Right to Information – Master key to good governance

Babu Ego or Real Fear

Posted by rtiact2005 on August 4, 2006

Babu Ego or Real Fear
Posted: 2006-08-04

The Right to Information Act, RTI, is applicable in all of India except Jammu and Kashmir. The reason for the exception to the rule is not explained, but it is obvious. Although not agreeing, it is understandable that the Union government would be considering the state too sensitive to throw open all information, especially with many vested interests from across the border inimical to India’s interest, snooping. Whether this is a legitimate fear or a mindless paranoia is debatable, but we tend to think it is in the nature of an overdone apprehension generated by an excessively bureaucratized intelligence establishment that depends more on dusty records available in dog-eared files rather than a continually updated assessment of the ever evolving and transforming reality. How can for instance, making public the records of fund allocations for developmental work, or making the assessment processes of examinations for government job recruitment transparent, or letting below
poverty line, BPL, public know how much subsidized essential ration and kerosene oil they are entitled to receive through the public distribution system, be a threat to national security, be it in Kashmir or New Delhi. It cannot be by any coincidence that almost all of the RTI cases that have come up so far, relate to these matters. Search the internet for what organizations like Arvind Kejriwal’s Parivartan have been doing to confirm this personally. Even then, to be fair, it may be that the Manipur government’s reticence about the RTI is for similar apprehensions as Kashmir. If it is so, does not the government owe an explanation?

It is also interesting that in the controversial move by the Union government to have the RTI amended, one of the considerations stems from a proposal by the Union Public Service Commission, UPSC, to have their examination evaluation processes excluded from the purview of the RTI. Expectedly, this has been met with vehement oppositions from the Indian civil society, who have already raised suspicions of the UPSC trying to hide filth within. If a recent Union Cabinet decision is any indication, the UPSC’s plea would be dropped, but the one that seeks to make bureaucratic “file notings” as classified information would probably stay, if the government has its way and an amended RTI becomes reality.

The point that we are making is, the RTI does give allowance for making certain category of information as not suitable for public consumption. Sensitive security and economic information, copyright protected information and information that infringes on the privileges of institutions that enjoy special privileges under democratic norms such as the courts, Parliament and Assembly etc. But even these exceptions are with a qualification for it also says that if the public interest of the information outweighs the security concerns, the information shall have to be revealed. So when the Manipur government, in its gazette notification of the formation of its half-baked Information Commission, lists administrative units such as the vigilance department as exempt from the purview of the RTI, it should keep in mind the qualification that the original text of the RTI makes on such matters. Furthermore, some questions still remains even if the Manipur government is apprehensive of a
functional RTI in the state becoming the tool for vested interests hostile to the establishment to sap sensitive information. The first and foremost of these is, how legitimate is such a fear. One the one hand we see no reason to fear a siphoning of sensitive information as the RTI has enough safeguards and valves to prevent such a consequence. On the other hand, we do foresee plenty of lobbies coming alive to have their men or women in the panel of Information Commissioners (who incidentally would enjoy the salary and allowances of chief secretary, and understandably too for they would have to be dealing with senior officers of the government) even if the State Chief Information Commissioner is out of bound of one and all. As has happened in so many similar autonomous bodies before, we do foresee a lot of less than qualified, less than informative, less than eminent individuals being forced into the panel by these lobbies. This, in our opinion is a legitimate concern, not
so much out of fear, but more out of utter distaste. But then again, the Manipur government’s reluctance to have the RTI implemented in its letter and spirit may have bureaucratic ego as its background. For indeed, who amongst the bureaucrats can tolerate seeing a non-bureaucrat catapulted to the protocol of the most senior bureaucrat overnight, even if an Act of the Parliament says this must be so.


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