and many other questions must be answered to our satisfaction.
We should be certain that our tax money is well spent; the
employees are discharging their responsibilities fairly and
diligently; decisions are taken on merits; rule of law is
strictly enforced; officials are not playing favourites; and
authority given by us is not abused for personal gain.
is what right to information is about. This right is inherent
in the fundamental rights [Art 19(1)(a)] guaranteed by the
Constitution. But such an implicit right without proper procedures
and mechanisms for its enforcement is no good. Therefore we
need a sensible legislation giving substance to the citizens'
right to information. A servant cannot keep secrets from his
yet the first oath every new minister takes on assuming office
is an oath of secrecy! And getting any information related
to our daily lives becomes a tooth extracting exercise. When
are the politicians going to learn and when are we going to
realize that all elected representatives, all public officials
and the government exist primarily to serve the welfare of
the country and its citizens? The citizen should have access
to information on all matters that affect his life save those
matters related to national security or public order.
right to information has two aspects. Right to have access
to information and right to be informed. The first is when
a citizen goes to any government office or agency seeking
information which is of immediate relevance to him - this
could be simple information like how much tax a citizen owes
the municipality to uncomfortable questions such as how much
tax was collected from a particular locality and how was it
second aspect is where the government and its agencies have
the legal obligation to inform the citizens on matters related
to arbitrary arrests and about projects having environmental
and other consequences. The government frequently earmarks
substantial amounts for public works, ration shops, health
programs, housing projects and other anti-poverty schemes.
Often, the people are unaware and only few of the poor actually
benefit. It is the duty of the government to proactively publicize
such information without waiting to be asked.
AP, the Lok Satta movement has been demanding such a right.
200,000 citizens gave a signed petition to the Governor 3
years ago seeking right to information, among other things.
A draft Bill has been prepared based on past experience in
India and abroad.
last the State government recently announced its decision
to enact such a law. A Cabinet Committee has been constituted
to finalise a Bill. Civil society's role is not over with
this. We must ensure that a law is enacted. We must see that
it is not a token law, but a substantive one including a few
key provisions - minimal exemptions, reasonable time limits,
citizen to have access to all information that legislators
can access, strict penalties for non-compliance, provision
for independent appeal, and protection to whistleblowers (those
in government who disclose information in public interest).
And we must actually see that such a law is enforced. Citizens
need to be trained in the use of such a law to ferret out
information, and to analyse information to hold government
media, civil society activists, and citizens need to play
a proactive role in this effort to hold government to account.