Two years after it came into force, the government has decided to
conduct a detailed evaluation of the Right to Information (RTI) Act
which, it says, has won "immense" public response.

The personnel ministry project, to be provided technical support by
the London-based consultancy Adam Smith International (ASI) and
Administrative Staff College of India (ASCI), has also been promised a
grant by the British government's Department for International
Development (DFID). The one-year study will be conducted by a firm or
consultant to be selected through a process beginning on Friday.

The ambitious review will not only evaluate how the RTI Act has worked
at different levels from the Central government down to the panchayats
but also identify the main problem areas and actionable steps for
making it more effective.

The law, passed on June 21, 2005, still has serious zones of conflict
with the Official Secrets Act although it is supposed to prevail in
case of a dispute.

Central Information Commissioner, Wajahat Habibullah, said while the
CIC has its own feedback mechanism on the RTI Act, the government
study was welcome.

"It should be a professional assessment of the law's working. It will
be a more definitive assessment," Habibullah told TOI.
But information rights activist Aruna Roy, whose campaign played a key
role in the conceptualisation of the RTI Act, was not enthusiastic.

"I do not understand what business foreign agencies like ASI and DFID
have in sponsoring such a study. An evaluation can be done best by a
genuine cross-section of the people, who are partners in the Act's
implementation," Roy, who quit the IAS to opt for grassroots activism,

"The project can be meaningful only if it is fully democratised,
totally transparent and participatory. All groups, especially the poor
and the common people, should have access to such a study. Its
schedule should be opened up else it may serve the government's
purpose but not of those who are the real users of the law," Roy, a
Magsaysay awardee, said.

But the government expects the review to be "comprehensive and
systematic" and "with a view to identifying the kind of capacity that
needs to be built into the system for enduring the effectiveness of
the Act". Personnel ministry is responsible for overseeing the
implementation of the law.

"The RTI Act has resulted in substantial increase in the workload of
the offices without any corresponding augmentation of manpower and
other infrastructural resources. The proposed study will devise
procedure for dealing with RTI matters, besides covering
identification of constraints not only from the point of view of the
public authorities but also from the point of view of information
seekers," the government's call for 'expression of interest' said.

The review is also supposed to suggest initiatives on "structure,
systems, processes and people" to help strengthen the delivery system
and smoothen the information-seeking process.
The consultant vying for the project should have key professionals on
board with 15-year experience in organisational review and diagnosis.

NEW DELHI, 26 Oct 2007

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