INDIANS around the world are expected to legally challenge a minister’s statement that Indians living abroad have no right to information.
India’s Minister of State for Personnel Jitendra Singh said on Wednesday that Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) cannot file applications to seek governance-related information.
The Right to Information (RTI) is an act of Indian parliament which allows any Indian citizen to request information from a public or government authority.
The authority is then required to reply within 30 days.
“Only Indian citizens have the right to seek information under the provisions of RTA 2005,” said Dr Singh in a written reply in Lok Sabha (the lower house of Indian parliament).
“NRIs are not eligible to file RTI applications,” he added.
Dr Singh’s statement sparked wide spread outrage in the Indian community in Bahrain with most Indians condemning the claim as discriminatory.
“The Indian government needs to change its attitude and allow NRIs the right to information,” World Non-Resident Indians Council ad-hoc director for the Middle East Sudheer Thirunilath told the GDN.
“We have already requested the World NRI Council advocates to check about the possibility of taking the matter to court,” he said.
NRIs play a major role in their nation’s development, with global remittances last year touching about $70 billion, which is about 3.5 per cent of India’s gross domestic product (GDP).
A significant portion of these remittances come from the Middle East which hosts the largest number of immigrant Indian workers.
“All Indian citizens are granted inalienable fundamental rights under the Indian Constitution irrespective of their place of birth or work,” Indian Community Relief Fund (ICRF) general secretary Mehru Vesuvala told the GDN.
“The reply of Dr Singh is disappointing as it is discriminatory to NRIs and does not recognise the valuable contribution of the Indian diaspora.
“Year after year, in World Bank data, India tops the list of remittances sent by its nationals living abroad.
“These remittances contribute immensely to the growth and development of India; then why this discrimination? Are NRIs not Indians?”
Prominent businessman and Tamil community leader Mohammed Malim described Dr Singh’s statement as a “blow” to “democracy”.
“The RTI act is already dying a slow death by this attitude of the government and its officials, because they either do not, or are slow, to respond to any RTI applications,” he said.
“This is a blow to the concept of vibrant democracy; maybe the current government feels that the RTI is a thorn in its throat.
“As far as I know, the RTI Act of 2005 doesn’t discriminate against Indian citizens, whether residents or NRIs.
“The new move seems to be another attempt to restrict the use of RTI.”
The Central Information Commission (CIC), India’s information watchdog, said in a report in March that the number of applications seeking information from central government departments has gone down for the first time since the groundbreaking law was enacted in 2005.
One of the main reasons cited by activists concerned people finding it difficult to get information from the government.
Former ICRF chairman Bhagwan Asarpota was for demanding clarification on Dr Singh’s claim.
“We should hear from the minister or the government on why such a statement was made; I think all Indians are eligible to the RTI.”
Lawyer Madhavan Kallath said the minister was “incorrect” in his statement.
“In my view, it is incorrect to say that the NRIs are not eligible.
“It should have said that the NRIs who are not registered with the India embassies are not eligible.”
Indian Embassy officials did not respond when contacted by the GDN.