Noting that the Right to Information (RTI) Act has ushered in the beginning of participatory governance, Vice-President Hamid Ansari on Tuesday said the movement must be strengthened at all levels and the support of the government, civil society and citizens was vital for its success.
Delivering the inaugural address at the first “National RTI Awards-2009” organised by Public Cause Research Foundation and NDTV here, Mr. Ansari said: “I must confess that I am pleasantly surprised at the manner in which common citizens across the country have taken recourse to the RTI Act to address their unending efforts to secure justice. The RTI Act has become an instrumentality in the hands of citizens to secure administrative facilitation and grievance redress.”
Pointing out that the Act was the outcome of civil society efforts of over a decade, Mr. Ansari said it was a legislative recognition of the view of the Supreme Court that the right to information was a fundamental right under the Constitution. “It was also an acceptance by the executive that it is answerable to the people not just once in five years but every time an RTI application is filed, which is hundreds of times a day. It has given a new meaning to citizen engagement with governance,” he added.
Expressing satisfaction that the RTI Act had imposed new obligations on all stakeholders, Mr. Ansari said the government was called upon to be more transparent and accountable in decision and policy making, and manage its records better. “The civil society is expected to be an informal clearing house for information to help common citizens understand and use this new instrumentality. This makes possible the participation of citizens in governance beyond elections,” he added.
Mr. Ansari said that the right to information also remains a fundamental right with limited means of justice and ability in comparison to other fundamental rights. “An important lacuna of the Act has been the lack of a mandatory monitoring mechanism to look at the implementation of the Act and to ensure that it is implemented in letter and spirit.”
The best RTI Citizen category award was given to social activist from Assam Akhil Gogoi. “Assam is known for terrorism and ethnic cleansing. The RTI is a big tool to fight draconian laws affecting our State. We have followed a methodology to use the RTI Act for the benefit of society. This methodology involves the RTI application, social scrutiny and people’s movement.”
While Lalit Narayan Mishra from Etawah was presented the award for the Best Public Information Officer, the Arunachal Pradesh Information Commission was awarded in the Best Information Commissioner category.
In his closing address, jurist Fali Nariman, who was part of the jury, said that 50 years ago people couldn’t have imagined that citizens would become activists.