‘There is a problem in demanding far too much freedom for our institutions. How do you establish their accountability?’
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In this Idea Exchange, Chief Information Commissioner Satyananda Mishra speaks about the scope of the RTI law and glitches in implementing it. This session was moderated by Editor (Investigations) Ritu Sarin
Ritu Sarin: What are the impediments, the challenges you face in making the RTI Act an effective tool?
Satyananda Mishra: There is no doubt that any government that would legislate on the right to information should take some pride in having legislated it. But as you know, it was done on the demand of the civil society that had worked for it for a couple of decades so no one can say that it was entirely a voluntary act on the part of the government. Unfortunately, making a law and implementing it are two different things. Making a law requires a decision at the highest political levels. But the implementation of the law is dispersed over a huge bureaucracy, which begins in Delhi and goes right down to the local panchayat level. Therefore, the perception of the people within the government about how much they should comply with the law has been always very wide. There are people who are very transparent and believe they must disclose information without much protest but by and large, officials have been not very cooperative about implementing the law. They need a lot of coaxing, a lot of coercion, from authorities like the Information Commission. There was another aspect to the RTI Act: there is a mandatory provision that within 120 days of the enactment of the law, every government office would publish 16 varieties of information. Not even a single government organisation can claim to have really complied with this. For the sake of form they have published, but if you scrutinise what they have published with what was expected of them, you will find that there is a very big difference. So, those in the field of RTI, whether in the Commission or outside, think that if the disclosure under section 4(1)(b), which was mandatory, had been done faithfully and truthfully, then a lot of the RTIs would have become redundant because that information would have been in the public domain.
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