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RTI: No More A Game Changer!








PM Narendra Modi-fnbworld


CIC Vijay Sharma-fnbworld



Free flow of information is a vital prerequisite of a vibrant democracy. The truth is that a government in a robust democracy can hope to survive only if it provides effective governance and is accountable and transparent. An unhindered dissemination of information (RTI) about the acts of the government is a sine qua non to inculcation of all the aforementioned attributes in a government. RTI Act in India was enacted on 15 June 2005 in order to meet these very objectives. It came into operation on 12 October the same year. The information acts have been in force in 57 countries. Sweden was the first country to implement it in 1976.

Further, political scientists in democratic countries are unanimous about the essentials of good governance. First, it must be participatory and should lead to consensus building. Concentration of power in one person or a group of persons is antithesis of good governance. Second, it must ensure accountability, transparency, efficiency and effectiveness of administration. Besides, governance is termed as good only if it is inclusive and equitable. Equally importantly, it must follow the rule of law in both letter and spirit. It has been further established as an incontrovertible fact that ‘good governance’ can be ensured only when there is a ‘free flow of information’.  One cannot live without the other. Last but not least, the ‘right to information’ acts as a perfect antidote to corruption in governance.


In view of this, when Modi government came to power on the promise of good governance, all of us naturally hoped that the RTI Act would be strengthened. But unfortunately, on one pretext or the other many attempts have been made by the authorities during last few months to hinder the flow of information under the Act. 

First, previous Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) Rajiv Mathur, retired in August 2014. The convention was to promote the senior most information commissioner, so that the work of the commission did not suffer. But the present government refused to do so. Instead, it released an advertisement in the media inviting application for the post from the Public. It is reported that a proposal was mooted to expeditiously appoint next CIC much before the retirement of Mathur, but the PMO sat on the file for over a month. Hence the precedent could not be followed.

When new CIC Vijay Sharma was appointed in June 2015, the post had already remained vacant for 9 months. The long delay led to crippling of the working of Central Information Commission. A total of 40051 cases that included 32,351 appeals and 7,520 complaints were pending before the CIC. Naturally, the flow of information slowed down considerably, thereby defeating the purpose of the act.

Second, in many cases, even casual and harmless information is being denied to the applicants. Many government departments seem to be inventing new ways to reject the demand for information on various pretexts. A leading news paper of India sought information from Department of personnel and Administrative reforms which was denied on a frivolous ground that it affected their routine work.

Further, the denial of information could also create new controversies and rumour mongering. Recently one such discussion in the social media is attracting the attention of the people. Sometime ago an old interview of Prime Minister went viral, wherein he was heard saying that he was not much educated person and  that all his post High school qualifications were passed by taking external examinations. An activist allegedly from Gujarat reportedly approached the information officers of the Election Commission and the PMO to know about educational qualifications of the PM. Most of us would agree that there could be nothing wrong if a citizen of this country wants to ascertain the qualifications of a high ranking public figure. The curiosity of the information seeker would have been satisfied at first stage, had he got the appropriate answer to his query.  But surprising, the seemingly routine and harmless information was denied at first as well as at appellate stage. Without doubt, such denials are not conducive to actuating free and healthy debates and discussions among the people, the attributes which are so vital for a vibrant democracy. In fact the PMO would have added to its reputation, if instead of refusing to supply the information, it had made it public suo moto, once the controversy had erupted. 

‘Right to information Act’ is one of the most revolutionary and game changing acts in Independent India. It is unique in many ways. In case of all other laws, the government is the executors and the people act. This act reverses the roles. Here the people become the executors and the government has to act. Further, prior to 12 October 2005, the people of India did not have a right to seek information from the official files or to know about the procedures and policies adopted by the public authorities to provide governance. It was ridiculous that information was denied to very people it was meant for. As a result, every area of governance was wrapped in the veil of secrecy. This was a recipe for corrupt practices. The RTI act of 2005 exposed the inside information before the common masses and along with that exposed many scams of the UPA government. The act came as an effective mechanism to fight corruption that would pave way for good governance.

We, the people of India, now cannot forego the sureshot tool that possesses huge potential to expose the misdemeanors of the governments.  Therefore, any attempts on the part of the authorities to weaken the act and hinder the resultant flow of information is likely to lead to the presumption that either the government wants to hide its acts of wrongdoings or it is not capable of providing good governance or it is not willing to provide good governance. It could well be a combination of all three, if it chooses to do so. 

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