The basic premise of the Right To Information (RTI) Act is the concept that the individual citizen is a sovereign in her own right, and is the owner of the Government. This exemplifies the text book definition of democracy as being a ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people’. What this leads us to is the practical reality of information being the means to power, which is now shared with citizens. Transparency in working will act as a check on arbitrariness and corruption in governance. Thousands of citizens acting as monitors would be extremely vigilant and uncompromising.
When framing the RTI Act, Section 4 was a commitment and promise of Parliament to ensure that “It shall be a constant endeavour of every public authority to take steps in accordance with the requirements of clause (b) of sub-section (1) to provide as much information suo motu to the public at regular intervals through various means of communications, including internet, so that the public have minimum resort to the use of this Act to obtain information.”
By and large this commitment has not been met and only lip service has been paid to it. An important part of this section was the promise to computerise and build a network across the country. If this had been implemented in the last 8 years, it would have led to many phenomenal benefits.
Many people in power complain about the number of RTI queries, but do not admit that they have been lax in providing information ‘suo motu’ as mandated by the RTI Act. If they had provided most of the information on websites and in other manner as laid down by the law, the number of RTI queries would have been much less.
Even citizens who may not have access to internet and computers would have probably taken the help of software applications and been able to access information of interest to them using mobile phones. Some may have used cybercafés. When citizens approached Public Information Officers, they would have been able to provide the information in a painless manner.
Commissions have passed certain orders for displaying matters of interest to citizens such as status of ration card applications, details of prisoners, MLA and Corporator funds etc. But this must go up considerably. Until the public authorities wake up to their responsibilities, Commissions must give specific orders. Adherence to Section 4 will lead to an improvement in governance and greater trust in the government, apart from reducing the load on citizens and officers.
(Shailesh Gandhi is an RTI activist and a former Information Commissioner at the Central Information Commission.)