From secrecy to transparency – The only way people can challenge this apparently omnipotent power is by exercising their right to information,
Posted by rtiact2005 on June 27, 2006
|From secrecy to transparency|
|Members of the ruling class have been withholding from the citizens vital information,
which impacts the lives of common people, to perpetuate their hegemony.
The only way people can challenge this apparently omnipotent power is by exercising their right to information,
says Nachiketa Desai
|Friday, June 02, 2006|
Knowledge is power. By implication, information that leads to knowledge becomes an instrument of power. Those at the helm of power know this. They wield this by denying crucial information to the people they rule over.
Anyone who has had the chance to deal with officials at any level – from the lowest rung of the bureaucracy such as a village revenue clerk, a traffic constable or even a peon in a government office to the high and mighty ministers – would be able to testify that it is because of the common man’s ignorance about how the system works that the officials ride rough shod over the public.
Politicians, bureaucrats, technocrats, contractors, business and industry tycoons and their executives are the ones who guard the secrets of governance – both public and corporate affairs – on the pretext that any sharing of knowledge with the common people would be detrimental to national security.
Regimes are known to have gone to the extent of imposing censorship on the press and incarcerating individuals trying to question the way the affairs of the country are being run. Questioning the authority was interpreted as sedition.
Even after the country became Independent, the attitude of the ruling class remained the same. “Trespassers will be prosecuted”, trespassing being any nose poking by the ordinary citizen in the affairs of the officialdom. Governance was carried out behind an impregnable wall of secrecy.
Only the sarpanch of a village and his henchmen would know how much fund has been allocated for digging a well, constructing a school building, a road or for distribution of dole to the victims of natural calamity. The information would be ‘off limit’ for the common people. A similar system prevailed at taluk, district and state level.
Obviously, all establishments having anything to do with the country’s defence, nuclear power and energy, space programme and even irrigation projects were ‘off limit’ for the ordinary citizens.
However, winds of change began to blow as social activists like Medha Patkar, Anna Hazare and Aruna Roy and scores of grass roots level workers began crusading for people’s right to information. Through mass movements, non-violent direction actions and a series of public interest litigations in various courts, breaches began to appear in the iron wall that surrounded the establishment.
A much powerful hurricane that came hurtling down on the old regime was in the form of information technology revolution. Internet – the information super highway – made information available at the click of a mouse. The educated, urban young men and women were the first to get onto this super highway – exploring the ocean of information. Networking with like-minded people with common goals became instantaneously possible. Coalitions were formed, common action plans drawn and put into motion. E-advocacy gained ground.
With the proliferation of mass media – print, TV, film and Internet – suppressing information and denial of access to information became impossible. The iron wall behind which the establishment carried out its business came under tremendous pressure. Opening of safety gates became mandatory if the establishment wanted the wall not to collapse.
For the establishment, the Right to Information is a safety gate.
For the people, it is a tool with which they demolish the wall of secrecy surrounding the establishment and enforce transparency in governance.
(Nachiketa Desai is Associate Editor of CIOL)