CIC seeks steps against attacks on RTI activists

CIC seeks steps against attacks on RTI activists

New Delhi: The Central Information Commission (CIC) has for the first time passed a formal resolution to take “proactive steps" to ascertain the status of investigations in cases that involve information seekers who are attacked, in the wake of several acts of violence against them, including murder.

The commission also resolved to order the departments concerned to publish information that has been sought by such applicants under the Right to Information (RTI) Act on a suo motu basis, according to the minutes of a 13 September meeting.

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“We have passed a resolution expressing concerns of the commission on the reported attacks on information seekers," said Satyanand Mishra, chief information commissioner. “The idea behind it was that nobody should be harmed merely because he or she is seeking information."

The minutes of the meeting, uploaded on the commission’s website on Tuesday, outlined the steps the commission will take to ensure the safety and protection of RTI users. This includes underlining the need for Union and state governments to “invoke relevant penal provisions for the prevention and detection of such heinous crimes" against those seeking information.

According to the resolution, if similar complaints are received by the commission, it will “examine the pending RTI applications of the victim and order the concerned department(s) to publish the requested information suo motu on their website as per the provisions of law".

Several information seekers have been attacked, the latest being Shehla Masood, a Bhopal-based RTI activist who was shot dead on 16 August. While CIC has raised concerns over such attacks earlier, this is the first time it’s passing such a resolution.

According to recent data from the National RTI Forum, a Lucknow-based RTI organization, at least 12 information seekers have been killed since 2008.

The commission is hopeful that the resolution, circulated at the meeting by information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi, will be taken up by state information commissions as well. “It can be very effective...but we will have to test it out," Gandhi said.

Although the commission’s resolution is not “legally binding" yet, it is hopeful the move will have a beneficial effect.

“Coming from the Central Information Commission, it will gain importance," Mishra said. “Any attack on citizens is a police matter, and it is the police which has to take appropriate action and not us."

By writing to state governments and other agencies concerned, the commission also aims to check the status of such cases and expedite them.

RTI activists and information seekers welcomed the move.

“Just now there is no provision of protection for those seeking information. So, even if the commission may not have the legal powers, at least this is some beginning and they are taking steps towards it," said Nikhil Dey, an RTI activist and co-convener of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information.

Santosh, an RTI and public distribution system activist who has been attacked twice, said that though the move was welcome, more needs to be done to ensure the safety of those seeking information.

“Most people do not file RTIs" for fear of being attacked, she said, adding that the commission needs to look into the reasons of why such incidents happen in the first place.

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