How often do we see news articles and reports that condemn the various acts of corruption on our day to day life? Do we feel angry, repressed, frustrated and helpless at the sheer apathy of how the system works. Of course we do! But time and again we fail to see what needs to be done on an urgent basis and demand solutions from the government on this systemic corruption.
The bill has effectively diluted the independence and autonomy of the Information Commissions by keeping the heads of these institutions at the mercy of the government and bureaucracy through their appointments, while their core function is to empower people to question the same bureaucracy! This leaves this institution prone to undue Government influence to toe the line when it comes to release of information that can possibly be inconvenient for the Government. This same mechanism was an effective tool for the unraveling of details of various scams during the UPA tenure, however it seems the ruling party has learnt from history and sees RTI as a credible threat to undo itself when it operates de facto under a system that lacks checks and balances.
Corruption works in several ways – there is financial impropriety, exercise of undue influence in Govt decisions, lobbying by unscrupulous corporates, interference in the justice system, bribery of Government officials and police etc. Basically anything that works against the true objective of a system design by means of human interference, is an act of corruption. It can be related to financial as well as non-financial matters.
Keeping this in mind we need to remember that even though we had a newly elected Government from 2014, the larger issues of systemic corruption have not been seriously debated or perhaps even seriously looked into. Most of the relevant demands at the time of outbreak of several scams in the UPA tenure, like setting up of independent Lokpal, strengthening the Chief Vigilance Commission (CVC) have been largely forgotten by the public at large today. These demands were valid from the fact that we need an effective oversight mechanism to keep a check on corruption in the functioning of the government. We may not be able to curb such ill acts completely but nevertheless in a growing economy with a large number of citizens under the poverty line, it is imperative that the levels of corruption fall under tolerable limits (unfortunately, tolerance is always too high in the Indian society!)
It is in this backdrop, that the RTI plays its key role in making the average citizen alert to possible instances of corruption by means of empowerment through information. It is only when you have data after all, that you are able to analyze it and discover anomalies if any. The historic legislation passed in 2005, has been a boon for civil society activists, investigative journalists and of course the ordinary citizen to exercise their right to be informed about how their tax money is being spent and how elected leaders have respected the positions they hold, through the power of the people.
The RTI (Amendment) Bill, 2019, passed by the Parliament on 25th July has amended the term, salaries and conditions of service of Commissioners posted at the Central and State Information Commissions across the country, subject to the rules made by the Government. The bill has effectively diluted the independence and autonomy of the Information Commissions by keeping the heads of these institutions at the mercy of Govt bureaucracy through their appointments. This same mechanism was once an effective tool for the unraveling of details of various scams during the UPA tenure. However it seems that the current ruling party has learnt from history and sees RTI as a credible threat to undo itself when it operates de facto under a system that lacks checks and balances.
It is in this context, that we are fortunate to have good investigative journalists on the ground to get in depth details and enlighten us, which is our self-imposed duty in a democratic state. However, we as citizens fail to understand that for democracy to thrive, the role of free flowing credible information and independent press is paramount. And without a healthy democracy, we are at the mercy of the whims and fancies of those in power.
A Relevant Indian
The writer is a CA aspirant, apolitical and a keen follower on Government policies.