Who is responsible for ignoring implementation of RTI Act?
Posted by rtiact2005 on October 17, 2006
Who is responsible for ignoring implementation of RTI Act?
OPEN LETTER TO SHRI WAJAHAT HABIBULLAH Dear Shri Habibullah, 1.Your patience and tact in dealing with the campaign by RTI Activists aimed at "sacking" you was quite admirable. Same group of activists had initiated an on-line campaign to the President of India against you. They believe that you are personally responsible for non-implementation of RTI. Campaign was aimed at getting maximum media exposure. In my opinion, a clearer understanding of the complexities in implementation of RTI Act in the public administration system in India is required, to fix responsibility for its non-implementation. 2. Implementation is the primary responsibility of public authorities under the Central and State Governments. CIC /SICs are the Appellate Authorities and oversee the implementation of RTI Act by the executive authorities, to submit their report to Parliament / State Legislatures. Monitoring and reporting duties of CIC / SICs are identical to the Audit Report of C&AG. Traditionally, C&AG does not undertake executive responsibilities, as it would interfere with his independence as an auditor. 3. Your critics are putting the entire blame for non-implementation on you, ignoring the provisions of RTI Act, which define your role. This aspect was also overlooked in the national convention. It may be your personal decency that you did not emphasize upon the failure of executive, to ward off the personal criticism levied on you. 4. Main issues relating implementation pertain to Appropriate Government and Public Authority. CIC and SICs have peripheral role of monitoring and reporting to Parliament / State Legislature. If RTI Act is implemented in letter and spirit, it constitutes a major administrative reform, leading to higher degree of public accountability, transparency and quicker response to the aspiration of the people. Only the public authorities can carry out such administrative changes. In our administrative set-up, CIC / SICs will not be able to make any significant contribution in following aspects of implementation, except making recommendations to Government and highlighting the non-implementation in their reports: q Changes in record keeping by public authorities u/s 4(1)(a), to make information readily accessible to the citizens. q Suo moto disclosure of information needed by citizens, to avoid resort to applications under RTI Act. q Appointment of CPIO/SPIO and publicity regarding their appointment. q Departmental instructions by each public authority to facilitate the work of CPIO/SPIO, so that each official understands his responsibilities under the RTI Act. q Educational programs under section 25 are the responsibility of the Central and State Government. This is a huge task, which cannot be performed without using entire administrative machinery available with the Government, including the educational institutions. This also requires well-planned schemes and funding by the Government. q Major stumbling block is the negative attitude of the officials towards the RTI Act, who are likely to resist enhanced pubic accountability and transparency. 4. During the first year of implementation, Central and State Governments have not been able to fulfill all these legal obligations. Proposed amendments to Section 18 of RTI Act seems to be an attempt to pass on the entire responsibility of implementation to Central Information Commission / State Information Commissions. They do not have the requisite administrative and financial resources, at there command. If this amendment to TI Act were approved by the Parliament, public authorities would continue to ignore their duties regarding implementation. 5. Whereas the RTI Activists are very vociferous about "file notings" aspect of the amendments, they have not made adequate noise about the far-reaching consequences of amending section 18. These are complex administrative issues, which were not considered in the "National Convention on One Year of RTI". 6. In my opinion CIC and SICs should bring their administrative limitations to the notice of Central and State Governments. It is essential to emphasize that implementation responsibility of the Appropriate Government/ Public Authorities, cannot be imposed on them. On the other hand, there is a need for an effective audit mechanism to enable CIC / SICs to conduct an independent review and evaluate the implementation of RTI Act by the Public Authorities. Report by CIC / SICs to Parliament / State Legislature should not totally rely upon the information given by the Government, without independent audit scrutiny. 7. RTI Activists have raised the issue of the "soft approach" of CIC / SICs. Every administrator knows that there are stages where soft approach is much better than the "hard approach." At he initial stages of the learning curve, it is desirable to be soft, one can get harder after a certain stage of learning. Although CIC/ SICs do not have the executive responsibility for implementing the RTI Act, their reports to Parliament / State Legislature would reflect that every one is at the initial stages of learning curve. In view of the Citizen's demand for punishment to CPIO / SPIO in every case of default, there can be a cut-off date for such mechanical imposition of penalty. 8. In the national convention most of the speakers talked about the negative attitude of bureaucracy towards RTI Act, but no worthwhile practical suggestions have emerged. I would suggest that from the year 2007-08 onwards, the Annual Confidential Report of every officer should reflect how he / she has contributed towards implementation of RTI Act, to motivate them to be more responsive towards the citizens. 9. Attitude of an officer towards the public is a realistic indicator of his /her capabilities. Good Officers would (a) Make every possible effort to improve record keeping, (b) Make suo-moto disclose information of public interest to avoid public resort to RTI Act, (c) Use increased public accountability as a tool for administrative reforms, (d) Use disclosure of information under RTI Act as an effective tool of preventive vigilance, (e) Use RTI Act to ward off undue political pressures, (g) Use the implementation of RTI Act as an opportunity for administrative reforms to make their organisations more attuned to the requirements of the citizens. 10. On the other hand Officers of poor administrative ability would deny information to hide their inefficiencies. Corrupt officers would be very reluctant to disclose information, which would expose them. Attitude of an officer towards RTI Act, which imposes greater transparency and public accountability, shows his competence as a public servant. Suitable instructions for adding these aspects in the Annual Confidential Report of Officers may be considered by the Central and State Governments. 11. This open letter to you is a public document. It is being placed on various Internet groups, including the yahoo group "rti4ngo" initiated by me, where several administrative aspects of implementing RTI Act have also been posted. Many RTI Activists may disagree with me, as hey have publicly held you personally responsible for non–implementation of RTI Act. I hope to initiate a public debate regarding these practical administrative issues. Best wishes for the Second Year of RTI, Yours sincerely, Dhirendra Krishna IA&AS (Retired) 17.10.2006 Email: email@example.com