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Prime Minister Lok Sabha Speech on RTI Bill
TEXT OF PM'S INTERVENTION IN THE LOK SABHA ON THE RIGHT TO INFORMATION BILL DEBATE ON MAY 11, 2005 NEW DELHI
THE PRIME MINISTER (DR. MANMOHAN SINGH):
Mr. Speaker Sir,
I am very grateful to you for granting me permission to intervene on a very important and critical Bill, which is before this august House.
Sir, all modern societies or complex societies, they require strong and purposeful Government to steer them. In our own country, Government expenditure, both at the Central level and at the level of State and local bodies, accounts for nearly 33 per cent of our gross National Product. At the same time, the social and economic imperatives require our Government to intervene extensively in economic and social affairs. Therefore, the efficiency and effectiveness of Governmental processes are critical variables, which will determine how our Government function and to what extent it is able to discharge the responsibilities entrusted to us by the electorate. I have always believed – all power is a sacred societal trust – that you cannot sit on power, you have to spend it, but you must spend it taking into account the good of the largest number of people. Therefore, it becomes obligatory that in addition to processes that we have to determine that expenditure confirms with the canons of efficiency and effectiveness. We all know that there are widespread complaints in our country about wastefulness of expenditure, about corruption in matters, which have relations with the functioning of our Government. Therefore, it is very important that we must explore new effective mechanisms to ensure that our Government will effectively, purposefully and efficiently discharge the responsibilities entrusted to it. This is the guiding spirit behind this new momentous measure that is now before this august House, that is, the Right to Information Bill.
Sir, the key to the successful functioning of any democratic polity is the ability of a citizen to observe and evaluate the functioning of elected representative and make an informed judgment of their performance. This evaluation is predicated on the easy availability of the necessary information for a citizen to arrive at an assessment. Further, out founding fathers have established an elaborate system of rights and obligations, a system of checks and balances, a system with clear division of powers at different levels of Government. This complex web, further translated into practice by our laws, procedures, policies and programmes, is the foundation of our rich, varied and vibrant polity which has earned the respect of the whole world for our ability to harmoniously match the goals of economic development and a pluralistic democratic society. Sir, at the center of this intricate web is the common man, the ‘aam aadmi', whose prosperity and welfare is the core concern of our Constitution. It is this common man or common woman who is the fulcrum of our democratic system, as an observer, as the seeker of information, as the one who asks relevant questions, as the analyst and as the final judge of our performance. The UPA Government has made a commitment, not only to work for the welfare of the common man, but also to strengthen his or her role as the arbiter of our destiny. It is in this background that our Government has introduced the Right to Information Bill, and the subsequent amendments in this august House.
Mr. Speaker, Sir, efficient and effective institutions are the key to rapid economic and social development, institutions which can translate promises into policies and actionable programmes with the least possible cost and with the maximum possible efficiency; institutions which can deliver on the promises made and convert, as the hon. Finance Minister pointed out a few days ago while presenting the Budget, “outlays into outcomes”. For institutions to be efficient and effective, they must function in a transparent, response and accountable manner. This is dependent not only on processes internal to the institutions but also on the ability of citizens and external agents to enforce their rights, vis-Ã*-vis these very institutions. The Right to Information Bill, Sir, will bring into force another right which will empower the citizen in this regard and ensure that our institutions and their functionaries discharge their duties in the desired manner. It will; bring into effect a critical right for enforcing other rights and fill a vital gap in a citizen's framework of rights. Sir, while there is an existing Freedom of Information Act, the Bill now under consideration is more far-reaching and effective and I am very grateful to the National Advisory Council presided over by Shrimati Sonia Gandhi for having played a very important role in bringing into focus what are the major drawbacks in the previous legislation. The Bill that we have presented has the widest possible reach, covering the Central and the State Governments, Panchayati Raj institutions, local bodies as well as recipients of Government grants. Access to information under this Bill is extensive with minimum exemptions, which too can be over-ridden on the basis of a public benefit test, namely when the benefit of release of information outweighs the harm caused by disclosure of information. However, I think that we should also consider exempting such information, the disclosure of which may result in breach of privilege of Parliament or a State Legislature. Even security and intelligence agencies, which are otherwise exempt, are subject to disclosure in cases of allegations of corruption or violation of human rights. The Bill lays down an architecture for assessing information, which is simple, easy, time-bound and inexpensive. It has stringent penalties for failing to provide information or affecting information flow in any way. In fact, it imposes obligations on agencies to disclose information suo motu, thus reducing the cost of access. Sir, an important feature is the independent appeal mechanism proposed through the appointment of Central and State Information Commissioners. This independent appeal mechanism, coupled with extensive disclosure obligations and stringent penalties, gives teeth to the right, making the right a potent instrument for good governance.
Mr. Speaker, Sir, many hon. Members have, during the discussion on the Bill, raised many concerns and questions. They will be answered by the Minister of State, Shri Suresh Pachauri. I would only like to see that everyone, particularly our civil servants, should see the Bill in a positive spirit; not as a draconian law for paralyzing Government, but as an instrument for improving Government-citizen interface resulting in a friendly, caring and effective Government functioning for the good of our people. Sir, it is with this in mind that we have removed the penalty of imprisonment through this Amendment. However, erring officials would still be subject to departmental proceedings. I appeal all civil servants to see this Bill in the right spirit and hope they will only be spurred towards better performance. After all, we, the elected representative of people, bow to the wishes of people and have come to no harm. So will it be with honest, hard working civil servants. I would like State Governments to take the initiative and establish State Information Commissions. The bulk of our citizens' interface is with agencies under State Governments and hence the success of this Bill depends on their determination and their commitment to implement and generate awareness in the country at large.
Sir, our work will not end with the passage of this Bill. This is an innovative Bill, where there will be scope to review its functioning as we gain experience. Therefore, this is a piece of legislation, whose working will be kept under constant reviews. We will need to have a sustained effort to establish institutions and systems envisaged under the Bill, to build the capacity or our civil servants to discharge their obligations and above all, inform our citizens about the new rights conferred on them.
Mr. Speaker Sir, I believe that the passage of this Bill will see the dawn of a new era in our processes of governance, an era of performance and efficiency, an ear which will ensure that benefits of growth flow to all sections of our people, an era which will eliminate the scourge of corruption, an era which will bring the common man's concern to the heart of all processes of governance, an era which will truly fulfill the hopes of the founding fathers of our Republic.
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