Right to Information – Master key to good governance

File it, forget it

Posted by rtiact2005 on July 22, 2006

File it, forget it

Posted online: Friday, July 21, 2006 at 0000 hrs


UPA’s unique achievement: legislating for and subverting our right to information

var dc_UnitID = 14; var dc_PublisherID = 2690; var dc_AdLinkColor = ‘blue’; var dc_open_new_win=’yes’; var dc_adprod=’ADL’; var dc_single_line = ‘yes’; The official statement mentioned “ambiguities” that needed to be cleared but the meaning distilled from that was unambiguous: the Right to Information Act, one of the biggest achievements of the UPA government, will be amended to exempt the file notings of bureaucrats from its purview. The government would like us to believe this cabinet decision, which comes five days after the end of a fortnight-long, nationwide campaign tom-tomming of the RTI, is a minor adjustment.

No such luck. First, the decision, which reverses the January 31 order of the Central Information Commission that deemed file notings fit for disclosure is a straight betrayal by the UPA of its “compact with the civil society”. This government’s defence against the charge that it has done little by way of economic reforms has been to point to its championing of the RTI as a major paradigm shift. That defence stands largely hollow with file notings — which reveal crucial stages in policy making — rendered inaccessible. Second, the decision is a clear victory for those people whose old habits of stonewalling this Act was designed to circumvent, and who had lobbied for protection from it. The RTI amendment, therefore, mocks the ordinary Indian — or should we say the aam admi?

Adding insult to injury is the rider attached with the decision: notings on “social and development” issues will still come under the purview of RTI disclosures. This merely leaves issues open to interpretation: Is the construction of a large dam a “social and development” issue or part of high government policy and therefore closed to the public? Given the expected rise in “development activities”, in all forms and across the country, and allegations of policy reversals and worse this will inevitably attract, the RTI would have been the ideal instrument of checks and balances. The UPA should also remember that once powerful lobbies for opaque governance are allowed a foot in the door, they never leave until the whole decor is changed to what it was. This government will have the unique distinction of both legislating for and starting the subversion of the right to information.



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