Arvind Kejriwal inaugurates Federation of RTI activists in Kerala

Arvind Kejriwal, the leading right-to-information (RTI) campaigner and Magsaysay award winner inaugurated the Federation of RTI activists in Kerala on Sunday 9 May 2010 at Chavara Cultural Centre. In his address to the RTI activists from various districts of Kerala, he urged the Kerala Government to make the selection of State information commissioners transparent and make sure that only those with a deep commitment to RTI are chosen for the jobs.

He noted that the positions of the chief information commissioner and a couple of commissioners would fall vacant in Kerala later this year and suggested that the new recruits be chosen through a process of nomination and public scrutiny. “Information commissioners can make or mar the RTI institution and are hence very critical to good governance and democracy,”

Mr. Kejriwal pointed out that in Indonesia, information commissioners were selected through written test and interviews. The interviews were broadcast so that people could get an idea of the calibre of each candidate. Something on this pattern could be introduced in India, he suggested. In many States, the commissioners’ posts had degenerated into being politicians’ gifts to pliable people who would take care not to embarrass the government. He called for clear rules for the selection of commissioners.

Mr. Kejriwal praised the Chief Information Commissioner Palat Mohandas for standing up to the Ethics and Privileges Committee of the Assembly which, Mr. Kejriwal said, had ‘tried to browbeat the constitutional authority of the Information Commission.’ “Information commissions are as good as the commissioners,” he said. Strong, bold commissioners with a deep commitment to the concept of RTI could translate the powerful RTI Act 2005 into a real weapon in people’s hands. The commission in Arunachal Pradesh was an example —it had even ordered the arrest of an official who had refused to comply with the commission’s order to provide the information sought by a citizen. About 93 per cent of the Arunachal SIC’s orders were complied with (in Kerala, the percentage is 55). “Arunachal people tell me that government officers are scared of the information commission.”“However, in many States, the information commissioners themselves are the biggest bottlenecks,” he rued. They were not using the immense powers in their hands. They refused to act when their own orders were not complied with by the bureaucrats. Nationwide, only in two per cent of the complaints did the commissioners impose penalties on the erring officials. “This way, they send out a signal to the officials that the Information Commission and highly potential RTI Act are not to be taken seriously.” He suggested that commissioners have zero-tolerance for non-compliance.

The attitude of judiciary was not very helpful to RTI, Mr. Kejriwal complained. Many high courts had framed rules for not revealing information about their functioning. He recalled that the former Chief Justice of India had written to the Prime Minister seeking to make amendments to the RTI Act so that the judiciary was kept out of its purview. The Central Information Commission had ruled that the RTI Act covered the office of the CJI too, against which the Supreme Court registry appealed to the Delhi High Court. The high court’s full bench, in January this year, however, upheld the CIC ruling.

Mr. Kejriwal praised the innovative way the Uttar Pradesh authorities had strengthened the RTI. Anyone could call a particular RTI telephone number which would record the caller’s RTI requests and this call is treated as an RTI application.The Rs.10 application fee would be included in the next month’s telephone bill. This system could be tried in Kerala too, he suggested.

The office bearers of the Federation are K.N.K Namboothiri President, D.Dhanuraj Vice President, Adv D.B Binu General Secretary and K.T Antony as Treasurer.

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