An American statesman Thomas Jefferson had rightly said that "information is the currency of democracy". Yes, it can be argued that the daily flow of information became an inevitable and inseparable part of our daily lives. Undeniably, in the present globalised world it is one of the most significant parts to remain updated and relevant what is happening around you and others. Another American political philosopher Benjamin Franklin once said, "It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority". Accordingly, this "right to question" and "the first responsibility" was given to each Indian citizen when government of India enacted 'Right to Information Act 2005' under the then Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh.
The Right to Information Act 2005 was promulgated to give better access to the citizens of India to remain updated and aware about the policies and programmes formulated and organized by the government of India and the state governments from time to time. It is an act which empowers the citizens of India to ask questions to those who wield power and formulate the laws, policies and other kinds of programmes, which directly or indirectly affect the lives of a common citizen of the country. Besides, this is meant to strengthen the democratic institutions more vibrant, accountable and transparent. This act is a trustful guardian of the rights of every citizen residing in the territory of India.
Without a grain of doubt, any serious democracy around the globe can be more accountable, progressive and inclusive in character that give its citizens a right to know by dint of access to information. However, the first Right to Information was enacted in Sweden in 1766 later followed by USA in 1966, Norway in 1970 and many other countries including the government of India in 2005.
As we can see, corruption is rampant in every part of India. It could not be wrong to say that corruption in one or the other way has made deep inroads in more or less in every government run institution. Under such circumstances, the right to information becomes very important. Through, RTI 2005 it became possible to ask and pose questions to the institutions of the government and seek information with the objective to bring more transparency, accountability & accessibility. Besides, it has a potential to make institutions more participatory, efficient & inclusive.
I correctly recollect, not a long time ago, that one of my friends filed an RTI application to seek information about the mode of appointment in one of the government departments in a northern district of Kashmir. Surprisingly, we were taken aback to know that a proper procedure was not followed during the selection. It is possible because of the RTI act that such discrepancies come to fore & the selection process was challenged. Although, months have passed the process is still incomplete & downgraded the hopes of many well qualified & meritorious students who were bypassed by the selection committee in the district.
Challenges for RTI user
Irrefutably, the Right to Information is playing a mammoth role in constructing the transparent and vibrant democracy. But at the same time there are some serious problems & loopholes the act is suffering from that need to be looked upon. First, the process in filing and receiving information is highly time consuming because the concerned government officers/employees are not cooperative to send information on given time. Besides, it was seen that many times the government officers aren't giving satisfactory information and aren't addressing the filed application properly. In other words, the institution against whom the RTI application was filed are providing irrelevant answers against the filed application and are trying to mislead the applicant and are making the rules of the act as monotonous and time consuming. The second problem is that there should be a protection to whistleblowers. In my friend's case, I have seen how his name was revealed to a third party which not only was the breach of RTI act but turned out into a physical, psychological and a mental torcher to him. The revealing of the name and residential address of RTI user is becoming problematic rather life threatening. In past, many RTI activists and its users were either kidnapped or killed to conceal the truth & save the perpetrators who were involved in institutional discrepancies & corruption.
It is true that since the implementation of the RTI laws, from centre to state citizens are exploiting the very law judiciously to get information of their filed applications in the different government institutions. However, it wouldn't be wrong to say that the law has empowered the independent citizens whose voices were being curtailed and strangulated at the hands of elite 'babus' and other hierarchical government officers. Reportedly, each year near about 60 lakh RTI applications are being filed on different matters and issues. Prior, to the act it wasn't possible to think about such kind of change and flow of information to a common man. Indeed, this act truly guarantees a place to a common person to ask question to the highest authority or any other office bearer because the law has given more and more weightage to an independent opinion of a common person and made him/her one of a proactive citizen in the functions and the deliberations of the democratic institutions of the country.
Finally, keeping in view the significance and the relevance of RTI act, I am of the opinion that this act has turned out one of the strongest fundamental rights for every citizen of India to ask questions and get access to information from a government run institution. I believe, it is one the powerful and a potential acts that can be turned into a last grave to different kinds of malpractices, nepotism, scams and other means of illegal activities. Governments from centre to state should make this law stronger and more powerful that can guarantee full transparency, accountability and inclusiveness in all the public funded institutions. Yes, there is a much need to educate & aware people about the law so that they can use it to hold the government officials accountable of their repeated frauds & other malpractices.
Javeed Bin Nabi is a student of Political Science at Kashmir University.