Right to Information – Master key to good governance

Archive for the ‘About RTI’ Category

Supreme Court in State of UP vs Raj Narain in 1975 –

Posted by rtiact2005 on June 25, 2006

“In a government of responsibility like ours where the agents of the public must be responsible for the conduct there can be but a few secrets. The people of this country have a right to know every public act, everything that is done in a public way by their public functionaries. They are entitled to know the particulars of every public transaction in all its bearings.”

Supreme Court in State of UP vs Raj Narain in 1975

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RTI Act 2005: IT’S OUR RIGHT. An inalienable right has been conferred on citizens.

Posted by rtiact2005 on June 21, 2006

The legislative intent is clear; we are entitled to know how our money is spent. The onus is on us to make the Act work.

In effect, therefore, the right conferred on the citizen is an exhaustive one. It allows him to assess and examine every government decision, to study the reasons recorded by the government for taking a particular step, and to utilise information so gathered to ensure that government acts in a transparent and just manner.

Indeed, the preamble to the Act puts it well when it says, "democracy requires an informed citizenry and transparency of information" and adds these "are vital to its functioning and also to contain corruption and to hold Governments and their instrumentalities accountable to the governed".

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The Right to Deny Information

Posted by rtiact2005 on June 17, 2006

The Right to Deny Information

The Central Information Commission has been a big disappointment so far. Mihir Srivastava examines the chaos and mismanagement that characterise its functioning

Power to the People: The RTI Act aims to make government agencies accountable


The CIC received 216 applications in the last four months, and so far, its four commissioners, with a support staff of 18, have managed to clear only 10 cases

Four months after the Right to Information Act (RTI) came into force, the Central Information Commission (CIC) set up to implement it has managed to clear just 10 cases.

NGOs and individuals who have sought the CIC’s help to access government information feel that, so far, the whole exercise has been a non-starter. “CIC is an administrative mess. It is in a state of non-functioning,” claims Arvind Kejriwal of the Delhi-based NGO, Parivartan, which campaigns for transparent and accountable governance.

Facts support Kejriwal’s contention. The CIC received 216 applications in the last four months, and so far, its four commissioners with their support staff of 18, have managed to clear only 10 cases. By contrast, the Public Grievance Commission, which performs the same role in Delhi, and draws its power from the Delhi Right to Information Act of 2001, has decided on 214 appeals between October 1, 2005 and February 15, 2006. It has just one member, with a support staff of six, who deals with RTI applications only on a part-time basis. “If CIC is going to function at this dismal pace, applications are going to pile up, there will be a long waiting period (and), the efficacy of CIC as a supervising body will be severely undermined,” says Kejriwal.

In fact, there have been major administrative lapses in the way the CIC has been going about its work. “I was not getting response to the complaint I filed with CIC, and there was no clear word from the staff on the status of my complaint. So I decided to use the RTI Act to seek the list of all the applications and complaints received by the CIC,” says Manish Sisodia, an RTI activist.

The list given to Sisodia came with a rider: “While every attempt has been made to include all applications, there is possibility of overlooking application and complaints made by e-mail.” The obvious question here is whether a complaint sent by e-mail will be considered by the CIC.

As a subsequent check revealed, a number of filed applications were not in Sisodia’s list — including three filed by Arvind Kejriwal, and one each by Shekhar Singh and Madhu Bhaduri. None of these applications was e-mailed — each one was submitted in person. “It is a serious situation if the CIC is not able to keep a record of complaints and application it has received,” says Kejriwal. “My application could not be traced, it has been lost by the CIC.”

“There is still no system and procedure in place. There is no clear word from the commission as to where the application will be registered, when the notice will be sent, and when the hearing will take place,” complains Shekhar Singh, convener of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI), which helped draft the RTI Bill.

The selection of the information commissioners has also not been done according to the criteria specified by the Act, at least not in spirit. According to the RTI Act: “(the) Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners shall be persons of eminence in public life with wide knowledge and experience in law, science and technology, social service, management, journalism, mass media or administration and governance.” But, four of the five information commissioners, including the CIC, are retired bureaucrats. Former chief secretaries of the respective states head most sics. “There is conflict of interest involved in appointing retired bureaucrats as information commissioners,” says Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan.

