July 25, 2019
Derek O’Brien spoke on Motion to send The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019 to a parliamentary committee
Sir, we have had some very incisive, articulate and thoughtful interventions already on RTI. The previous Speaker asked whether any national party with a strong regional presence like the Trinamool will stand up. Well, even if we are the last ones standing, we will stand up and fight this because I remember Sir, in this House on August 19, 2013, when we objected to the Land Acquisition Bill, we were in a minority of one-and-a-half political parties in the sense that we got 19 noes and there were 219 people who voted against our Motion. Never mind we got 19. That was in 2013 but the Supreme Court later said, in 2016, our view was the right view. The points on the RTI Bill have been very well made and I will not elaborate on them.
Why have we moved this Motion to send this Bill to the Select Committee? This is of course about the RTI Bill but the bigger issue is, in the last 28 days, iwe have seen this glorious institution Parliament under serious threat. Let me make my case by suggesting some numbers.
Today what happened was unprecedented. Parliament finishes tomorrow. That’s what was said. The Cabinet Committee is meeting at, I think 4 o’clock, 5 o’clock or maybe at 6 o’clock. The Parliamentary Affairs Minister is announcing business for next week in Parliament. This is on the situation of Parliament we are in today.
This is a bigger issue. It is not about whether they will get 130 votes, whether we will get 25 votes. Even if we get 25, that is our opposition space as a constructive opposition, and we will fight for our space. When you do things like allowing a Member to casually speak from four rows behind, even though he is sitting in the first row, it’s a mockery of Parliament. When you take away Rule 95 to allow members to submit Amendments, it is a mockery of Parliament.
I was talking about the mockery of Parliament. I have a choice of speaking either on the Bill or on my Motion. I’m speaking on my Motion. We just saw Ministers sitting down and catcalling while I’m making a speech. Is this not a mockery of Parliament too?
Why do we want this Bill to go to a Select Committee? Why do we want more Bills to go to Select Committees? What is the historic fact-check you can do to check the record of Parliament? Let’s do that. In the 14th Lok Sabha – it doesn’t matter who was in government – 60 per cent of the Bills were sent for parliamentary scrutiny. In the 15th Lok Sabha, 71% of the Bills were sent for parliamentary scrutiny. Not because the Opposition wanted to block the Bills but to improve the quality of the Bills. You want to see if it’s a bad Bill, and if so, how to make it better.
So from 60 per cent, it rose to 71 per cent. Now what happened in the 16th Lok Sabha? In the last five years, that number went down to 26 per cent. Only one out of four Bills are being scrutinised. And now what is the plan? It’s a dubious record, but it’s a record nonetheless – 13 Bills have been passed.
Now the Government will turn around and say, in previous sessions also Bills were passed. Let me give you those facts, not rhetoric, but facts. I checked how long the first session lasted in the last six Lok Sabhas. Only 8eight to 11 days. Now you will come and tell me, because now it’s being extended so Parliament is working – 37 days we are going to work. What are we going to work for? What are we going to work for in the 37 days?
Sir, the issue is that how is federalism going to be hurt because of this Bill, and that is our serious objection from Trinamool. It is happening in Bill after Bill. If you go into this Bill too, without getting into the details – we all know who will fix the salary – you are not only hurting federalism but you are getting yourself a new ally. We ourselves are seeing you don’t need to go very far, we can see what is happening in the House for the last few days. You all have the numbers but this does not give you the authority to take away my right as a member of the Opposition, even if you intimidate me. RTI is Right To Information, but for the last few days, the meaning has changed and now it is ‘Right to Intimidate’. We know what calls there were and we know about the pressure. Thankfully we are Trinamool and will not give up federalism under pressure.
We have passed so many Bills in Parliament but if you ask a school student which is the most often used legislation in India since independence, there is only one answer and that is RTI. It has been running for 14 years and 2 crore requests are there. The Congress, I can understand they were selective with what they wanted to hit the BJP with. We are in the middle, but it’s the same thing – like the 2G, Adarsh, they also came through the RTI; so you people too also have some faith
The Government has spent Rs 5,000 crore on advertising but the Rs 61,500 crore bank fraud, the 6,800 cases were also on RTI. We are talking about the destruction of the autonomy of institutions, we are talking about a Government that wants to intrude into the matters of the State. In the last 20 days they have seen a sad incident happening in the largest State of India – 10 people, no advisories. West Bengal is getting advisories – one courier service every day. In fact, I suggested you should make a direct flight now, keep sending to the State, especially the States that are politically opposed to you.
The other issue on this Bill, and I ask the Minister in his reply to address this, is that the Government could easily block requests if details show the Government in poor light. Can this be done? Can this not be done? This is one very important.
Sir, what about the pendency of cases? What about the budget cut by 38 per cent? All these are realities. I have a nice quote here. Let me read the quote from 2015: “We need to become proactively transparent, people should not have to make any effort to get information. More openness in Government will help citizens. In this day and age there is no need for secrecy. RTI should be used first and foremost to better the process of governance. Today I feel there is a limitation to RTI. We know the process but we don’t know the end product.” These are noble words and I agree with these words, spoken in 2015 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Now this was in 2015, said by Narendra Modi, the Honourable Prime Minister Narendra Modi ji. What has happened between 2015 and now to change this entire perception of his will be explained to us on the floor of the House. This bears repeating: “We need to become proactively transparent, people should not have to make any effort to get information. More openness in Government will help citizens. In this day and age there is no need for secrecy.” All that is being done here is to put some pressure and secrecy on the Government.
Sir, our request to this Government is that, and I am saying this with all humility, is whether it’s this Bill or whether it’s other important Bills – Sir, this is not the Ahmedabad Gymkhana, this is the Rajya Sabha, the Council of States – when we ask your Bill to go to a Select Committee, you say things like we are blocking Parliament. No, we want to be a constructive Opposition that will not boycott this place. I can speak for my own party. We will fight you inch for inch, we will not allow you to see the Opposition’s face.
You want to bulldoze Parliament, try. You want to bulldoze the Constitution, try, but we will fight for Parliament, for our Constitution and for the right of our Opposition.