NATIONAL CAMPAIGN FOR PEOPLES’ RIGHT TO INFORMATION
BHUBANESWAR DECLARATION ON THE RIGHT TO INFORMATION
As citizens and activists committed to building a transparent and accountable democracy we gather together from across the country in the city of Bhubaneswar to celebrate our victories, and squarely face current challenges. In this fifth National Convention on the People’s Right to Information, we re-affirm our commitment to protect the democratic rights of people. We pledge in particular to struggle to make a reality the following resolutions contained in the Bhubaneswar Declaration dated October 16, 2017:
WE, THE PARTICIPANTS OF THE FIFTH NATIONAL RTI CONVENTION, WHILE ENDORSING THE HYDERABAD DECLARATION OF 2013, HEREBY DECLARE THAT:
1. Several serious problems are plaguing the functioning of Information Commissions across the country which must be urgently addressed by the appropriate authorities. Several posts of information commissioners are lying vacant in commissions across the country and in Andhra Pradesh the commission has not been set up after the bifurcation of the state. The State Government must fill up vacant positions in a transparent manner as the pendency is reaching alarming levels denying people their fundamental right to information. The number of Information Commissioners must be determined through an assessment of the workload in each Commission.
2. Even after more than twelve years of enactment of the RTI law, governments have failed in fulfilling their obligation to proactively provide information to people under Section 4 of the RTI Act. All public authorities must urgently fulfill this responsibility. We demand that the Government of India immediately implement the recommendations of the Task Force on Section 4 set up by the DoPT in 2011 and set up a mechanism to monitor its implementation.
3. Government must make rules to operationalize the whistleblower protection law immediately which was passed in 2014. The government has failed to operationalize the law and is trying to dilute it through amendments. We demand that the amendments should be withdrawn. It is the moral responsibility of the Government to protect RTI activists and users, and take swift legal action against those responsible for these attacks. It is also the obligation of governments and information commissions to ensure that, whenever an applicant is attacked, the information that was being sought by the assaulted applicant is urgently and on a priority basis, put in the public domain and followed up. All persons seeking information in public interest must be treated as human rights defenders.
4. In order to move from transparency to accountability, there is an urgent need for the government to effectively implement laws necessary to combat corruption and the abuse of power. The legislation on Lokpal and Lokayuktas passed in 2014 must be implemented without further delay. Every state that does not have a Lokpal/ Lokayukta Law should enact a law along the lines of the national law and states where laws exist, those must be brought in line with the national law.
5. The grievance redress bill which was introduced in Parliament in 2011 was deliberated in a standing committee but lapsed with the dissolution of the Lok Sabha in 2014. We demand that the law be brought back to Parliament, deliberated and passed.
6. We demand that the retrograde amendments proposed to the Central RTI rules must be withdrawn. Rules must strengthen the RTI Act and make it easier for people to access information.
7. We demand that illegal and anti-people provisions of Odisha RTI Rules, 2005 like compulsory RTI Application Form, production of proof of Citizenship while filling RTI Application, Compulsory 1st and 2nd Appeal Form and fee should be withdrawn and replaced by citizen-friendly Rules.
8. Assessments have found that there are serious concerns about the quality of orders of information commissions. A standard format for orders of information commissions must be adopted to ensure that orders are not deficient and all the provisions of the RTI Act are complied with such as weighing the exceptions (8(2), 8(3) and parliamentary proviso) to the exemptions in cases where information is denied.
9. Every year lakhs of RTI applications are filed across the country. Many point towards gaps in governance. To harness these applications for systemic change, the government must analyse the applications and identify the gaps.
10. Governments must pay particular attention to the effective implementation of the RTI Act and other transparency and accountability measures in conflict affected areas in order to ensure better protection of human rights, particularly of the disadvantaged and vulnerable segments of society. We demand that the repeal of AFSPA and other legislative provisions which curtail democratic rights of people including the right to information.
11. We condemn the arbitrary use of Section 24 of the RTI Act to exempt bodies such as the CBI, anti-corruption agencies, like Odisha State Vigilance, security and intelligence agencies. As the exemptions under Section 8 are adequate, the list of agencies notified under this Section must be immediately withdrawn.
12. We demand that all laws enacted by Parliament and the State Legislatures conform to the regime of transparency established by the RTI Act. We demand the immediate withdrawal of provisions in any law, Bill, rule, regulation, or executive order that curtail people’s fundamental right to information.
13. We demand that all Governments immediately put in place a legally mandated process by which any draft legislation or international treaty is tabled in Parliament or the State Legislatures only after extensive public consultation. All government policies must also be formulated through a similar consultative process.
14. We are deeply concerned about the all pervading influence and control of the corporate sector over all structures of decision making in Government. All public authorities must take immediate steps to ensure transparency in the functioning of private entities that utilise public resources or provide public services. Information about public private partnership projects must be accessible under the RTI Act at every stage. We demand that rules to operationalise section 2(f) which empowers people to access information about private bodies must be formulated.
15. We demand that all NGOs, Cooperative societies, Trade Unions, and Religious institutions must be transparent about their income and expenditure.
16. We demand that all Government funded programmes must be subject to social/public audits conducted under the aegis of an independent authority.
17. We demand that all details of income, donations and expenses of political parties be made public regularly. The six national parties must implement the 2013 order of the CIC declaring them public authorities under the RTI Act. They must appoint PIOs and comply with section 4 of the RTI Act by proactively disclosing information. We demand that the electoral bond mechanism for donations to political parties must be withdrawn. Mechanisms must be put in place to make political parties’ financial transactions transparent.
18. Peoples’ ability to access information about the functioning of public servants has been restricted through multiple judgments of the judiciary. We commit ourselves to taking appropriate steps to challenge such judgments which restrict the scope of the RTI.
19. We welcome measures to make treasury information public in some States. This should be extended to all jurisdictions.
20. We believe that all natural resources belong to the people. We demand equity and people’s participation in decision making combined with complete transparency, accountability in the management and use of all natural resources. All draft MOUs and leases must be proactively disclosed before they are finalised.
21. We demand transparency in the ownership and source of funds of all media agencies. Methods of enforcing accountability of the media industry to the people must be explored, while protecting the right to freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution.
22. We welcome the initiative of the Supreme Court to bring in transparency in the process of appointments of the judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts. We demand that along with reasons for recommending appointments or rejection which will be made public, the materials which formed the basis of such decisions should also be disclosed in accordance with the RTI Act.
23. The Memorandum of Procedure (MOP) being drafted for appointment of judges must be made public to ensure transparency and enable citizen participation.
24. The Judiciary must proactively disclose the case management procedures and provide information about cases which have been reserved after arguments.
25. The right to information and right to free expression and dissent are inextricably linked. Public officials are duty bound to and must uphold the constitutional right of citizens to free speech and expression.
26. Making Aadhaar mandatory for accessing entitlements and services has led to large scale exclusions of people. We demand that Aadhaar not be made mandatory for accessing entitlements and services. Information accessed under the RTI Act has shown that claims of government about savings through Aadhaar are not backed by government data. We demand that all such claims and proclamations be accompanied with data relied on for such claims. The government should take steps to protect and fulfill every citizens right to informational self determination.
27. We understand that the government is in the process of drafting the principles of a data protection law and will also legislate such a law. The data protection framework will have a wide-ranging impact and therefore, there must be complete transparency in the process including pre-legislative consultation. The composition of the committee responsible for formulating the principles of the data protection must be such as to include adequate representation of civil society and independent people.
28. We affirm all resolutions passed at the workshops held at the Bhubaneshwar Convention, 2017.
National Co-Convener, NCPRI