“RTI is the most fundamental law this country has seen from the local panchayat to parliament, from a nondescript village to posh Delhi, and from ration shops to the 2G scam”
Participation, transparency, legitimacy and responsiveness form the pillars of good governance. The concept of good governance was applied in India through the passing of Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005, 73rd and 74th constitutional amendment.
Since its inception in 2005, exactly 10 years have passed and one can safely say that RTI has made its impact felt in the functioning of Government bodies and the larger governance discourse, as the staff has become active, conscious, regular, punctual, accountable and responsible. The corruption in the division has reduced to an extent. Big scams have been averted by the use of RTI. People do feel more empowered. Their bargaining power vis-a-vis public officials has increased manifold. A great change has come in India in the last decade in the power equation between the sovereign citizens and those in power, as RTI Act has lent voice to the aspirations of ordinary citizens in issues of governance. It has given the common people, a defining power to shape the government schemes and policies. It has empowered the people to question, audit, review, examine, and assess government acts and decisions in order to ensure that these are consistent with the principles of public interests, good governance and justice thus making the system of government transparent to an extent. It has also empowered the people to seek definite and direct answer from the officials of their works or lack of it, thus facilitating and encouraging the participation of common people in the process of good governance. It is thus repairing and metamorphosing our defective elective democracy to become participatory democracy and is playing an important role in bringing good governance in Indian government system.
This essay will be dealing as to how Right to Information Act, 2005 forms a basic requisite of good governance and how the Act has played and is still playing a major role in bringing good governance by making our system transparent and accountable. It will also deal as to how people have responded to the same, plus how there is massive use of the right to know and also will discuss the roles of social activists, civil society organizations, and ordinary citizens in using and promoting the Act. It will further deal with the new aspect of E-governance as to how it has contributed till date in enhancing transparency and accountability and in promoting good governance and will also discuss its scope. It will further deal with the risks involved in using RTI in India and will finally be dealing as to how the impact of RTI in bringing good governance is palpable.
India is a democratic republic state. Here the Government is of the people, by the people and for the people. Therefore, the people of our country have the right to know about the state affairs. Freedom of information brings openness in the administration which helps to promote transparency in state affairs, keep government more accountable and ultimately reduce corruption. The free flow of information is must for a democratic society as it helps the society to grow and retain a continuous debate and discussion among the people. But the access to information held by a public authority was not possible before 2005 as before 2005, the common people did not have any legal right to know about the public policies and expenditures even in matters affecting legal entitlements for such subsidized services as food for work, wage employment, basic education and health care, it was not easy to seek the details of decision making process that affected or harmed him. And, therefore, it was not possible for a common man to observe and scrutinize the public actions with a view to providing feedback for rectifying the deficiencies in policy planning and the execution of programmes.[i]
It was quite ironical that people who voted the persons responsible for policy formation to power and contributed towards the financing of huge costs of public activities were denied access to the relevant information.[ii] After following a decade-long grassroots and civil society campaign, the Right to Information Act, 2005 was passed by the UPA Government with a sense of pride. It flaunted the Act as a milestone in India’s democratic journey. Since then, India’s Right to Information Act is widely recognized as a strong law that has been extensively used by citizens to access entitlements, redress grievances, and expose corruption and mismanagement in government programs.[iii]
RTI Act has also promoted and led to the good governance of the country and is deemed as a basic prerequisite of good governance. There is a close link between Right to Information and Good governance. Good governance is characterized by transparency, accountability and responsiveness. Human security, shelter, food, environment and employment opportunity are all bound up with Right to Information. In the absence of information on this issue, people can‘t live a dignified life and will remain ever a marginalized group in the society. It is a powerful instrument to protect the fundamental rights of people. Indian Parliament has passed Right to Information Act, 2005 to make government accountable, responsible, efficient and transparent in order to lead to good governance of the country. In fact, Right to Information and Good governance are intertwined, they are the two sides of the same coin or two aspects of the same aspiration, viz, to strengthen, stabilize and broaden the working of the democratic system. Access to information by the public is the essential element and pre-requisite of good governance. The RTI is now accepted, as a crucial underpinning of participatory democracy. It has been widely acknowledged as a prerequisite for ensuring accountability and good governance.[iv]
