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RTI -Information Rites 

We have an RTI Act, now we need to imbibe its spirit

    Most of the well-known right to information campaigners have boycotted
the government's one-year-of-RTI celebrations in the capital. It is a
telling comment on Bharat sarkar's engagement with RTI. First, the
legislature and the executive tried to stall the Act. Once the Act was in
place following pressure from people's movements, attempts were made first
to blunt its radical edge and later, to appropriate it. When babus
recognised the subversive potential of the Act, they decided to join the
show. Ironically, they were emboldened by the UPA government's attempt to
amend one of its showpiece acts in its first year. It is by design that most
of the information commissions, independent appellate authorities, are
packed with retired bureaucrats even though the Act has provisions to
include professionals and representatives of civil society groups in its
commissions. The argument is not to keep ex-babus out of the information
commissions, but that these bodies should have better representation from
other walks of life for them to function as watchdogs of the state
machinery. The ambiguous stance of most of the information commissioners on
the file notings issue has indicated that there could be a conflict of
interest. An overcrowding of ex-bureaucrats will reduce the commissions to
extensions of the bureaucracy. RTI commissions are state funded and need to
be so. However, that should not be an excuse for the state to appropriate

    The campaign for an RTI Act was started by grass-roots movements. The
idea was to empower people with a legislation and an administrative
apparatus that would keep a check on sarkar. Our RTI Act is considered to be
one of the best in the world, but it will be effective only if the
independence of RTI commissions is maintained. The attempt to block access
to file notings was defeated by a sustained people's campaign. A similar
effort may be needed to preserve the autonomy and independence of
information commissions. An overhaul of information commissions is
necessary. They have to be rid of the babu mindset. The penalty clause meant
to haul up officials refusing to give correct information has to be
effectively used. It is revealing that the Central Information Commission
has not one case to show where an erring official has been penalised. The
commissions have to put in place a transparent mechanism where complaints
are heard so that decisions are not made on arbitrary or subjective grounds.
Proper reporting of the proceedings at the information commissions would
ensure accountability. It is in the collective interest of the nation that
RTI becomes an effective tool to ensure good governance

Publication:Times Of India Mumbai; Date:Oct 16, 2006; Section:Editorial;
Page Number:14




It is one of the beautiful compensations of this life that no one can sincerely try to help another without helping himself. --Charles Dudley Warner