India Law Needs to Protect RTI Activists, Group Says

2 September 2011

The Asian Centre for Human Rights has issued a report, “RTI activists: sitting ducks of India,” stated that from January 2010 to August 2011, at least 12 right to information activists including have been murdered and recommending an amendment to the RTI Act.

“RTI activists are the most vulnerable human rights defenders (HRDs) of India. Unlike other HRDs, a large majority of the RTI activists are not necessarily part of any organisation or group. They often act alone, moved by outrage against corruption and other illegal activities. RTI activists are extremely vulnerable as they live in the same areas as the corrupt public authorities, political leaders and mafia who do not want information about their illegal activities to be disclosed,” stated Suhas Chakma, the director of Asian Centre for Human Rights.

When complaints are made by RTI activists, the law enforcement personnel, who are usually hand in glove with those threatening the RTI activists, do not take necessary action, according to a press release on the study, adding, that the RTIA “provides no protection.”

The report recommends that the RTIA be amended and a separate chapter, “Protection of those seeking information under the (RTI) Act”, be inserted into the Act.

Protection measures should include (i) mandatory and immediate registration of complaint of threats, use of force or attacks against RTI activist as First Information Report and placing such FIR before the concerned magistrate/judge of the area within 24 hours for issuance of necessary directions for physical protection of those under threats or their family members, and review such protection measures from time to time; (ii) conducting inquiry into the threats and attacks by a Police Officer not below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police/Assistant Commissioner of Police and conclusion of such investigation within 90 days; and (iii) trial of the accused, if offences made out after investigation, within six months. Further, concerned Public Information Officers, First Appellate Authorities and those directly related with the information sought under the RTI Act should be presumed to have abetted the offences against the RTI activists unless proven contrary.

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