Right to Information – Master key to good governance

Bureaucrats are the biggest stumbling block

Posted by rtiact2005 on June 14, 2006

Bureaucrats are the biggest stumbling block
The law gives every Indian citizen the right to information. But, very few among even the educated people are aware of this right. Parivartan, a Delhi-based non government organization, is on the forefront of a mass awareness drive to let the common people know about their right to seek information from the government on issues that affect their lives.
Thursday, May 25, 2006

Arvind Kejriwal of Parivartan spoke to Bhaskar Hazarika of CyberMedia News about this mass awareness drive and pointed out that the Indian bureaucracy was still suffering from the hangover of the British colonial rule, which governed behind a veil of secrecy.

What made you launch a mass awareness drive on the Right to Information Act?

Parivartan's primary objective is to bring about transparency in the government and eradicate corruption. Initially, the organization's main focus was on anti-corruption laws. The organization helped individuals file public interest litigations. The enactment of the Right to Information Act shifted our focus to empowering people through exercising this right. For this, we needed to first make people aware of their right to information.

How far has this movement helped in empowering the people? Are the educated people aware about this Act?

Our campaign has brought about some awareness among the people about this issue. We are mainly focusing our attention on the illiterate and semi-literate people, because it is they who have very little access to information. It is a sorry state of affair that even the educated people do not know much about the Right to Information Act.

As most poor people are illiterate or semi-literate, how do you expect them to exercise their right to information?

Literacy is an important factor in imparting education to the people. Slum areas have high degree of illiteracy mostly among women. We are taking the help of some educated people in these areas to spread awareness among the masses about the right to information. As a result of the awareness, the slum-dwellers were able to secure ration cards for their families, a right they were denied so long.

Which is the most effective way to create awareness among the masses about the Right to Information Act?

Mass media is the most effective means to spread awareness among the people. Media must carry out special campaign on the issue to make the citizens aware of their rights.

Do you think that the bureaucracy, which is so reluctant to provide information even to the educated public, would agree to share information with the poor and the illiterate?

The right empowers the people to acquire information. If a person approaches a government authority seeking information on a subject and if the authority fails to provide him with the information, the individual can approach his superior official in this regard. If the superior official too fails to satisfy the individual, he can file an appeal against the official and approach the central information commission.

The Act empowers the commission to impose a penalty on the official, and the fine imposed on him could be deducted from his salary.

What is the role of central information commission?

The central information commission has been set up to look into the grievances of the public. According to the constitution, the commission shall have 11 members. At present, the government has appointed only five members, four of who are former bureaucrats. The commission should have members from the judiciary, the legal community and eminent personalities who have held important positions in public life. Each member is appointed for a five-year tenure. Even the parliament does not have the right to remove the members.

What are the obstacles you have faced in empowering the people?

By and large, bureaucrats at various levels are still unwilling to provide information to the people. They are still not reconciled to the fact that the law has given the citizens the right to information. Above all there is little cooperation from the central information commission in this regard. As the members of this commission are former bureaucrats, they tend to act in favour of the bureaucracy.

There is an urgent need to change the process and lookout of the commission. Till now, in Delhi alone, over 15,000 applications have been filed under the RTI Act. Yet, so far, no official has been penalized for refusing to give information. If the government does not take any urgent initiative in this matter RTI Act will die a premature death.

What initiative should the government take in empowering or educating the masses?

The government should play an active role. The Act states that it is the duty of the government to educate the citizens about the right to information. We have also drafted a structure for the local self-government, which would also be effective for the urban areas. We are planning to meet chief minister Shiela Dixit to discuss the draft.


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