No Alteration To Act, says the CIC Commissioner

By Sun Narin

Today, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s office revealed the financial assets of India’s ministers online after public outrage at corruption sparked protests by tens of thousands in support of an anti-graft hunger striker.

Singh declared personal assets of about 50 million rupees ($1.1 million) on his official website. Also, the Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee declared his net worth at 12.6 million rupees and his wife’s at 17.8 million rupees.

At the same time, on Saturday, Asian Center for Human Rights has demanded an amendment to the Right to Information Act in the 2010-11 report titled “RTI activists: Sitting ducks of India” and also an inclusion of a separate chapter ~ “Protection of those seeking information under the (RTI) Act”. The reports says that the activists are extremely vulnerable as they live in the same areas as the corrupt public authorities, political leaders and mafia who do not want information about their illegal activities to be disclosed.

However, in response to the urge of the Human Rights report to the RTI Act amendment, the Central Information Commissioner Mr Shri Shailesh Gandhi says that there is “no need to change the law”, but a lot of strategies have to be carried out strictly for the safety of the RTI activists.

“Most of RTI activists are not in favor of any amendment to law because they feel that if any amendment be made, law will be diluted by bringing other changes in the law,” he said. However, he said that the police commission and chief minister of the states play an important role in taking actions for the protection and security of the activists.

“The law by itself protects the activists, but there are strategies for that. When any case happens, the commission has to order the police to take care of them [activists] and take actions immediately. When there is a murder or assault, the chief minister of the states should ask the police commission to investigate the murder and protect the activists. All the information which sought by the activists has to be put into public domain [websites],” he said.

At least 12 RTI activists, including Sheha Masood of Bhopal, have been “murdered” since last year for seeking information to “promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority” of India, according to the report.

“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.

“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 Mr Suhas Chakma.

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