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Right to Information – Master key to good governance

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: dhirendrakrishna@yahoo.co.uk

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