Not There Yet: Aruna Roy at an RTI campaign


The CIC did not inform Bhaduri when her application was going to be heard on time, and passed its order without giving her a chance to make her case

“In the original Bill, we had sought a retired high court judge to head the CIC and sics. The Chief Justice of India was to be part of the appointment committee, along with the prime minister and leader of the opposition. This was shot down by the government in the final draft,” says Singh. “The RTI Act is (about fostering) a new mindset in the way people interact with the government. But if you appoint erstwhile bureaucrats, who essentially have the same dna, as information commissioners, the whole objective gets defeated,” argues Madhu Bhaduri, a right to information activist who is a retired bureaucrat herself. Bhaduri, served in the Indian Foreign Service for 30 years plus, and happens to be a batchmate of Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah.

“The only advantage of having bureaucrats as commissioners is that they can put to use their rich experience in government in putting in place procedures and practices,” says Singh. Kejriwal, however, is pessimistic. “But that too has not happened. I see it as a bureaucratic conspiracy to dislodge this Act,” he says.

It is evident that the bureaucratic apathy has seeped into the CIC’s functioning. The second decision delivered by the commission clearly shows shows that it is out of its depth.

The decision was on a complaint filed by Madhu Bhaduri on December 16, 2005, against the Delhi Development Authority (DDA).

The CIC did not inform Bhaduri on time when her application was going to be heard, and passed its order ex-parte. “I was not informed about the date of hearing. In fact, I was told by a friend that the order had already been passed and was posted on the CIC website. They (CIC) did not think it necessary to give me a hearing before deciding the matter, basing it entirely on the submission made by DDA. I received the copy of the order only 10 days later,” says Bhaduri.

But that is not all. One of Bhaduri’s complaints against DDA concerned the organisation’s refusal to accept any request for information under the RTI Act unless it was filled out in a form issued by DDA for the purpose. In a review of her petition, the CIC agreed that the RTI Act does not mandate that a request for seeking any information from a government organisation has to be made out in a prescribed form. It can just as well be written down on a plain sheet. But, at the same time, the CIC held that DDA or any other government body was free to issue forms for the purpose.

Bhaduri points out that this is clearly an instance of a muddled ruling. “What is the point then in introducing a form, allowing each organisation to have its own form, and create another bureaucratic hurdle?” she asks.

The applicants also complain that that the commissioners favour government agencies. CIC Wajahat Habibullah explains the problems in the CIC’s functioning, as teething troubles and promises that all will be in order soon. (see interview) Looking at the first four months, he has his work cut out for him.

Mar 11 , 2006

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RTI New tool to fight red tape, corruption

Posted by rtiact2005 on June 17, 2006

New tool to fight red tape, corruption

India's freedom of information act is allowing ordinary citizens to clear streets and fight graft.By Anuj Chopra | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

BOMBAY – Bhaskar Prabhu is neither a powerful bureaucrat, nor an influential politician. Yet this civilian activist, working to clear a path for pedestrians in the Dadar area of central Bombay, has stopped vendors with unlicensed stalls from blocking public streets and walkways.All he had to do was to use the Maharashtra Right to Information Act to demand a list of licensed stalls from the civic authorities. As soon as the list was furnished to him, he took the authorities head-on and demanded action against stalls that weren't on the list. Now illegal stalls are routinely cleared out by civil authorities, handing back Dadar's footpaths and sidewalks to the walking public.

"It would've been unthinkable to expect authorities to take such swift action if it weren't for this act," Mr. Prabhu says.

A similar version of this act called the Right to Information (RTI) Act came into force nationwide last month, placing India among 55 other countries to have "freedom of information" legislation. In a country where public information has always been guarded behind an iron veil of secrecy, RTI is the most important legislation since independence, say activists, because it can lead to transparency and accountability in governance.

