Posted by rtiact2005 on August 10, 2006
TOI had requested me to write an article on Transparency last week. They have published it on August 8 in the Mumbai edition on page 2. Wanted to share it with all of you:
I was meeting a close friend and activist of the Right To Information movement last December. The Right To Information Act had been implemented throughout India, and we were discussing how it would go forward. Our concerns were on various interpretation and implementation issues. We are both members of a very famous electronic board called Humjanenge. But as our discussion progressed we felt that there was a need for a small group of wise people who could discuss important matters though emails amongst themselves. We decided we would form a separate e-board where only a select few would be invited.
Two hours later I was thinking of the absurdity of the whole concept we had evolved. We, -who championed transparency in all transactions, – had decided to make a group of ‘wise’ people who would debate and discuss how to nurture Right To Information. We had also convinced ourselves that WE had the wisdom and maturity to decide who should comprise this group. Was this thought not an indication of a chink in our professed conviction and commitment to transparency? How absurd and inconsistent was our idea? A coterie would attempt to decide on the matters relating to the Right To Information movement, away from the gaze and questioning of others! My honesty and belief in the cause of transparency were appearing to hollow. Was I being a hypocrite who wanted others to be transparent, but saw the need and justification for secret confabulations for the ‘general good’? I realized that our thought went against the very grain of transparency and was a sign of weakness and arrogance. When I called up my friend, he declared he had also had similar thoughts, and hence we gave up the idea.
Does this mean that everything we say and do should be transparent for everyone to see? There certainly are completely private matters, but for anything to do with public activities, transparency is the best guarantee of delivering Public good. Even in interpersonal relationships a healthy and honest relationship is possible only when we are truthful and transparent. But will this not expose our mistakes and follies? We fear that this would invite ridicule, and loss of respect for us. I think the converse is true. When we are transparent in our actions, we are more careful and less likely to do anything we would be ashamed of. Whenever we make mistakes, we would focus on correcting ourselves, rather than misusing the same resource and time in covering up. This is not very difficult and is beneficial for all of us. One of the measures of judging ourselves on the transparency scale is to count how often we have admitted to mistakes, – to ourselves, – and to others.
In matters of Governance it is still more important to have transparency, and also more difficult to achieve. Transparency in governance leads to a fairer, more efficient and people-friendly society. The propensity for corruption, arbitrariness and nepotism reduces. The Government can be more transparent only when it is acting in the interests of the people. However, it is more difficult to achieve, since arrogance stalks those who are in power. This arrogance of ‘we know what is best for people’ is coupled with the reluctance and absence of admission of mistakes. A case in point is the recent regressive move to dilute the Right To Information Act. The Government proclaims that file notings were never covered in the definition of ‘information’, but goes ahead and changes the definition of ‘Information’ under the guise of the amendments. It proclaims, ” The overall effort is to promote even greater transparency and accountability in our decision making process.” But in the actual amendments to the exemptions, it expands the scope of three of the earlier ten exemptions and adds three more. This is supposed to be their contribution for the good of Citizens. A move to expand thirty percent of the present exemptions and add another thirty percent is explained as a move to strengthen the Citizen’s rights! Goebbels would envy this exercise.
But when I remember the incident I have given at the beginning, of two small RTI activists thinking that they had all the wisdom and would opaquely arrive at the best solutions for the Right to Information’, I can understand the Government’s state of mind. I am hoping the Government will also realize and acknowledge its folly in this as we did.
Honesty and transparency go hand in hand, since you can be transparent, only if you are committed to honesty. If we practise Asatyamevajayate, we cannot be transparent. Right To Information is our tool for bringing about a true Swaraj. Without transparency a true democracy, following the rule of law will remain a myth.
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