This RTI is a powerful tool to expose major policy decisions. Recently a major breakthrough happened with effort in Delhi to privatize water supply in the city.
Apparently, this was a proposed World Bank funded effort. The proposal was on since the mid nineties in complete secrecy. However, some news leaked out in to the press, and an RTI petition was filed asking for the files on this process.
At first there was a lot of resistance, but finally the files were made public, and the story was shocking. Apparently, the World Bank was arm twisting and almost dictating policy to the government. The process of privatization (or any government work) takes place with bids by bidding companies. There is a two layered process, where first in this case the top six companies would be selected, and then in the second round, the best among them would be selected. Here, in the first round, Pricewaterhouse-Coopers, the well known consulting firm, had a bid that came in tenth. By law, they should have been eliminated. But the world bank insisted that PWC be considered. At first the government protested, but with continuous pressure relented, and declared PWC to be selected in the top six by declaring it to be an Indian company! In the next round, again PWC fared badly, with only a 67% score, and a terrible proposal. Again the world bank pressurized the government (by asking it to remove the people who evaluated the proposal), and forced the government to declare the PWC bid as the winner. Again, the government capitulated to pressure.
It wasnâ€™t just this, but the entire process of water privatization in this proposal was rather absurd, and would have affected millions of people adversely.
Bowing to public pressure (after the dealings were revealed due to the RTI petition), the government scrapped the project completely.
The rules framed by the court deter those who seek information about its workings, reports Avinash Dutt
When the Right to Information (RTI) Act came into force in October 2005, lawyers who had been fighting for transparency in Indiaâ€™s higher judiciary were apprehensive that the courts might not be very forthcoming with information about their working. Many RTI activists also had their doubts about the courtsâ€™ willingness to part with information. The RTI rules framed by the Delhi High Court have confirmed their worst fears. They say that the rules completely dilute the provisions of the RTI.
Under the RTI Act, heads of different government institutions are allowed to frame their own rules to implement its provisions. â€œThe High Court rules defeat the entire purpose of the Act,â€ says the senior Supreme Court lawyer, Prashant Bhushan. RTI campaigner Shekhar Singh agrees. â€œRules framed by the court violate the law,â€ he says.
The Central Information Commissioner, Wajahat Habibullah, who is in-charge of overseeing the Actâ€™s successful implementation, also has reservations about the rules. â€œI largely agree with Singhâ€™s observation on the RTI rules formulated by the Delhi HC,â€ he said. Habibullah differs with Singh on some points, but he also feels that the HC rules need to be amended.
Shekhar Singh elaborates why: one of the rules framed by the HC states that if an applicant seeks any information from a Public Information Officer (PIO) that is not under the officerâ€™s jurisdiction, the information will not be provided. Nor will the fees paid by the applicant be refunded. â€œThis is in violation of the act, which stipulates that such applications must be transferred to the correct PIO within five working days,â€ Singh points out.
The violations, says Singh, donâ€™t stop here. The Delhi HC rules state: â€œDecisions, which are taken administratively or quasi judicially, information therefore, shall be available only to the affected persons.â€ The Delhi HC Press Information Officer cited this rule as the reason for the HCâ€™s refusal to divulge information about class III and Class IV recruitments done in the court in the last 16 years (see box). In fact, says Singh, â€œThe act obligates the public authority to suo motu provide all administrative and quasi judicial decisions to the affected party but does not prohibit it from being given to anyone else.â€
The RTI campaigners also object to the HCâ€™s stipulation of mandatory forms and the fees that go with it. The Central Information Commission has ruled that RTI forms should be made available to applicants who need them but should not be made mandatory. The HC has pegged the fee at Rs 500 per application. â€œThough the court is authorised to fix the fee, but the act also says that it should be reasonable. The rate is unreasonably high,â€ Singh says.
However, Singh does not see the HC rules as all bad. He points out that one rule is actually an improvement over the RTI Act. The Delhi HC rules give the applicant an opportunity to appear in person and present his case before the PIO, something which the Central Information Commission does not mandate.
Tehelka - The People's Paper