There is something sinister about the Maharashtra government’s move to surreptitiously introduce amendments to the Right to Information Act. According to the amendments — which, incidentally, were introduced on January 16 & 31 but did not come to light till late March when activists chanced upon it — an applicant can ask questions only on a single subject, her application cannot exceed 150 words, and, during inspection, she can carry no other writing instruments barring a pencil.
Such rules have clearly been brought in to rein in not just enthusiastic activists, but also the common man. There is also something ironic about the manner in which our bureaucrats, who often use three words where one would do, demand brevity from citizens, many of whom are mostly illiterate people for whom the RTI Act is the last resort after all other avenues have failed them. That the government did not even bother to have a public debate on the amendments, something that it is mandated to do by law, not only shows it is motivated but also makes the amendments illegal.
As such, the state is floundering on the RTI front thanks to a dearth of commissioners and many other posts all the way down the hierarchy that have remained vacant for a long time. At such a juncture, by focussing its energy on making information-seeking harder rather than striving to ensure the smooth functioning of the system, the state has clearly betrayed its motives. The only way forward now is for the state to strike down the amendments, sit down with RTI activists and look at positive changes in the law that will make information-seeking more user-friendly.