The Right to Information Act and Good Governance in India
by Prof. R. N. Mishra
Problems and Prospects
The passage of the Right to Information Act, 2005 represents a mile stone in Indian politics. It is a weapon in the hands of common men to fight for their rights and derive the advantage of true democracy. Gandhiji said, “The real Swaraj will come not by the acquisition of authority by a few but by the acquisition of capacity by all to resist authority when abused.” The Act itself makes it clear that democracy requires an informed citizenry and transparency of information which are vital to its functioning. Further, the new law intends to contain corruption and to hold governments and their instrumentalities accountable to the governed.
While introducing the Bill in the Parliament on May11, 2005, Dr.Man Mohan Singh, the Prime Minister of India said:
“The passage of the Bill will see the dawn of a new era in our processes of governance, an era of performance and efficiency, benefits of growth will flow to all sections of the society, eliminate the scourge of corruption, and will bring the common man’s concern to the heart of all processes of governance and fulfill the hopes of the founding fathers of our Republic.”
The provisions of the Act compliment and supplement the fundamental right under Article 19(1) (a) which guarantees the freedom of speech and expression. The prerequisite for this right is knowledge and information, the absence of which will encourage wild rumors and speculations and avoidable allegations against individuals and institutions. Further, right information will help the citizens in performing their fundamental duties contained in Article 51A of the Constitution. Well informed citizens are better equipped to handle the issues in a democratic regime. However, the right to information like all our fundamental rights is not absolute and subject to reasonable restrictions.
The new law has come into effect since 13th October, 2005 and applies to union and state agencies, local governments and even societies and trusts which receive public funds. The law provides for independent information commissioners, proactive disclosures and reporting mechanisms and has the potential to impact our governance process in a positive way by empowering citizens.
Essentially the new law aims at maintaining transparency in the processes of policy formulation and its implementation, eliminating dereliction of legitimate duties by public authorities and making our public life free from corruptions which are the hallmarks of good governance. Nevertheless, the plethoras of corruption charges which have rocked the whole nation quietly suggest that the new law can never be the panacea for the chronic ills which ail the nation.
Ever since the new law came into effect the first two objectives i.e., transparency in government work and accountability of public authorities may be said to have been achieved in a limited sense over the years but corruptions in public life continue unabated. The scenario is evident from the recent incidents. Hardly a single day passes without nabbing a corrupt person across the country but corruption continues to make its headway in almost all possible manners.
What worries the common men most is corruption at high places. There are glaring instances in recent time which make them feel stifled. Right from the very beginning, charges of corruptions were levelled against the organizers of the Commonwealth Games held in New Delhi. The hiring charge of a single chair was more than the price of at least three to four new chairs. The Government of India had to spend about twenty-six thousand crores of rupees and the exact amount that was really utilized for this purpose is yet to be ascertained. The matter is under investigation and the person at the helm of affairs stands removed. Charges of corruption in the Adarsh Cooperative Society is another instance in which high ranking Army and Navy officers including top officials of the Government of Maharatra and the then Chief Minister have been brought under the scanner. The dispute relates to a piece of land in the Kolab area in Mumbai which was at the disposal of the Army and was allotted to the cooperative society for construction of a housing colony meant for the widows of the soldiers slain in the Kargil war. After construction of high rising 31- floor flats on the land, the houses were allotted to all these high profile people and their close relations and the war widows were squarely denied of the benefit. The matter is under investigation now.
It is estimated that around 17 lakh 30 thousand acres of land is at present at the disposal of the Indian Army, Navy and the Air Force in different parts of the country. Taken together the size of the land is five times bigger than the metropolitan areas of Delhi. The authorities, however, have reported to the Defence Ministry to have utilized only 2 lakh acres of land and there is no report on the rest more than 15 lakh acres of land. As far as the value of the land is concerned, it is estimated that it may be more than twice the annual budgetary income of India. Now, it is time to take care of the land otherwise it may lead to some other scam in future.
The common men in our country usually have a great trust and confidence in the judiciary, more particularly at the higher echelon. People expect full measure of honesty and impartiality from the judicial functionaries. But certain recent instances have belied the hope of the masses. At the moment a high court judge is facing impeachment proceedings. Previously, a judge of the Supreme Court could not be impeached due to political reasons. The absence of the MPs of a major political party saved him from impeachment. However, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court did not take him in to confidence and the judge had almost no role to play in administration of justice till his retirement.
Recently the Chief Justice of the Karnataka High Court was transferred to Sikkim, following serious allegations made against him by the senior lawyers. Against the background the revelation made by Shanti Bhusan, the former Union Law Minister and a distinguished jurist, raising questions of honesty and integrity of some former Chief Justices of the Supreme Court is really a shocking matter. It is not clear as to why he did not raise the question when these persons were in positions of authority. As stated by him he even prefers imprisonment to withdrawal of his complaints. One fact that stands out prominently in the context of leveling all these charges against our judicial system is that the role of the judiciary is not above suspicion and efforts are required to cleanse its image.
The charges of corruption against the former Telecom Minister for grant of license in 2G-spectrum to business houses are said to have resulted in revenue loss of the country to the tune of one lakh seventy six thousand seven hundred crores.. The matter is also under investigation. Similarly the statement of a renowned industrialist who was asked to pay a bribe of 15 crores of rupees to a former central minister for grant of license for civil aviation is a startling revelation. Another industrial giant has indirectly supported the statement by making a general statement that giving bribes by large business houses to the persons in authority is a very common practice.
All these instances cited here are illustrative rather than exhaustive. The Right to information is of no avail for common men to curb the spate of corruption in the country. Time has come to look beyond the Right and devise appropriate mechanisms to safeguard the interest of common men and ensure good governance through out the nook and corner of India.