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‘Continued political assault on RTI Act is worrisome’

Aruna Roy, founder-member of Masdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, and author of The RTI Story: Power to the People (left), in conversation with Gopalkrishna Gandhi, former administrator, diplomat and Governor, at a public discussion on Information as Empowerment organised by The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy and Roli Books on April 16, 2018, at Smt. Sivagami Pethachi Auditorium, Chennai. | Photo Credit: The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy

Aruna Roy says legislation is being subverted 'by using rules'

Aruna Roy, a former member of the National Advisory Council, said on Monday that she was worried about the continued political assault on the Right to Information Act.

Ms. Roy, one of the leaders of the Right to Information movement, was speaking at a public discussion on Information as Empowerment. She discussed her book  The RTI Story: Power to the People  with Gopalkrishna Gandhi, former Governor of West Bengal, at an event organised at the Sivagami Pethachi Auditorium by The Hindu Centre.

Ms. Roy said she was not unduly worried about the few who misuse the RTI Act. “I am far more bothered about the political manner in which Parliament is reducing the law to nothing. Not by amendment, but by using rules,” she said. Ms. Roy called the proposed rule, which moves to close RTI cases after the applicants’ deaths, as a “death warrant” to information seekers.

She said that it was time for the RTI campaigners to regroup. “There is an attack on the RTI planned in the political arena. Very systematic and extremely clever. I won’t use the word intelligent. I feel intelligence also has a moral component. This is simply cheating your own people,” she said.

Ms. Roy added that the government was worried about being asked tough questions. “The knee-jerk reaction of the government is because they realise information sharing is sharing power,” she said.

“The Prime Minister has said that this government wants to bring down the status of Information Commissioners. What happens then is that, from being equivalent to judges, they become Secretaries of the government,” she said.

Role of Governors

Mr. Gandhi, who repeatedly expressed concern over the deaths of information seekers, said that Ms. Roy’s campaign was vital. “The campaign for the RTI is as important as the Act itself. It is the campaign that keeps the RTI true to its original purpose...A campaign will have to be kept going to keep the RTI Act vital. Without that, the risk of the RTI Act getting subverted is very strong,” he said.

“A Governor should not want to attract attention to herself or himself. If that is the aim of a Governor, then administration in a State will grind to a halt. But it is important for the Governors and the Lok Ayuktas to be seen to be inquisitive about the state of integrity in their jurisdiction. They don’t have to run down any department or project or undertaking. All they have to do is to ask what has happened. When that question is asked and that follows the grain of public opinion, then those who have to answer will answer,” said Mr. Gandhi.

Source:  The Hindu, April 17, 2018 .

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