Arvind Kejriwal, winner of the Ramon Magsaysay award, who was instrumental in the enforcement of the RTI Act, speeks about the Act and the progress made in the last two years.

The RTI or Right To Information Act is said to be one of the greatest successes of Indian democracy. This Act enables the common man to inspect any public work and gives him the right to take a sample of the work. Two years after its implementation, the Act is still mired in bureaucratic wrangling and its benefits haven’t fully reached the common man.

Arvind Kejriwal, winner of the Ramon Magsaysay award, who was instrumental in the enforcement of the RTI Act, was in Bangalore recently. He spoke to G Manjusainath of Deccan Herald about the Act and the progress made in the last two years. Excerpts:

What is the status of RTI Act today?
The soul of this Act is the provision to impose penalties on Public Information Officers (PIOs) failing to provide information within 30 days of receiving the request. Information commissions are failing to impose fines on the PIOs and so there’s a feeling among most of them that they need not be afraid of the RTI Act. Moreover, barring a few states the appellate process is failing.

What steps are you taking to make sure that the Act is fully and properly enforced?
One of the things we do is to meet with the information commissioners frequently and find out ways of clearing away the growing number of unsolved cases. Recently, we met 16 of them.

There is talk in the officialdom that the RTI Act has become a new tool in the hands of blackmailers. What do you think?

I have heard about it, but should we blame the Act for it? Is it not the officers’ fault for having invited blackmailing through their activities? If someone is blackmailed, it’s better that he/she approaches the police and lodges a complaint rather than keeping silent.

While the Act says retired bureaucrats, judges and journalists can become information officers, don’t you think the commission is becoming a nest for retiring IAS officers?

It may be right to a certain extent, but in states where journalists are appointed to the job, they are doing a rotten job. Among bureaucrats, I feel R N Das in Gujarat and Vijay Kuvalekar in Pune are doing a tremendous job.

Do you think there is a need for another appellate authority at the Centre that can perhaps help in the implementation of the Act in a better way?

Another appellate authority at the Centre isn’t going to make a difference. When cases are getting piled up at the state level, and nothing has been done about it so far, what is the point in having one more authority? If that comes about, besides the state commission, cases will pile up there as well.

So, what do you think is the remedy?
There isn’t anything more effective than public pressure. When PIOs are allowed to walk free without fines, the public should raise their voice and expose those involved. At the same time, information commissioners must stop protecting PIOs and make sure that they get the penalty for failing in their duty.

What’s your feeling about the implementation of the RTI Act in Karnataka?
It’s good in some cases such as giving photocopies of exam papers. But again, commissioners are soft on PIOs, who don’t give information in 30 days. And they don’t impose fine for not doing so.

There is a general complaint that the 30-day time limit is too short to find the information and that the RTI Act has only halted work at offices. Do you think so?

This is a lame excuse. The 30-day period is quite sufficient and it doesn’t halt work at offices. Another common excuse given by the PIOs is that the file concerned is missing. They shouldn’t be allowed to go free for giving such excuses.

Deccan Herald - Commissions are failing to impose fine