Wednesday, July 12, 2017

A welcome decision on RTI ambit

The Echo of India: Mumbai: Wednesday, July 12, 2017.
A division bench of the Supreme Court has favoured bringing the Chief Justice of India (CJI) within the ambit of Right to Information Act. The two judges pointed out that CJI has nothing to hide because he has no secretive business to hide. The bench held the same view about governors also. They rejected the specious argument of the Solicitor-General that constitutional authorities discharge sovereign functions and they should be exempted from the purview of the RTI Act. The bench went a step further and held that not only the CJI and the governors but ‘all constitutional functionaries’ should be brought under the RTI to bring transparency and accountability in their functioning.
Coming as the decision does from the apex court, it will be a shot in the arms for RTI activists all over the country. The RTI Act was passed by the UPA Government in 2005 after a prolonged and sustained demand from RTI activists to enact such a law to bring transparency in government functioning. But from the beginning the attitude of the Government was to frustrate the objective of the law and deny information on any pretext, mostly for reasons of security. When Manmohan Singh was Prime Minister the Government even refused to respond to an RTI query in which the questioner wanted to know the expenses incurred in connection with Sonia Gandhi’s foreign trips. Manmohan Singh’s logic was that nothing concerning a private citizen can be made public.
More and more rules were made, making it more and more difficult to get information.  Even when RTI queries were answered, usually it took an inordinately long time to get the information. The attitude of the Government was, first, to dissuade activists from asking inconvenient questions  and to either refuse to divulge information or to delay giving an answer as long as possible. Both the politicians and the bureaucrats were equally unwilling to put any information in the public domain especially if it was something sensitive concerning a big shot. This obdurate attitude was a hangover of the colonial days and quite out of sync with the spirit of democracy which demanded that the rulers hide nothing from the people.
The Supreme Court’s latest decision should be welcomed by all. If the functionaries in the higher echelons of the judiciary and the governors are brought within the ambit of the RTI Act, it will be difficult for the Government to avoid answering RTI questions about the high and the mighty. Indirectly, it may dissuade those in power not to fall into temptations that may cause embarrassment later.