21 point declaration adopted at the Western Region RTI Convention
The Western Region RTI Convention was held successfully during which delegates from different parts of the country exchanged ideas. The Convention was organised in collaboration with the Department of Civics & Politics of the University of Mumbai and with the support and help from many sponsors. Bhaskar Prabhu informed that it was a great learning experience and a celebration of working together with delegates from 16 states. As there was participation of activists from 16 states, it was rechristened as "NATIONAL RTI CONVENTION 2014"
He expressed thanks to the delegates for being a part of this Convention by participating fully and giving of their valuable time of 2 full days and more. The work being done by the different organisations and individuals at the grassroots level and their willingness to share their experiences - joys, successes, frustrations and disappointments - during the convention was appreciated all.
It was hoped that the participants would continue their strive and efforts for empowering the RTI movement amidst hopes for meeting again.
The declaration adopted at the Western India RTI Convention 2014 is reproduced below:
As citizens and activists committed to building a transparent and accountable democracy we have gathered together from more than 15 States and Union Territories across the country in the city of Mumbai to celebrate our victories, and to discuss and strategise to squarely face current challenges. In this Western India RTI Convention, we pledge our commitment to protect our constitutionally guaranteed fundamental rights and particularly emphasising the freedom of speech and expression which is the bed rock of a free and democratic society in the absence of which our right to information would lose much of its meaning and value. On this day the 8th of June, 2014, we express our solidarity with all RTI users, activists and their families who have suffered attacks on them and resolve to defend our right to access information and express our opinions without fear and pledge in particular to struggle to achieve our collective vision as follows-
WE, THE PARTICIPANTS OF THE WESTERN INDIA RTI CONVENTION, HEREBY DECLARE THAT:
1. Even after nine years of the enactment of the Right to Information Act (RTI Act), governments have failed to implement this law to our expectations. Governments must take immediate and effective steps to establish a regime of transparency at all levels of the administration.
2. It is a matter of great concern that even after nine years of the enactment of the RTI Act, several states and competent authorities have rules which are contrary to the letter and spirit of the RTI Act and curb people’s right to seek information in many ways. We demand that the governments and competent authorities work towards installing a uniform regime of Rules under the RTI Act across the country.
3. A large number of public authorities have failed in fulfilling their obligation to proactively provide information to people under Section 4 of the RTI Act. All public authorities must urgently fulfill this responsibility. We demand that the Government of India, all state governments and public authorities immediately implement the guidelines framed by the Task Force on Section 4 implementation set up by the DoPT in 2013, including the adoption of all the templates developed by the Task Force.
4. The government must undertake steps to create awareness about the RTI Act among people, especially amongst the disadvantaged segments of society such as women, dalits, adivasis, all kinds of minorities and differently-abled persons. Even after more than nine years of enactment of the RTI law, awareness levels among people and a functional knowledge of the RTI Act, is low. A Peoples’ Monitoring Study of the RTI Regime In India, undertaken by RAAG, NCPRI and other groups, based on an analysis of 4000 RTI applications filed between 2005 and 2008, has found that only 6% of RTI applications were filed by women. RTI must be introduced in the educational curriculum to spread awareness amongst the youth.
5. All six national Political Parties must immediately comply with the June 2013 order of the Central Information Commission, which held declared them ‘public authorities’ under the RTI Act and therefore, must implement the provisions of the RTI Act, including Section 4. And appoint public information officers and appellate authorities to dispose RTI applications and appeals received from the people. All other political parties registered with and recognized by the Election Commission of India must proactively take steps to implement the RTI Act within their offices.
6. The Central and State Governments must ensure that the Whistle Blowers Protection Act (WBP Act), enacted in May 2014, is operationalised immediately. Model WBP Rules for implementing this law must be made in a transparent, consultative and participatory manner, to establish a comprehensive framework for protecting whistleblowers across the country. It is the moral responsibility of the Government to protect RTI activists and users who are attacked, and take swift legal action against those responsible for these attacks. Protection must be provided to their families and adequate compensation must be paid in such cases. It is also the obligation of governments and information commissions to ensure that, whenever an RTI applicant is attacked, the information that was being sought by him or her is put in the public domain on and any pending appeal followed up on a priority basis. All persons demanding transparency in public interest who are attacked must be treated as human rights defenders. Instances of murders, physical attacks on RTI users must be investigated and the accused prosecuted under the law in a timely manner.
