Nikhil Dey , convener of the National Campaign for People's Right to Information, has been in the forefront of the RTI movement. He speaks to Bharat Dogra about the achievements of the RTI and the challenges ahead:
How do you assess the overall impact of the RTI? Sceptics say corruption is increasing more than even before.
What i can assure them is corruption would have been much higher without the RTI. In schemes like NREGS, which we've monitored intensively, it is clear that the RTI when used effectively has helped to reduce corruption. I feel strongly that people who are exposing and fighting corruption feel more empowered now with access to the RTI. Such efforts now have a much higher chance of success.
The RTI has started people on a journey which can lead to many more achievements what we can call second-generation achievements and all this taken together will be even more effective in fighting corruption. One challenge ahead is to make strong laws for the creation of Lok Pal at the Centre and Lok Ayuktas in states. Then there is the whistle-blowers Bill that needs to be made stronger for it to be truly effective.
What do you feel about the frequent proposals for amendment of RTI Act?
We've a good RTI law. While it is not a perfect law, at present there is no need for amending the RTI Act. More importantly, at least some of the proposals for amendments certainly appear to be efforts to weaken the RTI Act. The real need at present is better implementation of the RTI Act. In particular, there is greater need for better implementation of Section (4) of the Act relating to the government's suo motu disclosure of information.
It has become possible to provide latest official information on implementation of NREGA on the website. In Rajasthan, we take this information from the website and put it on village walls. Then the villagers can check this with the village's real situation and know whether wrong records are being prepared. With some effort all information on the expenditure of various departments can also be put on their websites.
I also feel, in terms of better selection procedures for information commissions, much more needs to be done. The public can be involved in the suggestion of suitable names, which go to a screening committee that in turn prunes this down to an acceptable number of names. This list is then sent to the selection committee provided in the law.
Do you propose any new initiatives on the RTI front?
We strongly feel the need to strengthen the pre-legislative consultative process. Before any new law is taken to the legislature and even to the cabinet, it should be put on the website to facilitate a wider and well-informed debate including suggestions for change. Also public hearings in various parts of the country can be organised.
There has been a lot of concern about attacks on RTI activists about 11 murders have been reported in 2010.
This is a very serious matter indeed and that is why we should all work to make the protection of whistle-blowers law stronger and wider, particularly taking care to include the protection of RTI activists.
Have there been cases of RTI being misused?
Here too the solution is to be found in greater transparency, not less. For example, if a department puts up all RTI applications on its website, chances of any misuse will be much less. Blackmailers can succeed only when there is secrecy.