Transforming society through information

After having served the Government for four decades as an IAS officer in various capacities, Prabhat Kumar, former Cabinet Secretary of the Union Government, knows for certain the power of information. In a chat with R. Ramabhadran Pillai.

Prabhat Kumar

Who is responsible for the mess in governance? Everyone, says Prabhat Kumar, former Cabinet Secretary. Everybody wants to corner the fruits of development, but none is sure of his or her role. The best thing that has happened in recent times in governance is the Right to Information Act.

Usually there are pulls and pressures behind codifying a law. But it was not so in this case. Several senior officers in the administration were sceptical. Why should we be so open, they asked.

Nothing should be hidden from the people. That is the essence of the Act. The citizen has a right to seek information from Intelligence agencies too under this Act. Whatever information can be given to parliament can be disclosed to the people also. In fact, the Act is the finest one in its category in the world, according to him.

Nobody should be asked why he or she is asking the question. The citizen can ask any question. For example, you can ask when was M.G. Road last repaired. How many times has it been repaired in the last 10 years? How much money has been spent and what is the composition of the material used? The citizen is eligible to get the information within 30 days.

". There should be a partnership of Government and civil society".

The Indian polity has a plethora of laws. It is at the implementation stage that the law fails. Will this Act be another piece of legislation? "Let us see it objectively", says the former bureaucrat.

The new enactment is capable of motivating an entire street. It can put the proverbial nail on the coffin of the corrupt officials, he avers.

It is obligatory on the part of the official concerned to divulge the information once the question is passed on to the information officer.

All PSUs and banks have been brought under the purview of the Act. Even NGOs that draw grant from the government come under the Act.

Of course, the corporate sector is exempted. In South Africa, even the private sector is accountable under a similar Act prevailing there.

Will the implementation of the Act be trouble-free? Mr. Kumar sees some teething trouble in the execution of the project.

But he is hopeful that it could be overcome in due course of time.

Economics and governance are highly complex systems, observes Mr. Kumar who had studied at the London School of Economics apart from having postgraduate degrees in Physics and Mathematics.

The dynamics of each system (economics and governance) is different. Mr. Kumar has evolved a new movement called `Initiatives of change', for spreading awareness on the Act and to provide necessary guidance.

Social activists and experts in various walks of life are members, but there is a strict No to politicians.