RTI misuse figures in Rajya Sabha discussion

New Delhi, April 28 (IANS) An opposition member on Wednesday brought up in the Rajya Sabha the issue of Right to Information (RTI), following which the government assured the house it will keep in mind the members’ concerns over its possible misuse.

The brief discussion also saw light moments between the opposition and the treasury benches as Nationalist Congress Party member Praful Patel made reference to tea vendors in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

During question hour, Salim Ansari of the Bahujan Samaj Party asked for government’s response to a study by Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, which said ministries and departments were reluctant and unwilling to share even basic data under the RTI Act.

Asking a supplementary question, NCP’s Praful Patel said the government officials were scared of taking decisions because of the fear of the RTI.

“The government officials are scared of taking decisions because they wonder what will come out in the RTI…. Objectivity is finished. This law was passed in a hurry… we all have concerns about this,” Patel said.

“Anyone can pay 10 rupees, some ‘panwadi’ (betel leaf seller) or ‘chaiwala’ (tea vendor) can also ask who made a missile…,” the NCP member said.

Even before he could complete his sentence, Prime Minister Modi began laughing, as did Leader of the House and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and others.

Patel sought to make amends and said: “That was not my intention if it appeared to be a taunt… No disrespect to honourable prime minister… it’s an honour. But he has become the prime minister now….”

The NCP leader said: “Anyone without any locus standi can wish to know about missile programmes, international relations.”

Congress member Rajeev Shukla asked if the government was aware of the RTI misuse.

“Are they (government) aware it is also being misused. People have cards mentioning ‘RTI activist’. Money is being earned,” Shukla said.

In response, Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office Jitendra Singh said the government will keep the concerns of the members in mind.

“…the RTI may cut down the initiative of an officer… the government is equally concerned. We are concerned that nothing must be done which intimidates or causes unnecessary harassment to any officer,” Singh said.

The minister said the number of applications made to the Central Information Commission has gone up from two lakh to six lakh ever since the National Democratic Alliance government came to power at the Centre in May 2014.

“Our responses have increased, therefore grievances have also increased,” he said.

“Disposals have been expedited and the number of RTIs have gone down,” the minister said.

–IANS

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