Right to Information – Master key to good governance

Amendment of RTI ACT :: The Shillong Times

Posted by rtiact2005 on August 15, 2006

The Shillong Times
August 14, 2006

Amendment of RTI ACT

The decision to roll back the much-heralded Right to Information Act exposes the Centre’s lack of political will. By denying access to the public to notings made by officials on files, except on matters relating to social and development projects, the government has demonstrated that its mindset still remains conditioned by the Official Secrets Act. The classical ‘one step forward, two steps back’ decision is all the more surprising because the legislation was believed to enjoy the blessings of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who wanted to demonstrate the government’s and the Congress party’s commitment to transparency. Like the rural employment guarantee scheme, the RTI Act was supposed to be some kind of a showpiece for the party. But the pretensions to honesty were short-lived. Predictably, the explanation for the retreat – security considerations and enabling officials to write freely – hasn’t satisfied the government’s critics. As is known, security of the nation has always been a convenient excuse. From the imposition of the Emergency in 1975 to the curtailment of the RTI Act, an explanation of this nature can always be advanced. And the concern for officials may have other reasons than the one put forward. Apart from the flimsiness of the excuses, what the rollback suggests is that the government doesn’t always consider all the consequences before acting. The same lack of forethought was seen in the matter of quotas for the OBCs in higher educational institutions. Ever since Arjun Singh’s pre-emptive move secured Parliament’s approval, the government has been engaged in backtracking with the setting up of the Veerappa Moily committee to examine ways to implement the decision. If the HRD Minister’s political ambition to hog the limelight was behind the quota decision, the amendment of the RTI Act undoubtedly followed pressure from the cagey bureaucrats.

There is little doubt that the exemptions tend to cripple the Act. It is for this reason that supporters of the Act like social activist Aruna Roy and Magsaysay winner Arvind Kejriwal have seen the government’s decision as a betrayal of its original promise. The argument on behalf of the government that access to the notings will inhibit the officials is not wholly credible. After all, their observations are only expected to underline legal and other practical points based on personal knowledge and expertise. If these are honestly articulated, there can be no cause for misgivings. But the objective of the latest decision seems to be to hide any sign of extraneous factors which may have influenced the officials.

Such suspicions may seem unfair at first sight. But the man in the street can be forgiven if he harbours them because his experience tells him that the government’s actions are rarely guided by impartial considerations. There are always hidden factors at work – mainly the interests of politicians and their parties along with those of the criminal Mafiosi. Since it is possible that a close perusal of the file notings by pliant officials can reveal the presence of these elements, the Government may have taken a step which can be interpreted as a protective measure for the guilty. It is noteworthy, however, that the political class as a whole hasn’t been critical. Since all the parties, from the Left to the Right of the political spectrum, manipulate officials when in power to serve their partisan purposes, they have seen the self-serving logic behind the government’s move to ‘kill’ the RTI, as Kejriwal has said.


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