Business Today

Right to Information Act: Sunshine Law

     Print Edition: Jan 6, 2013

Subhash Chandra Agrawal runs a textile business in the narrow lanes of Old Delhi. But as much as - or perhaps more than - orders and deliveries of bales of cloth, his time is devoted to digging up dirt through the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005. Some of his nearly 6,000 petitions have received substantial media coverage.

For example, one led to the public declaration of the assets of Supreme Court and High Court judges in 2010. He also uncovered the fact that the Planning Commission, which determines the poverty line, spent Rs 35 lakh on renovating two toilets in Yojana Bhavan.

The number of RTI petitions went up to in 2010/11 from 200,000 in 2007/08. In the same period, the percentage of applications that were rejected fell from 9% TO 5.41%.

The Act is popular even among students, who use it for a range of reasons. For example, Paramahansa Kolagani, a 24-year-old post-graduate student at the Delhi School of Economics, used it to find out what was holding up his passport application. And Shruti Parija, a postgraduate student of social work at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, filed a query to get information about the rehabilitation of villagers to be displaced by a power generation project near Ranchi, Jharkhand. "It's the only way change can be effected in this country," she says.

India's law, say experts, is one of the strongest among the 93 countries that have right-toinformation laws.

Agrawal concurs. "Such information in the public domain can pressure the government to effect change, and can help save the public exchequer money," he says. "The Act is an effective way to explore old scams and check new ones."

The RTI Act allows any Indian citizen to participate in governance by enabling her or him to seek information about Central and state government activities. Issues that relate to national security and external affairs, however, are not covered by the Act. India's law, say experts, is one of the strongest among the 93 countries that have right-to-information laws.

Given the widespread perception among Indians that corruption is endemic, the RTI Act has proved popular. The number of petitions filed went up from around 200,000 in 2007/08 to 500,000 in 2010/11. In the same period, the percentage of total applications rejected by the authorities has declined from nine per cent to 5.41 per cent.

Venkatesh Nayak, Coordinator of the right-to-information programme of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, a non-government organisation, says the law has helped restore power to the people. There is little doubt that it has spurred information activism in the country and helped bring corruption to the centre stage of national politics.
 
Manasi Mithel

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