Many RTI activists were not allowed to attend the plenary sessions of the first Right to Information (RTI) conference held under the NDA government on Friday and Saturday in New Delhi. Also, an RTI activist from Pune received a last-minute email, cancelling invites to the activists, citing security reasons.
Some of the activists alleged that days prior to the conclave, background checks were carried out on them. Their friends and families received calls from intelligence agencies and were questioned about their “political affiliations”.
Pune-based RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar alleged he received calls from intelligence agencies, asking about Mumbai-based activist Bhaskar Prabhu. “Among other things, I was asked about Prabhu’s political affiliation and work,” he said.
The two-day annual RTI conference was hosted by the Central Information Commissioner (CIC). It is usually addressed by either the President or the Prime Minister.
Attended by all the CICs and State Information Commissioners (SIC), this conference has seen sizeable participation from civil societies since 2007. Last year, the conference was not held due to vacancy in the CIC bench.
Usually, SICs nominate activists to attend this conference. Other than Vijay Kumbhar from Pune, activists Bhaskar Prabhu, SK Nangiya, Sunil Ahiya and Mohammed Afzal from Mumbai were recommended by the SIC for the conference.
The activists received the email confirming their participation, months in advance. Then on October 13, Prabhu got an email from the CIC, cancelling their invites on account of the Prime Minister confirming his attendance at the event.
“Latest message has come that Hon’ble PM is coming. Therefore, we are not forwarding the invitation cards of five persons,” read the email, received on October 13. However, the other participants got messages of confirmation from the CIC, asking them to collect their invites.
“Most of us had to attend a meeting with the National Campaign for People’ Right to Information (NCPRI) in Delhi on October 14 and had reached. The mail from CIC to Prabhu just confused us,” said Kumbhar.
On Friday, the Prime Minister addressed the session at 10.30. Other than nine activists, including Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey, none of those invited from the country were allowed inside the hall.
“All of us had emails from the CIC’s office confirming and asking us to collect our invites, but we did not get the hard copy of the invites till the last moment,” Kumbhar said.
Even after the Prime Minister left the hall, the activists were not allowed to enter till after 1 pm. Prabhu said that only activists whose names were mentioned by the nine activists, who had been given entry earlier, could attend the remaining session. Kumbhar boycotted it in protest.
Prabhu added that although they were allowed to enter, there was no designated sitting arrangement for the civil society. “The whole incident was very unfortunate and this has happened for the first time in the past many years,” he said.