Article by Sailesh
In the interest of transparency and accountability, the Right to Information Act (RTI) provides information to the common man with the help of public authorities. Since the government rushed the legislation through, teething problems persist to this day.
I WAS AMONGST the fortunate ones who attended the first-of-its-kind RTI activists’ meet at the BCAS Foundation’s Mumbai office on Monday, the 6th August ’07. RTI activists from across Mumbai attended the meet, organised by BCAS Foundation and the Public Concern for Governance Trust (PCGT).
Those present included Mr. Julius Ribeiro, Ex-Director General of Police, Mumbai, Mr.Shailesh Gandhi, Mr.Narayn Varma, Mr Bhaskar Prabhu and representatives of the Times Foundation.
The current RTI scenario and the problems faced by the activists were discussed at the meet. Participants opined that the Act faces a lot of resistance from the government and bureaucracy. Perhaps because the government rushed the legislation through, teething problems persist to this day. The mindset of the politicians and bureaucrats has to change. The legislation is just two years old and unfortunately we need to fight a 58 year-old defunct system.
The RTI movement in fact started as early as 1976 when the Supreme Court declared (while dealing with the case of Raj Narain vs. the State of U.P) the right to information as being part of the fundamental rights under Article 19 of the Constitution. Article 19 (1) says that every citizen has freedom of speech and expression. The <?XML:NAMESPACE PREFIX = ST1 /><ST1:STREET w:st="on"><ST1:ADDRESS w:st="on">Hon’ble Court</ST1:ADDRESS></ST1:STREET> said that people cannot speak or express themselves unless they know.
After hectic lobbying by the activists and citizens concerned, the efforts of civil society for the right to information were finally rewarded. On 10th May 2005, the RTI Amendment Bill 2005 was tabled in the Lok Sabha. The Bill was rushed through - the Lok Sabha approved it on 11th May 2005 and the Rajya Sabha on 12th May. On 15th June 2005, the President gave his assent to the National Right to Information Act, 2005. After the presidential assent, the Central and State governments had 120 days to implement the Bill in its entirety. The Act formally came into force on 12th October 2005.
RTI Act provides the right to information which the common man can access with the help of public authorities, in order to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority.
RTI Act 2005 empowers every citizen to:
• Ask any questions of the government or seek any information
• Obtain copies of any government document
• Inspect any government document.
• Inspect any government works
• Collect samples of materials of any government works
But according to me, the bigger challenge now is the actual implementation of the Act which alone can help the society in benefiting from it. Filing RTI initially is an easy task but then to file appeals and to benefit from it is a painstaking effort. RTI activists need to have lots of patience and domain knowledge to succeed over the devil of the “corrupt system of 60 years”.
Some of the measures like mass public awareness, publication of PIO (Public Information Officers) directory, training of PIO’s and government staff need to be conducted with the joint participation of government and organisations dedicated to RTI.
The RTI Act provides an avenue to the common man to seek information, ask for action taken and make government and the system more accountable and responsible. It will in fact become a tool for ensuring better governance. Mr. Julius Ribeiro rightly said that this would only happen when RTI becomes a public movement and every citizen exercises it as his / her fundamental right.
So let us come together and support this noble national movement, the Right to Information.
RTI should become a public movement