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Status of RTI in India - a paper by ex IC Mr Shailesh Gandhi


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Status of RTI in India

- a paper by ex IC Mr Shailesh Gandhi

 

Attached is a paper presented by ex IC Mr Shaileh Gandhi to the World Bank.

 

It highlights the background and present status of the working of the Act in India.

State of RTI WB report.docx

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MANOJ B. PATEL

Conclusion of a paper by Mr. Shailesh Gandhi to the World Bank about RTI Act in India.

Right to Information has taken root in India and citizens are increasingly using it to empower themselves. The spread of RTI is increasing steadily and this has the potential to transform Indian democracy from an elective democracy to a participatory and fairer democracy. The law has been propagated and popularised primarily by citizens working as groups and NGOs, or even as individuals. It has been growing from strength to strength. However this status paper, while acknowledging this, also seeks to draw attention to certain dangers and obstacles.

The bureaucracy and the political class is not too enamoured with the Act, as argued earlier, and there are possibilities of they either trying to amend its provisions or using other devices to weaken it.

The information commissioners should be safeguarding this Act, but are certainly not at the forefront of this. Many commissioners have no real commitment or faith in transparency and this is also a consequence of the fact that information commissioners are generally selected as an act of political patronage. Their indifferent attitude coupled with lack of attention to compliance with Section 4 of the RTI Act (proactive disclosures) has led to an increase in the number of RTI applications being filed. This in turn is increasing the load on the commissions which do not really feel responsible for delivering the results of the RTI Act to citizens.

The Supreme Court appears to be interpreting the RTI Act in a manner that will constrict its scope. It appears that the overriding aspect of the law in Section 22 has been weakened. On the other hand Section 8 (1) is being interpreted in a manner that denies much information which would expose corruption and arbitrariness. Public information officers and commissioners are following these judgements enthusiastically. When we compare the Supreme Court’s pronouncements on RTI after 2011 with the earlier ones of Justice Mathew, SP Gupta, R. Rajagopal, or the ADR or even the Bhagat Singh judgement, it is difficult to reconcile them. If the trend of such interpretations continues, the RTI Act could become progressively weaker.

Citizens need to be aware of these dangers and continue to defend their right, failing which RTI could have a reversal in its onward march. If they are not vigilant there can be a regression. They must keep a constant vigil to actualise their right. Public authorities must make most disclosures voluntarily as per the requirements of Section 4. If they computerised and networked their operations, this could be achieved very easily and providing information would be very easy. The nation is at the cusp of a very interesting phase in its democracy and the right to information is a very vital part of this.

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