By Siddhartha Narayan
In the July of 2019 I had supported the Central Government’s move to amend certain provisions of the Right to Information Act as the Act was at that time in need of getting a makeover as most acts do after a certain passage of time. Like aircrafts go in for their checks and maintenance, Acts and laws need a little bit of upgrading keeping in view the needs of modern day governance .
However,the difference advocated by me mainly, was keeping in view the amount of “blackmail” that most Information Commissioners had to face from certain people who in the garb of being “Activists” were actually finding reasons for creating trouble for all n sundry.Furthermore,the reasons for supporting the draft changes was that the post of Information Commissioner is one of great responsibility and the one occupying the seat had to be equally held accountable for his decision -making and in pronouncing the verdict on the application being read out before him.
In the amendment the structural changes brought with itself the much popular belief that the change actually reduced the salary and perks of the Information Commissioners. This in the current CoVID-19 scenario is something really scary for anyone occupying this high chair.
In my studying of this situation I can easily foresee that in the near and medium term most Information Commissions across the Union of India will for sure loose most of their funding.The current changes keeping in mind the financial tsunami India is facing (and will face) will genuinely reduce the impact that the Act was formulated for. While Covid is a crisis with which the whole world is struggling The struggle to keep the RTI Act alive and a reality will be a far cry. This genuine concern also is reflected in the fact that till date in the entire country there has not been a single appointment made that of a Central/state public information officer. With an almost imminent salary cut for all government officials in the form of several allowances being reduced or stayed The expectation of producing information will be the last on the priority of the government babus add to this the salary cuts that the Information Commissioners will face as well.
The road ahead for the students of Information Activism is a rather rough one and we all will face it some day .
When the world is crumbling I do remember vividly the time when I had some of my favourite Commissioners who taught me some of the sweetest lessions I can think of – Gajender Yadav,India’s youngest State Information Commissioner once told me that Understanding Information is more important than actually procuring it-So very true.The tough as tough can get Information Commissioner Swadesh Kumar.Arvind Singh Bisht,The most glamorous of them all believed that information leads to the solution of the problem. Gyan Prakash Maurya,The grandmaster of civil legal knowledge outrightly desired digitalization of all records The iconic Syed Haider Rizvi who deeply advocated on saving the resources of the state while in office.Finally,Ustaad(Hafiz) Usman who imposed more fines than all RTI applications put together in all Central and State Commissions in the country – All men of great and impeccable integrity. They gave the Right to Information its steel frame.
Reflecting, I often wonder what would they have thought about the frozen road ahead? A small voice inside me tells me maybe on the same lines as I do – It needs to go in for its checks and maintenance the same way as aircrafts would after a certain period of time.