7. We demand that Parliament immediately enact an effective grievance redress law which provides a time-bound, decentralized and comprehensive framework across the country, for addressing day-to-day complaints of people about the non-delivery of rights and entitlements against public authorities based on best practices developed in various States and Union Territories across the country that are implementing similar laws.
8. In order to move from transparency to accountability, the government must ensure that the rules of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, are framed in a transparent manner and the Lokpal is operationalized to function in an independent and empowered manner to tackle corruption. We also call upon our elected representatives in Parliament to enact all pending anti-corruption Bills in order to make India compliant with the provisions of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC).
9. We are deeply concerned about the increasing influence of the corporate sector over governments in decision making processes relating to developmental issues. All public authorities must take immediate steps to ensure transparency in the functioning of private entities that utilise or control public resources or public assets or provide public services. Information about all public-private-partnership projects (PPPs) must be accessible under the RTI Act at every stage of the project. Explanations about cost inflation of PPP projects must be disclosed proactively in terms of Section 4(1)(c) Every public authority shall publish all relevant facts while formulating important policies or announcing the decisions which affect public; of the RTI Act. Further, the government must frame appropriate guidelines and rules to ensure a practical framework for accessing information about the private sector bodies under Section 2(f) “information” means any material in any form, including records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinions, advices, press releases, circulars, orders, logbooks, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, data material held in any electronic form and information relating to any private body which can be accessed by a public authority under any other law for the time being in force; of the RTI Act.
10. Several serious problems are plaguing the functioning of Information Commissions across the country which must be urgently addressed by the appropriate authorities. The Supreme Court’s direction in the Namit Sharma case which requires a fair and transparent process for the appointment of information commissioners from diverse fields of experience and expertise, must be immediately implemented and shortlisted candidates be subject to credible public scrutiny about their track record of supporting the regime of transparency. The minutes of the selection committees must be disclosed proactively. The number of Information Commissioners must be determined through an assessment of the workload in each Information Commission as the pendency is reaching alarming levels denying people their fundamental right to information.
11. All Information Commissions must set up a mechanism to monitor compliance with its decisions and in particular with its orders imposing penalty on Public Information Officers and recommendations for taking disciplinary action against those who are violating the provisions of the Act persistently. We express our deep concern over some pronouncements of High Courts denying the appellant or complainant the opportunity to participate in penalty proceedings before the Information Commissions. Appellants and complainants must have the opportunity of participating and presenting their views in all penalty proceedings which they have caused to be launched and copies of all replies of the PIOs and deemed PIOs must be shared with them in person as well displayed on the websites of Information Commissions and the concerned public authorities.
12. We are deeply concerned about several judgements of the Supreme Court that are resulting in the curtailment of the scope of people’s right to information and the express and implied powers of Information Commissions. RTI users and activists in particular and the people in general, must discuss and debate the implications of these judgements to form a strong public opinion in favour of defending and expanding the mechanism and processes of transparency established by the RTI Act.
13. As the exemptions under Section 8 of the RTI Act are adequate for protecting important public interests, all security and intelligence organisations notified by the Central and State Governments under Section 24 must be reviewed immediately and such notifications should be withdrawn.
14. We demand that all laws enacted by Parliament and the State Legislatures conform to the regime of transparency established by the RTI Act. We demand the immediate withdrawal of provisions that curtail the scope of the people’s right to information in other laws and Rules such as the Collection of Statistics Act, 2008, The National Investigation Agency Act, 2008, The Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, 2010, and the Information Technology Rules, 2009. All authorities must ensure that no Bill, Act, rule, regulation, or executive order curtails people’s fundamental right to information as guaranteed by the Constitution.
