Friday, July 15, 2011
The 3rd National RTI Convention
The National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) and the Meghalaya Right to Information Movement (MRTIM) organized a 3-day Convention on RTI from 10th to 12th March 2011 in Shillong (Meghalaya). It was the first and biggest convention held after the RTI Act was implemented. It was attended by over 600 people from all over country. Justice J.S Verma (former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court), Justice AP Shah, former Judge of the High Court of Madras and Delhi, Harsh Mander, JM Lyndoh (former Chief Election Commissioner of India) Aruna Roy of MKSS, Arvind Kejriwal were some of the participants for the convention.
Ms. Nandini Sahai, Director, The International Centre Goa and Mr. Rajan Ghate, recipient of National RTI Award 2010 from Goa also attended the convention. Ms. Sahai moderated the workshop on “RTI and Media” which was a success, with many
recommendations which will help in bringing about transparency and accountability in the Media. Dr. Vishnu Rajgadia, Secretary of the Jharkhand RTI Forum was also a part of this workshop although he could not attend the convention due to sad demise of his father. Mr. Balram, President of the Jharkhand RTI Forum, Mr. Gurjeet, Convenor of the Jharkhand NREGA Watch and Mr. Shakti Pandey, Publicity Incharge of Jharrkhand RTI Forum were also among participants of the convention.
The Participants and delegates from different parts of the country were greatly enriched in their understanding and deliberations on the use of RTI for challenging corruption and deepening democratic practice. Some of the sessions were: “Reclaiming Democracy: Information as Power” “Peoples’ power: RTI and the Movements “RTI Law: Potential and Challenges” Shillong Declaration on “From Transparency to Accountability”
The 12 point Shillong Declaration which was passed at the end of the convention called for bringing all political parties, public-private partnership (PPP) entities, trade unions and non-governmental organizations under the purview of the RTI Act and the need to define rules and procedures to ensure that information from them can be accessed easily.
The Shillong Declaration on RTI also stated that exemptions given under Section 24 to security and intelligence agencies are irrational and contrary to national interest, and they need to be removed – not by amendment of the Act but by withdrawing the list of notified agencies. It also included a resolution which states that there must be transparency of religious institutions and the use of public money for religious purpose should be transparent.
The convention demanded urgent formation of an anti-corruption Commission or Body like the Lokpal/Lokayukt which can make sure that information accessed through the RTI that exposes corruption is acted upon and that the guilty are held accountable. It strongly demanded that the government take immediate action to properly implement proactive disclosures under Section 4 of the RTI Act.
The Shillong Declaration further stated that it is the moral responsibility of the government to ensure protection of RTI activists and users and they must take not just swift legal action against the culprits but also ensure that the information being accessed by the assaulted activist is urgently made public.
The resolutions are:
(1) To strongly demand from the Government both state and central of suo-motu disclosure under Section (4) of the RTI Act.
(2) Demand for an anti-corruption body such as the Lok Pal at the Centre and the Lokayukta in the states which are autonomous and are vested with appropriate powers and staff so that information obtained through RTI can be taken further.
(3) It is a moral and legal responsibility both of the Central and State Government to ensure protection of RTI applicants and activists. If an RTI applicant or activist is attacked the issue should be brought into public view.
(4) Ensure a process by which all legislations approved by parliament and state legislatures in their draft forms should be made public and provisions created for public discussion and inclusions of peoples’ views.
(5) Process of selection and functioning of state and Central Information Commissioners requires serious overhaul. The selection should be participatory and transparent and keep the interest of people paramount and not that of the government. The norms of selection should be mutually agreed upon and there should be a mechanism to get people’s views on the possible candidate for the post of Information Commissioner/s.
(6) Demand that government of India should set up an RTI Council along the lines of the NREGA Council with representatives from all states in the Council.
(7) Public Private Partnerships (PPP), Private Sector, Political Parties, Trade Unions, Co-operative Societies, NGOs should fall under the RTI Act Procedures and rules should be fine-tuned to make it easier to get RTI from the above institutions.
(8) The NCPRI believes that exemptions under Section (24) to Intelligence and Security Agencies are irrational and contrary to national interests and they need to be removed not by amendment of the Act but by withdrawing the list of notified agencies.
(9) For those areas in the North East where there are no local governments (Panchayati Raj Institutions) and where there are District Councils and traditional institutions, rules, procedures and structures should be made so that RTI is effective up to the grass
(10) There must be transparency in all religious and faith-based institutions about the use of public money for private purposes.
(11) All government expenditures must be subject to public/social audit.
(12) The NCPRI stands by all resolutions passed by all working groups at their workshops.
In Photo- Mr. Rajan Ghate, Ms. Nandini Sahai, Ms. Aruna Roy and Mr. Nikhil Dey.