Who’s afraid of the RTI Act?

Exposure is something everyone fears; façade, although damaging, provides a comfort

a comment on the theme of famous play “Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf”

Well, who isn’t? Only, some of those who want to be saved from this Act are ‘more equal than others’. These people are at the pinnacle of some ‘pillar of democracy’. And while they are happy to throw search lights at all other lower forms of life, they are not comfortable if the spot light tries to find their private properties, their meetings, their allowances, etc.

The UPA spokespersons never tire of counting the RTI act as proof of its pro-people stance. No public meeting of the first family ever ends without admonishment to congressmen about using the RTI Act. Yet, the mighty and the powerful fall over each other to claim that the RTI Act is not applicable to them in its totality.

The ‘leaders of the society’ argue that RTI is fine for everyone else but their own position is too sacrosanct to allow peeping toms to disturb their peace. Actually, what they are saying is easy to understand. It is the residue of imperialistic mentality – that the common people can not presume to question the ruling class. And that the ruled should be thankful to the rulers for ruling them with an iron fist. But this does not sound politically correct. And therefore they have to go to absurd length to prove that the RTI Act does not apply to them. Or that it should not apply to them. In this article, I plan to make a small list of agencies who feel that RTI is not for them – and the fantastic reasoning they dare offer.

But before that, without going into legalese, let us see whom the law applies – as per the provisions of law.

Section 2(h) of the RTI Act defines Public Authority As

any authority or body or institution of self- government established or constituted—

a)      by or under the Constitution; (Supreme Court, Lok Sabha,….)

b)      by any other law made by Parliament; (LIC, Nationalised banks, NHRC, ….)

 c)      by any other law made by State Legislature; (State transport corp, Universities…, )

d)      by notification issued or order made by the appropriate Government, and includes any—

  1. 1.    body owned, controlled or substantially financed; (granted schools)
  2. 2.    non-Government organization substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate Government;

Actually, this should be easy to understand, unless you are a lawyer with a brief to hold. But each and every word has been twisted and turned, to make them unrecognizable.  Now, let us see the authorities that have claimed full or partial and non-applicability of the RTI Act.

The most fantastic reasoning that I have come across is put forward by the Calcutta High Court. It says that it was not established by constitution or parliament, but was established by ‘her majesty, the Queen of England’, even before the constitution was written. Therefore, their lordships felt, the RTI Act of India is not applicable to them. The Central Information Commission has already dismissed the argument. (read here)

The second high placed office is the Prime Ministers National Relief Fund. They argued that as they are not funded by any government, they are not a public authority, and the RTI Act does not apply to them. The Central Information Commission had to remind them that they were a part of Prime Minister’s office, and serving IAS officer worked as PMNRF’s secretary. His salary is paid out of public funds by the PMO. The lavish space they use also belongs to government. And therefore, they have to give information about donations given at the time of tsunami disaster. It was after this order by Supreme Court that PMNRF accepted that it has collected 800 crores, but spent nothing. Now you know why they were avoiding public scrutiny.

In the next part, we will go thru more examples of VIPs trying to free themselves from clutches of RTI. Usually because they have something serious to hide. They are not the clerks and junior officers an RTI applicant usually meets and fights with. They are not who have to obey the law. They are the makers and keepers of legal system. So, they feel, that they are above what they have created. And unless we convey them that we the people of India want this law, and want it in full, they will just continue to take us for a ride.