Will PM Modi take up the gauntlet?

Will PM Modi take up the gauntlet?

Perhaps the biggest contribution of the Parliament towards promoting greater accountability in India is the enactment of the Right to Information.

RTI & the struggle for transparency

Perhaps the biggest contribution of the Parliament towards promoting greater accountability in India is the enactment of the Right to Information. If information is power, then the RTI Act is a weapon in the hands of the public. RTI has greater significance among roughly 4,500 Acts because it is a people’s Act. It is not only for the people but also implemented by the people. RTI is a powerful weapon against corruption. The Right to Information Act 2005 (RTI) is an Act of the Parliament of India. It was passed on June 15, 2005, and came fully into force on October 12, 2005. The Act applies to all States and Union Territories of India except Jammu and Kashmir.

Under the provisions of the Act, any citizen may request information from a ‘public authority’. It is obligatory and mandatory to reply within thirty days providing the information public seeks. No government official can refuse or delay to furnish the information. Refusing or failing to provide the information within the stipulated time attracts legal penalty.

There is no doubt that the RTI can successfully annihilate corruption if used wisely by the public. The logic is simple. As the saying goes: “Where there is smoke there has to be fire”. Where there is fraud there has to be a secret. Corruption or fraud is a furtive activity. It is a dark deed. RTI empowers people to drag the secret out into the open. Major scams such as the 2G spectrum scam have been brought to light by RTI.

It is known that we are living in terrible times. We know how much is being spent for the village panchayat elections. Will anybody spend lakhs of rupees for the sake of a meagre fifteen hundred rupees salary? Needless to say that in the General Elections crores of rupees is spent. It is clear that corruption is part of the system. We need not blame only political parties for it. People are responsible for the situation, too. But not all are black sheep. At least there are some people who have genuine interest in the public’s welfare and the RTI is a necessary weapon.

If 1 per cent of Indians are made aware of this weapon, the tree of corruption can be uprooted. There is need for creating awareness about the Act. Who will take the charge? It is a million dollar question. Surely the government is not interested. A few voluntary organisations are playing their part, serving their best to do good to the country.

Effective implementation of the law can change the shape of India. It has been extremely successful in empowering people with information held by public authorities. Millions are now able to check the status of their ration cards, Below Poverty Line (BPL) cards, passports, application for public schemes etc. The RTI has made the country’s machinery more accessible to the poor and vulnerable sections of society. You, too, can do your bit.

RTI activists are vulnerable human rights defenders (HRDs) in India. Many activists have been harassed, and even murdered, for seeking information to "promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority" in India. Many face assaults on a regular basis. People seeking information from the local administration also face dire consequences. Activists, who sought information under RTI related to MNREGA scam, were killed. Many threats and attacks, including murders, go unreported by the media.

Maharashtra tops the list in the attacks on and murder of RTI activists. Maharashtra has seen 53 attacks on RTI activists, including nine cases of murder, over the last eight years. Gujarat comes second with 34 attacks, including 3 murders. Delhi, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka follow with over 10 reported attacks on RTI activists during the last eight years.

Hitherto, governments seemed to have little commitment to dispel the violence that hinders HRD activists and renders the law ineffective. If the Modi government claims to have accountability and the commitment for transparency it should treat all 251 cases of attacks across India, where people were either physically or mentally harassed or murdered, seriously. Modi should issue zero tolerance against the miscreants that try to overpower the law. Should Modi take up the gauntlet, the ensuing results would not only empower people but also strengthen the democracy of our country.

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