Right to Information – Master key to good governance

State RTI in a Fog

Posted by rtiact2005 on August 4, 2006

State RTI in a Fog

Posted: 2006-08-03

An instrument of governance that can qualify to be the most potent
weapon against the scourge of official corruption that the Indian
constitution has adopted in all its history, the Right to Information
Act, RTI, is still in a fog in Manipur. It is inconceivable why the
government is allowing this. The spirit of the RTI is to make
governance as transparent as possible so that no public policy or the
processes of making them can be hidden from public view. It would
oblige the government departments by law to furnish any information on
its public policies and programmes sought by any individual citizen.
The exceptions understandably would be of information that have
bearings on the sovereignty and integrity of the nation, infringes
copyrights or breaches the privileges of the privileged institutions
of democracy such as the courts, Parliament, Assembly etc. There is of
course a controversial move by the Central government recently to
amend the RTI Act and include another clause to the list of
undisclosable information, and these are the “side notings”
bureaucrats make as a file moves from government department to
department, reshaping policy blueprints all along, for it is deemed
this would victimise individual bureaucrats. But that is another
matter, the moot point is, for the RTI to be effective there will have
to be a monitoring, autonomous institution, and this is precisely what
the RTI Act requires the Central and State governments to constitute.
This is where the Manipur government has chosen to keep the matter

Till date, not many in the state, including the media, know the state
has formed such a State Information Commission under the RTI. Yet, the
Government of India RTI website states clearly that Manipur is among
the 21 states which have already formed such a commission naming S
Sunderlal Singh, secretary (DP&AR) as the State Chief Information
Commissioner, a constitutional office enjoying the salary and
allowances of an Election Commissioner. The commission is also to have
Information Commissioners (not more than 10) enjoying the salary and
allowances of chief secretary. In the case of the Central Chief
Information Commissioner, he is to draw the salary and allowances of
the Chief Election Commissioner, and have not more than 10 Information
Commissioners of equivalent rank as Election Commissioners, assisting

If the information on the Central Government website is correct, could
the Manipur government please clarify as to how a serving secretary of
the government can act as the Chief Election Commissioner, when it is
certain he would be called upon to give direction on how officers of
the government, often his seniors, are to conduct themselves as per
the provisions of the RTI Act, and even to recommend penalties for not
following orders. Although by protocol, he would be the rank of an
Election Commissioner, in reality would he be able to dictate terms to
officers senior to him in the profession? What about the State
Information Commissioners? If they too have been selected from amongst
government officers, obviously they would all be from officers below
the rank of secretary. The trouble is, as per the RTI Act, they would
be by protocol equivalent to the chief secretary. Most other states
have chosen a retired chief secretary as Chief Information
Commissioner, and retired government officers of repute and integrity
as well as very eminent and knowledgeable citizens as Information
Commissioners. Why has the Manipur government chosen to be different
by undermining the State Information Commission so terribly? Is this
ambitious autonomous body being reduced to just another government
department? If so, how is a government department going to bring
accountability and check corruption in other government departments?
Is the RTI going to be a non-starter just as the government has
effectively reduced the Manipur Human Rights Commission to a white
elephant? In any case, the RTI also makes it obligatory on the
government to campaign and conduct public programmes to familiarise
the ordinary citizens on how to use the RTI to get justice. Why is the
Manipur government not doing this if it has formed the commission
already? One cannot but help being envious of committed civil servants
like Arvind Kejriwal (Indian Revenue Service), who took a two-year
extraordinary leave from service to start a citizen’s movement called
Parivartan (transformation), which uses the RTI to expose corruption
and to bring justice to underprivileged citizens, first in East Delhi,
but now its influence is spreading all over India. From the
enlightened sections of the civil society in Manipur, we need people
who can take up such causes and push them to their logical ends.
Kejriwal, trained as a mechanical engineer from IIT Kharagpur before
joining the Indian Civil Services, is the most recent Indian selected
for the Ramon Magsaysay Award, considered Asia’s Nobel Prize, and
would be receiving the award on August 31 in Manila. He without doubt
deserves it most richly.


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