RIGHT TO INFORMATION ACT, 2005
India celebrated its first Republic Day on 26th January, 1950. That day, India became a sovereign republic nation. The government exchequer collected by different ways ultimately belongs to the citizens of the country. Citizens elect their representatives and send them to the Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha for managing the public money. The people’s representatives are actually public servants. As they are public servants, their position is secondary to that of citizens. But, unfortunately, this fact has not been realized by the people in the last 60 years of Independence. Some people with vested interest deliberately kept the citizens in darkness. Citizens are at the helm of affairs in democracy, nobody is beyond them. The public servants have to serve the citizens. But, the picture is altogether different today. The People’s Representatives and the Civil Servants have become masters of the country and made the citizens poor servants. This Act has enabled the common man to seek information. Till to-date, the people have to obey the laws; whereas the government machinery controlled everything. But by the advent of this Act, the Government Agencies have to obey the law and the people have got controlling power. The world over, country after democratic country, has recognized the need to keep their citizens informed about the way Government takes decisions. In our country we have the Right to Information Act for the last 10 years. The spirit of the Act can be best summarized by stating that without informed citizens there is no democracy. It recognizes that in a democracy citizens are the masters and servants cannot deny information to their masters. In fact, servants acts as trustees and hold the information belonging to their masters. But for almost six decades, the servants behaved like masters and the masters simply accepted this treatment.[v]
Rampant corruption prevailing in the country forced the lawmakers to understand that there is no way the country can become better without the servants favouring good governance. Under these circumstances, the preamble of the Right to Information Act highlights containing corruption, improving transparency and making servants accountable by empowering citizens to get information.[vi]
It lays down the foundation for a better tomorrow. In fact, every citizen who is the master has now the same power to obtain information which only the legislators had so far. This single aspect alone should create a new group of people who will demand good governance. This tool should help the poorest. To help the poorest requires attacking corruption at its root. The RTI Act is sufficiently strong in its present form to even attack the roots of corruption. There will forever be corruption at the lower levels as long as its seeds are sown at the highest level. The RTI Act can be used to expose these seeds of corruption which in turn can curb corruption at the lower levels.[vii]
Today, in addition to this Act, we have the benefit of internet. Also most of the youth today do not bribe to get jobs. Even if a small number of such people who can handle technology effectively are motivated to fight corruption it can do wonders. Such optimism was unthinkable only a few years back. The RTI Act, young people and internet can really bring in the real freedom to everybody. This was unlike during Mahatma Gandhi’s time when he had to move from place to place to mobilize people and use communication methods which were very primitive. So, we are at a distinct advantage as we are empowered by technology. India is graded year after year as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. By fighting corruption we are making our own tomorrow better.[viii]
RTI Act recognizes that information held in any form should be made available to citizens. In fact, samples of materials used also come under the definition of information. Overriding all other facts, the RTI Act allows information pertaining to third parties to be given to the citizen even if prohibited by the earlier Acts. The only requirement is that the information sought should be in public interest. As far as information held by the Government including personal information, the Act allows one to get such information without even giving any reason as to why you need that information. The RTI Act not only helps the citizens but also the whistle-blower and to recognize whether a particular person is a genuine whistle-blower or not, all one has to do is see files handled by him earlier. In this way supporting a whistle-blower is a much easier task today. But as whistle-blowers do not announce about their own activities, opinion of individuals should be collected and likely whistle-blower’s list should be prepared. The very fact of preparation of a whistle-blower’s list itself allows more information to come regarding whistle-blowers.[ix]
Right to Information is a fundamental human right allowing access to public information and is well established, both in legislation and in practice. It has been swiftly gaining popularity in many parts of the world as an effective tool to strengthen participatory democracy, promote good governance, check corruption and help ensure other rights thereby building an open and accountable society. As a result, billions of people around the world now enjoy the right to access information held by their governments and public agencies. Millions of people around the world have utilized these laws to access public information, to expose and check corruption, to enhance their ability to participate in public affairs, to improve public service delivery and to protect other human rights, opportunities and justice.[x]