"For the first time since India's independence from the British, ordinary people have the right to scrutinize performance of public officials and hold them answerable for their actions that they professedly take on behalf of people. This is the most powerful right ordinary Indians have at their disposal after the right to vote," says Prabhu.

Under the act, ordinary citizens can access records, documents, e-mails, circulars, and any other information held by public authority – including central and state governments, local bodies, and nongovernmental organizations. This information is to be provided free of cost for those living below the poverty line, and with a nominal fee for others.

Weapon against corruptionMany say that this legislation could prove to be the best antidote to corruption – endemic in a country that ranks 88th among 158 countries, according to the latest Transparency International Report.

In September, for example, activists used the Maharashtra state law to unearth gross irregularities in the country's Employment Guarantee Scheme in the Satara district of Maharashtra. As they procured employment records through the information act, they found that officials were siphoning off funds meant for the poor.

"RTI is a new pillar of our democracy," says Shailesh Gandhi, an RTI activist. "Corruption of this kind is routine in India, and is often brushed under the carpet. RTI is effective in exposing it."

The act is also being used to fight the indifference and petulance found within the ranks of India's vast bureaucracy. Shailesh Gandhi remembers how a poor man got his water connection in his home in Bombay by using RTI. As the municipal authorities wriggled out of responsibility by blaming the traffic department for not letting them dig a road to provide a connection, the man, Mr. Gandhi says, used RTI to inquire if that were the case. "It turned out the traffic department had no problem with it, and so the man had to be given a water connection," Gandhi says.

The new legislation, however, does include some key caveats. Information related to security, strategic, scientific, or economic interests are strictly off limits for citizens.

The act is also not enforced in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, where activists claim human rights violations by security forces are high.

Stonewalling from officialdomAnd in some parts of India, red tape can make getting information out an enervating exercise.

"The system still isn't completely in place," says Kavita Srivastava from People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) in Jaipur. Her colleague, Ravi Prakash, has experienced resistance from public information officers (PIOs) appointed to disseminate information. "Getting information is still cumbersome. We're often made to run from one PIO to another," he says.

Activists say the move to appoint serving or retired bureaucrats as information commissioners defeats the purpose of the new law, as they have a tendency to hold or delay the dissemination of information. Bureaucrats in September blanched at having government office memoranda known as file notings accessible to the public. File notings track the responses of different departments and officials, and identify who did what when, and why.

India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, too, is against the idea of including file notings within the purview of the RTI. "Bureaucrats need autonomy to make decisions in private," he said last month.

But as activists point out, file notings fall squarely under the information law, and blocking access would be illegal.

"Bureaucrats argue that if file notings are disclosed, then officers will not express their opinions freely and honestly. Honestly that's rubbish. The real effort is to shield those who tend to write notes that are otherwise wrong or illegal," says Shekhar Singh of the National Campaign for People's Right to Information.

Suresh Joshi, the Information Commissioner in Bombay, assures file notings will be disclosed if demanded, and there will be a check on information officers who try to shield information.

What should keep RTI effective, he says, is the stringent penalty that can be imposed on information officers for unjustifiably holding information – about $5.50 per day up to a maximum limit of nearly $550. PIOs are also bound by the act to collect and deliver information within 30 calendar days. For information related to life and liberation, it must be handed out within 48 hours.

While the government has placed advertisements in national newspapers to educate citizens about the new law, Mr. Joshi is concerned that there isn't enough awareness in all sections of the country.

"People from rural India especially don't know much about the act," he says. "Someone called me the other day to find out if I could find him a suitable bride," he laughs.

Full HTML version of this story which may include photos, graphics, and related links

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RTI Act 2005, an inalienable right has been conferred on citizens. IT’S OUR RIGHT. Let us Use it.

Posted by rtiact2005 on June 14, 2006

RTI Act 2005 came into force on the 12th October, 2005.

RTI Act: http://persmin.nic.in/RTI/WelcomeRTI.htm  

GOI Information Service Portal: http://rti.nic.in/  

IT'S OUR RIGHT. An inalienable right has been conferred on citizens.

