February 4, 2021 10:06:03 pm
Veteran Right to Information (RTI) activist Aruna Roy on Thursday suggested several options to challenge the two orders of Gujarat State Information Commission (GSIC) which prohibit four persons from filing applications under the provisions of the Act before the state authorities, stating that the RTI Act “cannot be used as a tool for taking revenge”.
Roy, who was the pioneer of RTI movement, was speaking at the online western region consultation on RTI organised by National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI).
“We have law where we can challenge these orders in the law. Also, we have to explore whether we can sign protest letters by nearly 3-4 lakh existing RTI users as well as a delegation can meet the Commission that has passed these orders. Among other options, we can also have a public hearing where we can raise questions on these two orders and discuss,” Roy told the participants including Information Commissioners of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, former Central Information Commissioner, RTI activists of various states.
The Indian Express reported last week about the order passed by Chief Information Commissioner DP Thaker, dated January 5, directs public information officers of three authorities of the health department in Bhavnagar district to not accept any RTI application or appeal and not to respond to the same, from three persons of the same family, for five years. They have been identified as Chintan Makwana, his wife Dilahariben and his mother Bharatiben.
Explaining his case, Chintan Makwana along with his wife Dilahariben said, “They blacklisted us on the second appeal. They didn’t even hear us and rather accused us of filing a lot of RTI applications and asked why shouldn’t we blacklist you.”
Pankti Jog from Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel (MAGP) said, “The order states that applicants have been sending more than 1000 emails along with 22 RTI applications which the Commission took as harassment and not letting the department to function without any mention of any supported facts or proofs in this order. Adding that the director health department had to go for his submissions which was very insulting for him.”
The second order, dated December 11, was passed by Gujarat State Information Commissioner Ramesh Karia against Manojkumar Sarpadadiya, a conductor with Gujarat State Road Transport Corporation (GSRTC) and native of Amreli who has been blacklisted by the GSIC from seeking information under the Act from any authorities in the state.
The panellist experts said that the order of blacklisting citizens is unexpected and shocking and commission is expected to strengthen record keeping, digitalization, disclosures so that more and more information is in the public domain.
While Information Commissioner of Madhya Pradesh Rahul Singh stated measures taken by the commission including taking up every appeal file by women applicants on priority basis and starting a helpline where common citizens can approach for guidance on RTI, Narayan Bareth, Information Commission, Rajasthan stressed that the commission should not forget that citizens have a lot of hope on the commission to protect and enhance transparency.
Shailesh Gandhi, former Central Information Commissioner stressed upon the derogatory orders by Supreme court which not only harmfully impact the spirit of the law, but also are widely misused by public authorities across the country.
The two-day consultation on RTI will invite whistle-blowers from all five states to discuss attacks on RTI users and role of commission on its second day on Friday.
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