RTI’s teething troubles
The Right to Information Act, given that it’s a paradigm-busting radical step towards maximising democracy and accountable governance, is bound to suffer teething troubles. It’s, however, up to political leaders, particularly those who designed and facilitated the implementation of the Act a year ago, to ensure that those troubles do not get out of hand and the Act is made to serve the purpose it was designed for. Periodic review, and political intervention at the grassroots, which would ensure that, is sorely needed in Tamil Nadu now. The state’s bureaucratic apparatus has reportedly been systematically obstructing the proper enforcement of the Act. The state’s information commission has found 96 cases where public information officers (PIOs) have illegally denied information. That such organised subversion has been allowed to go on, unpunished and unchecked, indicates it’s happening with the support of the political leadership. This malaise, however, is not restricted to Tamil Nadu alone. The failure of state information commissioners to swiftly dispose of cases pertaining to denial of information sought under the Act, and inability to penalise errant PIOs, has only served to reinforce such obstructionist tendencies. This reluctance on their part is, clearly, on account of the largely political nature of their appointments.
The structural flaws in the Act, which have left it open to such abuse, must be immediately rectified. It’s, indeed, ironical that a piece of legislation meant to enable greater transparency, has no provision by which it can render the appointment of commissioners, tasked with its enforcement, less arbitrary. Amendments to the RTI Act must make it mandatory for governments to throw open the process of selection of information commissioners to wider public consultation. The Act should also mandate a time limit for adjudication of disputes by state information commissions. The RTI Act is as much a trigger for participatory democracy as its consequence. All political parties must engage in serious mobilisational activity to ensure effective enforcement of the Act. That would not only enable them to create a new politics geared towards building radical democracy, but also energise their grassroots organisations.