RTI activists or ‘sitting ducks’ in India

By Sun Narin

Asian Center for Human Rights has demanded an amendment to the Right to Information Act and also an inclusion of a separate chapter ~ “Protection of those seeking information under the (RTI) Act”. The move comes close on the heels of a 2010-11 report titled “RTI activists: Sitting ducks of India”.

“Protection is an important issue, especially when one considers the frequent attacks on RTI activists. If the measures are considered, activists would be able to take legal action. Right to Information Act 2005 offers no such protection,” says the director of ACHR Suhas Chakma.

At least 12 RTI activists, including Ms Shehla Masood of Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, have been murdered for seeking information to “promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority” of India, according to the report. Even policeman seeking information did not escape death for seeking information under the Right to Information Act 2005, says the report.

RTI activists are extremely vulnerable as they live in close vicinity of corrupt public officials, political leaders and mafia, reveals the report.

“The Central Information Commission and the State Information Commission are not mandated either to deal with such threats or attacks or to provide protection when needed,” says ACHR.

He adds that the government is discussing measures to protect whistleblowers but one wonders how much more blood would be shed before officials intervene. “That may not be sufficient to protect the RTI activists. They need not necessarily be whistleblowers ~ they are information seekers. As more and more people are killed, the government will be forced to intervene,” he says.

However, Act 2005 is to provide for setting out the practical regime of right to information for citizens to secure access to information under the control of public authorities, in order to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority, as stated in the Act.