Strengthen the right

Published: Sunday 15 June 2008

as the Right to Information Act of 2005 (rti) celebrates its third anniversary, the Union government has decided to do a review study. Officials insist that the study is meant to review only the implementation of the act and to find whether rural areas have benefited from it. But activists suspect that it may actually end up diluting the act and protecting the babus (See page 22). Their suspicion is not entirely unfounded. In the past three years, rti has emerged as a powerful tool for the people to access files and information which were hitherto completely out of bounds. The power of information, earlier held by a few, is now in the hands of the people. But the implementation has not been without its share of problems.

Initial days of implementation saw stiff resistance from the officials. Many a times information was denied as officials took recourse to unfamiliarity with rules. In any case of ambiguity the first response was denial. Accessing file notings was a major issue of contention. While some departments and ministries granted access to file notings, others like the union department of consumer affairs refused access. The appeal against refusal process has become cumbersome and long drawn.

In some states it now takes more than three years to decide on appeals, with the average time ranging from a few months to a year. And cases of imposing penalty on officials refusing access are rare, encouraging such actions. A recent order by the Gujarat High Court is now being misused for refusing government information. In a specific case the high court had put a stay on providing third-party information. The final decision is pending. This order is being misinterpreted to refuse all cases seeking information on third parties. But people have the right to know about all government actions, whether they concern third party or not. This is because all government's decisions and actions are meant for the people and their welfare.

If anything, the rti act requires further strengthening. The appeal process has to be quick and fair. Officials withholding information on trivial excuses must be punished as per the provisions. The farce over third party information must end. Because people have a right to know what is the government, that is supposed to serve them, actually doing?

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