It is time to think, change and do. However, even in dynamic and diverse societies change has never been easily accepted. Hence, it is no surprise that the Right to Information Act (RTI) has acquired a resilience that even its authors could not have prophesied. It has been preserved in its original form for years, despite many attempts by the government to make amendments that were “aimed at curtailing the scope of the law and restricting the flow of official information.”
For most people in India, it seemed unimaginable that they could actually obtain records of decisions that critically impacted their lives. However, the creation of the RTI Act in 2005 made this possible as it acted as a means to unearth the scams and scandals of those in power, ironically causing the biggest hit to be taken by the very government that created it at a mere fee of Rs.10. The Commonwealth games and the 2G scam act as evidence and show that the “success of this law has been its biggest threat.”
The huge public interest in the preservation of the original form of the RTI is the reason why the status quo did not change for six long years until 3rd June 2013. It was on this day that the Central Information Commission (CIC) deemed six Indian national political parties: Congress, BJP, NCP, CPM, CPI and BSP to be “public authorities” that come under the ambit of the RTI. The reason behind this was financial transparency, and now, like the government, even the parties would be held “under compulsion to reveal their sources of funding.” Inevitably, this change was opposed fervently by the political parties, as they believed that it would encourage political rivals to file RTI applications with “malicious intentions.”
Consequently, the Manmohan Singh Government tabled an Amendment Bill in the Lok Sabha contradicting their previous declaration by clarifying that parties would not be treated as public authorities: “Authority or body or institution of self-government established or constituted by any law made by Parliament shall not include any association or body of individuals registered or recognized as a political party under the Representation of the People Act, 1951.”
A new section was also added to the Act according to which the amendment would apply “notwithstanding anything contained in any judgment, decree or order of any court or commission and will prevail over any other law for the time being in force.”
Furthermore, The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Bill highlight the presence of provisions that deal with transparency in the financial aspects of political parties in the Representation of People (RP) Act as well as the Income Tax Act. This could be seen as an indirect attempt to justify the exclusion of political parties from the realm of the RTI Act.
The aftermath of the introduction of the Amendment Bill was fairly obvious. The growing army of RTI stakeholders that consisted of citizens, activists and information commissioners were outraged and rejected the Bill by calling it “unfortunate and injudicious.” This very Act empowered the ordinary folk of our country, and they believe that this very Amendment will dilute the credibility of this Act.
Different perspectives can cause the same situation to seem justifiable or entirely unacceptable, and this has been proved by the conflicting views held by the political parties and the ordinary man in this situation. So how can one judge if the change is acceptable or not? Whatever the challenge may be – privacy or disclosure, “this information law cannot be beaten back; the genie is out of the bottle.” (The Hindu)