eGovernance in India

Improving eGovernance in INDIA

RTI and E-governance go hand in hand

Posted by egovindia on June 2, 2006

RTI and E-governance go hand in hand
Right to Information (RTI) and e-governance must go hand in hand. E-governance is a key vehicle to make people at the grass root levels aware of their rights, says Wajahad Habibullah, chief information commissioner of the government of India.
Thursday, June 01, 2006

In an interview with Kavitha Alexis of CIOL, Habibullah speaks about India's Right to Information Act, its implication to the Indian citizens and the role of information communication technology. Excerpts:

What are the implications of RTI Act on the Indian democracy?

The Indian RTI Act 2005 is one of the most advanced Right to Information legislations in the world. The Act is based on the principle that all government information is the property of people. It takes democracy to the grass root level and is also a step towards ensuring participatory governance in the country. RTI Act is a source of strength for all Indians as it would ensure timely response to their information needs on government functioning and lead to greater transparency in governance.

How advanced is RTI Act 2005, compared to such legislations across the world?

Across the world, 56 countries have some form of legislation on Right to Information. Our Act has taken a more democratic approach in imparting information to the people. It vests ultimate authority on the central information commission (CIC), constituted by the central government. Citizens can directly approach the CIC for appeal. The US Freedom of Information Act enacted in 1966 mandates citizens to approach a federal court if access to information is denied. In UK too the procedure is very complex. The Indian RTI Act is more based on the Canadian pattern, which has a central structure in which the final authority rests with the information commissioner.

In India, the Act provides autonomy to the information commissioners who are not subjected to any directions from any other authority. It mandates the central and state public information officers to provide timely and accurate information to the citizens, failing which they are liable to penal action.

Article 19 (1) of the Indian constitution speaks about Right to Information as part of our fundamental right. Why did it take so long to enact legislation on this?

The RTI Act went through an evolutionary process. After independence, we followed the colonial Official Secrets Act, which imposed restrictions on disclosing information to the citizens. However, the effort towards enacting RTI legislation started long back and gathered momentum in the 1990's. The present RTI Act 2005 follows the Freedom of Information Act of 2002.

How relevant is IT in enabling citizens to exercise their information right?

Information Technology is a key tool to ensure that the citizens have access to any relevant information that they seek. Computerisation of records and use of Internet are specified in the Act.

To start with, all offices of government are to have websites with relevant information. Most of the government departments are working towards this. Ministry of panchyati raj is setting up e-panchayats to reach information to the grass root levels. There is continuous effort from department of information iechnology in spreading the use of IT. Community information centres (CICs) are being set up across the country. The knowledge commission under Sam Pitroda and the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation are also putting in their efforts to disseminate information.

An RTI portal developed by National Informatics Centre (NIC) is also getting ready for the citizens to do quick search of information put up by various government departments.

All said, much more has to be done in ensuring people's access to information, as majority of Indians do not have access to Internet.

How important is IT for the information commission to simplify its processes?

Going through the archived physical records is a tedious task for the information commission. Digitization of all government documents is very important to address the information needs of citizens. Digitization of records being undertaken by government departments is a key effort in smoothening the process of the commission. Easy access to files will ensure speedy redressal of citizens' grievances with regard to their information rights. Central information commission has set up a website, where all the information pertaining to the information commission can be accessed by public.

What is the role of NGOs and government authorities in ensuring RTI?

The RTI Act 2005 is a product of the efforts made by Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, (MKSS) an NGO based in Rajasthan. Though the Act is in place today, the awareness levels of the people is very less. More has to be done on this front. Only a few states, where NGOs are working closely with rural population, have people exercising their right to information. More NGOs should come up to create awareness about RTI.

The states governments have a big responsibility to create awareness in their respective states. The RTI Act mandates the governments to develop educational programmes for awareness creation, to promote timely and accurate information by public authorities. They should also empower the NGOs to take up the cause. Training for central and state public information officers (PIO) are also important to ensure the reach of information to the grass root levels. The centre for good governance in Hyderabad is imparting training to PIOs.

What are the challenges faced by information commission in its effort to honour the Right to Information needs of the citizens?

The central information commission is a young establishment set up after the enactment of the RTI Act in October 2005. At present, we are located in Delhi and are mandated to take up citizens' queries and complaints from all over the country. So giving access to people is tough. However, we are working on an institutional framework, which would simplify our processes and make the information commission more effective.


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