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80 RTI activists killed since 2014, yet Modi govt 'refuses' to implement whistleblowers Act

By Our Representative
Ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took over power in 2014 at the Centre, more than 80 have been killed “in their quest for information and accountability” through the Right to Information (RTI) Act, a public hearing in Delhi has been told. Senior politicians from opposition parties, including Congress and Left, heard people express their anguish over the manner in which the government was treating the RTI Act, even as refusing to operationalise the Whistleblower Protection Act, passed in 2014.
Participated by over 200 people from across Delhi, the Jan Manch was organized by the National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information (NCPRI) in collaboration with the National Alliance of Peoples Movements (NAPM), the National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW), the Right to Food Campaign, he Common Cause and the Satark Nagrik Sangathan (SNS).
Rajeev Gowda of the Congress said that when the then Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced the electoral bond scheme, he claimed that it would usher in transparency in political funding. He added, revelations through the RTI Act have now shown how the electoral bonds scheme was brought in despite the objections raised by the Election Commission of India, RBI, Law Ministry.
He said, while BJP claimed that donors would remain anonymous, information accessed by RTI activists had shown that the State Bank of India (SBI) knows the details of purchasers and as each bond has a unique serial number, the government can effectively get details about who purchased the bonds and track them.
This, he said, means that only the funding being given to the ruling party is anonymous, as the opposition and people don’t know the source of funds and therefore its not surprising that the BJP has been the biggest beneficiary of the scheme, cornering over 90% of the known donations. He added, the stand of the Congress was that the electoral bonds scheme should be scrapped and the names of all donors should be in the public domain.
Underlining the importance of the RTI Act, he said, it was only due to dogged RTI queries that the details of electoral bonds were emerging, promising, the Congress will oppose the regressive RTI rules made by the BJP following the amendments to the law and will take up the issue in the appropriate Parliamentary forum.
CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury said, following the petition he has filed in the Supreme Court seeking scrapping of the “anti-democratic” Electoral Bonds Scheme, there should be a collective fight both within and outside Parliament. He added, the BJP government was selling all the resources of the country, and schemes like electoral bonds encouraged crony capitalism.
Congress wants electoral bonds scheme should be scrapped and the names of all donors should be in the public domain
CPI general secretary D Raja said that the BJP government is “not interested” in issues impacting common people or in strengthening their rights and was only focussed on dividing the country on the basis of who is and who isn’t a citizen.
He said that schemes like the Electoral Bonds were completely skewing the political scenario and that the challenge ahead is to fight money power in politics. He added, free and fair elections cannot be ensured without ensuring a level playing field between parties in terms of resources and funding.
Criticising the government for amending the RTI Act in order to control the functioning of information commissions, Raja said that the government is against transparency as it does not want people to question the government.
Speaking at the public hearing, Urmila, a resident of Kusumpur Pahadi basti pointed out how the RTI Act has empowered people, especially women, to demand accountability of the government and because people are asking tough questions of the government in terms of delivering on promises of job creation, poverty alleviation, the government was stifling the RTI Act.
Mithudas, a resident of Malviya Nagar, said that when the government wanted each person to account for their income and switch to digital payments, why were political parties not disclosing details of who was funding them. She said that parties work for those who fund them and, therefore, the list of donors must be known.
People spoke about how the government put them through hardships during demonetisation in the name of fighting corruption while pushing electoral bonds which is an instrument for money laundering.
Anjali Bhardwaj and Venkatesh Nayak of NCPRI shared details of the information obtained under the RTI Act regarding the electoral bonds scheme which showed how the government had misled Parliament and the Reserva Bank of India (RBI). Nikhil Dey raised concerns that the Data Protection Bill, which was introduced in Parliament on December 11, must not dilute the RTI Act.
Human rights activist Harsh Mander and Dr Ghulam Rasool Shaikh from the Jammu & Kashmir RTI movement were among those who spoke at the Jan Manch.

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