If you have faith in our laws, read this. Your mind should be disabused with RTI:
Shhh! It's a secret
Jug Suraiya2 September 2009, 12:00am IST
Should the Right to Information Act be renamed the Right to Ignorance Act? Despite the introduction of the RTI Act, India continues to be an
information-poor and, consequently, ignorance-rich country. The official policy seems to be that public ignorance is sarkari bliss. Thanks to the Official Secrets' Act (one of the less desirable relics of British rule, under the colonial regime largely used to suppress nationalist sentiment and activity) India remains to paraphrase the words of Winston Churchill describing the Soviet Union a puzzle inside a riddle wrapped in a secret.
Just how secretive our sarkar is can be gauged by its reluctance, verging on paranoia, about giving the public access to classified documents which have passed their official expiry date and could now legitimately be allowed to surface. Though the Public Record Rules of 1997 state that official documents of a sensitive nature are to be made public after 25 years, in practice this is far from the case.
According to a TOI report, instead of being housed in the national archives, where researchers could have access to them, declassified documents are sent into the custody of the Prime Minister's Office, which according to the latest tally is sitting on 28,685 so-called 'secret files'.
The PMO is meant to declassify and make public these files as per the rules laid down in a manual of 'departmental security' (some might feel that 'depart mental' would be an apter term) issued by the home ministry. And what exactly does this manual say about de-secretifying secrets? Sorry, but that's also a secret.
In short, not only is the public voters and taxpayers who respectively elect and financially support the government not permitted to know about the inner functions of its own sarkar but it isn't permitted even to know just why this knowledge is being denied. This would be fine if India were a totalitarian state, like China. Or a thinly veiled military dictatorship, like Pakistan.
But India is supposed to be a democracy. And not just any common or garden democracy, but one that claims to be the most populous in the world. Can such a democracy or for that matter, any democracy worth the name call itself a democracy if it persistently denies its citizens access to information relevant to governance and policy formation?
Informed choice is the bedrock of democracy. Without the wherewithal of information, and without the ability to make a choice on the basis of that information, democracy becomes a mockracy: a mockery of itself. For knowledge is power, and lack of knowledge is dispossession of power.
In this context, successive governments have done little or nothing to empower the common citizen. Instead, they have chosen to empower themselves, at the expense of the citizen, by holding on tight to information which for undefined reasons of 'security' continues to be a secret long after its 'don't-use-by-date' as a secret has lapsed.
Of the 28,000-plus 'secret' files buried in the bowels of the PMO, only one was released into the public domain in 2005, two in 2006, 37 in 2007, 25 in 2008 and zero in the current year. Why does the sarkar suffer from this chronic constipation of secrecy, which is so injurious to the health of our democracy? When it comes to taking out hugely expensive ads in the media ads paid for by the taxpayer lauding its own real or imaginary achievements, the sarkar at both the central and state levels is positively prodigal in its largesse of bestowing information (or misinformation?) on the public. So why is it so niggardly about doling out supposedly 'secret' information which is well past its due date?
Hush! Don't ask such a question. Don't you know that the answer to that is itself a secret?