“Where is the life: we have lost in living Where is the wisdom, we have lost in knowledge Where is the knowledge, we have lost in information. - T S Eliot Where is the information, we have lost in suppression. -V.R. Krishna Iyer
The veil of secrecy that has traditionally shrouded activities of government is being progressively lifted and this has had a salutary effect on the functioning of governments in free societies. As a major step in India’s march to becoming, not only the world’s largest, but also the world’s most intense democracy. The Right to Information act has indeed, in one stroke, brought, till recently the unforeseeable, reality, the right of every citizen of India to access information held by or under the control of not only the executive but also of the judiciary and the legislature, from the office of the president of India to that of the humblest village council. 1 As would be expected, this step has elicited much debate and discussion across India’s civil society both in town and country side. More recently, based on the experience of the last few years, much has also begun to be written on the subject. “Earlier thought the preserve of only the most developed countries among the world’s democracies, the right to information is now looked upon as a necessary component of any democracy. To make such democracy real even in those countries which are still categorized as ‘developing’, the Right to Information is increasingly considered an inseparable part of any public participation in the process of governance and hence of development”. - Wajahat Habibullah Former Chief Information commissioner India.
Mac Bride rightly argues:
“If individuals are to play their part as responsible citizen in the community at the local, national and even international level, they must be adequately informed, possessing sufficient facts on which to base rational judgement and select courses of action.2”
Towards RTI in India-
From Jan Sunwai To Jaanne Ka Hak
The real movement for right to information originated from the grass-roots level. The origins of the RTI movement lie in Devdungri, Rajasthan. In 1987 four Human right activist- Nikhil Dev, Anchi, Shanker Singh and Aruna Roy settled in Devdungri. They lived with the same facilities as those available to the ordinary small farmers in the surrounding countryside.3 In fact they were leading a Gandhian Life in rural areas for achieving the gandhian goal of Gram Swarajya through the Right to Information. Devdungri soon became a meeting point for people who were concerned about social discrepancies and did not know how to confront the local elite and the officials. When their grasp in the region improved, the Mazdoor Kishan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) – or the Workers and Peasants Empowerment Organisation – was founded in 1990.4 MKSS pioneered an agitation for people’s right to information. It has evolved a programme called ‘Jan sunwai’ i.e., Public hearing, wherein public demand accountability from the government officials and the legislators. The MKSS was engaged in a struggle for minimum wages on government work sites. After years of Knocking at officials door and despite the usual apathy of the state government, MKSS succeeded in getting photocopies of certain relevant documents.5 On 5th April 1996, the MKSS organized a Dharna in the town of Beawar in Ajmer to stress the demand for the right to free access to information.6 The state government set up a commission, which, within three months , had to look into the benefits and risks relating to free access to documents of the local administration. Although the Committee submitted its report on 30th August 1996, it...