Bending before Babus
Posted by rtiact2005 on July 25, 2006
Bending before Babus
File notings to be exempt from RTI Act
Editorial in TOI Ahmedabad 25/7/06
THE UPA government often reminds one of a batsman who is unsure of his footwork. It is uncertain when to go forward and drive or to defend off the backfoot. In the end, it appears to be short on conviction and confidence. It fails to convert even the good starts it has made into considerable gains. The Right to Information Act, 2005, was one such promising start the UPA government made. One of the most progressive laws of its kind in the world, it was meant to be one of the UPA governmentâ€™s finest legislative interventions. Championed by civil society groups and pledged in UPAâ€™s common minimum programme, the RTI Act promised to reform the government. The Act espoused transparency and accountability in the functioning of public institutions. It sought to rescue governance from colonial laws like the Official Secrets Act, 1923, which gave unbridled powers to the bureaucracy. It raised hopes that the people will finally have access to the workings of the state. The euphoria has been short-lived. The bureaucracy has intervened and convinced the government to accept its â€˜rightâ€™ to stonewall queries about decision-making. A proposed amendment to the RTI Act will exclude notings made by senior government officials on files in all areas, except social and development sector projects, from the purview of the law.
The governmentâ€™s decision begs reason. The logic is that decisions taken by the government can be made available but not the reasons behind them. Why should such cover be sought? Who or what are the babus afraid of ? The Act has sufficient provisions that enable RTI commissioners to withhold any information if it can impact national interest, or is forbidden by any court or tribunal, or constitutes trade secrets or intellectual property where disclosure would harm competitive position, or endangers life or physical safety or identifies confidential source of information or assistance, or impedes the process of investigation or apprehension. The only plausible explanation for the fear among babus is their unwillingness to work in an environment of transparency. A logical outcome of transparency is accountability. These two qualities have to be promoted if the iron curtain that separates the state and the people is to be brought down. The bureaucracy has been exceptional in its refusal to cooperate with the demand for reforms in the functioning of state institutions. That the government is willing to bend before them exposes a lack of courage in pushing reforms it has pledged to citizens.