Many Right to Information Act (RTI) activists, including policemen, have been harassed and even murdered for seeking information to "promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority" in India. Many face assaults on a regular basis. People seeking information from their gram panchayat and the local administration also face social ostracism. A few activists who sought information under RTI related to MNREGA scams, were killed. Many threats and attacks (including murder) go unreported by the media.
Media reports of more than 300 instances of attacks on or harassment of citizens and at least 51 murders and five suicides can be linked to information sought under The Right to Information Act. Maharashtra followed by Gujarat tops the list for states with the most attacks on RTI users.
RTI activists are vulnerable human rights defenders (HRDs) in India. Unlike other HRDs, a majority of the RTI activists are not part of an organisation; they often act alone, moved by anger at corruption and other illegal activities. RTI activists are vulnerable because they live in the same areas as public authorities and political leaders who do not want information about their activities to be disclosed. For the most part, human rights defenders receive media attention only when killed or seriously injured. When complaints are made by RTI activists, law enforcement personnel (who often work with corrupt officials) do not take appropriate action.
The Right to Information Act, 2005 provides inadequate protection to whistleblowers. The Central Information Commission and the State Information Commissions are not mandated to deal with such threats or attacks or to provide protection when needed. Attacks on RTI users have not ceased despite directions from several information commissions and state governments to protect them from harm.
While RTI activism became an industry, attacks on RTI activists followed. The number of such attacks now number hundreds and dozens have been killed. Lalit Mehta was exposing a NREGA scam and was killed in 2008. Satish Shetty was exposing land scams in Maharashtra and was stabbed to death in 2010. In the same year Amit Jethwa was shot in the Ahmedabad High Court complex. He was exposing a mining scam. There are many such stories which talk of the bravery of RTI activists.
SO WHY THERE IS NO PROTECTION FROM THE GOVERNMENT ?
New Delhi, Dec 03: The instances of people using the Right to Information Act have been increased in the recent times and this landmark legislation has forced the bureaucracy to shed its colonial mindset on holding government files, Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah today said.
"More people are using the RTI Act to get information. It is only in ten per cent cases where information is not provided. The commission has imposed a penalty on such cases," Habibullah said at a function here.
There should be "no cloak of secrecy in matters where public interest is involved", he said adding, "the colonial mindset of bureaucracy was changing after the passage of the act".
Magsaysay winner and RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal, however, critisiced the government saying that the RTI act was being used as safety valve by it.
"The CIC is a body which can change the history of the nation, but unfortunately, it is acting as an agent of government," he alleged. (The emphasis is mine--Ganpat)
He also said in a number of instances, information was being denied on one ground or another, even by the CIC itself.
He also emphasised the need for simplifying the act so that common people can use it.
Zee News - RTI forcing bureaucracy to change colonial mindset: CIC