Monday, December 25, 2006

Example of RTI Act successful usage

One of the biggest thunderbolts to hit organized corruption in India is the RTI act. This is an act, that has the potential to bring about an immense amount of exposure to the wheeling and dealing of Government in India, whether at the central level, state level or at the decentralized level. This exposure scares the daylight out of the decision makers; what mostly results is that if there is a guilty party in the decision making process, they will reverse the decision due to a fear of getting exposed and end up doing the right thing.
What is RTI ? Right to Information. The RTI Act states that except for some exempt areas, any citizen can file an application to obtain information about any aspect of the Government through an inexpensive process. Towards this purpose, the information will have to be given to the person making the query, and if not, penalties can be applied. There are a number of incidents where people have used this act to bring benefits to their community. Attached are excerpts from a story that bring about the true power of the Act, and the extent of changes that it can bring out if applied with determination and some amount of perseverance.
Read this article in the Indian Express:
In the six decades after Independence, nothing actually worked in the Naraini block of Banda in UP's Bundelkhand region. The villagers periodically protested against lack of civic amenities, bad roads and sub-human living conditions but no one listened. Until they discovered the Right to Information Act. On July 1, the villages filed applications under the RTI Act to the district collectorate, Banda and to the office of the commissioner, Chitrakoot division. They sought to know the outcome of the Banda DM's visit to their block on March 2 last year; what the DM's orders were after the visit; and details of how the funds meant for their villages were spent.
Within a month, they got what they wanted, and more. Work on a 7.8 km approach road and a bridge began in September, now electrification of the villages is underway.

This Act is a revolutionary Act (weaknesses and all) which gives ordinary people the ability to get an insight into the closed world of official decision making. Before the Act, this was a closed world. Government officials would invoke the authority of the Government to declare any matter as secret, and use this secrecy to cloak an immense amount of wrong decision making.
After all, when a Prime Minister with enough of a majority to be almost an elected dictator claims that only 15% of allocated money reaches the poor, one can only imagine the scale and magnitude of funds diversion (Rajiv Gandhi made this famous statement when he had more than 400 MP's). And how many of us are there who would not like to know when a decision will finally come on some matter, as well as some details of how the decision is made (especially when it does not seem to make sense).
The RTI Act was brought in under some pressure from reformers, people who knew what the potential of such an Act was. In the pre-RTI state of the Government, measures taken to prevent corruption were not very effective. Sure, there were arrests, cases against high and powerful people. But, there was never this spotlight on the process of decision making. As the examples of what this Act can do start building up, more and more people will start using this Act to get answers, something that a Government employee would love to have refused to do in the past. Take a look at 2 private sites pushing usage of the Act. (,
There are many weaknesses in the current implementation; it is argued that the RTI Central Information Commission is lenient on Government officers, many Govt. offices put hurdles in the way of the information seeker by trying to entangle the process in red tape, and so on. It is also argues that the Act is misused by people to seek personal gain. However, this Act has already made people more aware of their rights, and as the courts start ruling on some of the issues under the Act, one can expect more clarification of the process. In fact, when the Government realized the powerful nature of the Act after some examples of the usage, there was a proposal to water down the provisions of the Act, but in the face of sustained pressure, the Government had to back down.
This was a major victory, but the real victory will come when it percolates down to every department/official that their actions can be pulled out and reviewed. That is when we will be truly on the path to a more honest nation.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 8:18 PM