Theory And Practice

RTI Act and Democracy

Amitava Choudhury

Prof Amartya Sen once opined that to understand how developed a country is, it is not important to know what privileges are offered to its people but to see what rights are enjoyed by them. In this context the introduction of 'Right to Information Act, 2005' is the most revolutionary happening in the post independent era, the way 'Satyagraha' was the most important historical event in the pre-independent India. The way 'Satyagraha' speaks about the strength of truth and united the whole of India for the cause of freedom, similarly this Right to Information Act, 2005 espouses the cause of truth, transparency and of good governance on one hand and on the other hand makes way for the people's participation in the democracy, empowers them for an informed participation which is most important for true social development.

The Constitution of India does not specifically mention the right to information, but it has been long recognised by the Supreme Court of India as a fundamental right necessary for democratic functioning. Specifically, the Supreme Court has recognised the right to information as an integral part of the right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by Article 19 and a necessary part of the right to life by Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.

Though democracy has its own limitations, in the absence of any alternative that outweighs it, the system is still most acceptable as governance mechanism. Approximately out of 200 member countries of the United Nations 141 are having democratic setup. If one ponders over the formation of human society, creation of democratic space is the most fundamental building block. The democratic space is often referred to as the space for civil society, upon which the institution of governance is constructed and for this civil society movement this Right to Information Act can act as a weapon to unearth the corruption and inefficiency of the government and its functionaries and can act as a device to bring transparency and good governance.

Indian democracy has a large number of limitations and problems, but still people are lucky in the sense that the neighbouring countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Nepal are struggling and fighting for getting a democracy like India's. So, it is more than urgent to keep a constant effort to give it a proper shape by using the RTI Act.

The major problem of Indian democracy is its structure. The total numbers of people's representatives are approximately around 5000 out of which around 800 are Members of Parliament (244 of Rajya Sabha and 542 of Lok Sabha) and 4000 MLAs in all state assemblies put together. Till recent past these were the people who used to take part in day to day functioning of the democracy. The 73rd and 74th amendments are also an important development which not only empowered around 35 lakh people to be elected in different tiers of Panchayat and simultaneously set up a new government i.e. the Local Government after the Central and State Government. These amendments not only formed the third government but also extended power to the entire rural electorate and the representatives of urban and semi-urban electorate (ward committee) to raise their voice and to participate in the development process of their own area which surely can be considered as a stepping stone in the evolution of this Right to Information Act.

This Act or Freedom of Information (FoI), the way it is known in other countries is not a recent concept. In fact the first 'FoI' was introduced in 1766 in Sweden, 1888 in Columbia, 1951 in Finland and 1966 in the United States of America followed by other countries. Though India's RTI Act came into implementation in 2005, but it is very powerful. Though not fool proof it is surely pro-people.

In the country where the population is over 120 crore, the number of people's representatives is so small that it is difficult to arrive at any percentage. From this point only 'RTI' has its role to play. Now it is up to the concerned citizens whether they are ready to accept the responsibility or to shun it. This Act has given the status of a MP or a MLA to every citizen of India in the sense that all the information that is accessible to them on the floor of the Parliament or Assembly can now be obtained by every Indian citizen without having to give any clarification as to why that information is needed. Now people have the power to interfere, access and evaluate the performance and activities of the government and its functionaries. Rajiv Gandhi once accepted the fact that only a small slice of the fund vested for the development is reaching to the people and the rest of it is vanished mid-way. To stop such a thing to happen it is not sufficient to ensure the funds reach to those people for whom it is meant but it is also very much important to see that the money of the government i.e. public money, the money of every citizen that is paid as taxes to the government in some form or the other from morning to night and from birth to death is not wasted.

Since independence till date Indian democracy has been a representative democracy. What is required is to make it a participatory democracy. This RTI Act ensures people’s entry into this process. Now it is citizens, who have to take responsibility to make it a successful participatory democracy. In the developed countries for every government project about 6 to 8% of the total fund allocated is reserved for monitoring of the project. Even in India the funding/loan what comes for the development work from DFID, Asian Development Bank, World Bank and other foreign agencies have a component of 4 to 6% for monitoring. But unfortunately, in the budget for monitoring is as low as .03 to .05 %. The result of this is very much evident. One may start work of making a participatory democracy from this point itself by making use of the Right to Information Act.

It is considered that India is having the legacy of being one of the oldest civilisations and the strength of the youngest population. 70% of India's population is in the age group of 40 years and 50% are in the age group of 25 years. There is a huge budget allocation for the Public Distribution System (PDS) {budget was 92000 crores in 2013-14 and after the Food Security Act in the next year it was 115000 crores} and to provide food to the poor and the poorest under various schemes. This is a very ambitious project of the government and surely it is very important to stop starvation deaths and malnutrition. It is the minimum responsibility of each one of civil society, to see that no fellow people are starving to death.

Youth are considered the rebellious class and are the catalyst of every new happening. It is the youth who came down to streets to clamour for return of French soldiers from Algeria and US marines from Vietnam. It is possible only for the young men and women to lay down in front of the aggressive tanks in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. A young Jesus Christ led to the revolt of Palestinian subjects against Byzantine rule. Mohammed united the Arab tribes and instilled in them a sense of fraternity and equality. Young Goutama (Buddha) protested against the Brahmanical ritualism. Youth in India also dared to romanticise a classless society in late sixties. Ms Manorama of Manipur resorted to fast in protest against the state atrocities and pressurised the state to add a more human face in its approach. The youth has always desired to nurture their spirits that innovatively shapes the future world. The unique prowess of the youth to challenge conservatism and aversion to change has made them the real vanguard of democracy, when change is the only constant in life. Democracy demands constant renewal for its sustenance. The youth have the tenacity to meet this demand by providing both energy and leadership. They should take the torch of this country to make it a developed nation from the status of long years of developing nation and for achieving this Right to Information is that powerful weapon to monitor every move of the government keeping them under constant vigil.

Vol. 50, No.40, Apr 8 - 14, 2018