Why Right to Information (RTI) is essential for citizens in a democracy
Right to information is essential for citizens of a truly democratic state for the following reasons:
• To ensure a transparent government which is accountable to the people- the right to information ensures that the people have access to the information regarding the working of the government, which in turn leads to transparency, uniformity and accountability in decision making. It forces the government to adopt the same set of rules and procedures for all people and any deviations from the norms can be brought into the public domain.
• To establish a two-way dialogue between the citizens and the government openness and information sharing establishes a two-way dialogue between citizens and the state, reducing distance between government and people and thereby combating feelings of alienation. It enables people to be a part of the decisionmaking processes and scrutinise it. It also reduces the citizens’ feelings of powerlessness. Also, access to information and the ability to scrutinise the processes also lead to reduced incidence of public perception of exclusion from opportunity or unfair advantage of one group over another.
• To enable a citizen to make well-informed decisions- the ability to find out about the functioning of government agencies and the performance of elected representatives helps the citizens to make well-informed choices. This is particularly so while casting their votes, since a well-informed citizen can base his choice on the basis of performance, rather than narrow considerations of caste or groups.
• To tackle corruption-this is one of the most important areas which the right to information affects. Once the functioning of the government is open to public scrutiny, it becomes difficult for government functionaries to get away with corrupt practices.
• To ensure better monitoring of the services provided by the government in India, the campaign for right to information has focussed a lot on this aspect and a number of people have actually exercised the right to information to get information about ration shop quotas and how they are distributed, or to scrutinise fake muster rolls and point out the loopholes in execution of development works. Thus, having
a right to information ensures better monitoring of government services. It is also useful in setting the parameters for those services that have been privatised or are being provided through the NGOs and private operators.
However, it is not sufficient just to recognise the citizen’s right to information. The law also needs to provide machinery for enabling the citizen to exercise this right. Moreover, no right is absolute. Thus, there is also a need to define the parameters within which the citizen can exercise the right to information, without jeopardising the security of the nation and infringing on the privacy of another individual. It is also important to spell out the responsibilities of the government functionaries who have to actually provide the information, so that the citizen is not unduly harassed. A law on right to information sets out, in a systematic manner, all these aspects and provides the machinery for the same. If a citizen goes to a government office and demands an officer to show all his files because it is his fundamental right, the officer is most likely to refuse unless there is a specific provision that binds him to do so. Thus, the right to information laws provide for forms in which one can apply, where one can apply, in how many days one should get the information and what if the information is not provided within the stipulated time frame.