Good governance is fundamentally the combination of transparent and accountable institutions, strong and competence, and a fundamental willingness to do the right thing. These are the things that enable a government to deliver services to its people efficiently.[xi] Good governance thus depends on interaction between stakeholders – leaders, political parties, bureaucracy, parliament, judiciary, private sector, civil society, media – and their interests; on capacity – human, technical, financial – of stakeholders to perform their role; and on incentives & accountability – rules & norms that provide incentives, rewards & sanctions to act in the public interest.[xii]
Transparency, accountability, informed citizenry and reduction in corruption being the critical elements of good governance, the Act looks forward to realization of greater good for the larger spectrum of citizens. Right of access to information encompasses right to participation, accountability and transparency and realization of the right holds the promise of promoting and strengthening citizen led initiative for good governance. Access to information holds centrality in realization of good governance helping mounting of citizen led demand for transparency, accountability, predictability, responsiveness and participation. In other words, it enhances the quality of citizen participation in governance from mere vote-casting to involvement in the decision-making that affects his/her life.[xiii]
RTI ACT AND GOOD GOVERNANCE
The result of good governance is development that “gives priority to the poor, advances the cause of women, sustains the environment, and creates needed opportunities for employment and other livelihoods”. UNDP defines good governance in terms of eight specific characteristics i.e. participatory, consensus oriented, accountable, transparent, responsive, effective and efficient, equitable and inclusive, and the rule of law where participation, transparency, legitimacy and responsiveness forms the pillars of good governance.[xiv]
In India, the concept of good governance was applied through the passing of RTI Act, 2005, 73rd and 74th constitutional amendment. Right to information is a basic requisite of good governance and the Act has played a major role in good governance as it has helped in making the system transparent and accountable.[xv]
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 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 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.[xvi]
RTI Act has lent voice to the aspirations of ordinary citizens in issues of governance. It gave the common people a defining power to shape the government schemes and policies. It empowered the people to question, audit, review, examine, and assess government acts and decisions to ensure that these are consistent with the principles of public interests, good governance and justice. The greater the access of the citizen to the information, the greater would be the responsiveness of the government to community needs. Without information, the common man cannot adequately exercise his rights and responsibilities or make informed choices. So Right to Information is the most effective instrument to check corruption where the citizen has the right to take the initiatives to seek information from the state and thereby promotes openness, transparency and accountability in administration by making the government more open to public scrutiny. It also empowered the people to seek definite and direct answer from the officials of their works or lack of it thus facilitating and encouraging the participation of common people in the process of good governance. 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.[xvii] Good governance is characterised by transparency and accountability and the best way to ensure transparency and accountability in governance is through increased and informed participation of people.[xviii]
RTI ACT AS A TOOL OF EMPOWERMENT FOR COMMON PEOPLE
Under RTI Act, citizens and citizen groups are empowered to approach the concerned department and check the planning and development permissions in detail as to whether they were given after giving due consideration to all factors or any undue compromise is made to favour some groups.[xix] They are also empowered to approach the department to arrange inspection of buildings or trade premises to find out whether the building activity or trade activity is in accordance with the permissions and conditions. They can make appeals to the authorities based on their actual monitoring of actual development and its deviation from sanctions. Citizen/ citizen groups can also seek information on environmental protection data from the public authority using the RTI Act. Citizens can invoke RTI Act and seek information on the maintenance of the sites and regulation of development around the structures/areas and even perform social audits to bring about any major differences between the allowed and actual development. The citizens and citizen groups can make effective use of the RTI Act to ensure that the self-employment benefits reach the appropriate target groups laid down under the programme and that they are effectively utilised for the employment generation of the unemployed. The RTI Act can be used as an effective tool in ensuring that the unemployed and under-employed have got livelihood and acquire employment through improved skills. In the absence of employment generation, this can help people in requesting and demanding employment generation programmes from the ULB. The RTI Act can be used as an effective tool in ensuring that the incentives proposed for organized women groups are properly provided and the women groups are empowered and benefited socially and economically. So, undoubtedly RTI Act serves as a great tool of empowerment for the common people.[xx]
