It is extremely unfortunate to witness the dilution of the landmark Right to Information Act with the cabinet-approved amendment now tabled in Lok Sabha. The RTI Act, brought about in 2005 by the tireless endeavours of several civil society reformers, particularly Aruna Roy, is now likely to be reduced to a rather pale shadow of itself, given the severe assaults to its strengths to be carried out by the government itself. The Act, which was both the offence and defence argument for the Congress-led UPA until now, is being, ironically enough, flattened out to suit the vested interests of the political parties. In a strange twist of fate, the political fraternity, which is otherwise always at war, resorting to ad hominem attacks on each other and rampant mudslinging to score points, has come together to shun the culture of transparency and accountability by going ahead with the amendment to RTI Act so as to keep themselves out of the undue strikes of the double-edged sword. Clearly, the six political parties, which had been identified as possible government-backed organisations, in lieu of the massive state fund and concessions received by them, stand united to undo the efforts of the social reformer like Roy so as to avoid questions on corruption and to disclose their sources of funding. The decision to change the watershed act was taken by none other than the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself, who chaired the Cabinet meeting that approved tabling of the amendment, a glaring evidence of the leader’s conniving complicity in much of the sleaze that is synonymous with the political circles.
While the recommendation by the chief information commissioner (CIC) to bring the political parties – Congress, BJP, CPI, CPM, NCP and BSP – under the RTI scanner was aimed to bring in greater transparency, accountability and honesty in the political affairs, the manner in which the order has been shot down by the rank and file of those in the business of politics points towards the abyss to which it has sunk in this country. Moreover, political parties tend to silence any voice of dissent that rises from the popular sentiments challenging the order of the leaders, a practice which would have been curbed to some extent had the RTI been extended to include them as well. By refusing to come under its ambit, the parties have simply endorsed the age old stereotype of politicians being corrupt people indulging in all kinds of malpractices and working against national interests. Moreover, continuing impunities for political parties have given a bad name to the practitioners of politics, who have resolutely refused to appoint public information officers as recommended by the CIC. The decision from the transparency watchdog was panned by all and sundry in the political horizon, a rare occasion for all of them to unite under one umbrella. But the department of personnel and training (DoPT), which acts as the primary body to implement the RTI Act, in consultation with the law ministry, has preferred amending the law rather than follow the brave recommendations of the CIC, thereby keeping the parties out of the reach of the transparency act’s jurisdiction. It is ironical that the centre’s flagship act is now the biggest stumbling block in carrying out its nefarious deals, and the UPA seems to be leaving no stone unturned to get rid of the thorn in its throat.