The world over, country after democratic country, has recognized the need to keep their citizens informed about the way Government takes decisions. In our country we have the Right to Information Act for the last two years. The spirit of the Act can be best summarized by stating that without informed citizens there is no democracy. It recognizes that in a democracy citizens are the masters and servants cannot deny information to their masters. In fact, servants acts as trustees and hold the information belonging to their masters. But for almost six decades, the servants behaved like masters and the masters simply accepted this treatment.
Rampant corruption prevailing in the country forced the lawmakers to understand that there is no way the country can become better without the servants favouring good governance. Under these circumstances, the preamble of the Right to Information Act highlights containing corruption, improving transparency and making servants accountable by empowering citizens to get information..
It lays down the foundation for a better tomorrow. In fact, every citizen who is the master has now the same power to obtain information which only the legislators had so far. This single aspect alone should create a new group of people who will demand good governance. This tool should help the poorest. To help the poorest requires attacking corruption at its root. The RTI Act is sufficiently strong in its present form to even attack the roots of corruption. There will forever be corruption at the lower levels as long as its seeds are sown at the highest level. The RTI Act can be used to expose these seeds of corruption which in turn can curb corruption at the lower levels.
Today, in addition to this Act, we have the benefit of internet. Also most of the youth today do not bribe to get jobs. Even if a small number of such people who can handle technology effectively are motivated to fight corruption it can do wonders. Such optimism was unthinkable only a few years back. The RTI Act, young people and internet can really bring in the real freedom to everybody. This was unlike during Mahatma Gandhi's time when he had to move from place to place to mobilize people and use communication methods which were very primitive. So, we are at a distinct advantage as we are empowered by technology. The purpose of this lecture is to at least motivate a handful of people who in turn could spread the message to others. Every Indian should be ashamed when India is graded year after year as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. By fighting corruption we are making our own tomorrow better.
RTI Act recognizes that information held in any form should be made available to citizens. In fact, samples of materials used also come under the definition of information. Overriding all other facts, the RTI Act allows information pertaining to third parties to be given to the citizen even if prohibited by the earlier Acts. The only requirement is that the information sought should be in public interest. As far as information held by the Government including personal information, the Act allows one to get such information without even giving any reason as to why you need that information. The RTI Act not only helps the citizens but also the whistle-blower and to recognize whether a particular person is a genuine whistle-blower or not, all one has to do is see files handled by him earlier. In this way supporting a whistle-blower is a much easier task today. But as whistle-blowers do not announce about their own activities, opinion of individuals should be collected and likely whistle-blower's list should be prepared. The very fact of preparation of a whistle-blower's list itself allows more information to come regarding whistle-blowers.
For many who indulge in corruption, giving up corrupt practices may be as difficult asgiving up smoking for some. While a chronic smoker rejects counseling to give up smoking, a very corrupt person does not make efforts to give up his corrupt practices. Luckily, RTI is a tool which can expose and embarrass a corrupt person. The embarrassment should be so acute that he should feel shy to be seen in public. Unfortunately, today it is not happening. To start with we should recognize the honest and embarrass the corrupt. It is in this way that RTI has become a stick to beat the corrupt with.
You will be surprised to know that any one who can write can fight corruption. All you will be spending is Rs 10. What is that you can do? You can apply the rule of three to take up an issue. Ask yourself what irritated you which happened more than two times and whether you felt anyone could have prevented it from happening again and again. The RTI makes you realize that you could be that man who could make the difference..
All right, now you know what should be prevented from happening again and again. You have to seek necessary information to know what is causing that bad thing to happen repeatedly. If it is corruption and it is rampant then you know that the source of corruption is at the highest level. On the other hand, if it is a stray incident involving a few people only, then somebody in the hierarchy would have acted on a complaint given by some person. But since the fact that it is rampant implies either all the persons to whom complaints were made were themselves corrupt or it is being perpetuated at the behest of the top..
Whatever India may lack , it does not lack lot of acts, rules and guidelines and monitoring and review systems, at least on paper. Don't just seek information. Send a written complaint about the problem you face to the officer immediately above the person who has created the problem. Wait for a week and follow with a reminder. Simultaneously bring it to the notice of the highest authority and ask him to give details of procedures and machinery available to prevent such a thing from happening. In case that highest officer himself is involved, you will not get reply from anyone. This is the time to make an application under the RTI Act..
Make the application to the person concerned in the highest office. Let your information seeking be in three parts. First part should focus on the machinery available and efforts made by the highest office to tackle such problem The second part should ask how many complaints have been received (say) over a period of one year. Ask for action taken in respect of each such complaint. The part should ask information about the complaint made by you yourself. If the highest authority himself is corrupt then you don't get any information at this stage also. At this stage you can file the first appeal or file a complaint with the Information Commission..
Depending on the type of information you get, you have the opportunity to plug a loophole, point out the lapses in the system or request for introducing a new system..
This much you have to do if you don't want the bad thing to happen again. In the coming episodes I will be talking about how different types of people can get involved in the fight against corruption.