The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill 2019 was passed in Parliament on July 22. The move was met with an outcry from the intellectuals for aiming to change the single most powerful tool, that was available with the citizens of India to hold the government directly accountable.
Opposition leaders and activists have alleged that the changes in the tenure and terms of service of the Chief Information Commissioners (CICs), both at the central and state level, will clip the commission’s wings and render it powerless.
Years of struggle and clamour for rights had given birth to the RTI Act in 2005. In the past 14 years, it has been instrumental in uncovering a list of major scams. The success of the Act earned it the fourth place among 111 countries in the annual rating of similar empowering laws across the world in the year 2016.
Listed below are some of the major scams and anomalies exposed by the Right To Information Act.
Adarsh Society Scam: What was meant to be a six-storey building for the widows of Kargil war heroes, turned into a 31-storey high-rise called Adarsh Housing Society. Located in Mumbai’s posh residential area Colaba, it soon became the abode of politicians, bureaucrats, and top military officers. The nexus was exposed by RTI activists Simpreet Singh and Yogacharya Anandji. The expose revealed that the piece of land did not belong to the state government but to the Ministry of Defence and culminated in the resignation of Ashok Chavan, the then chief minister of Maharashtra.
2G Scam: The 2G scam or the telecom sector scandal, which took place in the UPA regime, revolved around the government auctioning the 2G spectrum. Top ministers had allegedly colluded to undercharge certain mobile phone companies while allocating the frequencies, in exchange for a bribe. This reportedly cost the exchequer a whopping Rs 1.76 lakh crore. The massive abuse of power came to light when an RTI was filed by activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal. Several big names were involved in the scam including former Telecom Minister A Raja and DMK leader Kanimozhi.
Commonwealth Games Scam: An RTI filed by a non-profit organization revealed that the Delhi government had diverted Rs 744 crore from funds earmarked for the welfare of the Dalit community to the Commonwealth Games. The non-profit body – Housing and Land Rights Network – also found that most of the diverted funds were expended on amenities that existed only on paper, suggesting further corruption and money laundering.
Demonetisation announced without RBI nod: Demonetisation was declared in the country by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on November 8, 2016, after holding a meeting that barely lasted for three hours, with the core body of the Reserve Bank Of India (RBI). The PM did not even wait for their formal approval before making the announcement that affected thousands of lives in the days to come. An RTI filed by activist Venkatesh Nayak revealed that the RBI did not agree with the Centre on its justification that the move would curb the circulation of black money and counterfeit money.
23,000 loan fraud cases in past 5 years: Replying to an RTI, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) had informed that 23,000 cases of fraud have been reported by various banks in the past five years, which involved Rs 1 lakh crore.
Indian Red Cross Society Scam: Within a few months of RTI Act coming into force, Hitender Jain, the head of NGO Resurgent India, set out on a mission to find out if officials of the Indian Red Cross Society, a statutory body, were misusing funds reserved for Kargil War relief and those displaced by natural disasters. It was learnt that IAS officers had squandered funds worth lakhs of rupees.A billionaire’s dream university in Odisha: In 2006, Vedanta Group chairman Anil Agarwal set out on a mission to establish a grand university that would rival universities such as Stanford and Cambridge. He needed 15,000 acres of land to make this possible and the Naveen Patnaik government had granted him 8,000 acres of land with promises to provide the rest too. The landowners challenged the acquisition with the help of documents obtained through RTI, which revealed that the government did not grant them the mandatory opportunity to be heard under the Land Acquisition (Companies) Rules, 1963.