Right to Information – Master key to good governance

Show More, Hide Less::The right to information isn’t a fully evolved culture yet, seeker and giver are both sizing up new possibilities.

Posted by rtiact2005 on August 11, 2006

Show More, Hide Less

Why recent legislative moves make good news, and why they don’t


It is tempting sometimes to think we have hit an enlightened patch. A rural employment scheme under implementation. The right to information guaranteed. A new, long-sought law on curbing domestic violence. The establishment debating the detested Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA). And now, an official panel recommending that the imperial-era Official Secrets Act (OSA) be done away with. The thing to keep in mind about all of these, of course, is that conditions apply. None of it is as good as it looks in proposition or on paper. There’s a slew of snags trailing the course of the employment guarantee scheme in the poorest districts — bureaucracy, politics, corruption. The right to information isn’t a fully evolved culture yet, seeker and giver are both sizing up new possibilities. There are those who will tell you that the law on domestic violence isn’t a good enough protection to victims. The government has rejected the recommendation to rescind the AFSPA. The government is yet to accept abrogation of the OSA. There are problems; there are huge gaps between expectations and reality. But the thing to keep in mind equally about all of these is, they are happening. Perhaps in insufficient measure, perhaps in inefficient ways, but they are happening. For the government to set up a committee to review the AFSPA was not a mean step. In the event, it did reject the propOSAl to scrap the controversial provision, but then in setting up a review committee it was recognising the possible existence of problems with it.

Saying goodbye to the OSA will probably be more difficult for the establishment, even though a firm suggestion now lies on the table. Undoing it will not merely be a matter of political will; it will be more a matter of bureaucratic consent. More often than not, it is the bureaucracy, never directly accountable to the public, that has used the OSA to keep a lid on acts of commission and omission. Every state will necessarily have matters that cannot be made public in the national interest. Issues critical to national security, for instance. But there is much more that is kept hidden using the OSA, most of it that people in a democracy need to know. With the right to information in place, the OSA should anyhow become increasingly redundant. But then, few things are as they should be. Even with the right to information, the bureaucracy was able to insert a clause that the officials’ notings on files would not be open to public scrutiny. That’s bureaucratic chicanery. Time, perhaps, to undo it all and align the business of transparency entirely to the right to information rather than the OSA.

Jun 24 , 2006


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