Monday, October 15, 2012

Why the babu in Manmohan Singh emerges when he picks up RTI

PM with CIC Satyananda Mishra
PRIME Minister Manmohan Singh ceased to be a bureaucrat in 1991 after 20 years of civil service in ministries such as commerce, finance and Planning Commission. But the babu in Singh comes out every time he addresses issues concerning Right To Information Act. An analysis of Prime Minister’s consecutive speeches in Convention of Information Commissioners reflects the mood of…
most bureaucrats in the country who feel burdened by the transparency law and want its dilution to some degree.
Let’s first read what PM said in October last year while addressing the 6th Annual Convention of Information Commissioners. His observations on the need to have a critical look at the RTI Act prompted a number of activists raising their voices against any dilution of the Act.
a) Even as we recognize and celebrate the efficacy and the effectiveness of the Right to Information Act, we must take a critical look at it. There are concerns that need to be discussed and addressed honestly.
b) A situation in which a public authority is flooded with requests for information having no bearing on public interest is something not desirable. We must, therefore, pool all our wisdom, our knowledge, and our experience to come to a conclusion on how to deal with vexatious demands for information, without at the same time hindering the flow of information to those whose demands genuinely serve public interest.
c) Another concern that has been raised is that the Right to Information could end up discouraging honest, well meaning public servants from giving full expression to their views. I think we need to remember here that a point of view brought under public scrutiny and discussion in an isolated manner may sometime present a distorted or incomplete picture of what really happened in the processes of making the final decisions. The Right to Information should not adversely affect the deliberative processes in the government.
d) There are also issues of privacy. The Act does have provisions to deal with privacy issues but there are certain grey areas that require further debate.
In fact, Prime Minister has repeated the issue of privacy vis-à-vis RTI only a few days ago, this time more forcefully. While addressing the 7th Annual Convention of Information Commissioners on Thursday, this is what PM said: “Concerns have also been raised regarding possible infringement of personal privacy while providing information under the Right to Information Act. There is a fine balance required to be maintained between the Right to information and the right to privacy, which stems out of the Fundamental Right to Life and liberty. The citizens’ right to know should definitely be circumscribed if disclosure of information encroaches upon someone’s personal privacy. But where to draw the line is a complicated question. I am happy that this Convention will devote an exclusive session to "Privacy and Disclosure Issues", which I hope will result in useful, constructive recommendations. The issue of a separate legislation on privacy is under consideration of an expert group under Justice A. P. Shah.”
Yes, RTI has become an irritant for many civil servants including those who are efficient and fiercely non-corrupt. But PM’s successive attempts to dilute the law may remain only in paper as any minor changes of the Act may not get the requisite political approval of 10 Janpath, particularly during the impending election season.

1 comment:

  1. The government's review petition of the SC judgement on appointing judges as Information Commissioner is one more example. But let me tell you, civil servants are facing genuine problems because of the RTI Act.