RTI Act and RTI Activists: We need to protect whistle blowers

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Source: This post is based on the article “We need to protect whistle blowers” published in The Hindu on 30th July 2022.

Syllabus: GS 2 – Transparency & accountability and institutional and other measures.

Relevance: About the RTI Act.

News: The Centre for Law and Democracy classifies the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005 among the top five laws in the world.

What is the significance of the RTI Act?

1) The RTI empowers people to participate in the policymaking process, by providing access to information relating to the functioning of all public authorities, 2) Ordinary citizens have used the law to make public authorities accountable and transparent in their functioning, 3) Cross section of citizens including activists, lawyers, bureaucrats, researchers and journalists used RTI to unearth corruption of all kinds from the Panchayat level right up to Parliament.

Must read: Right to Information Act, 2005: An Analysis
What are the concerns associated with the RTI Act?

Since the implementation of the Act, some 100 RTI activists across the country have been killed and several are harassed on a daily basis. Bihar ranks first in the number of deaths of RTI users.

Available evidences clearly show that the information requested by the murdered RTI users was information that should have been mandatorily disclosed to the public under Section 4 of the RTI Act.

Read more: What are the various concerns related RTI act?
What should be done to protect RTI Activists?

India must systematically address the challenges associated with the Act through strong legal and institutional safeguards. The government needs to move toward creating a socio-legal system that recognises RTI users under attack as human rights defenders and builds a framework that facilitates and protects them in their attempt to pursue issues of public interest. This can be done by the following steps,

1) State governments must direct law-enforcement agencies to expeditiously and in a time-bound manner complete investigations in all cases where RTI users are harassed, 2) State governments must take immediate efforts to institutionalise proactive disclosure of actionable information. For instance, Rajasthan’s Jan Soochna portal and Karnataka’s Mahiti Kanaja are outstanding examples of mandatory disclosure.

Read more: Has the Right to Information Act been weakened?

3) State Information Commission must immediately direct the relevant public authorities to disclose and publicise all the questions raised and the answers given to the user. Creating greater public scrutiny may potentially act as a deterrent against attacks on RTI users and

4) The Central government should enact effective legislation to protect whistleblowers. Eight years have gone by and the Whistle Blowers Protection Act of 2014 has not been notified. In 2016, the Supreme Court condemned the Union government for its reluctance in notifying the Act. The government must decide on a specific time frame to establish an administrative setup to protect whistle-blowers. Until then, the State governments must introduce their own mechanisms for protecting whistle-blowers by enacting at least a State-level whistle-blower protection law.

Must read: Whistleblower Protection in India – Explained, pointwise
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