- In April, the government of India proposed amendments to the RTI Act
- The most controversial amendment pertained to Rule 12.
Amendment to Rule 12 and controversy:
- It would allow the withdrawal of an application in case of the applicant’s death, making the job of those who file RTIs even more risky.
- The RTI activists are already exposed to violence, all the more so as the Whistle Blowers Protection Act (2011) is not implemented.
- 69 activists have been killed, according to the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information
Violence against RTI Activists
- The states which have largest number of casualties are rich states such as Maharashtra, Gujarat and Karnataka
- Rich states are the most dangerous ones for RTI activists because they fight against the appropriation of public goods by predatory and vested interests, which are comparatively stronger in affluent provinces.
- Problems pertaining to land, illegal construction and property disputes are the root cause of most of the cases.
- Then come conflicts due to government schemes (including MGNREGA), either because those who should have benefitted from them have not, or because of embezzlement at the local level.
- The third category that is also well represented is made of illegal mining, including the sand mafia’s activities.
- The RTI activists fight for their rights and/or those of others, but they are hardly protected by the police and judiciary.
RTI Activists – Importance
- RTI applications cover a wide range of issues and even if no action is taken, the media often publicize the cases and give bad publicity to the offending bureaucrats, industrialists or politicians.
- The RTI activists not only expose corrupt practices and crimes, but also provide alternative leadership at the local level.
- Some of them have become community mobilisers and have been elected sarpanch.
- The RTI Act has offered space to young Dalits, Adivasis and members of the minorities who would have been helpless otherwise.
- The role of “RTI clinics”, often in the form of itinerant vans and helplines, has been key.
Challenges faced by RTI Activists:
- Information Commissions are burdened with huge pendencies
- The number of applications filed could easily decrease: If the frequently asked questions were identified and proactively disclose information for those questions
- But delays and backlogs are also due to the fact that the job of Information Commissioner has become a post-retirement sinecure for former bureaucrats who do not necessarily feel the urge of idealism.
- The attitude of the government of India is another big challenge. Some of its agencies refuse to disclose the required information.
- In PMO, the rejection rate is very high. The Commission does not have enough power for getting responses to its questions
- It does not have the mechanisms for following up on whether its orders have been complied with.
- The Information Officers do not necessarily get the right training
- Universities could include the RTI Act in their curriculum and offer not only degrees, but also continuing training for helping this major achievement to remain relevant.