RTI Act – Its social impact
The Colonial legacy of secrecy and lack of trust resulted in developing a non-participatory public system, even in independent India,- which was based on opaque style of functioning, providing enormous power and privileges for legitimizing inordinate delay and denial of information. Right to Information Act 2005 aimed on one hand to bridge the gap between the common man and the government and on the other, to strengthen service delivery mechanism, thereby making it more transparent and easy to access.
Right to Information Act 2005 is a land mark legislation enacted for protecting the right of Indian citizen. With the enactment of this epoch legislation, the public authorities as the instruments of governance are no longer in a position to function without being transparent and accountable to the tax payers. The preamble of the Act has strongly articulated that democracy requires an informed citizenry and transparency of information which are vital to its functioning and also to contain corruption and to hold governments and their instrumentalities accountable to the governed.
The Act has generated an overwhelming response in different sections of the society, particularly in the middle class. The mechanism of the Act and awareness generation initiatives of the civil society showed that the common man could raise his voice and rightfully ask for the desired information. There are mixed experiences with the use of the Act which have been highlighted by media and several publications working on issues of Right to Information.
No democracy can survive without accountability and the basic postulate of accountability is that the governed should have information about the government. An open society in the new democratic culture and our country should be no exemption. The concept of open government directly emanates from the right to know which seems to be implicit in the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Art 19(1)(a) of the constitution of India. (S.P Gupta Vs. Union of India Air 1982 SC 149)
Section 4 of the Act mandates the public authorities to disseminate information by publishing certain information within 120 days from the enactment of the Act. They must provide details of the nature, management and their functioning. It is mandatory on the part of public authorities to do so within the time specified in the Act. But the reality is that majority of the public authorities had not complied with the requirement under section 4 to the satisfactory level. Some public authorities had not even attempted to comply with this mandate.
The information Commissions, Appellate authorities and Public Information Officers are the pivots of this revolutionary legislation and so is the general public. Four years have passed since its enactment and some good things have happened. There have been instances of useful information made available to citizen; though in the initial days, all concerned have problems in the implementation of the Act. Now it is likely to be implemented fully as the initial problems of organizational stream lining, training officials and awareness of the public about their right have been sorted out. But there is still a long way to go, so far as, effective implementation of the Act is concerned. The task of ensuring free and fair exercise of RTI by common people is quite challenging. But these challenges could be converted into opportunities to ensure win –win situation for all state holders.
Good governance requires that institutions should serve all the stake holders within a reasonable time frame. Lack of fixing time limit was one of the main draws backs of our system. But RTI mandate that information should be furnished to the applicant within 30 days of receipt of the application. The Act has mandated that the records should be computerized for an efficient information management system be established. Therefore it is time bureaucracy came out of the concrete barriers of Official Secrets Act and realize that RTI will only aid good governance and will never be a stumbling block to administration.