`Right to Information Act will empower common people'

The legislative intent is clear; we are entitled to know how our money is spent. The onus is on us to make the Act work.

In effect, therefore, the right conferred on the citizen is an exhaustive one. It allows him to assess and examine every government decision, to study the reasons recorded by the government for taking a particular step, and to utilise information so gathered to ensure that government acts in a transparent and just manner.

Indeed, the preamble to the Act puts it well when it says, "democracy requires an informed citizenry and transparency of information" and adds these "are vital to its functioning and also to contain corruption and to hold Governments and their instrumentalities accountable to the governed".

INDIA RTI Group Email Addresses

Related Link: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/INDIARTI
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RTI Portal – How IT empowers people – Right to Information Act, 2005 mandates information on demand to the citizens of India

Posted by rtiact2005 on June 14, 2006


RTI Portal –  http://rti.gov.in
NIC created the RTI Portal – http://rti.gov.in ,  in an attempt to provide a portal gateway for the citizens to search for information published by various government departments on their websites.

The portal is meant to be a central repository of information where citizens can access information of any government organization through a user-friendly search engine. This is expected to ensure a proactive and fast flow of information.
As of now, the portal is not yet full-fledged. On-line uploading of the documents by various central / state governments/departments are in progress. The government organisations have to contact NIC for a user ID to upload information on to the portal. It was at the behest of the Ministry of Personnel that NIC initiated the ICT support for RTI Act.

The support from NIC included:
• Setting up of a specialized website ( http://rti.gov.in ) for proactive disclosure of documents of various public authorities under central & state governments.
• Development of portal service for uploading of the documents by the concerned public authorities
• Directory service of public authorities, public information officers, appellate authorities, chief information commissions etc.
• User friendly search engines
• Workflow application for monitoring of status of requests, appeals, complaints etc.
• Repository of the requests that have already been answered in a way that is searchable by the citizens. (Source: http://www.digitalopportunity.org/article/view/125253/1/1088)

NIC has completed the creation of RTI website. Over 300 departments have uploaded their documents. A repository of public information officers of various departments has also been built, to help the citizens to approach them for request for information. However, a lot more effort has to be put in for the portal to be a well-equipped central repository of information.

The National eGovernance Plan (NeGP) has planned over 100,000 common service centres to serve the citizens. Citizens can avail all central and state e-governance services as well as digitized government information on the Internet. The citizen information centers in several states also serve the information needs of the citizens.

This is just the beginning. For the law to be truly effective and ICT to be used extensively to enable the law, there should be an active participation from the community at large, including government, bureaucracy, NGOs, media, lawyer community and citizens.


How IT empowers people
ICT can help in awareness creation as well as ensure the speedy delivery of the information sought by citizens, says Kavitha Alexis
Thursday, June 01, 2006

Right to Information Act, 2005 mandates information on demand to the citizens of India.. The extensive use of the Right to Information Act by the citizens is imperative for the success of the Act which could bring in a positive change in the current democratic set up of the country.

However, in the present scenario, effective implementation of the Act has a major impediment in the form of lack of awareness among officials and citizens. Unless both the segments are sensitized enough about the Act, it will just remain in the papers.

The efforts on this front from government, media, NGOs and lawyers can be boosted by the effective deployment of Information Communication Technlogy (ICT) tools. ICT can help in awareness creation as well as ensure the speedy delivery of the information sought by citizens.

The chapter II – 4 (1-a) of RTI Act specifies the need to computerize department records and the use of internet to disseminate information to the people. “Every public authority shall maintain all its records duly catalogued and indexed in a manner and the form which facilitates the right to information under this Act and ensure that all records that are appropriate to be computerised are, within a reasonable time and subject to availability of resources, computerised and connected through a network all over the country on different systems so that access to such records is facilitated”.

ICT as an enabler
This is the age of Internet, where any information is available on our fingertips. So, it becomes all the more important that we use ICT to exercise our information rights, which can bring about a positive change in our lives and our governance systems. A proper information management system in the government departments is required to strengthen the information flow.

