Third National RTI Convention (Shillong) – March 10 -March 12, 2011
In a unique and vibrant assertion of democratic rights, over 800 participants from 23 States, came together at the 3rd National RTI Convention in Shillong (March 10-12, 2011). The Convention was organized by the National Campaign For People’s Right to Information (NCPRI), and hosted by the Meghalaya Right to Information Movement (MRTIM). The Convention is notable for two reasons: as the first Convention after the RTI Act was passed, it provided an opportunity to reflect on the law and its implementation; and as the nation grapples with pervasive corruption, to move the RTI movement beyond transparency to accountability.
In an indication of how strongly the demand for transparency and accountability resonates with the people, more than 800 self-funded delegates from 23 states participated in the Convention. Plenary topics included: Reclaiming Democracy: The Power of Information and the Accountability of Power; Peoples’ Power: RTI and the Movements; RTI Law – Potential and Challenge; Information Commissions, Government and the People and were addressed by Aruna Roy (Founding member, MKSS and NCPRI and member, NAC), Ranjit Shekhar Mooshahary (Governor of Meghalaya), James Lygdoh (Former Chief Election Commissioner), Harsh Mander (Human Rights Activists and Member, NAC), Trilochan Sastry (Dean, IIM-Bangalore and Founding Member, ADR), Usha Ramanathan (Law Researcher), Satyanand Mishra (Chief Information Commissioner), Justice J.S. Verma (Former Chief Justice of India), Justice Shah (Former Chief Justice of Delhi High Court), Arvind Kejriwal (RTI Activist), Amitabh Mukhopadhyay (DG, CAG), Saikat Datta (Asst Editor, Outlook), Kavita Srivastav (General Secretary, PUCL), Vrinda Grover (Advocate, Delhi High Court), Paul Diwakar (Dalit Rights Activist), Tripurari Sharma (National School of Drama), Annie Raja (National Federation of Indian Women), and Ramalingam Raju (National Alliance for People’s Movements) amongst others.
Together the participants split in 18 different workshops spread over three sessions to discuss the wide range of issues and challenges facing the country today. Workshops discussed inter alia the implementation of RTI, Judicial Accountability, environment, human rights, discrimination, natural resources, self governance, social audits, youth, media, social services and entitlements, electoral politics, right to food, agriculture, corporations and other private bodies, education, UID and other new information regimes, north east institutions. Each workshop concluded with resolutions for the coming year, and discussions will be distilled into resource material for other activists and organizations interested in these issues.
While the detailed resolutions will form part of a more comprehensive charter for the NCPRI, the Convention delegates adopted by consensus, the following “Shillong Declaration” to carry forward the objectives of challenging corruption, deepening democratic practice, and giving more meaning to the precepts of transparency and accountability in India.
SHILLONG DECLARATION ON THE RIGHT TO INFORMATION
Declaration made by the participants of the Third National RTI Convention, held in Shillong, between March 10-12, 2011
WE, THE PARTICIPANTS OF THE THIRD NATIONAL RTI CONVENTION,
HEREBY DECLARE THAT:
1. It is the responsibility of the government to properly implement proactive disclosures under Section 4 of the RTI Act. We therefore demand that they urgently fulfil this responsibility.
2. We urgently need an anti-corruption commission or body, like the Lokpal/Lokayukta, which can ensure that information accessed through the RTI Act that exposes corruption is acted upon and the guilty are held accountable.
3. It is the moral responsibility of the government to protect RTI activists and users, and take swift legal action against the attackers. It is also the moral obligation of governments and information commissions to ensure that, if an activist is attacked, the information that was being sought by the assaulted activist is urgently and on a priority basis, put in the public domain and followed up.
4. There must be a process by which all draft legislations, before they are introduced in Parliament or in legislative assemblies, are put in the public domain and there are public consultations before their enactment.
5. The constitution and functioning of information commissions requires overhauling. The process of selecting commissioners must be transparent and participatory, and commissions must ensure that the promotion of transparency is their sole focus.
6. We want the Government of India to set up a National RTI Council (similar to the Central Employment Guarantee Council) which has, as members, people from various states, so that problems in implementing the RTI Act can be monitored regularly.
7. Public private partnerships, the private sector, political parties, trade unions, NGOs, and cooperative societies are all under the purview of the RTI Act. Rules and procedures need to be defined to ensure that information from them can be easily accessed.
8. Exemption given under Section 24 to security and intelligence agencies are irrational and contrary to national interest, and this needs to be removed – not by amendment of the Act but by withdrawing the list of notified agencies in the second schedule of the RTI Act.
9. For those areas in North Eastern India, where there are no local governments (panchayati raj institutions), rules and procedures need to be defined to facilitate the access of local level information under the RTI Act.
10. There must be transparency in religious institutions and about the use of public funds for religious purpose.
11. All government expenditure must be subject to social/public audits.
12. We stand by all the other resolutions passed by the various workshops.
The Convention was interspersed with multiple modes of cultural communication – songs and slogans, rallies and dances, puppet plays, stage plays, and street plays staged by the participants highlighted the creative power of peoples communication, and the rich cultural diversity of the country.