|Demand of the question
Introduction. Contextual introduction.
Body. How RTI enabled a culture of accountability and more informed citizens in India? Issues and loopholes.
Conclusion. Way forward.
Transparency and accountability in administration is the sine qua non of participatory democracy. Right to information (RTI) ensured participation of Indian citizens in political and economic processes leading to good governance. Many cases have shown that RTI enabled more accountability and transparency in government administration.
How RTI enabled a culture of accountability and more informed citizens in India?
- Increased responsiveness: Greater access of the citizen to information, led to increased responsiveness of government to community needs. Earlier government was less or not responsive to citizens’ needs and grievances. For example, for about two years, every time, SuvaranaBhagyawant made rounds of the panchayat office to get her grandfather’s death certificate she was asked for bribe or come back later. Finally, Suvarana filed a query under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. She got the certificate within eight days.
- Awareness of rights: RTI has led to awareness of rights and responsibilities as citizens among people. This led to increased accountability of officials through RTI and litigation. 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.
- Discharge of duties: Information through RTI has led to legitimate discharge of their duties by officers.
- It raised the standards of public services.
- Through information in public officer do their duty more diligently for not getting penalised.
- Led to Culture of obligation: Earlier information was protected by the Colonial Secrets Act 1923, which makes the disclosure of official information by public servants an offence.
- RTI has developed obligation at village, district, state or national level to disclose information to the people.
- Thus it enhanced transparency among various government bodies at all levels of the government.
- Villagers in Madhubani district, Bihar used RTI to expose a solar-light scam, leading to charges against 200 corrupt officials.
- Empowered poor communities: RTI empowered poor communities to raise their voices on the basis of information and demand for their rights from government.
- This ensured government being answerable to poor.
- This led to transparent approach towards working for poor communities.
- It plugged incidence of corruption and plugged leakages.
- Proper grievance mechanism: RTI provided for Central and the State Information Commissions to hear grievances related to RTI. These commissions have played an important role to play in the effective implementation of the Right to Information Act, 2005 ensuring its proper implementation.
- Informed Citizenry: Democracy requires an informed citizenry and transparency of information which for its functioning. RTI enabled healthy democracy and also contained corruption and hold Governments and accountable to the people. 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.
Issues and loopholes in RTI:
- Increasing pendency of cases: These Commissions particularly the Central Information Commission, have kept a strong vigil over the functioning of administrative machinery relating to the implementation of the Act. However, their performance has often been restricted by increasing number of appeals. This has resulted in increase in pendency as well as increase in waiting time for hearing of appeals.
- Definition of information: An important issue is the definition of information. Supreme Court stated that ‘information’ for the purpose of this Act would mean information held by the PIO or under his control. However, if the information is not held by the PIO the public authority is not under obligation to provide that information.
- Not all institutions under RTI: Another issue is that some institutions are not being covered under the Act. E.g. judiciary is not under the act.
- Lack of infrastructure: The Implementation of RTI requires the PIOs to provide information to the applicant through photocopies, soft copies etc. These facilities are not available at Block and Panchayat level.
- Low awareness level: Awareness about RTI is still very low. Awareness level is low, especially among the disadvantaged communities such as women rural population, OBC/SC/ST population.
- Constraints faced in filing applications: Under Section 26 of the RTI Act, the appropriate Government is expected to publish and distribute user guides (within 18 months of enactment of the Act) for information seekers. However Nodal Departments have not published these guides in many states.
Since the implementation of the RTI Act, it has established itself as an important tool in handling corruption and inefficiency in the Government. Although there have been instances of misuse of the Act, but it has served its purpose well. Issues and loopholes in RTI should be removed through proper amendment to further the objectives of transparency and accountability.