Making best use of RTI to empower people--Rajkumar Siwach
UNITED Progressive Alliance Chairperson and Congress President Sonia Gandhi recently exhorted the party workers to make effective use of the Right to Information (RTI) Act to keep track of various Central schemes being implemented. Her statement in the backdrop of the RTI’s success needs a close look.
Unfortunately, the political parties are yet to imbibe a culture of debate, dialogue and discussion on issues of public policy. The people are kept out of the dynamics of governance. The government hardly takes them into confidence before executing projects affecting their survival and livelihood. Small wonder that this widening hiatus between the governance and the political process triggers ugly episodes as in Nandigram and Singur in West Bengal, Kashipur in Orissa and Mundhra in Gujarat, to mention a few.
The RTI Act, no doubt, is a Brahmastra in the people’s hands to check corruption, nepotism and favouritism. But most states have not yet implemented the mandatory provisions under the RTI Act to maintain records, duly catalogued and indexed, and to disseminate information easily to the people. Manipur, Tamil Nadu, Chhattisgarh, Nagaland, Rajasthan, Assam, Jharkhand, Kerala, Sikkim and Mizoram are lagging behind in compliance whereas Madhya Pradesh, Uttarkhand, Chandigarh UT and Punjab are on the top with over 70 per cent compliance with duty to publish clause.
The RTI Act envisages that public authorities shall designate first appellate authorities, Public Information Officers (PIOs) and Assistant PIOs for ensuring citizens’ access to information under the superintendence of the Central Information Commission and the State Information Commissions. But these authorities have not evinced interest to enforce the legislation in letter and spirit. In Haryana, for instance, many posts are lying vacant — 81 first appellate authorities, 16 PIOs and 51 APIOs in 38 Boards and Corporations, 52 field offices, 35 offices of Raj Bhawan, Vidhan Sabha and Civil Secretariat and 68 head offices.
The Supreme Court, the UPSC, the CBI, Delhi Metro and some PSUs have sought exemption from the Act’s purview on account of frivolous complaints and interference in their independence. The Supreme Court, the sentinel of people’s rights and liberties, sought exemption from public scrutiny.
The citizens are empowered to seek information on any subject barring, of course, those having a bearing on national sovereignty and integrity. But there are still some grey areas like whether or not the competent authority can divulge a piece of information in the larger public interest. For example, the UPSC withheld information sought by candidates for disclosure of marks obtained by them in the Civil Services Preliminary examination on the ground that it would undermine the examination procedure and violate the intellectual property rights.
The matter is sub judice. However, the Karnataka Information Commission has ruled that answer scripts evaluated by the State Public Service Commission could be made available to those desirous of having them. Similarly, the Tripura Commission has directed the authorities to make ACRs and recommendations of the Departmental Promotion Committee available on the request of the officer concerned.
The PIOs act as key functionaries to furnish information, record and document but they are left in the lurch sometimes especially when the sought information, overtly or covertly, deals with and possessed by their superiors. In such cases, despite their best efforts, PIOs become helpless to furnish the information and can be held responsible without any fault, for blocking information. Interestingly, the Maharshi Dayanand University, Rohtak, the Kurukshetra University, and the Commissioner, Higher Education, Haryana, have furnished self-contradictory pieces of information.
If the Central and State Information Commissions found that the authorities concerned have wilfully denied or given incorrect or misleading information, they can impose a penalty of Rs 250 a day, not exceeding Rs 25,000 and take action under the service rules. But the Commissioners are very reluctant to penalise authorities for denial of information. There have been a few cases of penalty in Uttarakhand, Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. The CIC, however, slapped the highest possible penalty of Rs 25,000 on the Registrar of Benaras Hindu University for denial of information. In most cases, the first appellate authorities have remained redundant and are not disposing of the cases effectively.
The RTI intends to benefit the common man, but the teachers, doctors, scientists and advocates are treading on this route to expose discrimination and abuse of power. Instead of the Panchayats and Development Department, the maximum applications, appeals and complaints are lodged with police, education, sports, election and irrigation departments.
The success of transparency lies in redesigning and reengineering administrative innovations in conformity with e-governance, proper record maintenance and information management. But the whole governance system clings tenaciously on archaic methods. The implementing authorities lack of professional competence and capacity to set out the practical regime of RTI for citizens.
Our experience with the RTI Act has shown that the ruling elite, by and large, consider themselves answerable to the populace as they are afraid of transacting the affairs of governance in front of the public. Obviously, it will expose their arbitrariness, irresponsiveness, unbridled power and patronage induced nexus.
The RTI’s objectives — containing corruption and holding officials accountable for procrastination, inefficiency and self-aggrandisement — will not be accomplished if public authorities are kept out of the domain of public surveillance.
The writer is Lecturer in Public Administration, Ch. Devi Lal University, Sirsa
The Tribune, Chandigarh, India - Opinions
A well written article summing up the RTI and it's implementation as of now.
I was wondering why people do not get information about public spending balance sheet of MP's constituency of a year, about MLA, about elected members of municipality! There are no reflection of that in any writer who puts 'Government' under focus.
I don't know if RTI is considered weapon 'only' against officials?
Thats a noble thought Kushal,
I am sure very soon that time will come when all these data will also be requested.