Giving teeth to RTI

The Right to Information Act (RTI) was passed by the State Legislature in 2009. The purpose was two fold: one was to disseminate information that goes in the interests of general public. The second was to make governance efficient by removing the bottleneck in administrative system. Passing of the Act necessitated inception of State Information Commission (State Information Commission ) as an instrument to oversee full implementation of the Act. The constitution of the State Information Commission  again was through legislative deliberations and thus acquired legitimacy of supervision. However it took some time to let the State Information Commission  become functional because the infrastructural support was asked for after doing some exercise before its actual functionality could begin. At long last, the logistics of State Information Commission  were put in place, accommodation and official pre-requisites were provided.
However, the RTI Act actually has two parts; one pertains to the instructions for the public authorities about what stuff they are required to put into public domain and the second is supervision over the departments to ensure that provisions of RTI Act are implemented fully on the ground. From what has trickled down in the print media recently, the picture is rather disappointing. In a formal communication from the State Information Commission  to the Chief  Secretary of the State, a number of shortcomings in the area of public authorities have been scripted that, by and large, do not do justice to the Act especially its Section 4 and 5. Both the sections enjoin upon departments to open a website for each and post information of public interest on it so that people are able to know what is happening. They are also required to send a copy of the information to the Commission. In the communication to the Chief Secretary, the Commission has observed that very few out of total of 36 departments have opened website and still fewer have posted information at these sites. The departments that have not opened the website so far are clearly contravening Section 4 of the Act. The Commission has observed that non-implementation of the provisions of the Act would make it meaningless, and the public will remain deprived of the right to information.
The RTI is new and effective idea of forcing the Government to do the right thing and do it at the right time. The size of work at the Secretariat and public authorities level has increased manifold owing to rapid growth of population, better education among the masses and the imperatives of a democratic dispensation in which people are getting sensitized to their social, political and economic rights. It has been felt that traditional system of functioning of public authorities is a complicated and tortuous one, consuming lot of time and energy and yet without really satisfactory results. RTI was also devised to reduce corruption and bribery because the people generally paid for obtaining a particular piece of information.
Reacting fast to the communication of the State Information Commission , the Chief Secretary issued instructions to all Administrative Secretaries/Commissioners, Heads of Departments and District Commissioners of the State to comply with the provision of a copy to the State Information Commission . The General Administrative Department is required to issue a time frame to the public authorities for full implementation of the Act.  It needs to be reminded that the Chief Minister Omar Abdullah played the crucial role in bringing the RTI to the State. He has often referred it in his public speeches and in official meetings included the meetings of the District Development Boards which he usually chairs. He has rightly called the measure a solid step in attacking corruption and bribery, reducing red-tapeism and ensuring good and efficient governance. A highly dedicated Chief Secretary has not wasted any time in seeing to it that the decisions of the Government and the recommendations of the constitutional authority in the State are implemented without prejudice. While the Chief Secretary has put his weight on the side of the rule of law, he will have to think over the defaulters as to how they need to be dealt with. Old habits die hard, goes the saying. Those who are entrenched in respective departments would not give in easily. To them withholding information from the public has been a long established behavior and changing it to fit in present context is red rag to the bull.  But times have changed and more changes are in the offing. We would advise the departments and all concerned that the Act has to be implemented in letter and in spirit. There is no looking back from here.