___N Vikramsimha, Trustee, Mahithi Hakku Adhyayana Kendra
On an a Golden day in 2005, the Right To information Act came into existence and People started to use this new Legislation not only to seek Information From Public offices, but also to ask the public Authorities to be more accountable and Responsive to their needs This Act Now termed as “Sunshine Act” has changed the Relation ship of the People with the Indian state. The last Four & half years have seen the Indian citizen knocking at the offices Right from the, of The President , The prime minister to Police Station’s and grama panchyaths amongst several others to ask Sharp questions and demand straight answers.
Many of these applications have been received with indignations by the custodians of information, followed by denials, delays and appeals: But information has in most cases is being provided.
Several Other countries Have similar Legislations Known as freedom of Information laws are Used only to asking Details of Policy details But In Every state in India The RTI Act is also Used to Check Waste full expenditure and Mostly to combat rampant Corruption, Both the Mutual Corruption and Extortionist corruption Which is eating up an entire System from within. There fore the usage RTI In our Country is A Unique one. In Most Cases It May Be Getting Their Right full Ration card, Widows pension and like wise Personal Benefits Which the Government is obliged by its Social Commitments, to very Large Attempts to privatize Universal essential commodity like water in guise of Public Private Partnership to selected Corporate. In The process there is a Very strong Resistance from officials who are Still Cocooned in the Veil of Secrecy guaranteed by their Political Masters
We Must Take note of These Efforts to Undermine the RTI act through acts of Commission & omissions. In Its Short History the RTI Act And its Users has Faced Many Assaults. It has till now survived attempts to disable it through amendments. Karnataka has the dubious distinction to have partly succeeded in such By Inserting “rule 14” Limiting Applications to 150 words and one subject. Large reports Requested are turned down in the Guise of “voluminous”
The act is Being Stifled it by Lack of administrative support and discredit it through deliberate misanalysis of its impact.
Right to information act Provides legal right to and opportunity to all people irrespective of their political, social. Economical Professional educational or cultural background, to get information that is legally in the public realm. Information that is linked to our lives and our rights as citizens of this country.
The law gives us all a powerful weapon (tool) that we can create more transparency and accountability in Governance. It has Given Ordinary people the space to intervene in political and administrative decision making with a view to influence its direction & goals.
A wide Horizon of information is accessible to all of us through this Right. The Indian act even provides for pro active declaration of a very large quantum of information by the Public authorities. We all have power to ask for inspection, take samples. It is no longer the prerogative of the selected few mainly bureaucracy to withhold the Information. Citizens have become the supreme masters of Democracy in true terms.
This act has provided an Apex Monitoring and appeals adjudication Body Namely the Information commission at the state level with powers to penalize erring Officers in a three tier system of Operation. The act is very simple and easy. There are specified Time limits provided with Penalties Linked to ensure easy Accessibility of Crucial information to one & all. However Right from Day one of the enactment of the act the information Commission’s having become the weakest links in the entire set up. Karnataka Lead This By getting any state chief information commissioner before the full Enforcement of The act.
A retired Bureaucrat was sworn in on the same day he retired. Subsequently Three more Persons who were in The Government Became Information commissioners on various dates. However No Space was provided to all those Persons of eminence in Public life with Wide knowledge mainly of Administration and Governance. We Wanted shun the colonial Era but Brought in a Remnant of That era by Bringing These Bureaucrat.
Fortunately for us In Karnataka Few Activists, volunteers and Retired Persons took Up the Job of Watching the Watch Dog Authority, the information commission. They established a very good rapport and Ensured that the Commission Adjudicates Very fairly. The Commissioners also Took up the responsibility to be Fair and equitable But they were very extra Cautious in Penalizing the erring Officers. The Benefit Of doubt was always in favour of the officer. Leniency in several Ways became the regular Way of functioning, in spite of repeated reminders and also discussions formally, informally. Even Media was utilized To Bring in a System of Zero tolerance. This did not Happen On the ground. Most probably the Affectionate Way of The Officers and People Who Had worked all along May have Prevented a Strict Regime.
Another Point to be noted is the In House First Appellate authority Failed miserably. These mostly head of the authorities failed to recognize the potential of such RTI first appeals as An Mirror of their subordinates working ability and fashion. A feedback with High potential. This Increased the Burden of Hearing Cases of Refusals etc of RTI requests to the information commission. Suffice it to state that Not many known of the existence of this First tier of Appeal.
The Individual information commissioners being from the first Batch, wanted to uphold the institution that they represent and Head. In this Back ground, a series of favourable orders and orders For Reform are coming out. The commission also held Camps in various districts where Huge Number of applications was Refused information. However One singular thing Noticed was that Most Of these rejections were Related To the preparation and publishing of Proactive declarations. This is a very pathetic situation. The Officers were Not at all trained. Commissions spent several hours in their court hall for sermons and explaining what is the act. They turned themselves into Training institutes. Even today training of officers is least focused issue in RTI Regime.
The supply side was poor but the demand side Got itself richer and richer
In Bangalore, Ngo’s working for RTI have initiated RTI Bank. Information collected from the city corporation has been kept for use by general public. Any body can walk in and inspect, and photo copy the records .There were Large attempts and still work in this Front Called RTI clinics Going on to assist Citizens To file applications . Help in forming Correct and relevant Queries. Such Clinics were conducted With Charted accountants association and as well as in public Parks. . Assistance by a Group Is being accorder to One and all through t he state for pleading complaints before the KIC and also first appeals. A Very good net work of activists was established by personnel contacts and Visiting districts. About 40 complaints were made before the lokayukta with using documents Culled from RTI.
Though The KIC Hears Nearly 48 fresh cases and 48 Part heard cases Per working Day , The number of Cases Coming Up to this second Tier of Relief is Increasing Day by day and stands Nearly to 10000 cases as on Date which Frustrates the very Purpose of an mandatory 30 day Period to get information .
Flimsy Grounds and filibustering tactics are employed by PIOs to refuse, Dodge or Buy time in providing information. This trend is on increase. The Mind set of the officers has not changed and instead they found out an outlet by Blaming citizens that they Misuse the act. Which is an very Vague and Well thought of accusation to cover up Wrong deeds and inefficiency.
The recent survey by Independent agencies and Research Organizations have Given Full marks to The information commission But there is A Big question mark Hanging Around whether They will cope up with the demand side and sustain the ranking in the Days to come .
Sterner authority has to be exercised by the commission and as state already they should have Zero tolerance for Erring officials. It is noted that Non compliance of their orders is also increase in spite of a High court Order that Disobedience has to Cut with available powers By the Commission itself.
The staffing pattern of the commission Should Be enhanced and Even the justice Delivery system Should Be in More Affirmative Environment and Citizen friendly Atmosphere. The Speaking orders Should be delivered Then and there to the large satisfaction of information seekers and erring officers should be dealt Rather heavily otherwise The commission will become a Snake charmers snake Dancing to His movements and Music.
The Commission Is Not Presenting its Annual reports as required in time and Of course Two years reports have been tabled in the legislature. One is ready to be tabled and yet two have fallen due.
We are not aware of The Reports Being Discussed Extensively but Information From reliable resources Provide an insight that the Legislative Subject Committee has dealt and enquired in Depth in Most of the aspects of the functioning of the commission which is a welcome Happening.
Ultimately Though the State Commission provided a Mixed bag in its Functioning to Provide Information to citizens. Citizens have also taken it in a good stride.
The Fight to for right to information is the fight for survival of democracy in our country. The Stakes are too high for Citizens, activists, crusaders to ever give up. So they will never give up.