Subhash Chandra Agrawal, an RTI activist who has relentlessly filed petitions seeking information about the high and mighty, explains to Bindu Shajan Perappadan why the law is historic
What is the significance of the Right to Information Act 2005?
‘Right-To-Information Act’ has been successful in more ways than it was intended to work. Post-independence history of India can be bifurcated into two eras, one pre-RTI Act and the other, post RTI-Act. This Act has given India a second freedom where a citizen is now much more empowered than even a Parliamentarian at least in getting information from the government. This is why even Parliamentarians including Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley adopted the RTI route to get replies from the government.
How useful is RTI to the common man?
There have been many cases where ordinary citizens have been using the RTI Act to get information on their applications for ration cards or passports and have got such documents door-delivered after filing the RTI petitions well before getting the RTI response.
For the general public, the RTI Act has served to be an effective watchdog to ensure that all those coming under the purview of the Act are extremely cautious in doing their work in accordance with rules and without any irregularities.
How has RTI helped in bring out scams/instances of corruption?
Though public authorities at the Supreme Court resisted queries on implementation of the resolution on wealth declaration by judges of higher courts, public-awareness generated through an RTI petition resulted in the Bill for Judicial Accountability and suo motu declaration of wealth by Supreme Court judges. Later even President of India and Ministers started declaring their wealth because of RTI petitions.
Many important documents relating to the Commonwealth Games - 2010, 2G spectrum allotment and so on were brought into the public domain through RTI petitions.
Does the fear of physical attack and intimidation of RTI applicants deter you?
I am not afraid. Though my friends and family have often expressed their concern and fears, it has not stopped me from asking questions. I have never sought government protection. What I think also works is the fact that I have never used the RTI to fight the mafia. My RTI requests have always been to point out the shortcomings and failures in government systems and schemes and this has always been for the larger good. But, I would also like to point out that I have had my share of problems. I have been threatened and my tryst with RTI has not exactly been ‘adventure’ free.