RTI Convention :: NCPRI :: Shailesh Gandhi
Posted by rtiact2005 on October 17, 2006
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From: shailesh Gandhi <email@example.com>
Subject: RTI Convention
There were some fairly significant developments at the National Convention, -which are at the end of this report,-and I wanted to share them.
Report on the National RTI Convention
The Central Information Commission, to commemorate one year of the
RTI Act, organized a National Convention. The Convention was held from 13 to 15 October, 2006 at the Vigyan Bhawan in Delhi. It generated a lot of controversies, even before it began. The Commission first formed a steering committee which included a fair number of civil society activists.
Originally they had planned it as a function primarily for officials. They proposed a function for about 350 people in which there would be about 60 to 70 activists. We protested against this and they accepted the view that without the presence of adequate Citizens, a RTI convention was meaningless.
After this first meeting they completely forgot about the steering
committee and designed a really bad program of RTI discussions interspersed with comedy and puppet shows. This resulted in some RTI activists deciding to skip the Convention.
On the first day, Anna Hazare who spoke before the CIC and the President made a fairly strong statement castigating the Government and the Information Commissions for not coming upto the Citizen’s
expectations in the implementation of the act.
Towards the end of the President’s speech, a group of activists stood up with banners giving a call for sacking the CIC. They were later picked by the police and released after a few hours of questioning.
The Commission said they had invited about 900 people out of whom, about 50% were civil society members and the rest were government officials- PIOs, Appellate authorities, Commissioners and others.
I think there were about 700 people who attended in which there were perhaps about 400 government officials including around 30 Information Commissioners from across India.
The next day had a very good beginning with P.C.Alexander’s erudite and thought provoking speech. I had been dismayed initially when I
had heard his name as the keynote, speaker, but was pleasantly surprised at his depth of understanding of the subject and the current stage of RTI. He was unsparing in his criticism of the Government and the Information Commissions for their faults, and very categorically stated that the Government’s move to amend the law was regressive. With his long experience he stated that giving file notings posed no problem to the honest officers.
After this there were four panel discussions and an opportunity was also given to other participants for about 100 minutes to express their views.
This ended at 2.00pm on the final day.
These sessions were really very interesting with most participants,-
Information Commissioners, other officials and Citizens,- expressing
dissatisfaction with the current status of RTI. By and large everyone voiced the view that RTI had not delivered its promise and potential. Some Citizens were very vociferous and eloquent in attacking the Commissions, PIOs and Appellate Authorities. At times the integrity of officials and Commissioners was also challenged. Bad and illegal orders from all these functionaries were attacked repeatedly, with just a few showing any appreciation of anything done by them.
The three persistent demands by the activists were about penalty imposition, personal hearings and Section 4 disclosure. To me
as an involved observer and activist, this showed a very interesting side of the potential of the Right To Information campaign. Everyone, including Public Servants accepted the importance of the Right, and also in acknowledging the failure to deliver. Though there were more Public Servants than Citizenry, there were very few who blamed the Citizens for any faults, or misuse.
On the first day, Wajahat Habibullah speaking before the President, stated that he was against any move to ban applications on the
alleged grounds of being ‘vexatious and frivolous’ or any amendment of the RTI Act.
After discussions with some activists, I proposed seven resolutions
before the Convention on the final day and six were passed. The first three were passed unanimously, while the balance were passed with an overwhelming majority. It is worthwhile to note that the first three resolutions, including the demand for no change in the RTI Act, had Information Commissioners also raising their hands in support. It will also be useful to keep in mind that the audience had around 50% Public servants.
When the Chief Information Commissioner presented his report to the Prime Minister, he mentioned the first three resolutions in his speech. Minister Suresh Pachouri and the Prime Minister did not respond to these, and primarily read their written speeches paying homage to RTI and their own and Sonia Gandhi’s contributions to RTI.
October 15, 2006
We the People of India, having gathered at the National Convention held by the Central Information Commission at Vigyan Bhawan, have deliberated from 13 to 15th October 2006 on our Right To Information Act, 22 of 2005. As we complete one year of this Historic Act,- which heralds our Swaraj,- we resolve as follows to ensure and safeguard our freedom:
1. The Governments must provide required resources, facilities, funding and personnel to the Information Commissions to be able to implement the Right To Information Act.
2. All Public Authorities must fulfil the requirements of Section 4, and a compliance report should be submitted to the appropriate Information Commissions before 1 January, 2007.
3. The Government must give an undertaking publicly that no changes will be made in the RTI Act until October, 2008.
4. Commissions must give an opportunity for a personal hearing to appellants and complainants.
5. Commissions should go by the letter and spirit of the law, ensuring that all denials of information are only as per the exemptions listed in the Act.
6. The Governments must ensure a common name in whose favour the
application fees can be made by demand drafts or postal orders, and increase the modes of payment of these fees.
Passed by the Convention on 15 October, 2006.
To be presented to the Prime Minister of India.
Being given to the Central and State Information Commissions, for response and action. We also request them to also forward these to the Central and State Governments.
Note: The first three resolution were passed unanimously, and the balance three by an overwhelming majority. The resolution which could not garner a clear majority, inspite of a loud and vigorous thumping from many activists was:
7. Commissions must impose penalties as a matter of rule of law, rather than as exceptions in order to effectively implement the Act and reduce the number of second appeals reaching them.
Personal note: Among other points, I did strongly put across the following:
1. The need for ensuring that the pendency before the Commissions
should not be more than 60 days. I believe this is the greatest danger to the Act.
2. The desirability of a RTI stamp of Rs. 10 available at all post
offices which should be accepted for all applications. The amount obtained from this could be used for RTI propagation. Even if there are one crore applications in the Country, the amount involved will be just 10 crore rupees.
However, these did not find great enthusiasm.
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