Prominent RTI activists, including Magsaysay award winner Aruna Roy, will boycott the transparency law’s 10th anniversary celebrations to be inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, terming security restrictions on civil society members as an attempt to muzzle dissenting voices.
The boycott of the high-profile function came amidst growing nationwide outrage against what is being described as rising religious intolerance and attack on free-thinkers, attributed to hardline Hindu groups.
More than 30 authors have also announced their decision to return the Sahitya Akademi and Padma Shri awards in protest, dismissed by Union finance minister Arun Jaitley as “manufactured paper rebellion”.
Roy, who played in crucial role in framing the RTI law, said the Central Information Commission (CIC) not only restricted entry of activists to only seven from Delhi but also asked the Intelligence Bureau to carry out a background check on their parents and political ideologies.
“I have attended almost all CIC conventions inaugurated by past prime ministers or presidents. Such a verification was never been done before,” Roy said.
She added that the restrictions in the name of security showed the Centre’s intention to debar dissenting voices from attending an annual meeting of people as RTI is the only law that empowers citizens to raise questions against the government.
It will be the first time Modi is scheduled to attend an RTI function after taking over in May last year. The convention was not held last year --- a first in nine years --- as the government had failed to appoint the chief commissioner of the CIC.
The government appointed the CIC earlier this year after Congress president Sonia Gandhi raised the issue in Lok Sabha.
Other than Roy, other activists who have decided to boycott the convention to be held at the Vigyan Bhavan include Lokesh Batra, Venkatesh Nayak, Anjali Bhardwaj and Nikhil Dey.
The National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) also passed a resolution that they will file an RTI application to find out the reasons behind the security restrictions.
“We would like to know officially why the restriction has been imposed since the present CIC has not spoken,” said Nikhel Dey of NCPRI.
Chief information commissioner Vijai Sharma, who is the administrative head of the CIC, did not respond to calls or text messages seeking his views.