The NDA government has proposed that proceedings related to an RTI query will automatically stop if the applicant dies while the appeal is pending before the Central Information Commission. In the Draft RTI Rules 2017, on which comments have been invited from the public, Clause 2 of Rule 12 titled Withdrawal/Abatement of Appeal says: “The proceedings pending before the Commission shall abate on the death of the appellant.” RTI activists termed the clause “dangerous for appellants”, with several past instances of RTI applicants being murdered over queries seeking to expose corruption.
“There have been past pronouncements by the CIC and other bodies that in case of death of an appellant, the information would be displayed on the website. This new clause effectively puts an end to that. So killing an RTI activist would be a sure way of killing his fight for a particular query,” RTI activist Subhash Agrawal told The Indian Express.
Another RTI activist, Commodore Lokesh Batra, said these issues had earlier been discussed at length between the government and civil society activists. According to an analysis by Delhi-based NGO CHRI last year, the countrywide death toll of RTI activists on account of murder or other suspicious causes was 56 between 2005, when the transparency law came into effect, and mid-2016. Of the 56 deaths, there were 51 murders and and five suicides. There were also 130 instances of attack or intimidation and harassment of RTI applicants since the rollout of the law.
Clause 1 of Rule 12 states that an appellant may withdraw an appeal after giving it in writing to the CIC. But there can be no withdrawal of appeal after the matter has been finally heard or an order or decision has been pronounced.
This clause, activists said, was not necessary since it should be left to an appellant to decide if she wants to pursue a case any time during the proceedings.