Expressing concern at what she calls an attempt by the Centre to interfere in the independence and autonomy of every institution, activist Aruna Roy said the Union government’s move to downgrade the status of the Chief Information Commissioner and the states’ information commissioners is another example of this.
“It is an attempt to control the Commission. This government has interfered in the independence and autonomy of every institution. Wherever they have gone, they have tried to diminish independence,” Roy told The Indian Express. Roy is in Mumbai to promote her book The RTI Story: Power to the People. She further said rather than downgrading the information commission, the body should be given greater powers and it should be entirely dissociated from government control.
Roy, a former IAS officer who left the service just before the Emergency, also criticised the Union government’s recent plan for lateral entry into the bureaucracy, contending that this would reduce the accountability and transparency of the IAS. “Lateral entry is a method of reducing the accountability and transparency. If you reduce independence, you reduce integrity. And reducing integrity, you bring them within the control of politicians. We should strongly resist this,” she said.
Those inducted into the bureaucracy in this manner would have a fixed tenure of five or ten years, during which if they indulge in corrupt practices, it may be difficult to bring them to book. Such officials would be totally under the purview of corporate interests and the party in power, she added.
Roy, founder of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghatan, a people’s collective, has written the book as a documentation of the period from when civil society began to demand the sunshine law till the Right to Information Act came into force. The book brings out stories of people behind the struggle for the law.
Talking about the BJP’s promises of a corruption-free government and transparent governance, Roy said the party had not made a single public promise. “These are jargonised generalisations. There isn’t a white paper of their promises. However much we have blamed UPA-I, they brought out a document called the national Common Minimum Programme and there was a set of promises. Where are these promises now?” she asked.
She further said there is a wide gap between promise and delivery with this government. “So there is rhetoric but what is the substance you have given us? In Parliament, it hasn’t enacted key laws. The Lokpal Bill and Whistleblowers’ Bill are still lying there,” she said.
Asked about curbs on the freedom of expression, Roy said, “During the Emergency, there was a straightforward attempt to curb freedom of expression by imposing legal emergency. It was in black and white, and very much clear what was wrong and right,” she said.
“Today, they are actually legitimising violence, hate and division in society. This is going to have far-reaching impact on the notion of India. Whereas the Emergency was the notion of the state. But this is different, and they are tampering with textbooks, history and the minds of individuals.”