Gopal Prasad has been a Right to Information Act (RTI) activist for the past five years and claims to have filed over 5,000 RTI applications. He is critical of the Narendra Modi government&’s approach to the RTI Act, saying proper infrastructure and facilities have not been given to the Central Information Commission and as a result pendency of second appeals in the Commission is rising. Prasad said 58 RTI activists have been killed so far and 350, including himself, have been attacked across India. Prasad is unhappy that “Jaanne Ka Haq”, a programme dedicated to RTI aired on Doordarshan, in which he offers advice to information seekers, has often been replaced by the Prime Minister&’s monthly radio show Mann Ki Baat. In an interview, Prasad spoke on these issues.

Has the government been effective in implementing the RTI act? 

The question concerns two governments — the erstwhile UPA government and the present NDA government. Even the Modi government does not want total transparency.  If it wanted transparency, the sanctioned vacancies in the State Information Commissions and the Central Information Commission should have been filled up. Appeals have mounted in CIC under the present government. If the Modi government really wants the RTI Act to be implemented effectively, it should provide all support to the Central Information Commission. 

Central Public Information Officers of public authorities are rejecting RTI applications on flimsy grounds. Your comment? 

Who are the CPIOs? They are government officials. The bureaucrats are hand in glove in not providing the required information to the RTI activists. At most, they will be fined Rs 250 per day or a maximum of Rs 25,000. Not giving information, hiding information or giving false information is an offence and for this they can even be imprisoned. But despite that RTI Act is not being implemented. 

What can the government do to empower RTI? 

The government does not want to spread awareness about the RTI Act. There should be workshops for RTI. It should be included in the school curriculum. Everybody should know about the RTI Act. The monitoring agencies like Central Vigilance Commission or CBI have become ineffective. So there has to be an alternative so that projects are monitored.  RTI activists can be that alternative. We can bring a revolution. In all the advisory boards, RTI activists should be given a place. The vision of Narendra Modi of ‘Minimum Government and Maximum Governance’ can be achieved through the empowerment of RTI. 

Political parties are refusing to come under the ambit of RTI Act. Is this a setback to RTI activists? 

These political parties are not Gods. Political parties don’t have any rights. Political parties have become a racket. They are neglecting their duties towards the people. One can hardly imagine that this is a democratic country. Now the country has become subservient to these political parties. The people have full right to know how the political parties are functioning as they get exemption on income tax. Corporates are lobbying for their own ends by making donations to the parties. In addition to this, these political parties get land at nominal prices. If the parties approach the Supreme Court, it will also give a decision in favour of the RTI Act. My RTI applications with BJP and Congress were returned. 

Is the RTI Act being misused? Who is responsible for this? 

Anything can be misused. It depends on the person who uses it. Rules must be framed so that those who misuse RTI can be punished. Why should anybody be allowed to misuse RTI? RTI Act was brought to bring transparency but those who use it to extort money should definitely be punished. 

What can be done to prevent the attacks on RTI activists? 

Dishonest people have formed a nexus. Likewise, the honest people should unite. Guns cannot protect society. For protection, there should be unity in society. When some people do good, others come to know about it and support it whole-heartedly. 

Income Tax and CBI is not covered under the ambit of the RTI Act. However, information sought on human rights violations or corruption has been exempted. Despite that they dodge all the RTI queries.  

There can be corruption in the Home Ministry also. Anand Joshi, an official of Home Ministry, was arrested on charges of corruption. CBI and Income Tax officers have also been held on charges of corruption. So those who are entrusted with responsibilities towards the nation can also become corrupt. Who will monitor them? Those who are ready to work free of charge, that is, the RTI activists, are not allowed to work. The prominent activists are not less than intelligence agencies or investigative journalists. They have a lot of potential.