The Narendra Modi government is creating such a transparent system of governance that there is less need for citizens to use the RTI Act to access information, Home Minister Amit Shah said Saturday.
“Prime Minister Narendra Modi is determined to create a system where there is enough suo motu disclosure of information so that the need to file RTI applications itself is reduced; so that less RTI applications are filed,” Shah said addressing the 14th Annual Convention of the Central Information Commission.
His statement comes at a time when activists have been attacking the government over amendments to the RTI Act, saying these dilute the spirit behind the legislation.
At a panel discussion on ‘Gandhian Thoughts and RTI’ at the CIC conference, JD(U) national general secretary Pavan K Verma raised these amendments, saying that had he been alive, Mahatma Gandhi would have held a satyagraha against them. A BJP ally, the JD(U) had supported the amendments in Parliament.
“The success of a transparent government lies not in an increase in the number of RTI applications but in the fact that RTI applications reduce in spite of the RTI process being completely accessible to people,” Shah said, adding that people should know that they do not need RTI for many things for which the government proactively declares information.
At the same time, he added, “RTI should not be misused or used for personal enmity or vendetta. The power of RTI brought with it the responsibility to use it carefully.”
Calling the passage of the RTI Act a “milestone in India’s democratic journey”, Shah said when it was passed, there was apprehension that such an Act might be misused. “When I studied the Act in 2016, I too felt that RTI could be misused. But today we can say that there has been very little misuse and a lot of benefits of the Act,” he said.
The Home Minister praised RTI for “removing arbitrariness from governance”, reducing gap between the people and administration, and “acting as a major grievance redressal tool”. He said the use of methods like video-conference and digitisation of RTI files had make the lives of litigants easier, and the government would further ease the process “to take justice and accountability to the last mile”. “Transparency and accountability are the twin pillars of good governance,” he said.
Talking about the “dichotomy” between RTI and data protection laws, Shah said that from Mudra loans to the online registration of FIRs, Internet had helped infuse transparency in the system. He gave the example of the Kedarnath all-weather road as a successful attempt to harness technology, saying drones were being used to monitor its progress.
Shah also mentioned the “Government e-Marketplace” portal where the smallest vendor can be part of government tendering.
Addressing the convention, Minister of State for PMO Jitendra Singh too said the government’s “openness” had led to a reduction in the need for RTI. In 2019 alone, 12 lakh RTI-related grievances had been redressed successfully, he said.
Criticising the amendments to the RTI Act, Verma, ex-Rajya Sabha MP, said, “When you take away the question of fixed term, when you take away the question of fixed salary and allowance… even if I give the benefit of doubt to the government, I say with all humility and with all courage and conviction at my command that I do not agree. The impact of those amendments are going to be retrograde.”
He added, “RTI has proved itself to be a great tool in the hands of people and the latest amendments will dilute it. If Gandhiji was alive, he would have led a satyagraha against them.”