Right to Information – Master key to good governance

The RTI Act amendment: Untenable and illegitimate

Posted by rtiact2005 on September 10, 2006

SUNDAY-SOUTHASIAN: The RTI Act amendment: Untenable and illegitimate
K S Subramanian
-The writer is a former member of the IPS and former Director of the 
Research and Policy Division of the Union Home Ministry

Published in Mainstream July 30 2006    


It was Charles Bettelheim who once said that the Indian bourgeoisie 
is the cleverest bourgeoisie in the world. The recent amendment 
proposed by the central government to keep out of the purview of the 
Right To Information Act, 2005, the so called `secretary-level' (even 
an `under secretary' is a secretary to the government) notes on 
files, is a good example of this inbuilt cleverness of the Indian 
bourgeoisie. This is over and beyond the provision for exemptions 
under section 8 of the Act, which relate to national security and 
other issues. Thus, while on the one hand an Act on the Right to 
Information is enacted to please the public, on the other hand 
efforts are mounted to clip its wings to cover up the secret and ugly 
underbelly of the State.   

Large areas of democratic political activity get treated as `secret' 
and `top secret' since `national security' is a catchall concept.  In 
the 1980's, the Intelligence Bureau (IB) conducted surveillance on 
President Zail Singh, who was alleged to have links with elements in 
the Sikh movement in Punjab. Similar surveillance was conducted over 
a leader of the ruling Congress party as he was felt to have become a 
political threat to its then supreme leader. The former Defence 
Minister Jagjivan Ram was placed under watch since he displayed prime 
ministerial ambitions. These are routine political activities in a 
raucous and fractious democracy. Why should not such political 
surveillance by the Intelligence Bureau (IB), which is different from 
its legitimate tasks in dealing with the subjects of counter-
Intelligence, espionage, sabotage and terrorism, be brought under the 
purview of the RTI Act? 

Secretary level notes on files are dime a dozen in the government of 
India. Why should protection be afforded to them under the RT I Act?  
An amendment of the Act to that end is a betrayal of the democratic 
pretensions of the Indian State. From the 1960's to the 1980s' the 
Union Home Ministry's Research and Policy (R&P) Division produced 
several reports on agrarian tensions, communal violence, student 
unrest, Naxalite activities and so on. Many of these reports were 
classified for no legitimate reason and were thus not available to 
the public.   

The IB is the main reporting agency of the Union Home Ministry and it 
has a Pavlovian reflex about anything remotely connected with the 
communist movement although the communist movement can no longer be 
perceived to be a security threat to the Indian State even if such a 
threat might be said to have existed during the survival of the 
Soviet union. Naxalite violence is a particular bugbear. The 
Naxalites in many states are mainly demanding enforcement of minimum 
wages, protection of civil rights and the dignity of women and the 
proper implementation of rural development policies and programs for 
the scheduled castes and tribes.  The classification of the reports 
on Naxalite activities only help protect the police who often indulge 
in gross abuse of human rights of the poor and give false reports on 
the number of deaths in police `encounters'. In a series of violent 
incidents in the central districts of Bihar in 1981, both the state 
police agencies and the Central IB reported the number persons killed 
in police actions against Naxalites to be 12 persons, all of whom 
were reported to be `Naxalites'. However, the chief secretary of the 
state, who attended a meeting later in the Union Home Ministry, 
admitted that the numbers of persons killed in police `encounters' 
was nearly 60 and not just 12 as reported by the local police and the 
IB in league with each other to protect the police. Not one of them, 
he stated, was a `Naxalite'! The minutes of the meeting at which this 
admission was made were classified as `top secret'! To what purpose?  
To protect the morale of the state police and protect the DM and SP 
of the district from suspension and prosecution? Such instances can 
be multiplied. 

There is no earthly justification for protecting the ugly facts about 
administrative and police behaviour at the cutting edge level from 
public scrutiny and action. The only conceivable reason for doing so 
would perhaps be the fact that the administration is unable to 
successfully implement development programmes and schemes for the 
poor in a fair and legal manner to meet the increasing political 
awareness and consciousness of the people over their human, legal and 
social rights under the Constitution and general and special laws of 
the land.          

The post-colonial Indian State must reform itself if it wants to 
retain a degree of legitimacy and credibility in the eyes of the 
Indian public. Politicians in power have a special responsibility to 
bring far reaching administrative and police reforms. The recent 
government move in setting up the Police Act Drafting Committee 
(PADC) to revise the Police Act of 1861 is cold comfort in the face 
of the massive human rights violations by the police during the 
genocide in Gujarat 2002, the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, 
the Bombay killings of 1992-93 and the anti-Sikh carnage of 1984, 
which underline the need for fundamental police reforms. Further, the 
PADC does not include a single woman in the context of the increasing 
violence against women reported by official agencies themselves. Why 
cannot the proceedings of the PADC be made available to the public 
under the RTI Act? 

(The writer is a former member of the IPS and former Director of the 
Research and Policy Division of the Union Home Ministry) 
Email: kadayam39@hotmail.com

2 Responses to “The RTI Act amendment: Untenable and illegitimate”

  1. col dr ramesh wasudeo said

    i am surprized that in the analysis, most important and obvious reason to shield file notings is missing.

    file notings from honest officers is no problem at all. no one can hold them responsible. i refuse to believe that bureaucrats make tainted file notings on their own.

    real reason is that the politicians have final say in the matter and many a times, their orders are against the notings of junior bureaucrats.

    if file notings are made public, the risk is either on minister or politician or corrupt bureaucrtas.

    political masters want to protect bureaucrats in order to protect themselves. file notings can pin point responsibility and so the buraucrats will refuse to make notings as per dictat of corrupt ministers. that is the hidden agenda.


  2. col dr ramesh wasudeo said

    preamble to RTI Act talks of;

    1. transparency &
    2. accountability in the working of every public authority
    3. democracy requires informed citizenry and transparency of information and also
    4. to contain corruption and to hold
    5. governments and their instrumentalities accountable to the governed.

    are these acid tests being applied to recent proposed amendments?


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