India has witnessed several social movements, headed both by political leaders and the common man. Many of these movements took the country by storm and forced the Government to pass legislation that to fulfill the needs of the masses. In 2012, when the people took to the streets to protest the rape and murder of Jyoti Singh Pandey, it set in motion the reform of several laws. In 2013, the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance was signed by President Pranab Mukherjee, amending the Indian Penal Code, Indian Evidence Act and Code Of Criminal Procedure, thus reforming and strengthening laws with respect to rape and sex crimes. The Right To Information (RTI) Act and the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act were passed in similar circumstances, thus making all these social movements technically ‘successful’. However, a movement’s job is not done once it makes a policy change. It has to create a societal and institutional change too. But thanks to the Government’s apathy towards a lot of these cases, here’s how these movements are dying a slow and painful death.
They Created Policy BUT They’ve Since Amended It
67 RTI Activists have been killed and over 400 have been attacked since the Right To Information Act was passed. The most recent killing took place in May 2018 when Podeti Satyanarayana, an RTI activist from Hyderabad was shot and killed. The RTI Act was passed in hopes of creating a more transparent government in India. It would allow the people to access information and hold government and public bodies accountable.
In 2017, the Central Government proposed a few amendments to the Right To Information Act. Draft Rule 12 of the proposed amendments would further strengthen the powers of the Central Information Commission (CIC), allowing to drop an RTI request following the death of the applicant. The said amendments didn’t receive positive support as it served as a medium to silent activists and allow the government to withhold information on requests put in by deceased or murdered activists. RTI activists expressed concern that this would cause greater threats and intimidation in the future.
They Created Policy BUT Don’t Implement It
Since May 2011, over 10 whistleblowers have been killed and numerous have been kidnapped, threatened and tortured. The Whistle-blowers Protection Act was signed into law by the President of India in 2014 but hasn’t been implemented since. Instead, the government has brought in new laws to discourage activists and whistle-blowers from coming forward. The law requires whistle-blowers to reveal their identity even though the law was written to protect the identities and prevent attacks and victimization of individuals who expose or report fraud, wrongdoings and other discrepancies within the government.
Similarly, after the India Against Corruption movement, the Central Government passed the Jan Lokpal Bill in December 2011 to fight corruption. In June 2016 the central government put an indefinite postponement on the implementation of the law after passing an amendment that wouldn’t require public servants and their families to disclose their assets. This comes as a blow to activists and reformers. Currently, India is ranked at 81 on the Global Corruption Index.
They Created Policy BUT They Use Existing Laws To Negate It
While the RTI Act was passed with hopes to create a more transparent system, it is often blocked using an old amendment called the Official Secrets Act 1923. The Official Secrets Act lays provision prohibiting civilians from accessing/publishing any classified information that would undermine the security of the state. What information falls under OSA is often decided by the government, thus allowing it full control on all information that comes in or goes out. Queries under the RTI Act often receive stereotypical responses such as, “The requisite document is sensitive in nature and no public interest is going to be served by the disclosure of this document.” This allows the government to hold back relevant information under the pretense of National Security.
They Created Policy BUT Haven’t Hired Anyone To Execute It
The RTI Act required every public office to appoint a Public Information Officer to assist the applicants with information. While this is legally binding, the government falls short many a times. Understaffing is a huge problem in the Indian Government and in many cases, it is deliberate. In Kerala, with over 14,000 requests pending, there is only one Public Information Officer. This causes massive delays for those seeking information. The RTI service is often used by poor and marginalized people to learn more about rights, making it crucial that people have their requests filled on time
In another instance, Anjali Bharadwaj of the Satark Nagrik Sangathan told The Wire how 4 vacancies at the Central Information Commission caused massive hindrance to the workflow. Deliberately keeping key positions vacant allows the government to deny people of timely access to information. Similar happenings have occurred in Andhra Pradesh where the state did not have a Public Information Officer for over a period of 11 months. After being bifurcated into Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, both states had a common State Information Commission. This commission became defunct in May 2017, leaving applicants without information.
While the Constitution allows freedom and liberty, the Indian masses often face abuse and betrayal from the ones elected to protect the integrity of the same constitution. These movements may have been silenced, but they have laid down the framework for change which is due in the near future. In an atmosphere of threats and intimidation, the war for a more transparent and accountable government has just begun.