UPCPRI ( Uttar Pradesh Campaign to Protect RTI ), Voice of majority of RTI Activists of Uttar Pradesh ,the RTI wing of YAISHWARYAJ Seva Sansthan, a Lucknow based NGO organized a meeting of RTI activists in the state capital on Tuesday.
Noted Social Activist Usha Sharma, Prabhuta Mishra, Babita Singh, Vishnu, Datt Mishra and RTI activists, comprising lawyers, professors, engineers, retired government officials and others, took part in the meeting. Urvashi Sharma, Coordinator of UPCPRI chaired the meeting.
Inaugurating the meeting, Urvashi Sharma said that it seems that the State of Uttar Pradesh has been baffled by the use of the right to information in unearthing corruption in every walk of life so it has once again bitten back, thereby weakening the seven-year old regime of RTI. The Samajwadi Party-led Government in Uttar Pradesh (UP) has launched the latest battle against the transparency law by keeping UP Lokayukta out of RTI ambit.
Prabhuta Mishra said that as we all know that on July 31,2012 Uttar Pradesh Cabinet decided to notify the Lokayukta as an exempt organization under Section 24(4) of the Right to Information Act (RTI Act) and put it in second schedule. She added that the cabinet decision is contrary to government’s promise to strengthen the Lokayukta. In its election manifesto, Samajwadi Party had promised to take steps to strengthen the office of the Lokayukta, but instead of making it more transparent, the government first increased the tenure of the Lokayukta to eight years, then it authorized the Lokayukta to penalize persons who level frivolous charges against any public servant. Now, with the cabinet approving a proposal to keep the Lokayukta outside the ambit of the RTI Act, we, the Activists have every reason to doubt about further dilution and politicization of the Lokayukta organization.
She further added that the government has done nothing to make Lokayukta office a multi-member body, bring the economic offences wing of the police under the Lokayukta Act and bringing the Chief Minister’s office under the Lokayukta’s ambit.
Activist Usha Sharma said that Section 24(4) of RTI act permits the exemption of only security and intelligence organizations. For an organization to qualify for this exemption it must perform either of the functions of providing security-related services or be responsible for gathering intelligence and also this should be the primary functions of the organization. The Lokayukta is neither a security nor an intelligence organization. It
is primarily a body vested with powers to conduct enquiries and investigations into allegations of corruption leveled against public servants. The Lokayukta simply does not qualify for exemption under Section 24(4). The UP Cabinet decision amounts to a
misinterpretation of the RTI Act. Section 24(4) of the RTI Act empowers the State Governments to notify in the Official Gazette security and intelligence organizations that will be exempted from ordinary obligations of transparency and information disclosure unlike other public authorities. Once notified, such bodies will be liable only to provide information about allegations of corruption and human rights violation to a info-seeker.
Information about allegations of human rights violation will be provided only with the concurrence of the State Information Commission and within forty five days. The State Government has an obligation to table the list of organizations notified in this manner in the Legislative Assembly. Lokayukta does not qualify for the Section 24(4) exemption, which applies only to security and intelligence organizations. RTI Act exemptions already protect against the disclosure of investigatory materials. There is no reason to take anti-corruption bodies away from RTI.
“The UP government’s decision to keep the office of Lokayukta outside the RTI Act was not at all needed as RTI Act itself provides protection to the provisions of the UP Lokayukta Act 1975. UP Lokayukta office was free not to provide information about the
ongoing investigation under the Right to Information Act also.
Section 8(1)(g) and 8(1)(h) of RTI act takes proper care of section 10 and section 15 of the Lokayukta Act. The section 10 of the UP Lokayukta Act states that Investigation to be conducted by the Lokayukta or his deputy should be conducted in private, and in
particular, the identity of the complainant and of the public servant affected by the investigation should not be disclosed to the public or the press whether before, during or after the investigation. The Section 15 of the Act states that any information or any evidence obtained by the Lokayukta office in the course of investigation should
be confidential. Keeping UP Lokayukta out of RTI ambit is one of the many attacks being launched against the transparency regime by the very system which the RTI Act seeks to reform” said Vishnu Datt Mishra.
“UP Government’s decision is a clear violation of the United Nations Convention against Corruption which India ratified last year. Article 5(1) of the UNCA requires Indian Governments to develop and implement an anti-corruption mechanism that is primarily informed by transparency. The exemptions under Section 24(4) are not absolute as information about allegations of corruption and human rights cannot be denied even by an exempt organization.
Right to information is a part and parcel of the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression as contained in Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution. ’The RTI Act’ gives statutory safeguard to the Freedom of Speech and Expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(g), which cannot be curtailed except with reasonable restrictions provided under Article 19(2) of the Constitution, in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, security of the State, friendly relations with foreign State, public order, decency or
morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence only and the functions performed by the Lokayukta does not fall in any of the categories enumerated under Article 19(2) of the Constitution. The reasonable restrictions as envisaged under Article 19(2) of the Constitution cannot be imposed by executive action and can only be done by duly enacted law. Therefore, the restriction imposed are excessive and beyond the powers of the State, which cannot be done by issuance of notifications” Urvashi Sharma told the audience.
A unanimous resolution was passed to send memorandum to Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and also to legislators representing constituencies of Uttar Pradesh, seeking withdrawal of the decision to exempt the UP Lokayukta from the RTI Act.
“If need be, YAISHWARYAJ Seva Sansthaan shall adopt the PIL route to bring the Lokayukta back within the ambit of the RTI Act” Urvashi Sharma announced.