ByÂ Rajaram Suresh:
Governing a democracy is a privilege. But when the country in question is a democracy teeming with a billion citizens, governing is anything but simple. An ideal democracy highlights the need for clear and demarcated laws, ably enforced and duly abided. Drawing examples from countries all over the globe, transparency in governance has been the way to go, simply because of its importance and necessity. A good example is the Right To Information Act, passed by the government of India in 2005. The RTI’s relevance certainly cannot be disputed, but is the RTI attaining what it set out to?
Here are 6 reasons why the Save RTI Movement is very important for India:
Empowering the Aam Aadmi:
This is the first and the most obvious reason why this movement is important for India. The RTI has a direct grasp on the cornerstone of democracy — It is meant For the people. Though not currently in the spotlight, Anna Hazare succeeded in voicing strong concerns about citizen empowerment — something which the RTI has been making progress towards, for almost a decade now. While a lot of requests for information are filed in the urban offices, a substantial proportion of such requests happen outside the cities, away from the spotlight as well. The RTI, just by giving information, turns an Aam Aadmi into an activist — an activist, whose blood boils due to the corruption looming large around him.
Political Parties do not want to be accountable:
According to the Central Information Commission’s ruling, political parties directly qualify as public organizations under the ambit of RTI, by virtue of substantial subsidization and government spending on them. While the end result of a political party is to cater to the needs of the public, it is only logical that the public has the right to know about parties’ source of funding and choice of candidature. However, more recently, there have been efforts to amend the RTI to keep the Political Parties away from the reach of people. When the very people who govern the country do not want the RTI, what would be the fate of this act after these amendments?
Brings down Corruption:
India is no stranger to corruption. Since 1947, the country has lost a whopping $462 billion via illicit financial flows due to tax-evasion, crime and post-independence-corruption. Not surprisingly, even government policies don’t escape corruption. The alleged loss in the infamous NREGA scam was estimated to be in excess of 10,000 crores. With RTI empowering citizens, even a villager in a nook of India, when endowed with the information, could pose a threat to illegal operations. Hence, the RTI, indirectly, shrinks the extent of corruption by having records of public organizations at the disposal of its citizens.
It is unrealistic for a country to expect its citizens to put their lives at stake to uncover government scams. India has had a notorious history of dirty linen washed in public, with 12 of its whistle-blowers killed, and 40 of them assaulted. And these are just the official figures. The success of RTI lies in ensuring that whistle-blowers are amply incentivized and secure from threats — something that’s evidently lacking; the statistics stand testimony to that.
Non-Uniformity in Implementation:
Surprisingly, the blame game doesn’t really work here. Different interpretations of the RTI by different state governments have rendered the act infertile in many parts of the country. For instance, Karnataka has imposed a 150 word-limit on information-request applications. The application fee in the Gujarat High Court is 50 rupees, which could hike tenfold, if the requested information pertains to tenders. While the Central Right to Information Act prescribes the application fee as Rs.10, the fee in courts in Allahabad and Sikkim gets as high as Rs.500 — fifty times the prescribed amount.
Why is Jammu cordoned off from the Central RTI?
Since the inception of RTI, the citizens of Jammu and Kashmir have actively lobbied against separate laws for their state as opposed to falling under the central act for the rest of India. In a reactive decision, the government of J&K passed the Jammu and Kashmir Right to Information in 2008. The act, despite containing several amendments, tried to come closer to the central RTI, 2005. Though the act was officially in action, it was heavily criticized for diluting the key concepts of RTI (2005) and hence, was never implemented in spirit. The rules of the act were never published, and the proposed state information commission was never constituted and appointed.
The RTI is a tool that can delve deep through political and entrepreneurial masquerades and annihilate corruption, render citizens king-makers, and create a transparent democracy. Clearly, it is easier said than done. The power and scope of the RTI is so strong that one is promptly tempted to envision an ideal democracy, which, for obvious reasons, can’t materialize. The best that the Save RTI Movement can do, is gather steam, and prevent the act from suffering multiple amendments and mutilating into a distorted version that can be manipulated at will by the very governing body of our country which enforced it.