RTI AS A TOOL IN PROMOTING GOOD GOVERNANCE
A. People’s Participation
The passing of 73rd and 74th constitutional amendment has become a mean for ensuring effective governance since the twin aim of decentralization i.e. deepening democracy and good governance can be achieved with active participation of the people.[xxi]
People are biggest stakeholder in governance; they have a critical and crucial role to play in promoting good governance in the country. Participation envisages involvement of the entire society in governance. Both men and women are the cornerstone of good governance. Representative democracy does not mean the rule of chosen few; it must take into interest of all sections specially the most vulnerable sections in the society.[xxii]
Without people’s participation, the Right to Information will remain a non-starter.[xxiii] Participation has a wide range of definitions. On the one side, some researchers take participation to mean simply engaging with any particular activity[xxiv]; on the other side, researchers define participation as a process through which people influence and share control over development initiatives.[xxv] Right to Information Act creates a connection between people and government. Good governance requires that civil society has the opportunity to participate during the formulation of development strategies and that directly affected communities and groups should be able to participate in the design and implementation of programmes and projects. Even where projects have a secondary impact on particular localities or population groups, there should be a consultation process that takes their views into account.[xxvi] Citizens who understand public affairs and what government is doing can voice their opinion on issues that affect their lives and they can participate in the business of government. Right to information facilities citizens in making political and economic choices and thus strengthens democracy.[xxvii] RTI Act facilitates and encourages the participation of common people in the process of promoting 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 promoting good governance.[xxviii]
People have showed increased interest in the affairs of government and sought information regarding various issues affecting their lives and well-being. RTI Act empowered the people to seek definite and direct answer from the officials of their works or lack of it. RTI applications have annually increased by 8 to 10 times. A 2009 study estimates that in the Act’s first three years alone, close to two million RTI requests were filed in different parts of the country. Thus, there is massive use of the right to know. Of the millions of applications for information, less than 5 per cent have been denied information under various exemption categories. So, accountability has invariably led to efficiency and a sense of responsibility among government officials.[xxix]
B. Accountability and Transparency
Transparency is the corner stone of any good government. Public has right, to know about the policies and programmes of the government. All communication of the government must be opened to the public.[xxx] Access to information is a great enabler of transparency and transparency refers to availability of information to general public and clarity about functioning of government institutions. The Right to Information act is intended to promote accountability and transparency in government by making the process of government decision making more open. Though some departments of the Union government are exempted from this Act but the information can be sought if it is concerned with violation of human rights. Even the information from the private authority can be sought only through the controlling authority and controlling authority will send the notice to the institution concerned under section 11 of the Act.[xxxi]
It has been realized by most of the countries through experience that greater access of the citizens to information enhances the openness of government to community needs. In turn, this facilitates immediate redressed of public grievances and thus improves feeling of goodwill towards the government.[xxxii] Capitalists and democratic countries have a higher degree of openness vis-a-vis authoritarian regimes; nowhere in the world is government functioning totally open.[xxxiii]
In India, the government passed a landmark Right to Information Act in 2005. Since then, social activists, civil society organizations, and ordinary citizens have effectively used the Act to tackle corruption and bring greater transparency and accountability in the government.[xxxiv] We have had instances where numerous activists and groups have used this tool to good effect ensuring the values of transparency and accountability are upheld.[xxxv] RTI as a tool has been majorly used by organized citizen groups, activists and NGOs. As far as its utilization by the individual citizen or the common man goes, the figures are far from satisfactory. Trends tell us that the use of RTI by the common man has been sparse and not up to the mark. This in itself is not a desired result as the RTI aims to empower the common man, irrespective of his/her association with citizen group or NGOs.[xxxvi]
Right to information enables citizens to see how governments, those in public offices are working.[xxxvii] Public openly comes to know what is to be happened and what has happened.
