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Won't tell anything; this is also democracy!

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Wont tell anything;  this is also democracy!
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The details about the renaming of the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award are claimed as outside of the ambit of 'information' under the Right to Information Act. This bizarre answer was given by the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) to a question from the online news portal 'The Wire'. The award is named after Major Dhyan Chand, one of the best known sporting legends of India. Announcing the name change on Twitter, Prime Minister Modi said the decision was made because he " has been getting many requests from citizens across India". However, the general demand was that Dhyan Chand should be given the Bharat Ratna. Though it was earlier suggested that Rajiv Gandhi's name might not be appropriate for a Khel Retna, a committee that convened in 2019 decided there is no need for a name change. Hence, The Wire filed an RTI to understand the reasoning behind the sudden change of name declaration. The Wire demanded that details of the number of people who requested a name change be revealed together with their photocopies. If none in the Prime Minister's Office indeed is unaware of the definition of information as per RTI law (2005) section 2 (F), it is indeed a particular kind of ignorance. It is not a trivial matter that the top leadership of the government is so defying the people's right to know.

RTI was not given as mercy by anyone. It is a law passed by the Parliament as a result of persistent democratic movements. It is the constitutional responsibility of the state to abide by it. But the ones who turn their back to this are those who are bound to set an example in law enforcement. When asked about the exact amount of black money smuggled in from abroad, the PMO declined to disclose it saying it could not release the information in a way that would hamper the investigation. The Modi government used to make a lot of anti-corruption rhetoric. Activists sought information after allegations surfaced that the ruling party was making substantial sums of money through electoral bonds, a non-transparent political contribution system. Not only was it rejected, but the Central Information Commission itself ruled that such information did not carry such public interest as to violate privacy of the donor. Even the transparency of the PM-Cares fund is questionable. Not only was the information not available to those who asked for it, but the PMO argued in court that the Fund would not come under the 'public authority' under the RTI Act. PMO also refused responses to enquiries regarding the top level meetings for Covid prevention, the rationale behind lockdown decisions and the correspondence between PMO and Health Minister. And replies were denied also to one who asked for information about the foreign tours undertaken by Modi and Manmohan Singh as prime ministers; and the reason given for this was that the question was 'very vague'.

It may be 'secrets' that cannot be disclosed to the public that prompts the government for such a negative approach. But there is also an anti-democratic arrogance behind the decision not to divulge the details of the 'Khel Ratna' name change – that the information must be provided, but we will not provide it. The weaknesses of the Right to Information Commission and the Judiciary itself help the government in this regard. The Supreme Court has ruled that the right to information is a fundamental right under Article 19 of the Constitution. But today, the government is leading the fight against that right. The information that people need to know, that they have a right to know, is rejected one by one, with some specious reasons. In our earlier editorial we had written about the government stance of disallowing questions in Parliament thereby violating the privilege of the house. The prime minister, who does not hold any press conference, and communicates with the people only through Twitter and Mann Ki Baat may be afraid of people's questions too. By seeking to know all personal secrets and not disclosing any governance matters, the NDA government is making democracy stand on its head.

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TAGS:Khel ratna awardPrime Minister's OfficeRTI information refusedThe Wire's questions
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