Fifth Annual Convention on RTI concludes  ,  Sec. 4 yet to be fully implemented : Wajahat Habibullah

The fifth Annual Convention on RTI concluded here today. The two days convention was attended by all stakeholders of the RTI Act, including the State Information Commissions, media and civil society organizations. Union Minister of State for IT & Telecom Sachin Pilot delivered the valedictory address. In his speech, he said that RTI in India is hailed all over the world for its role in truly empowering the common man and strengthening democracy. He felt that several issues on the demand side, however, remain to be resolved. Effort is needed in the areas of awareness generation, improving accountability and accessibility. The minister felt that technology like mobile telephone can be used for carrying out mass awareness campaigns on RTI Act. He further said that the systems need to be put in place to check misuse of the Act.

Shri Wajahat Habibullah, the Chief Information Commissioner summed up the two-day deliberations and stated that five years of implementation of RTI Act has well set the road to success. He however observed that the full implementation of section 4 of the RTI Act is yet to take place in the country. He felt that this results in larger number of applications and consequent higher level of pendency. It was generally felt that penetration of the Act into rural areas was far from satisfactory. Most of the participants were of the view that any amendment in RTI Act should be aimed at strengthening it, and not to restrict RTI, he said. He also urged the Government of India to take all necessary steps so as to ensure pro active disclosure being disseminated as mandated by the RTI Act.

In his key not address Sh. Gopal Krishna Gandhi, stated that RTI Act gives a feeling to a common man that now the government officials are answerable to him. Sh. Gandhi, observed that the decision making process is now available to the citizens for their scrutiny and the credit goes to RTI Act. However he cautioned the civil society organizations to be careful while using the RTI since the RTI merely brings the facts out which is the bare fact neither right nor wrong. Sh. Gandhi observed that the Governments have been facing the parliamentarians but the same is now visible even outside the parliament. Sh. Gandhi urged the citizens of this country to treat the bureaucracy as a learner of the whole process of RTI.

The session on RTI and Judiciary was chaired by Retd. Justice A P Shah, High Court of Delhi. Justice Shah presented a paper on “Achieving Accountability through Greater Transparency in the Indian Judiciary. He observed that the lifeblood of accountability may be found in the principle of transparency. Transparency is however not always incompatible with judicial independence. He concluded that the guiding principle should always be this: Accountability there is and must be, but left it always be commensurate with judicial independence and impartiality.

The session on the Challenges and Opportunities in RTI—Role and Responsibility of Media/CSO was chaired by Ms Mrinal Pande, Chairperson, Prasar Bharti. Ms Mrinal Pande shared her experience wherein she filed 70 RTI applications to analyze the problem pattern in one of the states. She urged the media to do an RTI on itself. She was of the opinion that the RTI be used for correcting the system by getting the information, analyzing them and plan for the future.

In the session on RTI and Unique Identification Project– Possibilities , Shri Nandan Nilekani, Chairman, UIDIA was the only speaker. In his speech he observed that the RTI and Aadhaar are, most fundamentally, about empowering the individual and enabling such access for the poor. They do this by building a stronger, clearly acknowledged and accountable relationship between the state and the citizen. Shri Nilekani stated that in the last few years, we have received a clear message in the recent policy efforts and reforms: that the path to development must be an inclusive, pro-poor one. The RTI and Aadhaar are potent, indispensable parts of this effort. Together, they can have a powerful impact on our broader reform movement: one that aims for a developmental agenda that is fairer, more equitable, and acknowledges and enables access for even its weakest citizens.

The session on RTI and Public Private Partnership Projects was chaired by Sh. A.N. Tiwari, Central Information Commissioner. Summarizing the discussion he concluded that many infrastructure projects on PPP mode satisfy the basic tenets of a Public Authority as defined under the RTI Act. He also observed that in the years to come the RTI may go a long way in operationalising the PPP more objectively. He was of the opinion that the governments themselves should declare as to whether a particular PPP project is a public authority under RTI Act or not.

The session on Responsibility of Political Leadership in promoting RTI was chaired by Shri V Narayanasamy, Minister of State, Planning & Parliamentary Affairs. Shri Narayanasamy observed that the Right to Information is a tool in the hands of the citizens which is making the bureaucracy work on their toes. However he stated that the citizens are suffering for getting the information, even though they fulfill all their obligations as required under the Act. He commended the role of the commissions in directing the PMO to disclose the assets of the Ministers, which they complied and the DoPT to disclose the file notings. Sri Vinod Mehta shared his experience and observed that bureaucrats nurture in secrecy. He felt that the political class do not cooperate in the matters of transparency. He stated that the only citizens have to initiate all processes of transparency. Shri Mehta felt that all the relevant informations whether relating to defense or foreign policy should be made available in the public domain.

The theme of this year’s convention was “The RTI: Challenges and Opportunities”. The Convention was inaugurated by Dr. M Veerappa Moily, Union Minister for Law & Justice.

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