'World Bank emulating our disclosure policy'

There have been a spate of attacks on RTI activists in the recent past.

These attacks are of grave concern. With the opening up of the government, people have access to information. But there are vested interests who would like this information to be protected. The attacks are manifestation of the threat felt by the vested interests. We have to now take precautions, society has to. Government already has institutional framework and I don’t think there should be one more. To make all organisations accountable to public, the best instrument is RTI. Social audit is now being used in the employment guarantee scheme; it can be emulated in other programmes.

The Commission is completing five years shortly. What has been your experience?

At the end of five years, I must say we are still in a nascent stage. Until recently, ours was a ‘closed’ government, inherited from a colonial, imperial past. A law making everything accountable is something the government was not used to. Considering that, the experience of last five years has been very satisfying. It has helped open up the government and encourage people to ask questions and obtain information. There is a movement towards greater transparency and accountability.

Which are the areas where RTI has been most used?

Complaints related to civic organisations like municipal corporations, police and taxation issues which directly impact people.

What are the areas of improvement?

We have been working on them, held a few discussions with the government. The public has ideas but activists say no to any amendment. I can say some lessons have been learnt in the last five years and we will arrive at a decision on how to strengthen the RTI Act. Our law has already become a model, especially for developing countries. The World Bank too is seeking our help in strengthening its disclosure policy. There is a demand within the government that frivolous and vexatious petitions should not be entertained. The question is who will judge what is frivolous or vexatious?

Many departments refuse information on the ground that there is no PIO.

It is not acceptable. That is illegal. Every department should have a PIO.

There is criticism that Commissions are reluctant to penalise officers.

I feel it is the threat of use of force which works. The actual use of force is counter productive, I have seen it in my own experience. Some Commissions have not imposed fines, while some have fined  heavily. But the result is not very different. I imposed heavy penalty on the  Municipal Corporation of Delhi but its performance improved the least. I penalised CSIR and it completely revolutionised information flow.

What about immunity of the President, judges?

There is immunity against criminal proceedings, but not immunity against providing information.

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