Sometimes, simple Right to Information (RTI) applications lead to significant results, said Shailesh Gandhi, former Central Information Commissioner (CIC) addressing Moneylife Foundation members today. The key is to keep trying different things, you never know what may work, he said, giving the example of how his simple RTI request seeking information led to decisive action agaisnt a police official who was accused of rape.
Mr Gandhi went though the key provisions of the act and provided important tips on how to file effective applications and carry forward the demand for information through first and second appeals. He explained at length the rationale behind various provisions as well as what information can be provided under the act and what cannot. For intance, he said, the RTI act is only meant to provide information to a citizen as her right, but one cannot demand an explanation for various actions or decisions. Similarly, information that is already available on record can be provided, but a citizen cannot ask for information to be gathered or collated under the act.
Mr Gandhi pointed out that the RTI Act derived its power from the short and succint Section 3 which states, “Subject to the provisions of this Act, all Citizens shall have the Right to Information.” He explained how Section 4 gives a person to right to inspection of documents and was “the heart of the RTI Act” . Mr Gandhi, who evangelises the use of RTI by ordinary people, firmly believes that when a larger number of citizens demand information, the government will be under pressure to put out a lot more information out in the public domain and on their website, leading to a substantial reduction in inefficiency and corruption.
Mr Gandhi also explained what sort of information cannot be obtained under the act and the exemptions to disclosure of information set out in section 8 and section 9 of the act which allows some applications to be rejected.
This time, Mr Gandhi also informed his audience about another important statute in Maharashtra that could empower citizens tremendously, when used in conjunction with the RTI Act. He said most people were not even aware of the existence of this legislation called the ‘Government Servants Regulation of Transfers and Prevention of Delay in Discharge of Official Duties Act (Act 21 of 2006)’, whose strict provisions of action could lead to better governance and delivery of timely services if citizens filed application under its provisions.
In case if any RTI application is not taken, false information is given, there is non-compliance with section 4, excessive fees are asked for etc a first appeal to the First appellate authority can be made within 30 days and the second appeal within 90 days of the order.
According to Mr Gandhi, certain bottlenecks which impede the effectiveness of this act are lack of a culture of transperancy, awareness of the law and the slow pace of the Information Commission mainly.
RTI is an act which provides public information and brings transparency and efficiency in the system. It leads to SWARAJ- a true participatory democracy. It is a tool which can be used to bring about a difference sitting at home. So its time that enough of us try and make democracy more meaningful.
At the closing, Mr Shailesh Gandhi emphasised that we all need to work together to make our nation a perfect place. He said, “Mera Bharat mahan nahi hai, Per yeh dosh mera hai!” inspiring the audience to start taking action.