In the absence of any public interest in seeking information, the RTI gets degenerated into settling scores and mudslinging. Indiscriminate and impractical demands by applicants with no relation to transparency, accountability and eradication of corruption are proving to be counterproductive. The executive and government machinery gets tied to non-productive work affecting the efficiency of administration.[xxxviii]
RTI has also brought transparency in the system. According to 2012 ranking of Transparency International, India stood up at 94, out of 176 nations. The survey also revealed that 54% Indians paid bribe, at least once, to get things done. After enactment of this Act, many 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.[xxxix]
EFFECTS OF RTI ACT IN PROMOTING GOOD GOVERNANCE
As social activists, civil society organizations, and ordinary citizens have effectively used the Act, the law is increasingly being able to tackle high profile corruption. With corruption being viewed as one of the biggest obstacles, an empirical study concluded that the RTI negatively impacted corruption and its statistical impact on curbing corruption was quite significant. The study conducted in 20 states found that the Act has reduced the corruption in an average state by 18.5%. Findings of a national level survey jointly conducted by the Transparency International and the Centre for Media Studies revealed that India’s economy in the last three years has grown at unprecedented high rate of 8 – 9% per annum due to decline in corruption and malpractices. Thus, it shows a strong and positive impact of RTI on transparency and accountability of the Government.[xl]
For many, particularly India’s poor and disadvantaged, the simple act of filing an RTI application is empowering, and often leads to tangible results. In 2010, K.S. Sagaria, a resident of Kushmal village in rural Orissa, filed an RTI application seeking information on the number of ponds constructed in his village under the government’s national wage employment scheme. The information he received was revealing: the ponds had never been constructed even though money had been allocated and spent. Following complaints from villagers, the local administration was forced to take action and suspend the officials involved in the pond scam.[xli]
Civil society organizations have also played an important role in raising public awareness about RTI and assisting citizens in filing requests for information.[xlii] State-wide tours are held for awareness generation among people. Public addresses are organized in many towns and programmes are arranged specially for college students. Posters, banners and folders are printed and distributed in thousands. All this have resulted in the awakening of the citizens and have made them aware of their fundamental Right to Information.[xliii] For example, Delhi-based NGO Satark Nagarik Sangathan (SNS) runs an information center to assist local residents and slum dwellers to file RTI applications and has successfully campaigned for improvements in the quality of public services including water, sanitation, the public distribution system, and even the performance of local elected representatives.[xliv]
In addition to such initiatives, the law is increasingly being used to tackle high profile corruption. Much of the information regarding corruption in the allocation of tenders and contracts for last year’s Commonwealth Games was unearthed using RTI. In 2010, a series of RTI applications filed by the Housing and Land Rights Network, a Delhi-based NGO, revealed that the Delhi government had diverted funds from its social welfare programs for infrastructure development under the Commonwealth Games.[xlv]
TII’s program, Pahal, has been bringing good governance to remote villages, by easing information flow to rural areas, facilitating government service delivery, and strengthening local government bodies. Through tools such as social audits and citizens’ charters, the program ensures that government money is spent on equitable development. Working with TII and local allies, villagers have recovered money lost to corruption and enforced fines on officials who solicited bribes. Villagers are renewing democracy by participating in gram sabhas (village assemblies), running for elected office, and demanding accountability.[xlvi]
In the model district of Mochha, Chhattisgarh, people are using RTI to secure employment, scholarships and pensions for the elderly. They also pressured government doctors and school teachers to show up at work regularly. Villagers in Madhubani district, Bihar used RTI to expose a solar-light scam, leading to charges against 200 corrupt officials.[xlvii]
If this Act reaches every village and every household, it has potential to check corruption to an extent of 80 – 85%. Due to corruption, only 10 percent could reach the real beneficiaries of the poverty alleviation programmes earlier. Rest of the money percolated to the purses of corrupt officers and politicians. Now, due to the Act of Right to Information, the poor villagers will get their due share in the development process. The quality of project works has started to improve after the Act.[xlviii]
One simple yet powerful example of how effective RTI can be is reflected in this story of a slum-dweller who wanted a ration card. The protagonist was told that he would have to pay a bribe of Rs 2,000 to obtain a new ration card. But he just went ahead and applied for the ration card without giving any bribe or groveling in front of officials for pity. The slum-dweller, however, decided to become the enforcer of good governance. He found out in how many weeks people who paid bribes got their ration cards. He waited for an extra four weeks and then applied for information under RTI. Using the simple format and with a Rs 10 application fee he delivered it to the PIO at the Food and Supply office. He asked up to which date applications for ration cards had been cleared and the details of the progress of his application. This shook up the corrupt officials, since this would be written confirmation that they had given ration cards to others who had applied after him, which would be conclusive evidence that they had no justification for delaying his card. The ration card was given to him immediately. No bribes, no endless visits and no begging before the corrupt. Our RTI-empowered citizen was able to enforce the supremacy of the citizen by using RTI.[xlix]
