Secularism at risk as RTI Act weakens, says Aruna Roy
Releasing her RTI Story Power to The People in the city, activist Aruna Roy, who led the movement for getting the legislation in place, said citizens were moving towards a more challenging and non-transparent environment.
“This government has consolidated opaqueness. It has systematically weakened the RTI Act by granting exemptions to CBI and other agencies on security grounds. Electoral bonds are a case in point where we don’t know who is financing a political party. Donations by foreign entities are also under wraps. The source of all corruption is political funding. This basically undoes all the gains for the Right to Information Act for which Indians have fought for so long,” said Ms. Roy on the sidelines of the book launch.
Ms. Roy, who quit civil services to begin working at the grass-root level in Rajasthan in 1975, narrated her journey from the time she was turned out of a house to the time where people strung up songs and bhajans about the issues raised by her. “We are failing our secularism if we cannot raise our voice and cannot connect our angst and anger in the cultural milieu which people understand,” she said breaking into a song about change of location of thieves and change of weapons hinting at the political elite ruling the nation.
“The principles of RTI were defined by people, but the law was fashioned by experts. I did not lead the movement. I was forced to lead, pushed ahead. I am a communicator. I am a chronicler and have just threaded it together in my book. The book is essentially about people like Susheela who coined the slogan Hamara paisa hamara hisab about the need for RTI,” said Ms. Roy.
“Till now, on official records, 70 persons have been killed for filing various RTI applications. The power of the legislation can be seen from the fact that every hour 300 applications are being filed. But the pendency has gone up to three years. Information Commissioners are not being appointed. The government has downgraded the commissioners to secretary level from the rank of a Chief Election Commissioner,” said Ms. Roy fielding questions on the occasion. “Political parties don’t want scrutiny. The case of appointing PIOs by political parties is in a limbo. How is it that NGOs are losing their registration for not adhering to FCRA norms, but political parties can get foreign funding without anyone knowing about the financier? Where is the parity. Where is the equality?” asked Ms. Roy who said vigilance is the only way to ensure that our democracy remains functional.