ICT can be used to:
· Digitise and document all the manual records and archives
· Create a content repository to store all the records (Eg: Web Portal)
· Create information kiosks for citizens to access the stored information

Based on this, the central and state government departments are working towards digitizing all records and publishing relevant information of each department on their respective websites.

Yet another major initiative on this front is the RTI Portal initiated by National Informatics Centre.

Posted in About RTI, RTI Portal | 2 Comments »

RTI Frequently Asked Questions

Posted by rtiact2005 on June 14, 2006

RTI Frequently Asked Questions

  • What information can I demand from the Government?
  • What does Right to Information mean?
  • Who are covered under the RTI?
  • How can I apply for RTI application?
  • When did it come into force?
  • Posted in About RTI, RTI FAQ's | 13 Comments »

    Right to Information

    Posted by rtiact2005 on June 12, 2006

    Right to Information

    By P.Kharel

    Professionalisation diversification and specialization are essential elements for an effective communications process in its varied aspects. We cannot imagine life without communication in one form or the other. There should be adequate communication policy and programmes tailored to meet the needs of a democratic society to function effectively in its endeavours for a better quality of life. Article 16 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal, 1990, guarantees the right to information, which inherently entails also duty to inform the public.

    Great Expectations

    Many countries have been emphasizing a great deal on effective communication. Democratic societies are especially keen in finding and refining mechanisms for informing the public to the maximum extent possible in terms of content, speed of the message delivery and the extent of information thus provided. The Constitution of Nepal did raise great expectations since it places considerable emphasis on freedom of expression and right to information. In fact, Nepal is the first country in the whole of South Asia to constitutionally guarantee the right to information. And yet, even twelve years after the new Constitution was promulgated, an adequate mechanism has not yet been developed to ensure dissemination of information sought by Nepalese citizens.

    Officials at public institutions have been pleading that they do not know what information to give and what to withhold. In reality, they have developed a habit of preferring to keep silent. If persistently pressed for answers, they resort to generalities or touch upon only the surface of the issue raised or they simply deny knowledge of certain developments. They have been able to do this and get away with it. On the question of the right to information, the Constitution of Nepal is far more explicit than many other countries with a long tradition of democratic practices.

    Clearly, there is an urgent need for a right to information Act in Nepal so that the constitutional guarantee in this respect is respected in practice. There was an effort on a right to information bill in the past but the draft came in for vehement criticism and was quickly withdrawn. When and how, and in what shape and content a new bill will be introduced in parliament is not definite. The longer the delay the greater the confusion and uncertainty.

    In recent years, fresh efforts were made to introduce a bill pertaining to right to information. The Federation of Nepalese Journalists even took the initiative of making a draft for the same and handed it over to the minister of information and Communication.

    Popular participation can be enlisted on a large scale only if people are well informed. In a modern democracy, good governance is essential. Among the chief characteristics of good governance are transparency and accountability, elements that can be best ensured only when information is available abundantly and as speedily as possible. Therein rests the significance of the right to information. Flow of information from different channels of communication, including the news media, can help promote a culture of responsibility, accountability and credibility at decision-making levels. Public institution need to the made to provide information sought by citizens at the earliest possible. The resultant information flow through the news media and other forums can help members of society monitor the decisions and developments in various sectors. In this regard, the mass media can play a vital role. However, partisanship in the media continues to affect their credibility to a large extent.

    The electronic media have, indeed, contributed greatly in making the world smaller by the speed with which they collect and disseminate information to large audiences. Dramatic changes have, thus, occurred in most democratic countries. There is pluralism in not only the print media but also in the electronic media. The choices available are extensive and the services professional and affordable. Right to information means pluralism in the broadcast media as well, i. e. the broadcast media in the private sector should also be allowed to inform the public with their own news bulletins and current affairs programmes.
    In sum, there is a need for drafting a new and comprehensive communication policy. The present day is considered the age of information and communication. Many countries have achieved a high degree of success on this score while many more are moving towards obtaining similar success. Nepal should not lag behind and should narrow the gap between the information-rich and information-poor.