The larger use of RTI has been seen in areas of women empowerment, youth development, democratic rights, rights and entitlements of the underprivileged, abuse of executive discretion and strengthening of participative and good governance. From purpose focused beginnings amply and aptly shown by the political and social activist Aruna Roy and others, today it is also used by politicians for pure political fights, agents of corporate for commercial interests and ‘information businessmen’ clothed as activists for blackmail and ulterior motives. In the absence of any public interest in seeking information, the RTI gets degenerated into settling scores and mudslinging. The executive and government machinery gets tied to non-productive work affecting the efficiency of administration. RTI got evolved to empower the dalits, minorities, backward classes, the economically weaker sections and vulnerable groups. Today it is tilting towards exposing politicians and government officials. There is a variance from the fundamental preamble of the Right to Information Act.[l]
SUCCESS STORIES OF RTI ACT IN PROMOTING GOOD GOVERNANCE
Five officials of Akola Municipal Corporation (AMC) in Maharashtra State who did not supply the information sought by applicants have been fined to the tune of over Rs.1.50 lakh under the Maharashtra Right to Information Act, 2002. AMC Commissioner, Gajananrao Ghate passed the order on 21 December 2004 after the five officers – an official In the Administration Wing, a PWD Engineer, a Town Planner and two other officers – failed to supply information within the stipulated time, as per the provisions of the Act. The fine amount would be recovered from the salaries of the respective officials, the Commissioner’s order clarified. The action was taken against these officials on the basis of the petitions filed by ordinary citizens.
In December 2002, Parivartan, an NGO crusading for citizens rights in New Delhi conducted a Jan Sunwai (public hearing) to expose the high levels of corruption in public works carried out by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD). Using the Delhi Right to Information Act to acquire copies of contracts for public works in two resettlement colonies in East Delhi, Parivartan conducted a social audit of 68 such works with alarming results. The social audit uncovered specific instances of corruption. Parivartan’s investigations into the 68 public works found that items worth Rs.70 lakhs were missing. With these findings in hand, Parivartan met the Chief Minister, Chief Secretary, Secretary (Administrative Reforms) of Government of Delhi and the MCD Commissioner demanding that the guilty be punished. They also wrote to the Delhi Police to file an FIR to start the process for framing charges.
A study conducted by RTI Assessment & Analysis Group (RaaG) and National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) covered over 35,000 people in villages, towns and cities across ten states and Delhi. Also 1027 public authorities’ offices were inspected both in the rural as well as urban areas. The study highlighted that though data supplied by the government indicates a success rate of 70/100, with a full mark for providing complete information and half a mark for part information, their own experience with the RTI applications, success rate becomes 55/100. Whereas government claimed that 90% of the time information was provided in time, their own experience suggested 40%.
In 2007, data obtained under RTI inspired citizens to question elected representatives to stop a scam worth over Rs. 6,000 crores in the Crawford Market redevelopment issues in Mumbai.[li]
RTI Act has been incorporated in the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA). RTI has been judiciously used to expedite NREGA. For example, the villagers of Elengabalsa village of Bandhugaon Gram Panchayat of Koraput district filed an RTI application to know the number of job cards issued in the village; why all the households, who by this time should have got the cards, had not received them; who were the officers guilty of violating the provisions of the Act, etc. The RTI Act worked as a miracle. The Panchayat authorities issued 40 job cards within seven days of the RTI application; promised to deliver the rest within some days. In a similar case in the Tumudibandh block of Kandhamal district, the Block Development Officer, responding to an RTI appeal, immediately released 500 job cards promising to give the rest eventually. NREGA has brought thousands of people above the family poverty line of Rs.28, 000.[lii]
USING RTI – FULL OF RISKS
Using RTI in India is not without risks. RTI activists have increasingly come under threat and attack, with many suffering fatal injuries. Over the last 10 years, around 40 RTI activists were murdered and around 300 assaulted or harassed for filing uncomfortable RTIs in different parts of the country, causing widespread alarm among civil society groups. Most of those killed were investigating irregularities in sectors such as mining, land, and local elections where corruption is rampant. Civil society organizations are now demanding that the government take concrete measures to protect the lives of such individuals.
