By Sunil Garodia
The Right to Information (RTI) Act was necessitated because decisions in government departments were often arbitrary and illogical and they were hidden from public scrutiny as officers chose not to dispense information by hiding behind a plethora of red tape. If the RTI Act was followed in its true spirit by bureaucrats in the government departments, there would be no need of information commissioners (IC). But the legislature knew that despite the RTI Act, bureaucrats would harass the public and refuse to dispense information. Hence, the office of the IC was created, with fixed tenure to guarantee autonomy. The salaries and other terms were also at par with election commissioners, giving them a lot of freedom and power, as it should be.
But the NDA government has now sought to amend these provisions to weaken the RTI Act. It seeks to do away with the fixed tenure of ICs and lower their status by fixing their salary and other terms as per its wish. It would immediately downgrade the office of the IC and make them dependant on the whims of those in power. That is the first step to bring them in line, so to say. They would henceforth be expected to toe the government line if they wish to remain in service.
The government is playing into the hands of the bureaucracy by clipping the wings of the ICs and weakening the RTI Act. The very purpose of the Act would be defeated if the ICs do not have the power and the freedom to direct bureaucrats to part with the information demanded by citizens. Most ICs will now think twice before passing orders that are likely to antagonize the ruling dispensation as it could bring the axe upon them. That, in effect, would sound the death knell of the RTI Act.
Every year, first appeals on denial of information for application to Central government departments have been increasing. In such a situation, the hands of the ICs should have been strengthened. But the government, under the guise of streamlining and strengthening the Act, is actually making it weak and ineffective. Like all ruling dispensations, the NDA also thinks that the public has no business to know the whys and hows of governance and that the government is not accountable to its citizens. If that be so, we might as well scrap the RTI Act.