Several friends of mine have been hallucinating about how they are going to set beurocracy right using the right to information act. The much hyped RTI, in reality is not that effective as it is made out to be, at least not for the common man. In this post, Ujj tries to dig come info about RTI, its history, its usage and exclusions. Much of this information is from a talk given by Er Vivek Kapadia, Sptd Engineer of the river linking project.

Sweden is the mother of giving the people, the freedom to know. Its inception into the general administration goes back to 1776. She is hence considered the motherland of RTI. Indian citizens got the first taste of the power of information in 1994, when a small group farmers, calling themselves, Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan identified discrepencies in utlization of development funds and hence began the movement of people fighting to know more about the administration. The Freedom of Information Bill was introduced in India in 2002 and was passed without any problem in 2003 and India became one of the 20 nations to give such a right to its citizens. RTI flows from the article 19(1) and (2) of our constitution. The subsections (1) and (2) impress certain exclusions and conditions that are used very effectively by the beurocracy to keep the information from the seekers.

To analyze the effectiveness of the RTI, four general criteria are used:

  • nature of the organisation to which it applies
  • the nature and range of info that can be seeked
  • independence of institutions which would adjudicate disputes arising from its use, and
  • sanctions against refusal of disclosure of info

The four criteria above define the effectiveness of this right. So if one is trying to seek info about an organisation excluded in the section (1), it is quite clear that the information will not be given out. One of the most surprising facts about RTI is that the State governments have been given the option of adding their own subsections for their security. Tamil Nadu for example has 23 exemptions that are not even verifiable by the article 19(2). That is central rules are not being followed by the State governements. There have been incidents where the RTI exemptions have ben used very craftilty by the officials to restrain information from the seekers. In an incident a few months back, a man was asked 40 lakh Rs for information he wanted, as his information was in a 20,000 page document. Considering that the man should have paid for photo copies, he should’nt have been asked to pay more than 10-15Ks. Sometimes information is hidden on the grounds that it will lead to a lot of intereference in the regular work. Private bodies like NGO’s and companies are also exempted from the act, so even with RTI we cannot find out what went wrong with the Union carbide plant in Bhopal !

The problems with the act are many but if utilized properly, RTI could still be one of the most important tools for successful fucntioning of our constitutional machinery. According to Mr Kapadia

a little while back, a villager from gujarat asked the chief election commissionar to provide him with the list of all criminals that stood in the last parliamentary elections. This led to a mass information digging by 1042 districts collectors, who have been asked to provide this information within one month. If followed like this , RTI could still be used to do what its meant for,… but yes its not something really gives us the power to know all we nned and want because of the exemptions…

If you are seeking certain info under this act, the person you need to contact is the information commissioner of your state. This list gives the names and email ids of the various state information commissioners.