Satender Dubey, who engineered 180km highway under NHAI’s “Golden Quadrilateral” where he found malpractices i.e. ‘‘loot of public money’’ reported for the same to PM and later was shot and killed as his letter was leaked.[liii]
Some murders for seeking info under RTI:
- Ram Vilas Singh in Lakhi Sarai in Bihar asked police why an accused in a murder case was not arrested
- Niyamat Ansari sought information on MGNREGS in Jharkhand
- Amit Jetwa on illegal mining in Gujarat’s Gir forest
- Satish Shetty for highlighting land grabbing in Pune.
- Shimbu Ram Bishnoi of Jodhpur sought access to information on MGNREGA and PDS.
- Nandi Singh of Bishnu of Assam for pursuing irregularities in PDS in his village.[liv]
Despite these risks, the RTI Act has continued to grow in popularity among citizens and activists alike. While activists are split on whether the RTI has led to a reduction in corruption in India, most agree that the law is a critical step in the right direction. Speaking to The New York Times, RTI activist Shekhar Singh said that the main objective of India’s RTI movement was to empower people, concluding that “this law has done that – given the people the power to challenge their government. That is no small thing.”[lv]
Since its inception in 2005, exactly 10 years have passed and one can safely say that RTI has made its impact felt in the functioning of Government bodies and the larger governance discourse, as the staff has become active, conscious, regular, punctual, accountable and responsible. The corruption in the division is reduced. Big scams have been averted by the use of RTI. People do feel more empowered. Their bargaining power vis-a-vis public officials has increased manifold. A great change has come in India in the last decade in the power equation between the sovereign citizens and those in power. This change is just the beginning and if it can be sustained and strengthened, our defective elective democracy could metamorphose into a truly participatory democracy within the next one or two decades. Thus the impact of RTI in good governance is palpable.
[i] M. M. Ansari, Impact of Right to Information on Development: A Perspective on India’s Recent Experiences, available at https://cic.gov.in/CIC-IntlEvents/IC-MA-LectureAtUNESCO-15052008.pdf.
[iii] S. Srivastava, RTI in India, Volume 1, No. 1, Quarter IV, Afro Asian Journal of Social Sciences, 1 (2010).
[viii] Ibid, at 3.
[x] K. Sapkota, SAARC: Potential Global Champion of Right to Information, available at https://sartian.org/index.php/news/item/753-https-arko-asia-news-nepal-saarc-potential-global-champion-right-information#.Vnae6rZ97IU , last seen on Monday, 24/11/2014, 12:50.
[xi] See: Strengthening World Bank Group Engagement on Governance and Anticorruption (GAC) Strategy, 2007.
[xii] R. S. Chase and A. Anjum, Demand for Good Governance Stocktaking Report, available at https://siteresources.worldbank.org/EXTSOCIALDEVELOPMENT/Resources/244362-1193949504055/DFGGstocktakingReport.pdf.
[xiii] R. Rani, RTI in Practice: Mapping its Effectiveness in Urban Slums of Delhi available at https://rti.gov.in/Final_Report_on_RTI_by_Rekha_rani.pdf.
[xiv] S. K. SHARMA, T. RAJ, From Good Governance to Clean Governance, SocialSciences.in, available at https://socialsciences.in/article/good-governance-clean-governance, last seen on 28/06/2011.
[xv] Ibid, at 6.
