Right to Information – Master key to good governance

Trappings vs substance

Posted by rtiact2005 on October 18, 2006

Trappings vs substance
Business Standard / New Delhi October 17, 2006
The fact that the convention to mark one year of the Right to Information Act was inaugurated by the President and the Prime Minister delivered the valedictory address indicates that at least in form the Act and its working are part of the official agenda. However, the fact that the website of the ministry of personnel continues to declare that “file notings” do not come under the Act highlights the long road ahead before it can be effectively used to improve governance. The ministry has responded to the chief information commissioner on notings by stating, along with legal advice, that the order has to be passed by all the commissioners sitting together. If this is the only way in which the commission could issue orders then hundreds of them already issued by one or two commissioners together would lose their standing. The Prime Minister has backed the Act with strong words but he is yet to take action to stop bureaucratic manoeuvres ingeniously contrived to prevent it from becoming effective.
Civil society groups which have played a key role in bringing the Act into being are in particular worried about the implication of two remarks by Dr Manmohan Singh. They are uncertain if his warning against “professional middlemen” getting involved in trying to work the Act can also come to include NGOs helping the poor and the uninitiated in seeking redress under the law. They are also intrigued by his comment that the Act should not end up creating “adversarial relationships” between different stakeholders. If the Act is to be used as a weapon against power brokers and the corrupt, then the latter can hardly be expected to give up without a fight. The Act can hardly be worked in the spirit of a tea party.
Serious conflicts are bound to emerge when the Act begins to make a serious difference. Those actively monitoring its working are enthused by the fact that there is such a groundswell of support for it. People are aggressively coming forward to use the Act and a significant constituency for it has grown up in a single year. But its proponents are perturbed by the huge backlog that is emerging and fear that before long a three- to four- year wait for a final decision on an application may become routine. There are two ways of preventing this. One is to ensure that information which can be easily accessed should be delivered promptly and the one-month limit should apply only to information not readily available. The other requirement is for the information commissions to give up their present hesitation to impose penalty on public information officers who do not deliver. If there is no credible sanction against default then things will not get done. Studies also indicate that progress has been slow in putting more information in the public domain, which is directed by the Act. Doing this with the help of technology will allow people to get information without having to apply under the Act. These are clearly early days for the Act as not more than a handful of applications have gone up to the high courts. It is there the final battles have to be fought and the attitude of the courts will be critical in determining if the Act means something or not.

2 Responses to “Trappings vs substance”

  1. Ramchand said

    As in many other cases of offence/crime, there is aprovision od double punishment in the shape of imprisonment and p\monetary penalty, in the default cases under the RTI, the PIO who defaults in not supplying or supplying inaccurate/misleading information must be inflicted with both punisments. This will create a fear phycosis in the minds of those who wilfully avoid furnishing the information

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