15. We appreciate the Central Government’s recently instituted policy on pre-legislative consultation and demand that all Governments immediately adopt a legally mandated process for formulating any law or policy through widespread consultation with and effective participation of the people. All draft MOUs and leases that the governments propose to sign must be proactively disclosed to the people to enable them to give their suggestions for change.
16. We demand that appropriate constitutional mechanisms be put in place requiring the Central Government to place all international treaties it signs before ratification before Parliament. After signing treaties, they should be put out in the public domain, subject to the exemptions provided under section 8 of the RTI Act.
17. We demand that information about the finances, expenditure and working of all societies, trusts, trade unions, cooperative societies, religious and charitable institutions be made accessible to people under the RTI Act.
18. We believe that WE THE PEOPLE, are the rightful owners of our country’s natural resources. We demand equity and people’s participation in decision making combined with complete transparency, accountability in the management and use of all natural resources.
19. We demand transparency in the ownership and the source and manner of funding of all mass media agencies. Methods of enforcing accountability of the media sector to the people must be explored, while protecting the right to freedom of expression and the freedom of the press guaranteed by the Constitution.
20. We are deeply concerned about the attacks on the attempts to curb people’s right to free speech and expression, especially those who voice political dissent or raise issues of public concern in a democratic and constitutional manner. We are also anguished by recent targeted attacks on academics for publishing their research. We protest against all attempts at criminalizing the legitimate expression of dissent under Section 66A of the Information Technology Act and demand withdrawal of all actions launched against persons with the motive of punishing them for exercising their right to free speech and expression.
21. We affirm all resolutions passed at the workshops (annexed to this Declaration) held at the Western India RTI Convention 2014.
The Western India RTI Convention authorizes its organisers to suitably alter the resolutions for style and substances while keeping the spirit of the resolutions intact.
(More than 350 participants took part in the deliberations).
Panelists in various sessions:
Ms. Aruna Roy – MKSS/NCPRI (Keynote address)
Mr. Ratnakar Gaikwad – SCIC, Maharashtra
Mr. A. K. Jain – SIC, Maharashtra
Mr. Satyananda Mishra –ex- Chief Information Commissioner, CIC
Mr. Shailesh Gandhi – ex-IC, CIC
Dr. Suresh V Joshi – Ex-SCIC, Maharashtra
Mr. Julio Ribeiro- former DGP, Maharashtra and Punjab
Mr. Rajesh Agarwal, IAS – Principal Secretary, Information technology, Department of Maharashtra
Mr. Shrikar, Pardesi, IAS- Inspector General of Registration and Stamps, Maharashtra
Dr. Jose George –Head of the Department of Civics and Politics, University of Mumbai
Dr. Surendra Jondhale – Professor, Dept. of Civics and Politics, University of Mumbai
Dr. Mrudul Nile –Associate Professor, Dept. of Civics and Politics, University of Mumbai
Mr. Kumar Ketkar, senior journalist
Mr. Prahlad Kachare- Director, YASHADA, Maharashtra
Mr. Mahesh Bhat, film maker
Mr. Narayan Varma - Trustee, PCGT, Mumbai
Mr. Nikhil Dey, MKSS/NCPRI
Ms. Anjali Bhardwaj and Ms. Amrita Johri, Satark Nagrik Sangathan/NCPRI
Mr. Venkatesh Nayak, CHRI/NCPRI
Mr. Naushad Punjwani – BCAS Foundation, Mumbai
Mr. Rajesh Gada and Mr. Rajan Dharot – Tarun Mitra Mandal
Mr. Dolphy D’souza, Police Reform Watch, Mumbai
Mr. Anand Castalino, Mahiti Adhikar Manch
Mr. Vijay Kumbhar – Surajya Sangharsha Samiti, Mumbai
Advocate Uday Warunjikar, Mumbai
Advocate Vinod Pandya, Ahmedabad
Mr. Ronak Sutaria, Mumbai
Ms. Pankti Jog, Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel, Ahmedabad
and other representatives of several CSOs, NGOs from across the country.