M A I N   N E W S

Govt drops RTI amendments
Tripti Nath
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, August 19
The public outcry and dissension within and outside the ruling coalition against proposed amendments to the Right to Information Act has compelled the UPA government to indicate its willingness to consult all stakeholders for any changes in the Act.

Saturday unfolded positive developments and indications of a victory for RTI activists, in particular Magsaysay award winners Anna Hazare, who has been on fast for the last 11 days, and Aruna Roy.

The latter is also a member of the Working group of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information.

Sources in the Prime Minister’s Office said here on Saturday that the government has decided to withdraw the amendments to the landmark legislation which was viewed as a major achievement of the Congress-led UPA coalition.

The good news from the PMO came within hours of a meeting of RTI activists with UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi. Another factor that may have expedited decision-making by the government, is the nationwide referendum on the amendments to the RTI Act. According to the first round of votes counted by RTI activists and reported on Friday, 98.7 per cent of people, including those in the national Capital, voted against the proposed amendments.

Apart from this, the government could not have ignored the voices of dissent by leaders of Left parties. CPI National Secretary D. Raja had said early this week that any attempt to weaken the RTI Act will be resisted within and outside Parliament. At the same time, Rajya Sabha member(CPI-M) Brinda Karat had said that her party would block the proposed amendments at every stage. “The proposed amendment is nothing short of redrafting the Act and can in no way be considered for passage.”

Minister of State for Personnel Suresh Pachauri said the Prime Minister has suggested that the amendments to the RTI Act not be brought in the current session of Parliament. “The Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, has suggested that the amendments to the RTI Act should not be brought in this session as Mrs Sonia Gandhi has received some representations protesting against the amendments. The Prime Minister is of the view that the act needs wider consultation before being introduced in Parliament,” he said.

A delegation from the Campaign to Save the RTI Act led by Aruna Roy got a patient hearing from Sonia Gandhi on Saturday afternoon. The delegation sought a categorical assurance from the government on the withdrawal of the amendments. The most controversial of the proposed changes pertains to the Cabinet decision to remove disclosure of file notings and Cabinet papers from the purview of the RTI Act.

Mrs Gandhi expressed concern over the condition of Anna Hazare and promised the delegation that she would request the government to issue a statement as soon as possible on the status of RTI amendments.

Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office Prithiviraj Chauhan is learnt to have carried a message to Hazare in Alandi that the amendment to the RTI Act would not be moved in the ongoing session of Parliament.

Describing the change in the stand of the government as a “huge democratic success,” Roy told TNS that activists who have been taking turns to continue the agitation at Jantar Mantar, have hailed the decision. “We have celebrated by singing and dancing here. We will however continue the nationwide referendum till the winter session of Parliament.”

The dharna under the banner “Save the RTI Campaign” will however continue till the last day of the monsoon session.

In a letter to Mr Pachauri on Thursday, four RTI activists, including Magsaysay award winner Arvind Kejrival, said: “We urge the government to leave the RTI Act 2005 as it is for a few years. This is a historic legislation and this government deserves to be congratulated for this. Let some people within the bureaucracy not be allowed to undo the good work of the government.”

They had suggested that the public be allowed to gain some experience of invoking the provisions of the comprehensive RTI Act. “But no amendments should be considered without adequate public consultations,” the letter said.




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