November 14, 2009: Opposing the proposal to weaken the Right to Information Act by amending it within the first four years of its implementation, people from 10 states across the country gathered together at Jantar Mantar for a day long dharna to warn the government against bringing any amendments.
Several people’s groups and organisations and individuals and users of the RTI Act gathered at jantar mantar to support this dharna organised by the National Campaign for People’s Right to information. Amongst those present were -Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi, social activist Aruna Roy, economist Jean Dreze, CPI General Secretary D Raja, RTI activist Shekhar Singh, renowned theatre personality Tripurari Sharma, Nikhil Dey and Swami Agnivesh of the ‘Bandhu Mukti Morcha’. A collective demand was made to not amend the Act but to implement it properly.
At the beginning of the dharna, participants observed a two minute silence for noted journalist and RTI activist Prabhash Joshi. Social activist and Magsaysay award winner Aruna Roy stated that by not allowing for any amendments to the RTI Act, we will be paying a true tribute to Prabhash Joshi. Roy said that in order to thwart any move to amend the RTI Act, there was a need to keep up a sustained and widespread people’s movement. She said that the RTI Act has not even reached every citizen of India today and the government is already wary of the Act, and that amending the RTI Act would be a step towards weakening it.
After the dharna, a representative delegation of 7 members, led by Aruna Roy and Shekhar Singh, went to meet the DoPT Secretary Shantanu Consul to discuss the current proposal regarding the amendments. The Secretary confirmed that a set of amendments are under consideration, but before any amendments are approved, the DoPT will follow a transparent and open consultative process. All further attempts at amending the law will be put on the DoPT website and affected parties and stakeholders will be consulted before the government considers any amendments to the law. The Secretary further assured the group that the minutes of the meetings held with the Information Commissioners in October 2009 will also be made available on the DoPT website soon.
People from urban and rural Delhi and Rajasthan participated in the dharna in large numbers. Groups from Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Maharashtra and Uttarakhand were also present. On this occasion, Participants had brought several copies of the letter opposing amendments signed by more people of their respective states and organisations and expressed their opinion through slogans like ‘Say No to RTI Amendments’.
Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi, while addressing the dharna participants, stated: “This legislation has come into force through people’s movements. It has actually made people the supreme force in the democracy. There is no need for amendments in the Act. Development economist Professor Jean Dreze said that rather than limiting the Act by amending it, its scope should be extended to include the private sector and bank transactions. CPI General Secretary D Raja said that in the year 2006 as well, the Central government had tried to amend the Act, an attempt that was foiled by people’s groups fighting for the expansion of democratic spaces. “Once again the government intends to amend this effective legislation, and this time, too, people’s campaigns and groups will come together to oppose the amendments,” said Raja. He also said that the current proposal reflects the government’s intentions towards an open and transparent system of governance. He said that the Right to Information is essential for any democracy, especially because it enables the participation of ordinary citizens.
Swami Agnivesh of the Bandhua Mukti Morcha asserted that any effort to weaken or amend the RTI is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. He said the government’s attempt to amend the law is like robbing the RTI of its letter and spirit. Professor Shekhar Singh, environmentalist and founder member of the NCPRI, said that the issue of amendments should be treated with gravity and that any attempt to amend the Act should be opposed tooth and nail.
The day long dharna ended with the participants affirming that if the government goes ahead with the amendments to the RTI without wide public discussion and debate, we will gather once again in large numbers at Jantar Mantar to oppose any move by the government to weaken the RTI Act.
Press Release by-
National Campaign for People's Right to Information