Monday, October 17, 2011

Diluting the RTI Act will be counter productive

If you are asking me what is the biggest achievement of Manmohan Singh government, I am sure the first one that will come to my mind will be Right To Information Act (RTI). Really a watershed moment in the political history of independent India. It enabled the people to know what is really happening inside the mammoth administrative apparatus.

Now-a-days, common man will not find it difficult to get the required information within a reasonable period of time through RTI, of course conditions apply!!! RTI act acted as a powerful weapon against corruption, revealing information related to many shady deals and other things. In many cases, activists started asking the right questions and got the right answers, problem started when these answers created a constant headache for the administration, especially in the case of various file notings related to infamous 2G spectrum deal.
It didn't take much time for Congress spokesperson Manish Tiwari to assert that ,
"...but people are also beginning to ask whether its efficacy is being blunted by the way it has begun to impinge on governance..."(1).
Unfortunately he failed to identify the people questioning about the efficacy of the Act to public.

According to Indian Express report, Union Law minister Salman Khurshid said
"...its misuse was affecting “institutional efficacy and efficiency”, with even the bureaucracy becoming reluctant to record its opinion...".
I will not wonder if somebody ask him, how anyone can blame RTI act for the reduction in the efficiency of administrative decision making (and execution) process? Was the administrative efficiency so high before the act became law? What is the percentage of reduction in administrative efficiency that can directly attributed to RTI? Last but not the least, Will Salman Khurshid say the same thing if he is in opposition?

However I am partially agreeing with the second part of his statement,
"If everything that I as a minister write to the Prime Minister comes out, then what is the point of writing to the PM confidentially?(2)
and Manmohan Singh's argument
" ensure that it doesn't adversely affect the deliberative process of the government and discourage honest officials from articulating their views".(3)
It may be a problem for the minister, just imagine what will happen to him if his arguments against reservation policies in a file noting came to public domain? In these days of hyperactive media he will not be able to last long in the cabinet. At the same time it may be his opinion that will enable the administration to come up with a balanced approach. This is also true for the critical decisions related to national security (internal and external), matters related to external affairs or even in the case of taking important decisions related to general policy.

But the options to protect such data are already incorporated to RTI act. Government may like to protect some more sections like file notings etc. Does the arguments provide reason for diluting the RTI act? I have to say 'No' here. Government can protect the same by using the already existing mechanisms. Just like many other countries do, we too can open even secret (but not critical) archives to the general public after 30 years.

As of now various arguments floating around are not enough to create a mammoth bank of secret documents to be hidden from public view. All the files are not critical, if we are analysing the recent experiences as the base, these files are bringing more and more dirt from governments drainage channel than reducing the efficiency.

However as the criticism reached new ebbs Union Law minister clarified that there is no proposal for relook.
"...We are proud of RTI. We are pleased that we gave RTI to this country. Even if it causes inconvenience to this country to an extent, we will bear that inconvenience...But we must ensure that in totality, the efficiency and functioning of government is strengthened" On whether the RTI would be revisited, Khurshid said, "there is no proposal to relook at the Act".(4)
Indeed RTI act is one of the very few weapons in the hand of general public to know what government is actually doing. It is one of the biggest achievements of Manmohan Singh government. Inclination to move more and more things to exemption clauses in the Act will leave the act as a paper tiger. This is not what a government believes in transparency and accountability should do. Moreover, diluting the act at this point of  time - when the corruption cases already polluted the air - will be counterproductive and affect the image of the administration too.


(1) The Hindu - Oct 08, Sunday, 2011
(2) Indian Express -
(3) The Hindu - Oct 15,saturday, 2011
(4) Times of India -

No comments:

Post a Comment