National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information (NCPRI)
Opposition Parties term RTI Amendments as anti-people
Pledge to fight tooth and nail to save the RTI Act in Parliament
Press Release, July 22, 2019

Hundreds of people took out a protest march in Delhi today against the regressive amendments being made to the RTI Act. Rejecting the government’s attempt to dilute the RTI Act, people demanded that the RTI Act, which came after a long struggle and has empowered common citizens to demand accountability from the government, must not be diluted. Shouting slogans of RTI Bachao, Loktantra Bachao the protestors concluded the march at the Constitution Club where a Jan Manch was held.

Leaders of several opposition parties including Congress, CPI, RJD and AAP spoke at the Jan Manch. Terming the amendments to the RTI Act as ‘anti-people’ (janta virodhi), the parties pledged support to save the RTI Act.

The government introduced the Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019 in the Lok Sabha on July 19, 2019. The amendment bill was brought to Lok Sabha without any public debate on the contents of the bill. Today (July 22) the bill has been taken up for discussion and passage in the Lok Sabha.

The proposed amendments are aimed at undermining the independence of information commissions, thereby diluting India’s strongest and most widely used law for transparency. The bill seeks to empower the Central government to make rules to decide the tenure, salary, allowances and other terms of service of Information Commissioners of the Central Information Commission and also of State Information Commissions. This will fundamentally weaken the institution of the information commissions as it will adversely impact their ability to function in an independent manner – directions by commissioners to disclose information inconvenient for the central government could invite adverse consequences in terms of reduced tenure and/or cuts in their salaries and allowances.

Congress leader and MP Rajeev Gowda said that the government was targeting laws which empowered people to ask questions of the government and acted as a system of checks and balances. He said the intention of the BJP party was very clear. Instead of strengthenig accountability laws by operationalising the WhistleBlowers Protection Act which was passed in 2014, the government was focussed on destroying the RTI Act. He said the Congress will stand with peoples’ demands and will oppose it tooth and nail in the Parliament. He said they will demand that the Bill be referred to a Parliamentary committee.

Manoj Jha, leader and MP of the RJD said that people had fought the RTI Act. He said it was peoples’ commitment that had saved the RTI law till now and it is imperative that large protests are organised across the country to save the RTI Act. He said that given the numbers equation in Parliament, it would be difficult but pledged full support.

Comrade Raja, MP in Rajya Sabha and general secretary of the CPI said that the Modi government has reduced the Parliament to a rubber stamp. There is no proper discussion on legislations. The BJP uses its brute majority to push through amendments, which undermine peoples’ rights. He said the government was completely opposed to transparency and cited the introduction of electoral bonds, which allows anonymous donations to political parties.

Ghanshyam Tiwari of the Samajwadi Party said that the government is dismantling all the laws which empower people to hold power to account and is focused on centralising power. He cited amendments being made to other human rights laws as well.

Prashant Bhushan said that the government is trying to undermine the RTI Act because they want to hide information which would expose their misdeeds. Citing recent cases, he said the government was refusing to disclose information on who travels with the PM on his foreign travels, on the Rafale scam, on sources of funds of the BJP and also on which corporates are being awarded contracts.

Wajahat Habibullah, former Chief Information Commissioner of the CIC said that the statutorily protected tenure and terms of service of information commissioners was crucial to allow them to work without fear or favour.

Anjali Bhardwaj and Nikhil Dey, co-convenors of the NCPRI said that protests are being planned across the country and will carry on everyday. They urged parties to demand that the RTI Amendment Bill be referred to a Parliamentary Committee to allow proper debate on it and also allow people to send their views. Citing several recent important orders of the CIC including the those related to disclosure of NPAs, names of loan defaulters, educational qualifications of political leaders, details of demonetisations, mining development licenses awarded to corporates, they said these highlighted the need for having safeguards to ensure independence and autonomy of commissions.

The protest march and Jan Manch were organised by the National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information (NCPRI), in collaboration with various campaigns and groups including the National Alliance of Peoples Movements (NAPM), Right to Food Campaign and the National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW).

Anjali Bhardwaj, Nikhil Dey, Rakesh Reddy Dubbudu, Dr Shaikh Ghulam Rasool, Pankti Jog, Pradip Pradhan

(On behalf of the National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information)

The above press release is posted as received via email.