ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Efficacy of RTI Act

I fully endorse the viewpoint of Prabodh Saxena (EPW, 18 pril 2009) to the effect that there is an imperative need to widen the purview of the Right to Information (RTI) Act so far as the definition of “public authority” is concerned. It is also instructive to learn that the chief information commissioner has made it clear that the control by the government need not be financial over the public authority but administrative and functional control is good enough.

I fully endorse the viewpoint of Prabodh Saxena (EPW, 18 pril 2009) to the effect that there is an imperative need to widen the purview of the Right to Information (RTI) Act so far as the definition of “public authority” is concerned. It is also instructive to learn that the chief information commissioner has made it clear that the control by the government need not be financial over the public authority but administrative and functional control is good enough. South Africa and even Bangladesh have vastly widened the ambit of “authorities” under their laws for compulsorily providing information to the citizen, while including private bodies in the former case and all registered societies, associations, firms, etc, in the latter case if protection of rights warrant it.

The million dollar question is would the wider purview per se ensure the efficacy of this law by delivering goods to the people. As one of the doubting Thomases, I entertain serious skepticism about it. The reasons are not far to seek. First and foremost, transparency and accountability are the sheet anchor of the RTI philosophy but the bureaucracy at the helm of affairs is still cast in a colonial mould. The chasm between the rulers (read bureaucrats) and the ruled (people) is still woefully unbridgeable. The bureaucrat looks askance at the people when they submit an application to seek information permitted under the law. It is really an uphill task to receive timely, correct, complete, reliable information from bureaucrats since they have many tricks up their sleeves not to do so. Second, the state and central information commissions are predominantly manned by retired bureaucrats, who eschew using the penal provisions of the RTI Act against their former colleagues (bureaucrats) even if delay or the offense for not providing the required information is proved beyond any doubt. This is so because of the strong relationship existing between their service associations and the establishment. Third and importantly, an adverse fallout effect of the RTI Act is that in nine out of 10 cases the bureaucrats do not respond to “ordinary” letters, applications, etc, of the people and cock a snook at conduct rules since they are the “masters”.

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