Akash Pandey |
Saturday, 19 July 2014 |
RTI—A Right to Good Governance
RTI—A Right to Good Governance
“That Government Is Best Which Governs Least.”
Henry David Thoreau
RTI-RIGHT TO INFORMATION
Good governance, in modern democracy, means democratization of governance. In participatory democracy people elect their leaders to govern them. But governance is not the monopoly of elected leaders. When governance becomes the privilege of select few or when the people who are governed are kept out of the affairs of governance, it degenerates into misgovernance and becomes a travesty of democracy. RTI act democratized the information and decentralized the power. Power no more remains confined to select few, rather it was made available equally to all the citizens.
Good governance is characterized by transparency and accountability and the best way to ensure transparency and accountability in governance is through increased and informed participation of people. People are biggest stakeholder in governance, they have a critical and crucial role to play .So, it is imperative that people must have the right to know about the activities of the government.
In 2005, Indian Parliament passed Right to Information Act [RTI] which gave the common citizen the right to seek information regarding government projects, schemes and other activities. It was a landmark Act which came with the potentiality to change the very idea of governance and the power equation between common people and the government.
The act was promulgated with the vision of democratization of governance and empowerment of common people.Therefore, Right to Information has been given the status of a fundamental right under Article 19(1) of the Constitution In the following sections of the article, it is discussed how RTI act has empowered the common people, promoted good governance and strengthened participatory democracy
In pre-RTI era people’s role was only restricted to the election of their leaders people did not have any right to know about the issues of government activities.
But RTI act gave the common people the much-needed right to seek information about the works of their government. The act was given the status of fundamental right and it is evident from the fact that how crucial it is for the proper functioning of the government.
According to French philosopher Michel Foucault, power is derived from knowledge and information is the basic component of knowledge. So, in this age of technology driven information revolution, empowerment means access to information. The first thing any tyrannical government does is to restrict the people’s access to the resources of information and monopolize over it while the
principle of good governance demands free flow of information. Concentration of information inevitably leads to centralization of power.RTI act democratized the information and decentralized the power. Power no more remains confined to select few, rather it was made available equally to all the citizens. So, undoubtedly RTI serves as a great tool of empowerment for the common people.
Participation RTI act facilitated and encouraged the participation of
common people in the process of governance. Earlier people had the will, but did not have the way to take part in so-called ‘official’ affairs. But RTI act paved the way for active participation of the common people in governance. People showed increased interest in the affairs of government and sought information regarding various issues affecting their lives and well-being.
For any vibrant society participation of people in governance is very essential. The main reason behind this is that governance is not a prerogative of a particular group or class, it affects the whole society. So, the government policies and schemes must be formulated keeping in mind the interests of all the sections
of the society, especially the downtrodden and marginalized. It would only be possible when all the sections are given right to take part in it.
RTI act empowered the people to seek definite and direct answer from the officials of their works or lack of it. So, accountability invariably led to efficiency and sense of responsibility among government officials.
Transparency is the cornerstone of any good government.
But in Indian bureaucratic system and government functionaries, transparency was an exception rather than being a norm.
According to latest  ranking
of Transparency International, India stands at 94, out of 176 nations. The survey also revealed that 54% Indians paid bribe, at least once, to get things done. RTI act has the potentiality to tackle with this rampant corruption in both at grass root level and at power corridors of high and mighty. After enactment of this act,many a cases of corruption came to light.
From the Commonwealth Games to the 2G scam, RTI queries have been the starting point of exposure in a score of recent cases of corruption. It is the most powerful weapon in hands of common people to challenge the impenetrable fortress of officialdom.
Democracy is all about people’s participation and empowerment. RTI act has played a significant role in strengthening democracy by promoting decentralization of power and good governance. RTI made it possible, to a great extent, for the people to decide and determine the way they want to be governed. RTI act gave the common people a defining power to shape the government schemes and policies. Governance was no more an arbitrary privilege of select few. RTI act lent voice to the aspirations of ordinary citizens in issues of governance .
The journey of RTI has not been a smooth sailing. It faced challenges and resistance from various quarters.
First one came from the very creators of the act. For many it was like Frankenstein’s monster which started haunting and hounding its creator. Bureaucrats and babus put stiff resistance and showed grudging reluctance while parting away with information sought under RTI. The obvious reason for their discomfort was that their activities were made open to public scrutiny. Therefore, government officials often indulge in dilatory tactics by putting forth some lame excuses. In such cases Information Commissioners have significant role to play.
To limit the power given under RTI, government made numerous attempts to amend the act. It was successful in keeping CBI out of its purview.
In 2006, government proposed an amendment to deny public access to official file noting. The amendments had sought to restrict disclosure of file noting only to social and developmental issues. But under the pressure from civil right activists and criticism of common people, the government had recently dropped the proposed amendment. The common people must be always alert to oppose any move to dilute their right to information. RTI activists played the role of whistleblower in many cases of corruption involving powerful people which exposed the crusader of transparency to considerable risks. Recently many RTI activists were attacked and killed for seeking information. Such incidents discouraged people from seeking information.
Measures must be taken to maintain confidentiality of identity of information seekers and ensure their security. Finally, the common people need to exercise considerable restrain while using RTI. Many a times the information sought, breached the privacy of public figures. Such practices will give the government reasons good enough to limit the act in the name of safeguarding privacy. Apart from this, the act is often used or misused to settle personal grudges and vendetta. Doing this will only reduce this act of empowerment into a tool of blackmailing.
The best way to deal with all these challenges while promoting good governance is by making the act redundant. The governments, instead of waiting for the common people to seek information, must voluntarily make all the information available to the people. It will not only promote good governance but also increase the trust between government and the people it governs.