Mrs.

Sonia Gandhi President Indian National Congress

Dear Mrs. Gandhi, As you know, on 3rd June, 2013, the Central Information Commission (CIC) passed an order declaring six national political parties, ‘public authorities’ under the Right to Information Act and ordered them to appoint Public Information Officers by the 16th of July 2013. In response, the Central Government proposed amendments to the RTI Act, reportedly to remove political parties from the ambit of the Act. On the 1st of August, 2013, the Union Cabinet cleared the amendments for introduction in Parliament during the monsoon session. According to reports, political parties have several misgivings about the CIC order and a majority of them are in favour of the proposed amendments. The National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information (NCPRI) believes that even if there are certain concerns that political parties have regarding the CIC order, any move to amend the RTI Act would be most unfortunate and injudicious. The RTI Act is a landmark legislation which has empowered common people to participate in our democracy in an informed manner. It has been a long held position of the RTI community that the RTI Act should not be amended. In 2009, when the Government was mulling over amendments to the RTI Act, the Minister for Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions had assured Parliament, in response to a question, that there would be meaningful and widespread public consultation before any amendment Bill is tabled in Parliament. Unfortunately, in this instance, the amendments have been framed and passed by the Cabinet in secrecy, without any public consultation at all. As a way to initiate a public dialogue on the political parties' concerns related to the CIC order and on their position vis-à-vis the proposed amendments to the RTI Act, we are writing this open letter with a set of questions which we believe raise fundamental issues related to the obligation to honour the law and constitutional principles. We request you to respond to the following questions: 1. Why has your party not complied with the orders of the CIC? If in your opinion the CIC's order is not legally sound, why have you not appealed it in Court? By neither complying with the CIC's order nor challenging it in Court, are you not violating the concept of rule of law that forms the bedrock of our constitutional democracy? Would this not set up a very bad precedent for other institutions that may not agree with certain orders of statutory bodies?

2. Do you believe that any proposal to amend the RTI Act must be discussed with the people and civil society widely as it relates to their fundamental 'right to know'? Will you be willing to endorse our demand that the Government of India honour its assurance given in response to a Parliamentary question in 2009 that the RTI Act will not be amended without holding public consultations? 3. Will your party support amendments giving political parties blanket exemption from the RTI Act? If yes, please tell us the reasons for your decision, considering eight years ago you included all other private/non-governmental organisations that are substantially financed by the government under the ambit of the RTI law. These questions are posed, not by way of an RTI application, but in an attempt to initiate a meaningful public debate on this issue. We appeal to your party to hold public discussions before taking a position on the matter. This would provide an opportunity to connect with and understand the nature of public expectations from political parties. Most importantly, we are convinced that it would lead to a more reasoned decision, with greater acceptance and efficacy. Looking forward to your response. Thank you, Best regards, Aruna Roy, Anjali Bhardwaj, Nikhil Dey, Shailesh Gandhi, Shekhar Singh, Harsh Mander, Venkatesh Nayak, Bhaskar Prabhu & Rakesh Dubbudu (On behalf of the National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information)

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