Activists plan daily protests against RTI 'dilution'

As Lok Sabha took up "anti-people" amendments to the RTI law, activists on Monday staged a protest in the capital claiming that the amendments  "undermine" the independence of information commissions and "dilute" the country's "strongest and most widely used law" for transparency.

As Lok Sabha took up "anti-people" amendments to the RTI law, activists on Monday staged a protest in the capital claiming that the amendments  "undermine" the independence of information commissions and "dilute" the country's "strongest and most widely used law" for transparency.

Separately, former information commissioner Sridhar Acharyalu wrote to MPs about the problematic provisions of the bill, while Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said that bringing the amendments was a "bad move" that will end the independence of Central and state information commissions.

The bill was passed by the Lok Sabha on Monday evening.

Scores of transparency activists protested in the capital, shouting slogans like 'Save RTI, Save Democracy', and later held a 'Jan Manch' in which several Opposition MPs participated.

The protest was organised by National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information (NCPRI), National Alliance of Peoples Movements (NAPM), Right to Food Campaign and the National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW).

Addressing the 'Jan Manch', former chief information commissioner Wajahat Habibullah said that the statutorily protected tenure and terms of service of information commissioners was “crucial” to allow them to work “without fear or favour”.

NCPRI co-conveners Anjali Bhardwaj and Nikhil Dey said that activists are planning protests every day across the country to oppose the changes in the transparency law.

They said that people had managed to get information on non-performing assets, demonetisation and loan defaulters among others due to the existing statutory provisions that isolated information commissioners from pressure.

Congress Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Gowda said that the government was targeting laws that empower people and those that act as a system of checks and balances.

"The intention of the BJP is very clear. Instead of strengthening accountability laws by operationalising the Whistle Blowers Protection Act which was passed in 2014, the government is focused on destroying the RTI Act," he said.

CPI general secretary D Raja said that the Modi government has reduced the Parliament to a "rubber stamp" and the BJP was using its “brute majority” to push through amendments that undermine peoples’ rights.

RJD MP Manoj Jha said that 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.

The bill, which was passed by Lok Sabha, empowers the government to decide on the tenure and salary of information commissioners across the country as against the existing provisions in the Act that give the commissioners a fixed tenure of five years.

It also reduces the status enjoyed by chief information commissioner and information commissioners, who are at par with the Supreme Court and High Court judges in central and state levels respectively.

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