Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday warned against the use of the Right to Information Act — one of the most popular people-oriented steps that the UPA has taken so far — to ridicule public officials and infringe on people’s privacy.
Although Singh credited the RTI Act for greater “probity, transparency and accountability” in governance while celebrating seven years of the act, he said a citizen’s right to know should be curtailed if it violates someone’s privacy. The comment, however, invited sharp reactions from RTI activists.
The UPA 1 enacted the act in 2005, incorporating over 100 recommendations by the National Advisory Council (NAC) — led by Congress president Sonia Gandhi — and described it as the government’s biggest achievement during the 2009 general elections.
Subhash Chandra Aggarwal, whose RTI applications caused much embarrassment to the government, said, “The same PM described the law as wonderful in UPA 1 and is now giving ideas to smother it.”
The PM’s remarks followed the Supreme Court and the Central Information Commission’s criticism of frivolous RTI applications.
He said the issue of a separate legislation on privacy was being considered by an expert group under justice AP Shah.
The activists say the government's perception changed as the RTI Act turned into a bane for the judiciary, bureaucracy and the political class with uneasy questions being asked.
“We are dismayed and concerned at some of the statements made by the Prime Minister… (as it) will pass a signal to those who want to dilute and weaken the act,” said a statement issued by prominent RTI activists led by NAC member Aruna Roy.
Shailesh Gandhi, former central information commissioner, described Singh's comment as an attempt by the government to kill the people-friendly RTI law. “
"Earlier, Supreme Court order on appointing retired judges as head of information commissions and now the PM's statement is a double whammy for the RTI and our democracy.”