The Congress and NCP, which were responsible for writing the RTI act, highlighted its “misuse” on Thursday and asked the government to take remedial measures.
NCP leader Praful Patel said in the Rajya Sabha that even chaiwallahs or tea-sellers and paanwadis (paan-seller) want information on the country’s missile system and such tendencies have to be checked.
“Some panwadi or chaiwallah can also ask who made a missile programme or anything on international relations,” he said, asking the government if it was “willing to consider amending the act”.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was present in the House, laughed at Patel’s choice of metaphors to describe how people with no “locus standi” try to access crucial details.
Modi often refers to his humble past and reminds people that he once sold tea at a railway station in Gujarat.
Patel soon realised his gaffe and clarified that he did not intend to show disrespect or taunt the Prime Minister. Like Modi, the BJP lawmakers too laughed off the comment.
Congress’s Rajeev Shukla flagged the issue, saying some people have turned the phrase “RTI activist” into a designation and a profession.
“Are they (government) aware it is also being misused? People have cards mentioning ‘RTI activist’. Money is being earned.”
The junior minister in the prime minister’s office, Jitendra Singh, assured the two parliamentarians that the government will keep the concerns of the members in mind.
“...the RTI may cut down the initiative of an officer ... the government is equally concerned. We are concerned that nothing must be done which intimidates or causes unnecessary harassment to any officer,” Singh said.
He was responding to Patel’s concern that government officials were scared of taking decisions because of the fear of somebody filing an RTI and raking up a controversy.
The minister said the number of applications to the Central Information Commission has gone up from 200,000 to 600,000 since the BJP-led NDA government came to power in 2014.
Besides Patel’s faux pas, Congress leader Jairam Ramesh had a small verbal duel with Naresh Agarwal of the Samajwadi Party, who alleged that the RTI act was implemented under “US pressure”.