    (Based on an article published in The Rising Nepal on 11 October 2000)

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    Right to Information Sans Intimidation

    Posted by rtiact2005 on June 12, 2006

    Right to Information Sans Intimidation

    By: V.Sundaram, IAS
    December 30, 2005


    Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors, must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives. A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy or perhaps both. — James MadisonThe NDA Government enacted The Freedom of Information Act in 2002. It was adopted in January 2003 but never went into force. The recent Right to Information Act was approved by the Parliament and signed by the President in June 2005 and went into effect in October 2005. It replaces the Freedom of Information Act, 2002. The main objective of this Act is to provide for freedom to every citizen to secure access to information under the control of public authorities, consistent with public interest, in order to promote openness, transparency and accountability in administration and in relation to matters connected therewith or incidental thereto. Under the Act, all Indian citizens have a right to ask for information from central and state public authorities. The public authority must respond in thirty days. An independent Information Commission has been created for the nation and all the States are following suit.

    During British Raj The Official Secrets Act was passed in 1923 mainly as a defence mechanism against the rising tide of nationalism initiated by Mahatma Gandhi from 1917. No citizen had any access to official information and every citizen was distrusted by the British Government. This tradition was not only maintained but enriched by the Congress Party after independence.

    Though we got our independence in 1947, the Congress Party and the Congress Government were never interested in educating the public or in making it possible for the common people to have access to information relating to the functions, policies and programmes of Government Departments. Jawaharlal Nehru who wrote eloquently against suppression of civil liberties in India during British Rule in his Autobiography in the middle 1930s, conveniently ignored the fundamental fact that his hero Stalin was during the same period killing thousands of innocent people in Russia every day under the subterfuge of protecting the Socialist Soviet State against the so-called ‘Revisionists’ and ‘Reactionaries’. Stalin’s ‘Purges’ did not emotionally affect Nehru. No wonder therefore that he had contempt for civil liberties and when he became Prime Minister of independent India on August 15, 1947, he was not interested at all in introducing any legislation for giving free information to the public on public authorities and Government as a whole.

    Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated by Nathuram Godse on 30th January 1948. The Congress Government and the Congress party let loose a reign of terror against the R.S.S. and brought up the charge that R.S.S. was responsible for the murder of Mahatma Gandhi. The R.S.S. was banned illegally. Later the Court of Law held that R.S.S. was in no way responsible for the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi and the illegal and immoral ban on R.S.S. was removed in 1950. The day on which Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated in New Delhi, thousands of innocent school and college students in different cities and small towns in India were taken into custody by the police. This was a dark chapter in our nation’s history. This record was put to shame by the misdeeds of Indira Gandhi Government, ably masterminded by her son Sanjay Gandhi who functioned as the de facto Prime Minister during the emergency. Secrecy and suppression became the watch words of Indira Gandhi Government.

    In recent years, there has been an ever growing global trend towards recognition of the right to information by countries, intergovernmental organisations, civil society and the people. The right to information has been recognised as a fundamental human right, which upholds the inherent dignity of all human beings. The right to information forms the crucial bedrock of participatory democracy—it is essential to ensure accountability, transparency and good governance.

    It goes to the credit of NDA Government that they passed The Freedom of Information Act, 2002. This was a revolutionary step conferring on every Indian citizen the fundamental right to demand and get information from Government, Governmental agencies and public authorities.

    The greater the access of the citizens to information, the greater will be the responsiveness of government to community needs. Alternatively, the greater the restrictions that are placed on access, the greater will be the feelings of `powerlessness`, ‘helplessness’, ‘impotence’ and `alienation`. Without information, people cannot adequately exercise their rights as citizens or make informed choices. The unrestricted and free flow of information to the common citizens in India were historically restricted by the following factors:

    a. The regulatory statutory framework which includes several pieces of restrictive legislation, such as the Official Secrets Act, 1923;
    b. the inherited colonial culture of secrecy and arrogance within the bureaucracy which was later cemented by the callous attitude of Nehru and the authoritarianism of Indira Gandhi; and
    c. the low levels of literacy and awareness of fundamental rights among India`s teeming millions—the original monopolistic stock-in-trade of the Congress party and later shared by all the other political parties as a perennial commonwealth.

