The Congress on Monday accused the Modi government of attempting to subvert the RTI Act by seeking to tweak its rules and surreptitiously raise the bar to make access to information difficult for ordinary people.
The opposition party also called upon all progressive forces believing in transparency to unite and oppose any dilution of the RTI structure.
“Ever since this government has taken over, there has been an attitude of acted neglect towards the RTI, not only RTI queries were not answered but even the appeal processes have been very cavalierly treated.
“There has been a non-formal attempt over the past three odd years to scuttle the RTI Act. And finally it seems that the BJP-led NDA government has decided to formalise the process of subverting the RTI,” Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari said.
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Alleging that the government was changing the Right to Information (RTI) norms by bringing in a word limit for applications and higher charges to make it expensive to seek information, the Congress also wondered whether the move was intended to intimidate people.
“By trying to alter the RTI rules what is the intention of the government? Right to Inform citizens or ‘Right to Intimidate’ them?,” senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel said.
Tewari said the draft RTI rules for 2017 which have been put out in public domain look extremely innocuous “but the devil lies in the detail”.
“It is the final print which gives away the intent of the government and I will give you only five examples,” he said.
The Congress leader said this legislation was perhaps the single most empowering instrument enacted in past 70 years and for the first time ever “the opaque innards of those administration and governance were exposed to the antiseptic sunlight of public scrutiny”.
He said the RTI Act created an upheaval not only in the echelons of government but had wide ramifications which reached out into almost every village in this country.
He noted that “people who started off as RTI activists have ended up becoming chief ministers”.
The Congress leader said notwithstanding protests from within and outside government, the UPA between 2004 to 2014 did not allow any dilution to take place in the RTI paradigm.
Tewari said it is the responsibility of all progressive forces believing in transparency, accountability of government “that these rules must be contested, opposed and absolutely no dilution should be allowed in the entire RTI structure”.
He claimed that the new draft rules put out by the government say if an RTI application exceeds more than 500 words, it can be rejected. There has also been a steep enhancement in RTI charges and the photocopy cost has been doubled, he added.
“Even the cost of postage, the cost of the reply will now have to be borne by the applicant,” he said, adding that, “If there is a handwritten appeal, not neatly typed in double space, it can be rejected.”
“So you are imposing a cost on the poor and disenfranchised,” he said.
“In other words, very surreptitiously the bar is being raised to make the RTI paradigm difficult for ordinary people to access,” he also said.
Tewari said there is also a provision which allows public authority or the first appellate authority to file counter appeals and this essentially means whole process of seeking information will now become a judicial proceeding.