RTI works where legislature fails
RTI works where legislature fails, Good governance cannot happen just like that. Where indiscipline, dishonesty and lethargy are ruling the roost, there can be no governance at all.
Good governance cannot happen just like that. Where indiscipline, dishonesty and lethargy are ruling the roost, there can be no governance at all. People in government do not perform because they are not questioned by anybody. Top officers have to review the work of subordinates. If they are also lethargic, subordinates feel they need not work.
If a Cabinet Minister does not question the officers of the ministry concerned, the government does not perform in that department. The Minister has to be considered as failed. When a Legislative Assembly or the Parliament meetings go on, secretariat and ministries will be working overtime. One can see the lights burning at midnight. The reason is they have to prepare answers to the questions raised by the members. There is no time limit to answer the questions asked by the legislative members. When the sessions are convened, the questions received by that time will be placed in sequence; those questions will be sent to the department concerned for information. The secretary or principal secretary has to compile the correct and complete answer in writing and prepare additional information for possible supplementary questions. As they cannot expect all questions that might arise, they are supposed to be ready on every aspect of the subject about which the member sought to know. The principal secretary has to brief the Minister about the answer to be given.
A team of officers from the department will sit in the officer’s gallery near the Minister while the members are raising questions. As the session goes on the officers will be sending slips with bits and pieces of information relevant to the supplementary questions to the Minister, so that he gives accurate information to the House. This is the real accountability of the Government to the members of Legislative Assembly. The Minister cannot mislead as that amounts to disrespect. A dynamic legislator is expected to ask for the people. It is pathetic that some MPs were thrown out of House for taking bribe to ask questions on behalf of certain corporate houses.
Question hour is thus most important aspect of legislative democracy. Not only this, the members can raise an issue of urgent matter in the zero hour. The house leaves one hour without scheduling anything, so that members can bring certain serious problems of immediate importance to the notice of the Government. A very serious issue can be taken on priority adjourning all the scheduled items of agenda, which is called ‘adjournment motion’. This is again, for compelling the government to give answers. Besides this there is ‘call attention motion’ where the members call the attention of the rulers on a specific issue. There will be several debates on scheduled subjects or demands or budgetary aspects, at the end of which the Minister is expected to answer or declare or clarify. These are all the powers of the representatives to ask on behalf of the people who elected them. No confidence motion, if moved, gives a lot of scope for questioning the wrongful policies of the government.
Apart from this there will be Parliamentary Standing Committees which study working of particular ministries and give reports which would form basis of recommendations for changes in law or lead to amendments in the enactments.
The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) will audit the expenditure of departments and find out the discrepancies, violation of norms and irregularities. Their objections have to be reviewed by the Public Accounts Committee, headed by the member of the Opposition who further give specific recommendations. Any defiance in responding to the members can be viewed as ‘disrespect’ or ‘contempt’ of the House and breach of privilege, which might even lead to imprisonment for a brief period. Almost every step or phase of proceedings of House fetches important information from the government. On behalf of people, they exercise their right to information by compelling the officers or minister on the deterrence of action under breach of privilege.
If the proceedings in Parliament or Legislative House is disturbed, disrupted or totally cancelled for any reason, the information prepared would be left in the files while Ministers and officers would heave of sigh of relief as the ‘difficulty’ is passed off without happening! This is the most disturbing aspect.
The Right to Information Act 2005 has provided the right to seek information held by the public authority. This law specifically stated under Section 8(1) (j) the proviso: provided that the information which cannot be denied to Parliament or a State Legislature shall not be denied to any person. This is a very significant provision. Some argue that this is proviso only for (j) which enables authority to deny the information which is personal or provisional or does not have any relation with public. It cannot be. This is so general in its character that it cannot be confined to be the exemption for information relating to privacy. Reasonable understanding of this law as explained in the preamble leads us to inference that it is general and thus information that can be given to Parliament shall be given to persons.
Whether it is budget session or any other session, during the process of meetings of Assembly or Parliament, huge information from the public offices will be coming out to reach the people’s representatives. The media will be reporting numerous news items about questions and answers about the functioning of various departments. Unfortunately, now-a-days the sessions have become the battle fields for political parties to show off their ‘concern’ for the people. Because of that newspapers write and TV channels talk about the abuses and unreasonable allegations. People are losing to know the information about governance.
The right of people’s access to information assumes significance in this backdrop and the proviso in Section 8 comes to rescue of the people. A vibrant citizen has to ask for information for the public purpose. It is not meant to seek personal information or to settle individual grievance. It may not be wrong to seek redressal of a grievance, but it is not right even. System of the governance within it should include the mechanism to redress grievance of the people. In the absence of an effective mechanism to solve the day to day problems of the people or the problems created by negligent or irresponsible functioning of the public employees, the citizen is compelled to seek information about ‘action taken’ on the petition he made about a problem. The RTI should be used for improving the governance and to make the government, department and MLAs or MPs accountable.
By: Madabhushi Sridhar