    The real tragedy is that our Constitution makers included ‘the right to information’ as part of the Constitutional guarantees relating to freedom of speech and _expression. This right was later upheld by the Supreme Court in one of its landmark orders relating to governmental control over newsprint and illegal bans on the distribution of newspapers. The successive Congress Governments showed indivisible contempt towards the Supreme Court on the one hand and the common people of India on the other. Government of India became the private property of the Nehru family. The name ‘Gandhi’ also became part of their private estate. Though Mahatma Gandhi is the father of the nation, he held no official office in independent India. None of his children occupied any official position in the Government of India. The most poignant aspect is that his rightful name ‘Gandhi’ was snatched by another family on account of the quirks of Indian politics manoeuvred and masterminded by the Nehru clam. The original usurper was Feroze Khan who became Feroze Gandhi who in turn lent his name to Indira Gandhi. Today it has descended to an Indian Made Foreign Leader (IMFL).

    The Supreme Court of India and all the High Courts in several decisions have upheld clearly the public’s right to freedom of information, or the public`s right to know, as embedded in the provisions guaranteeing fundamental rights in the Constitution. Various Indian laws provide for the right to access information in specific contexts. Section 76 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, contains what has been termed a `Freedom of Information Act in embryonic form`. This provision requires public officials to provide copies of public documents to anyone who has a right to inspect them.

    The National Advisory Counsel (NAC) had specifically included “File Notings” in the definition of information. But “File Notings” is conspicuous by its omission in the definition of information in the new ‘Right to Information Act, 2005’ (RTI). The word ‘File’ finds its place in the definition of ‘Record’ in the Act and it was expected that since the Act states that ‘Record’ includes “Document, Manuscript and File”, access to “File Notings” will be possible under the Act. But, the Government of India seems to have developed a cold feet and is now wanting to water down the definition of ‘File Notings’ through a new amendment as is clear from the answer given to a Parliamentary Question tabled in the Rajya Sabha on December 8, 2005. The answer says that “substantive file notings on certain aspects relating to social and development issues may be disclosed”. This clearly shows the intention of UPA Government to again conceal, hide, sidetrack, camouflage and do everything possible to prevent free flow of information to the common man.

    I suspect not without basis that several corrupt bureaucrats who are having conjugal relations with corrupt UPA politicians are tremendously worried about the possibility of their partisan views expressed in ‘File Notings’ reaching the public and becoming matters of public dispute, public controversy and finally judicial review. I have myself been a civil servant in the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) for 29 years. I can testify from my experience that an honest civil servant will never be deterred from expressing his views frankly on the file because of fear of disclosure of such information. Nor will he be worried about disclosures. Unscrupulous and dishonest bureaucrats in absolute majority in the minority UPA Government may be apprehensive about such disclosures. But all the citizens in India should feel tremendously happy that The Right To Information Act (RTI) has already started having its positive and beneficial impact.

    Eternal vigilance is the price of individual liberty. What then is the spirit of liberty? I cannot define it. I can only give you an article of my faith. The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right. The spirit of liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the minds of other men and women. The spirit of liberty is the spirit which weighs their interest alongside its own without bios. The spirit of liberty remembers that not even a sparrow falls to earth unheeded or unheard. The spirit of liberty is the spirit of Him who, more than 2000 years ago, taught mankind that lesson it has never learned, but has never quite forgotten—that there may be a kingdom where the least shall be heard and considered side by side with the greatest. To conclude in the famous words of Lord Acton: “Liberty is not a means to a higher political end. It is itself the highest political end”.

    V.Sundaram, IAS

    Posted in About RTI | 4 Comments »