The government decision to hire a multinational company to check the efficacy of the Right to Information (RTI) Act has raised the hackles of many, especially the activists who campaigned for it. Touted as one of the biggest achievements of the UPA government, the RTI has managed to ruffle some neatly set feathers in bureaucracy, the unaccountable rulers in the government.
The government'schoice of the verifier for the effectiveness of RTI?MNC Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) is being viewed as an effort to curtail some of the provisions in the Act. The RTI Act was passed after much wrangling between the government and the activists who were working for it. Fixing a fee for filing petitions under the RTI was one of the most contentious issues. Now RTI is being used by people to elicit all kinds of information from the government, especially those relating to delays and arbitrary concessions being given by various departments to favour a few.
Recently a man in Orissa got relief from the court after he proved that the Forest Department was unduly delaying and denying him permission to cut certain number of trees on his land to raise money for his son'seducation. The department had given similar sanctions on a larger sale for industrial houses and business propositions. This information he obtained by repeated petitions under the RTI.
It is such incidents that are causing much consternation among the ruling elite, namely the bureaucrats. By getting a survey done by an MNC, the department can cite various reasons, including the ?holy cow? of national security to deny citizens access to information locked in government files. It may be remembered that the setting-up of RTI in itself was one of the ?redress? mechanisms suggested by the international monitory institutions under their Country Strategy for India. Hence their interest in the efficacy of the scheme and its scope for manipulation is understandable.
But what is not acceptable for many is that while there are any number of institutions in India who have expertise in conducting such surveys, why should an MNC be involved and that too one which has next to nil experience in similar areas. The purview of the PwC seems to be to locate the problems RTI poses to the administration.
The PwC is expected to come up with suggestions on how to make it more ?effective? from the bureaucrat'spoint of view and not from the citizens? point of view. Piqued by the move, the RTI activists have launched their own independent survey. But then this is also not devoid of foreign intervention.
The Google Foundation has offered an initial grant of $250,000. It might only be a business proposition in the sense that Google blogs would become the medium for the survey. But one cannot help wishing that the survey and study were clear of outside interference.
Despite the restrictions, even in a limited way, RTI has become an effective instrument for determined citizens to nettle the government. At least now the officialdom is lawfully bound to respond to questions and complaints, which earlier regularly found their way into dustbins. And that is why it is necessary to safeguard its efficacy and not allow the government to take back on the sly what it gave in a grand gesture, albeit grudgingly.