eGovernance in India

Improving eGovernance in INDIA

State RTI in a Fog

Posted by egovindia on August 5, 2006

State RTI in a Fog

Source: IMPHAL FREE PRESS
Posted: 2006-08-03

An instrument of governance that can qualify to be the most potent weapon against the scourge of official corruption that the Indian constitution has adopted in all its history, the Right to Information Act, RTI, is still in a fog in Manipur. It is inconceivable why the government is allowing this. The spirit of the RTI is to make governance as transparent as possible so that no public policy or the processes of making them can be hidden from public view. It would oblige the government departments by law to furnish any information on its public policies and programmes sought by any individual citizen. The exceptions understandably would be of information that have bearings on the sovereignty and integrity of the nation, infringes copyrights or breaches the privileges of the privileged institutions of democracy such as the courts, Parliament, Assembly etc. There is of course a controversial move by the Central government recently to amend the RTI Act and include another clause to the list of undisclosable information, and these are the “side notings” bureaucrats make as a file moves from government department to department, reshaping policy blueprints all along, for it is deemed this would victimise individual bureaucrats. But that is another matter, the moot point is, for the RTI to be effective there will have to be a monitoring, autonomous institution, and this is precisely what the RTI Act requires the Central and State governments to constitute. This is where the Manipur government has chosen to keep the matter nebulous.

Till date, not many in the state, including the media, know the state has formed such a State Information Commission under the RTI. Yet, the Government of India RTI website states clearly that Manipur is among the 21 states which have already formed such a commission naming S Sunderlal Singh, secretary (DP&AR) as the State Chief Information Commissioner, a constitutional office enjoying the salary and allowances of an Election Commissioner. The commission is also to have Information Commissioners (not more than 10) enjoying the salary and allowances of chief secretary. In the case of the Central Chief Information Commissioner, he is to draw the salary and allowances of the Chief Election Commissioner, and have not more than 10 Information Commissioners of equivalent rank as Election Commissioners, assisting him.

If the information on the Central Government website is correct, could the Manipur government please clarify as to how a serving secretary of the government can act as the Chief Election Commissioner, when it is certain he would be called upon to give direction on how officers of the government, often his seniors, are to conduct themselves as per the provisions of the RTI Act, and even to recommend penalties for not following orders. Although by protocol, he would be the rank of an Election Commissioner, in reality would he be able to dictate terms to officers senior to him in the profession? What about the State Information Commissioners? If they too have been selected from amongst government officers, obviously they would all be from officers below the rank of secretary. The trouble is, as per the RTI Act, they would be by protocol equivalent to the chief secretary. Most other states have chosen a retired chief secretary as Chief Information Commissioner, and retired government officers of repute and integrity as well as very eminent and knowledgeable citizens as Information Commissioners. Why has the Manipur government chosen to be different by undermining the State Information Commission so terribly? Is this ambitious autonomous body being reduced to just another government department? If so, how is a government department going to bring accountability and check corruption in other government departments? Is the RTI going to be a non-starter just as the government has effectively reduced the Manipur Human Rights Commission to a white elephant? In any case, the RTI also makes it obligatory on the government to campaign and conduct public programmes to familiarise the ordinary citizens on how to use the RTI to get justice. Why is the Manipur government not doing this if it has formed the commission already? One cannot but help being envious of committed civil servants like Arvind Kejriwal (Indian Revenue Service), who took a two-year extraordinary leave from service to start a citizen’s movement called Parivartan (transformation), which uses the RTI to expose corruption and to bring justice to underprivileged citizens, first in East Delhi, but now its influence is spreading all over India. From the enlightened sections of the civil society in Manipur, we need people who can take up such causes and push them to their logical ends. Kejriwal, trained as a mechanical engineer from IIT Kharagpur before joining the Indian Civil Services, is the most recent Indian selected for the Ramon Magsaysay Award, considered Asia’s Nobel Prize, and would be receiving the award on August 31 in Manila. He without doubt deserves it most richly.

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