Wednesday, February 8, 2012

PAUPER’S LOG: A Right for The Wrong


A Right for The Wrong

By Abu Arsh

The Right to Information Act has been a land mark legislation enacted by the UPA government granting every citizen a right to know how the Government is functioning. Right to Information empowers every citizen to seek any information from the Government, inspect any Government documents and seek certified photocopies thereof. Some laws on Right to Information also empower citizens to official inspect any Government work or to take sample of material used in any work.
"Information" would mean any material in any form, including records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinions, advices, press releases, circulars, orders, logbooks, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, data material held in any electronic form and information relating to any private body which can be accessed by a public authority under any other law for the time being in force.
"Record" includes any document, manuscript and file. Any microfilm, microfiche, and facsimile copy of a document, reproduction of image or images embodied in such microfilm (whether enlarged or not); and other material produced by a computer or any other device;
An applicant cannot ask for opinions/advice/views under the RTI Act, unless the opinion/advice/view is already on "record". However, under Section 4(1)(d), an applicant can ask for "reasons" behind a administrative or quasi judicial decision of a public authority, especially if he is a "affected person".
Armed with access to such information and power, the RTI act is intended to bring in transparency and curb corruption in Government and Public/Private Sector, both of elected representatives and officials. In respect of the uneducated and the poor there is disuse of the Act. No doubt the Right to Information Act is a big gift. At the same time the ACT cannot be misused or abused. We have instances of wrong use of it. There are people for whom the misuse has become a hobby or pastime. They keep shooting letters under RTI. For some others it is sadism that drives them. The third category is those who misuse the ACT to harass someone whom they don't like or have enmity.
The ACT has given rise to mushrooming of RTI activists all over the country and these Islands are no exception. Major difference here has been that the local activists are outright blackmailers and tormentors trying to gain a better bargaining capacity with the snobbish, self-centered and corrupt babus or netas. Many bureaucrats complain that like any other law in India, the RTI Act is also getting misused. There are two types of apprehensions, one that officers will be blackmailed and the other that they will be harassed because of too many applications. As far as the first apprehension goes, you can only be blackmailed if you have done something wrong. Therefore, rather than demanding that information should not be shared because wrong acts have been committed, it would be better to stop doing wrong things because information will be shared.
As our Islands abound with people at high places doing things most arbitrarily, the activists or blackmailers have made fortunes pursuing them under RTI Act. For the poor and the less informed getting information under the ACT is an exercise, he'd rather like to forget as he is made to find his way through innumerable mazes until he breaks down and gives up. There is lack of awareness and information about the ACT amongst the common man. The same very people who are the worst offenders are made to propagate and popularize the ACT. Few departments receive a large number of applications. As per a NCPRI survey looking over three hundred departments across the country and at differing levels. The data that emerges suggests that in almost all these departments, a public information officer does not spend more than one or two hours a week (average of between 12 and 24 minutes per working day) on RTI related work. The ACT is still to realize its true potential here by the right people. The RTI Act can realize its true potential if those few public authorities where there is greater pressure like the Revenue department and other departments can make things much easier for itself if it periodically assess the type of information the citizens want, and put this suo moto in the public domain, as required under Section 4 of the RTI act.

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