A.P. Shah: we live in an age of propaganda and half-truths
Criticising the culture of unnecessary secrecy pervading government and bureaucratic circles, former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court Ajit Prakash Shah on Saturday said that the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression was under attack.“We live in an age of propaganda, proactive false information and half-truths. The media coverage, or rather black-out, of certain press conferences, and distorting headlines with a pro-government bias is an attempt to spread disinformation. Unless ordinary citizens demand accountability from the government, there will be no change in the situation,” Justice Shah said during the inaugural lecture of the Moneylife Foundation’s Pune RTI Centre.He said it was only the existence of the Right to Information (RTI) Act that had helped put a check on corruption and expose major loopholes in the Aadhaar project and the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana.He said the Aadhaar Act further compounded problems. “While the RTI Act regulates the citizen’s right to information regarding third-party public authorities, the Aadhaar Act is concerned with the right to access information about oneself. Shockingly, the proviso to Section 28(5) of the Act makes clear that Aadhaar number holders do not have the right to access core biometric information about themselves. This means that while the State has access to my fingerprint and iris scan in their Central Identity Database Repository, the individual is prohibited from accessing his information,” said Justice Shah.According to him, a ‘popular’ government cannot deny its public access to information and scrutiny of its records.Justice Shah expressed concern that the Whistle Blower’s Protection Act and Lokpal had not been put in operation despite the law being approved more than three years ago in Parliament. The government had instead moved an amendment Bill in May 2015 to severely dilute it, he said.“While there is a perceived air of incorruptibility around the current Prime Minister, that itself is no reason to discard or dilute existing laws promoting proactive oversight and audit of government actions, especially since the problem of corruption and opacity in the functioning of the lower levels of government remain,” he said.