and large-scale killing of the people of Myanmar by the military ( tatmadaw ) junta which took power through a coup on February 1, 2021 after renegading the election results in which the party of Aung San Suu Kyi, National League for Democracy, was a clear winner.

Chhattisgarh’s Apra riverfront imitates Sabarmati: 'Devaluing' water, environment

Sabarmati riverfront By Mansee Bal Bhargava*  This year’s #WorldWaterDay (March 22) focus was on ‘Valuing Water’. My school friend, Pragati Tiwari from Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh, called that day knowing my interest in water matters. We were remembering our childhood days as how we used to play on the banks and the bed of the Arpa Nadi (River) during the summer holidays and as how the river would swell like Anaconda to flow happily during the monsoon.

Bihar massacre on Holi day: Brahminical, casteist mindset behind 'uneasy' silence

Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar By Vidya Bhushan Rawat*  Several people were killed in Bihar amidst Holi festivities, but not much response has come in from the media. The silence of the government and the society as a whole is also appalling. We seek to romanticise these festivals, yet we forget that every year they take so many lives. This despite the fact that Holi appears to be the best time for 'avenging things'.

India's draft migrants policy: Whither concern on job restrictions imposed by states?

By Anil Kumar*  India’s Niti Aayog has prepared a Draft Migration Policy. The draft policy acknowledges migration as an integral part of development, and it calls for positive government interventions that facilitate internal migration. With a rights-based solution to migration, the draft states that the policy should “enhance the agency and capability of the community and thereby remove aspects that come in the way of an individual’s own natural ability to thrive”.

Recalling Jallianwala martyrs' communal amity as BJP 'warns' of Sitalkuchi everywhere

By Shamsul Islam*  The RSS-BJP rulers declare India to be a battle-ground between Hinduism and Islam. Muslims have been declared as ‘internal threat’ by RSS ideologue MS Golwalkar (“Bunch of Thought”, Chapter xvi). Behaviour of many of their leading cadres, including those who hold high constitutional posts, is such that they seem to be conspiring over-time to ignite a civil war between the two communities. They are under the impression that this would help divert attention from failures of the Hindutva rulers on developmental front.