Considering there are 50 lakh public information officers and 60 lakh citizens asking for information, the Right to Information (RTI) Act in India can be considered as successful, said Prof Sridhar Acharyulu, Central Information Commissioner.
Speaking at a jointly held function of Moneylife Foundation’s RTI Centre and Pune Shramik Patrakar Sangh, to celebrate the 13th anniversary of the RTI Act, Prof Acharyulu also stated that an RTI application is the most affordable public interest litigation (PIL) which can be filed for just Rs10!
Prof Acharyulu empowered the audience by providing tips on how and why more and more citizens should use RTI, which in turn will effectively pressurise public authorities to give out information. A vibrant citizenry will empower RTI leading to transparency, he pointed out. He, however, urged the citizens, “to do a lot of research and make such a strong RTI application that it will be difficult for the public authority to deny information.’’
Acknowledging the tireless work of many RTI activists across the country, Prof Acharyulu said that they study the issue so deeply that they have more knowledge about it than does a government officer of that public authority who should be the most equipped with all the information. Giving an example he said, “I know of an RTI activist in Delhi who is so thorough in the knowledge of the transport department that relevant government officers bank on him for any information that they may not have.’’
He urged RTI activists to become experts in the particular area that they are seeking information in, and be in command of the information that may be given or denied.
Prof Acharyulu also dwelt on the amendments proposed to the RTI Act, which he said are disastrous as they pertain to “reduction of the status of the Information Commissions, and worse, kill the independence of the State Information Commissions.”
The `Right to Privacy’ Bill he said, is the most undemocratic as it will strangulate our freedom of speech, in more ways than one.
Prof Acharyulu also warned that if this Bill becomes an Act, RTI will be destroyed as some of the clauses therein clash with the dissemination of information under the RTI Act and information commissioners will be left battling with their duty to give information at one end and the pressure to subvert information at the other end by referring to the Right to Privacy Act.
The Right to Privacy, if it is implemented, he said, would mean a continuous state of emergency for the citizens.
Prof Acharyulu also dwelt upon the killings of RTI activists across the country which he said have considerably reduced after CIC’s collective decision that “even after an appellant’s death; the appeal doesn’t die.’’ All information sought by the late RTI applicant should be suo motu put up by the relevant public authority. He urged activists to move in groups and be in groups while seeking information so that there is lesser danger and threat by the untoward elements who do not want information to come out in the open.
Several journalists and eminent RTI activists of Pune attended the function. They included Vijay Kumbhar, Vivek Velankar, Jugal Rathi, Qaneez Sukhrani, Suresh Karve, Vinod Jain and VR Kamlapurkar, amongst others.
Moneylife Foundation’s RTI Centre will continue to have regular RTI events in Pune city. We will keep you posted.