“People should have a right to question the government. This will increase their faith in democracy,” said Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurating the10th Right to Information national convention. However, the celebration of 10 years of RTI and the national convention had been marred by the Central Information Commission, the organizer of the event, by self invited controversy. Only seven RTI activists are invited to the convention the two day convention, citing ‘security concerns’. Unfortunately, all of them have boycotted the event.
Barring this year, on recommendation of State Information commissions RTI activists from different parts of India were invited to the convention. The torch bearers of RTI movement Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey and several other RTI activists have accused the government of foul play. In a statement National Campaign for Right to Information (NCPRI) said,“CIC was pressurized to limit the number of invitees. It was done under the order of Home affairs ministry and Intelligence(Bureau).” They contented that how mere seven people can represent the 80 lakh users of RTI. Considering the fact that RTI was formulated under the huge pressure from the working class population, whose epicenter was Baewar—a small village in Rajasthan, such a move is under the hammer.
“Instead of huge celebration marking 10 years of RTI they have reduced the list of invitees. Is this an indicative gesture that how Central Government is going to undermine the RTI in upcoming years ?” said Aruna Roy. Allegedly, background checks conducted on those who were recommended by the State commission and finally invited to the convention. NCPRI said that people have been invited to convention in the past too but such checks were never done. Interestingly, the activists are refuting ‘security concern’ as a reason behind such move as RTI convention every year is inaugurated by the Prime Minister or President. “I am from Manipur. Such checks provoke a sense of fear as our area is infested by insurgency. My family and friends are concerned about my security since the background checks were carried out,” said Joy, an RTI activists. Not only this those invited to the event had no clarity as when they can enter the convention. “We were told that we can attend the convention only once the inaugural over. But we don’t have the passes for the same,” said an activist.
The inaugural function is followed by the technical session which facilitates free dialogue between the RTI users and legal experts. Those invited have maintained the line that they will boycott sessions in order to register their protest against the CIC’s action.
Another activist said, “RTI is people’s law. It has increased people’s participation in our democracy. PM’s convention is meaningless without RTI activists participation.” Venkatesh Nayak of CHRI (Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative) said that this year activists have informed that state commissions that they would take care of their expanses to attend the convention, unlike past when the commission did such expanses.
CIC initially planned for much larger participation this year. NCPRI was included in the process of recommending names for the convention and separate list were prepared by the state commissions. As per an RTI, initial tender for the event was for 1300 people, informed Nikhil Dey. When asked whether the numbers of invitees were reduced under the influence of Modi government, Aruna Roy retorted, “under control not influence.”
Interestingly, the two day convention was scheduled for 12th October but was further deferred due to PM Modi’s busy schedule. His participation remained clouded citing his preoccupation with Bihar election campaign. Finally, it got PM’s nod and the convention was rescheduled for 16 and 17 September, which meant ‘no admission’ to for real heroes of RTI.
In light when NDA is set to dilute RTI act through its amendment in Whistle Blower’s protection Act, such an means closure for dialogue and decrease people’s participation in democracy which RTI has achieved in its first decade of being. Roy said “We will fight RTI’s struggle through RTI.”