Editorial -The Statesnman dt 05.05.08
Rights & reasons
he august envoys to the Lok Sabha are seeking to make a travesty of the Right To Information (RTI) Act, a parliamentary legislation and a reflection of the citizen’s right to know. A parliamentary committee, ever so anxious as all such committees are to protect brother MPs across party lines, has issued a fatwa to the effect that applicants under the RTI Act will have to furnish reasons for seeking information pertaining to Parliament, pre-eminently “parliamentary documents”. The spin-doctors are distinctly intent on interpreting the right on their terms, in effect to provide information and access to documents in their lights. This isn’t what the Right To Information Act, a landmark legislation, seeks to achieve. There is no provision in the Act that calls for the spelling out of reasons. Transparency is clearly subject to the interpretation of the MPs, whose own standards of probity are scarcely above board. Still more repugnant is the committee’s suggestion that the Act ought to be amended in the case of citizens’ questions that come under the parliamentary ambit. The deadline for parting with information as prescribed in the Act is reduced to irrelevance. The Speaker has been given the right to transfer requests for information to the privileges committee. Which, in effect, rules out a review by the Chief Information Commissioner. In a word, the parliamentary committee is keen on establishing a cordon sanitaire that will shield the elected representatives from an electorate wanting to know.
The CIC should be prompt enough to call the collective bluff of the 500-odd members if only to preserve the dignity of his statutory office from a thoroughly non-performing Lok Sabha. Just as the central information commission has directed all political parties to disclose their income-tax returns in response to a request filed by the Association for Democratic Rights. This should ensure scrutiny into the funding of political parties, a contentious issue before every election. While parties may have been put in their place, Parliament may turn out to be a harder nut to crack. Three years after passing the Act, the Lok Sabha makes a mockery of the legislation by trying to devise manipulative procedures, indeed to distort the fundamental tenets of democratic functioning. The irony could be as stark as that.