67 killed, 161 assaulted, and 180 threatened or harassed. These figures mapped by Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative is an overview of number of attacks on RTI activists since 2005 when the Right to Information Act came into force.
The Act is revolutionary which aims to ensure transparency in the working of the government and to make the government officials accountable to the citizens. A citizen can ask for any information from the government without answering why that information is required. It is mandatory for the department to furnish all information, except that which has been exempted under the Act, to the person seeking such information. Failure to do so within the stipulated period of 30 days attracts a monetary fine on the government official who failed to furnish the information.
Empowered by the Act, many social reformers are using the mechanism to unveil the corruption in the government by seeking information on funding and implementation of various public welfare schemes. An RTI application costs as low as INR 10 but these activists are paying a higher price for demanding transparency. 67 RTI activists murders have been reported till date with many expected to have gone unreported. The number of attacks on the RTI activists have gone up in the recent years and at the same there has been a decline in the access to information since the present government came into power.
The Modi government came in power with promises of maximum governance and maximum transparency but the annual report for the year 2015-16 of the CIC- Chief Information Commission paints a different picture. The number of requests rejected have increased over the years and there are 11,65,217 requests pending for disposal. So much in the name of transparency and accountability!
Prime Minister Modi while inaugurating the new CIC building on 6th March, 2018 said that an “empowered citizen” is the strongest pillar of Indian democracy. But sadly the empowered citizen is being put to death and along with him is the democracy. The corruption in the government is slowly killing the democratic setup of the country with those with power to elect the ruler left with no power to make him accountable.
PM Modi also said that democratic and participative governance requires “transparency” and “accountability”. Emphasizing on the concept of “Act Rightly”, he said it is imperative that the citizens should be informed about their duties along with their rights and urged CIC to spread awareness among citizens about “Act Rightly”.
What is this acting right? Is a concerned citizen asking information under the Act acting right? Or is a corrupt official eating up the public money acting right? Is governments’ failure to safeguard its citizens from being murdered in broad daylight acting right? Is rejection of requests calling for transparency and accountability acting right?
Before the Prime Minister and his government comes up with the definition of “acting right” for the citizens, it should define what is acting right for itself and its officials. No doubt that a citizen needs to do his/her constitutional duties but at the same time it is the responsibility of the state to create a safe and conducive environment for its citizens to enjoy their rights and obey their duties. For this the government first needs to act right. A government acts right when it protects those acting in the interests of the citizen through constitutional and statutory means. For they are already doing what PM Modi asked for “Act Rightly” and paid the price with their lives. A government acts rights when it is transparent. A government acts right when it is accountable. A government acts right when it protects the rights of its citizens – be it the right to information or the right to eat beef, or the right to marry inter-faith, or the right to debate on national issues and not be termed “anti-national”.
But with number of murders rising each day, with every concerned voice silenced by the gun, with every hand raised being smashed by a club, it is time for the Prime Minister to “act rightly”.