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India – Is the state out to muzzle RTI Act?

In the last nine years, RTI has been used extensively. Maharashtra has had the distinction of having the most number of applications filed even though little to no effort has been made to create awareness about it

 dna correspondent @dna

This is not the first time that the state government has tried to play a spoil sport vis-a-vis RTI Act. Two of its latest notifications are only a continuation of its earlier attempts to restrict the use of the RTI Act or kill its spirit.

While some have had to be withdrawn, others have stayed put. The first serious attempt was soon after the Act came into effect in 2006. The government moved to keep file noting outside RTI ambit. That saw a number of RTI activist protesting and the government beating a hasty retreat.

In Jan 2012, the state restricted the word limit and the subject matter of a RTI application. That was followed by a directive from the information commission on the building proposal department–withdrawn after public uproar–that information should not be provided.

The two recent notifications are now being slammed for mutually agreeable “skin-saving” measures by politicians and bureaucrats. While the circular on ACB will save investigations on politicos from coming out in the open, the other saves government servants (mostly) from giving out information that partially needs to be provided.

“The problem is that the state does not have any opposition party. All politicians are trying to save one another. Bureaucrats are corrupt and they try save their skin. All the information for which people file RTI should actually be on the website. Through these notifications, they are trying to amend RTI Act through the back door,” said Vihar Durve, an RTI activist.

In Sept, the govt issued a notification removing ACB from RTI. In Oct, it put out another circular that stated personal information should not be given if a “public interest” is not proved.

“It’s a badly-drafted notification that does not state anything which has already not been provided for in the Act. It being issued only puts question mark on the motive behind it. In fact, the Act states that no information can be denied if it cannot be denied to state legislature,” said Vijay Kumbhar, an RTI activist.

Activist have now filed a complaint on the ACB notification and it’s likely to come up for hearing next month.

Published Date:  Oct 29, 2014

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