RTI law: paradigm shift in realizing Constitutional rights that cannot be taken back -Nikhil Dey and Aruna Roy
It is in the unstoppable human search for truth and justice that the right to information will continue to shine
Ever since the Bharatiya Janata Party government flexed its legislative muscle, and successfully amended and diluted the Right to Information Act, many people have asked if the RTI Act has been maimed beyond repair and if its obituary should be written. While analysing the amendments, it is also necessary to understand the nature of the people’s right to information not just as a law, but as an inseparable part of basic human and democratic rights. As a part of the freedom of expression, the RTI is an irrepressible part of free speech; as a part of the right to life, it is as demanding as hunger, and as integral a part of the right to equality, as basic as human dignity.
The RTI is a movement far beyond a legislation, and while the amendments will certainly be a hindrance for India’s citizens, a review of the RTI movement will indicate clearly that the people’s need to ask questions and demand answers will always find an outlet.
The BJP has had what it has called its most successful and productive legislative session of Parliament — ever. But a dream for some can be a nightmare for others. Law as an instrument of control and manipulation is very different from law as a reflection of shared values. As with many other powerful rulers, a lesson the BJP and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh think tank will be taught one day is that they might gain legal manoeuvrability by legislating to suppress democratic space, but there are basic human rights that no law, no police, no armed force, and indeed no mob or propaganda can curtail.
There is legislative cunning behind the RTI amendments. Successive governments have realized that people can, and have used RTI like an ‘x ray’ or ‘MRI’ machine to examine people in power, and their acts of omission and commission. This has been deeply uncomfortable and clearly unacceptable for an autocratic regime. The pursuers of these acts of government have been nearly 50 lakh individuals and collectives spread across the country, not always organized. Rather than undermining and diluting any of the individual provisions of access that the Indian RTI law has given to citizens, and rather than trying to muffle the applicants themselves the government decided to control the machinery and its power centre. By amending Sections 13, 16, and 27 of the Act, the Central government can now decide the tenure, status , and salaries of both the Central and state information commissions. As a result, a message of subservience has been conveyed to its most powerful body. The BJP is clearly driven by an unspoken agenda to weaken all independent institutions. The determination with which it bulldozed the amendments through both Houses, with blank refusals to have consultations in parliamentary committees or outside with people, shows that they felt that this was a step they were determined to take to free themselves from at least those questions that have repeatedly troubled the leadership.
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