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Right To Information As A Tool To Strengthen Indian Democracy
We need to protect this sacred right, if we consider the right to democracy as a form of government among our cherished rights.
Photo Credit : ShutterStock
On 12th October 2021, India marked the 16th anniversary of the commencement of the Right to Information Act 2005, which first came into effect on 12th October 2005. The history, evolution, and the journey of the right to information (RTI) movement in India is truly inspiring, especially when we recognize the fact that its origins were part of a grass-roots initiative.
The last 16 years of the RTI movement has been remarkable with numerous milestones that have been reached with a view to promoting greater transparency and accountability in exercising powers, especially of the government. It is heartening to know that over 4,800 RTI applications are filed on an average every day and in the first ten years of the commencement of the RTI Act, over 17,500,000 had been filed.
This is probably a good time to reflect on the importance of the right to information for strengthening our democracy. As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of India’s independence, it is a necessary for us to reimagine the right to information that will strengthen Indian democracy and will ultimately empower ordinary citizens.
Recognising the importance of RTI for ensuring accountability
The RTI in its fundamental form is about providing information about the functioning of the government and the exercise of powers to the people at large. In undemocratic societies, this may not be seen as a need as people have not elected those who are in power. However, as far as democracies are concerned, there is a strong basis of trust that must be created between the elected representatives of the government and the people who elected them in the first place. This trust will be fulfilled only if there is transparency in governance and the power holders are made accountable for how they exercise their powers. The RTI precisely does this and at times, if necessary, makes the power holders uncomfortable. But if democracy is to have a more direct and tangible impact on the lives of ordinary people, RTI is one of the most important and effective instruments that can empower the citizens and help maintain their faith in the democratic institutions.
Rights-based approach for democratic governance
The vision of RTI since its earliest origins has been to make the information about the functioning of the government available for public scrutiny and possible action. It is not about government officials and public authorities sharing information as a charitable act. It has always been about the citizens having the right to seek information from the people and institutions who exercise power. The rights-based approach in the RTI establishes the right to seek information among the citizens and is not dependent upon the magnanimity of the officials concerned. This right alone empowers the citizens in a democracy and hence, it is important to preserve, nurture and expand.
Building a culture of transparency within government
The future of RTI ought to be to help build a culture of transparency within the government. No country other than India is more suited to develop this culture. Ever since India fought for its independence by resisting colonialism through a non-violent and peaceful struggle against the British, there is a deep-felt aspiration to make democratically elected governments fulfill their promises made to people. It is the people of India who won the freedom for creating a democratic and republic nation. While the colonial government might have ruled India based on ‘official secrets’ and seen the Indian people as subjects, free India ought to have established a new and more transparent pact between the government and its people. The culture of transparency within government is the foundation and the fulcrum around which the relationship between the government and its people ought to be established.
Promoting a pro-active disclosure system for creating transparency
While the RTI ensures that transparency becomes a legal and institutional requirement, it is important for us to move towards promoting pro-active disclosures in the functioning of the government. It is not necessary that every information that is needed must have to be sought by the citizens exercising their right to information. As India marks the 75th anniversary of our independence and the 16th anniversary of the RTI, there is a need to develop a culture of pro-active and transparent disclosure system within the government. This will ensure that people who are exercising power are accountable at the time of the exercise of power and not only, after the fact. It will also help build the necessary checks and balances within the government for the proper exercise of powers.
Educating the youth and creation of awareness in schools
India is a young nation. Over 800 million people in India are less than 35 years of age. It is important that we educate the youth of India and create greater awareness, especially in schools regarding the power of the RTI and its critical importance towards strengthening our democracy. All institutions of democracy require constant nurturing and RTI as a tool ensures that the people who are the heart of democracy remain at the centre of decision-making within the government. This perspective is essential for promoting awareness in schools and among the youth as they will, in the future, occupy various positions of power and responsibility.
Mahatma Gandhi, writing in Young India dated 7 May 1931 poignantly observed. "The greater the institution the greater the chances of abuse. Democracy is a great institution and therefore it is liable to be greatly abused. The remedy, therefore, is not avoidance of democracy but reduction of possibility of abuse to a minimum." The Right to Information is precisely involved in the “reduction of possibility of abuse to a minimum”. We need to protect this sacred right, if we consider the right to democracy as a form of government among our cherished rights.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.