[xvi] N. Hazra, RTI- A Right to Good Governance, Vol 57, Yojana Journal, p.55 (2013) available at https://yojana.gov.in/CMS/(S(veht3e2jij4dq4e55aotiu45))/PDF/Yojana/English/2013/Yojana%20January%202013.pdf.
[xix] NIA team, The Right to Information Act, 2005- A Guide for Urban Local Bodies (ULBs), available at https://www.cgg.gov.in/publicationdownloads2a/RTI-ULBs.pdf.
[xx] Ibid, at 8.
[xxi] Supra 15, at 7.
[xxii] S. K. Borah, Right to Information Act: A Key to Good Governance, VOL -2, Issue- 2, International Journal of
Humanities and Social Science, p.11 (2013).
[xxiii] A. Malekar, NRIs too have the right to information, available at https://infochangeindia.org/right-to-information/features/without-peoples-participation-the-right-toinformation-will-remain-a-non-starter.html last seen on 19/11/2008.
[xxiv] Bishop & Davis 2002; Paul 1987, available at https://vuir.vu.edu.au/16003/1/Thesis_3619041_Waheduzzaman.pdf.
[xxv] Arnstein 1971; Shand & Arnberg 1996; World Bank 1996, available at https://vuir.vu.edu.au/16003/1/Thesis_3619041_Waheduzzaman.pdf.
[xxvi] Shilpa, Right to Information Act: A tool to Strength Good Governance and Tackling Corruption,
International journal of Humanities and Social Science invention, p.46 (2013).
[xxvii] M. K. Chaubey, Right to information-Various Dimensions, Regal Publications, New Delhi, p.24.
[xxviii] Supra 17, at 8.
[xxix] M. D. Surie, Right to Information in India: An Effective Tool to Tackle Corruption, available at https://asiafoundation.org/in-asia/2011/09/28/right-to-information-in-india-an-effective-tool-to-tackle-corruption/, last seen on 28/09/2011.
[xxx] Supra 24, at 9.
[xxxi] Supra 19, at 9.
[xxxii] A. Chaba, S. Shukla & S. Kalra, Right to Information: Step towards transparent governance, available at https://cic.gov.in/CIC-Articles/ArunaChhaba-01.htm.
[xxxiii] V. Joseph, Right to Information on a Broad Convas, Volume 17, No.2, The Indian journal of public administration, p.269 (2001).
[xxxiv] Supra 26, at 10.
[xxxv] Right to Information Act & Open Government Data, available at https://community.data.gov.in/right-to-information-act-open-government-data/, last seen on 29/05/ 2015.
[xxxvii]Supra 24, at 9.
[xxxviii] I. Banerjea, RTI a tool for good governance and also its misuse, The Shillong Times, available at https://www.theshillongtimes.com/2013/08/23/rti-a-tool-for-good-governance-and-also-its-misuse/, last seen on 23/08/2013.
[xxxix] Supra 17, at 7.
[xl] Supra 2, at 1.
[xli] Supra 26, at 10.
[xliii] Vranjana, Right To Information – A Tool For Good Governance, available at https://www.legalservicesindia.com/article/article/rti-a-tool-for-good-governnce-615-1.html, last seen on 03/04/2011.
[xliv] Supra 26, at 10.
[xlvi] Sowing the Seeds of Good Governance, Indian Development And Relief Fund, available at https://www.idrf.org/sowing-the-seeds-of-good-governance/ .
[xlviii] Supra 38, at 13.
[xlix] S. Gandhi, RTI- a fading ray of hope? Deccan Herald, available at https://www.deccanherald.com/content/491466/rti-fading-ray-hope.html, last seen on 26/07/2015.
[l]Supra 35, at 12.
[li] S. Gandhi, Government, The Key to Speeding Up languishing RTI Appeals, India Together, digital edition, available at https://www.indiatogether.org/2008/sep/rti-workhours.htm, last seen on 22/09/2008,
[lii] P. Baisakh, Human Rights, Villagers push for work benefits in Orissa, India Together, digital edition, last seen on 27/02/2007.
[liii] Ibid, at 16
[liv] Supra 44, at 15.
[lv] Supra 30, at 10.