RTI and Governance
Right to Information is derived from our fundamental right of expression under Article 19. If we do not have information on how our Government and Public Institutions function, we cannot express any informed opinion on it. All of us accept that the freedom of the press is an essential element for a democracy to function. It is worthwhile to understand the underlying assumption in this well entrenched belief. Why is the freedom of the media considered as one of the essential features for a democracy? Democracy revolves around the basic idea of Citizens being at the center of governance and a rule of the people. We need to define the importance of the concept of freedom of the press from this fundamental premise. It is obvious that the main reason for a free press is to ensure that Citizens are informed. If this is the main reason for the primacy given to the freedom of the press, it clearly flows from this, that the Citizens Right to Know is paramount. Also, since the Government is run on behalf of the people, they are the rightful owners who have a right to be informed directly.
Another important aspect is that in India we have not given respect and prominence to the rights of the individual Citizen. True democracy is impossible until we recognize the majesty of the individual Citizen. If individual Citizens are empowered to ensure greater accountability and transparency in governance, it can bring about a major change. There has been no vehicle available for individual citizens to impact the governance structure. In a system reeking with corruption and becoming increasingly insensitive to the problems of the disadvantaged Citizenry, the Right To Information has shown promise of empowering Citizens to get accountability and act as an enforcer of good governance. The Right to Information is available to every Citizen, and can be used by individual Citizens from their own houses. It is also fairly inexpensive to use; it does not require getting together in groups. Since Citizens operate as individuals, they do not have to make the compromises required in maintaining the groups. Citizens, without any organization, reinforce the principle of the Individual Citizen being at the centre of Democracy. Whenever, there are major issues which expose lack of governance in terms of proper public policy, or corruption, Citizens will come together on a particular issue. The strength of this Common good will build a stronger and more ethical Civil Society.
As we ask for details of illegal Acts, and also about the basis and laws based on which actions are taken, we will be able to transform ourselves into a truly participative democracy, which works for the Citizens. We as individuals have the power and the responsibility of bringing Good governance by using and spreading the use of Right to Information. Going beyond stopping corruption and getting the Citizens their rightful due, Right to Information also lends itself to being used by Citizens to address issues of Governance and a rational basis for public policy. (Shailesh Gandhi )