Journey of RTI Act and Threats to its Activists in Manipur
RTI activists are vulnerable because they live in the same area as public authorities and political leaders who do not want information about their activities to be disclosed.
IN MANIPUR and other pars of India, the root causes of chaos, unrest, mistrust, tussle and challenges among our people in all possible sphere in our day-to-day life is due to communication and information gap among us. Irregularities, malpractices, open corruption in most Government offices (established by public money for the welfare of public) are due to not giving out necessary information of the public welfare schemes to outreach the common people, instead, few government servants in conspiracy with few other exercises behind the screen in black and white for name sakes only. Social crimes, violence, malpractices occurring every now and then are due to the shameless hands of few hooligans who think this is an honored and respectable practice.
If people know that we have the rights to know any information from any government offices about our development and welfare schemes and use this right fully, the irregularities and malpractices by these group of people can be easily stopped and prevented. Our development will go in the right direction only when our political leaders, bureaucrats’ officers and heads of respective departments exercise their duties sincerely, transparently, honestly and diligently. Our people can also obtain all our rights which are being taken away. These will be possible only when we all know the provisions of Right to Information (RTI) Act 2005. This Act provides directly or indirectly to all the citizens to get to know all the information from any Government Departments or offices. Government Departments or offices should also provide any information pertinent to the respective departments or offices to the general public. However, except few people, most of us are ignorant of what to do to get the right information.
The intent to know and try to know is the inborn character of we human being. It may be due to this, that the right to information is taken as one of the fundamental rights. After the universal Declaration of Human Rights by United Nations General assembly in 1948, different groups of people, Social Activists, Human right defenders, Philanthropist, Media persons etc. have been constantly demanding to include the Right to Information in the Constitution of India. One of the supportive means to get the Right to Information was the verdict of Supreme Court of India in 1975. In a land mark judgement of Justice Mediu in a case between Uttar Pradesh Government and Raj Narayan, said ‘’ In a responsible Government like ours, whatever all its agent does should be done with highest responsibility and transparency’’. Whatever the Government employee does for the welfare of the state, our people have the rights to know it. A judgment given by Supreme Court in 1981 in another case between S.P Gupta and Union ofIndia, again gave a big impetus in the movement of RTI. But one barricade in the RTI movement was the report submitted in 1982 by Mathew Commission to look after the amendment of Official Secrets Act of 1923.Later on, when Prime Minister VP Singh Government came to power in 1989, he announced RTI will be a fundamental right of our citizens during 20th meeting of Ministers of Information & Cinematography in 1990. Gradually RTI movement became people’s movement.
The role of MAZDUR KISHAN SAKTI SANGANTHAN9 an NGO) of Rajasthan in this movement is incredible. In 1995, PCI (Press Council of India) framed first blue print of the Freedom of Information. In the blue print, it was mentioned that whatever information that a parliamentarian and state Legislature obtain should also be obtainable to the general public. As a result, Government of India had taken a resolution to frame an Act of the Freedom of Information in 1997.
Due to the escalation of people’smovement, more aware by law courts about RTI, keen interest taken by the Legislatures in these regards and assurance given by the subsequent Government, Freedom of Information Bill 2000 was introduced in the Parliament in July 2000. The Bill was passed in 2002 and enacted. After UPA Government came to power, the Rights to Information Bill (amendment Version of Freedom of Information Act) 2004 was introduced in December 2004. This Bill was passed by Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha respectively on 11th and 12th May 2005. The President of India consented this Act on 15th June 2005 and implemented. This Act was fully enacted all over the country from 12th October 2005 with local adjustment of the respective States. In Manipur, this Act was fully implemented as per Manipur Government Gazette extra ordinary No.99 of 20th July 2005.
Enacting and implementing Rights to Information (RTI) Act in the largest democratic country like India is a right step to achieve the real objective of democracy. However, every citizen of India should remember that Freedom of Expression and Right to Information has its own respective limitations. All rights are associated with a responsible (duty). All rights under this Act should be used with full responsible for a peaceful and progressive society.
Implementation of RTI Act is a new dawn for information seeking people but sometimes turned into a dark new moon night. Many RTI activists including policemen have been harassed and even murdered for seeking information to ‘’Promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority’’ in India. Many face assaults on a regular basis. People seeking information from their gram panchayat and local administration also face social ostracism. A few activists who sought information under RTI related to MGNREGA scams were killed. Many threats and attacks (including murder) go unreported by media. Media reports of more than 300 instances of attacks on or harassment of citizens can be linked to information sought under ‘’ The Right to Information Act’’. Maharashtra followed by Gujarat tops the lists for states with the most attacks on RTI users.
RTI activists are vulnerable Human rights Defenders (HRDs) in India now. Unlike other HRDs, a majority of the RTI activists are not part of an organization, they often act alone, moved by anger at corruption and other illegal activities. RTI activists are vulnerable because they live in the same area as public authorities and political leaders who do not want information about their activities to be disclosed. For the most part of human rights defenders receives media attention only when killed or seriously injured. When complaints are made by RTI activists, law enforcement personal (who often work with corrupt officials) do not take appropriate action.
The Right to Information Act 2005, provides inadequate protection to whistleblowers. The central information Commission and the State information Commission are not mandated to deal with such threats or attacks or to provide protection when needed. Attack on RTI users have not ceased despite directions from several information Commissions and state governments to protect them from harm.
In Senapati Districts of Manipur, four RTI activists are under the sever cloud of death threat now. Kh Inoch of Phaibung Village, P. JohnsonSamo of Taphou Phyamai village, S.P Benjamine of Ngari Raidulomai Village and P. R Amose of Khabung Khunou village have been under death threat from NSCN (I-M) as they sought information under RTI Act on the dispersal of funds for various development projects, carried out by Autonomous District Council. Though a sharp weapon to obtain all possible information from authority, is provided by Constitution under RTI Act but RTI activists have become scapegoat as this Act is like a toothless tiger.
(The views expressed are personal)