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Farmers protest proposed RTI changes
NEW DELHI, Nov 15:
Published on 15 Nov. 2009 11:04 PM IST
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Kheema Ram, a 40-year-old farmer from Rajasthan who exposed a number of corrupt practices through his more than 350 RTI applications is against any amendments in the Act. Ram, hailing from Rajsamund district, travelled all the way to Delhi along with fellow villagers on Saturday to protest against the proposed amendments in the RTI Act which may take out some categories of information from the Act’s ambit. “The discussed amendments will take out the ‘Atma’ of the act. We will be at the mercy of the public information officer for extracting even the most relevant information. They can reject our applications, saying its `frivolous’, if the changes materialise,’’ he said. Ram’s views find resonance among a cross section of intellectuals, social workers, politicians, farmers and RTI activists. Opposing the proposal to “weaken’’ the Act, people from 10 states across the country gathered at Jantar Mantar on Saturday for a day long dharna. Several civil society groups and organisations, individuals and users of the RTI Act assembled at the dharna organised by the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information. Amongst those present were information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi, social activist Aruna Roy, economist Jean Dreze, CPI General Secretary D Raja, RTI activist Shekhar Singh, renowned theatre personality Tripurari Sharma, Nikhil Dey and Swami Agnivesh of the Bandhwa Mukti Morcha. A collective demand was made to not amend the Act but to implement it properly. Magsaysay award winner Aruna Roy, who played a crucial role in shaping the RTI movement in the country, lamented that instead of ensuring better implementation in crucial areas like proactive dis “The act has proved itself among the masses and people have benefited from it. It is wrong to suggest changes in it at this stage. The effort should be to ensure its full implementation in letter and spirit,’’ Roy said. Another RTI doyen Shekhar Singh said the manner in which these changes have been put forward has raised concern among people who are using it. “Government had spent Rs 70 lakh for a study by a private body. The report does not even say vexatious or frivolous applications are a problem for the system. Information commissioners from across the country have also opposed any changes in the Act,’’ Singh said, wondering why there is talk of amendments. RTI activist Commodore Lokesh Batra said it is too early to bring any changes in the Act. “The proposed changes will give powers to the public information officers to reject applications if they feel it is vexatious or frivolous. It will leave scope for misuse,” he said. Later, a representative delegation of 7 members, led by Aruna Roy and Shekhar Singh, went to meet the DoPT secretary Shantanu Consul to discuss the current proposal regarding the amendments. The secretary confirmed that a set of amendments are under consideration, but before they are approved, the DoPT will follow a transparent and open consultative process. All further proposals for amending the law will be put up on the DoPT website and affected parties and stakeholders will be consulted before the government considers any amendments to the law. The secretary further assured the group that the minutes of the meetings held with the information commissioners in October 2009 will also be made available on the DoPT website soon.

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