The Right To Information

For those of us connected with the ‘Right To Information’, last night was a victory after many a struggle. The new RTI law allows citizens to be truly participatory and in some sense demand transparency and accountability in the working of governmental institutions and enterprise.In recent times, I have found myself defending the right to free speech. The right to free speech coupled with the right to information are two of the most potent weapons citizens of a decadent democracy can have– but only if utilised properly.

One of the provisions of the new law in particular makes me happy. Under the old law- any RTI requisition had to be accompanied with very good reasons, or at any rate what the government thought was an acceptable line of reasoning. It is easy to see why this is problematic. If the government decides that it does not want to give out a piece of information- it will never find any reason acceptable. Changing this equation is one of the best things about the new RTI. The power now belongs to the people, the govt is thus bound in some sense to be transparent in its dealings.

Ofcourse there are several things that even the new RTI does not address. For example, it comes bundled with a huge list of excluded agencies that include the BSF, CRPF and the Assam Rifles. The upshot of this is that: Any sensitive area of information like Kashmir or security forces accused of severe human rights violations or information about nuclear military installations are still outside the purview of the public.

For several of us, this is a particularly sad thing. Why? Because these are the areas we believe wherein RTI ought to apply the most. So we can ask for how many people are displaced by a large dam project, but not really why the dam project was taken on in the first place. We can ask how many children are out of primary schools, but not why the government cannot provide schooling. We can ask how many people die in uranium mines, but not why we must go nuclear anyway…