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Central Information Commission

Valedictory Address by the Prime Minister

Valedictory Address of the Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh at the National Convention on  RTI
15-10-2006 : New Delhi

"I am very happy that we have gathered here today to celebrate the first anniversary of the Right to Information Act. This is indeed a milestone of great importance in the evolution of Indian democracy and I am delighted that we are meeting today to mark one year of implementation of this historic Act.

Presenting the case in support of the Bill in Parliament, I had expressed the hope that the passage of the Bill will see the dawn of a new era in our processes of governance, an era of performance and greater efficiency, an era which will ensure that the benefits of growth flow to all sections of our people, an era which will help to eliminate the scourge of corruption, an era which will bring the common man's concerns to the heart of all processes of governance, an era which will truly fulfill the hopes of the founding fathers of our Republic.

Indeed, it is with such high hopes that we enacted this law. In this process, we received tremendous support and guidance from the Chairperson of UPA; Shrimati Sonia Gandhi and her colleagues in the National Advisory Council. We owe them a deep debt of gratitude.

Mahatma Gandhi had once observed, "real Swaraj will come not by the acquisition of authority by a few but by the acquisition of capacity by all to resist authority when abused." In many ways, I would like to think that the Right to Information Act, taken together with the 73rd and 74th Amendments to the Constitution and the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, enable us to fulfill to a considerable degree, Bapu's dream. Today we are all gathered to assess what use have we made of that instrument and what more needs to be done to make it a more effective instrument of public purpose.

I have heard with interest what has been said about your conclusions at the end of this 1st Annual Convention. What is of particular satisfaction is that it has become clear that the citizens of our country have owned this Act with their arms wide open. This has become, if anything, a "Peoples' Law."

Whatever may be the differences on the finer points of the Act, we must all be aware of the course that we are setting for the future of democratic governance. It can be said that the right to know is the most fundamental of all those rights, which are critical for upholding human dignity. We live in an age of information, in which the free flow of information and ideas determines the pace of development and well being of the people. The implementation of RTI Act is, therefore, an important milestone in our quest for building an enlightened and at the same time, a prosperous society. Therefore, the exercise of the Right to Information cannot be the privilege of only a few.

This Act is the consummation of a process initiated with the adoption of our Constitution. We gave ourselves a Sovereign Socialist, Secular Democratic Republic accountable to all our citizens. Accountability is based on the premise that citizens have access to information on the basis of which they can determine the justness, or otherwise, of actions of the State. Hence, the criticality of the right to information and this Act is but the means for accessing it. We have kept these means simple, with overriding importance given to "public interest", sweeping aside much of the legacy of colonialism. In many ways, this Act is the logical culmination of the dreams of our founding fathers.

I would, however, emphasise the word "public interest". The true determinant of success must be how many people have actually used this Act, and their level of satisfaction with the information so obtained. We must guard against the growth of professional middlemen in the use of this Act as seen in some other countries. And since it is an Act for our common benefit in relation to Public Authority, we are all stakeholders in the Act and must guard against allowing it to become a tool for promotion of an adversarial relationship between different stakeholders. This can only serve to weaken the Act.

Given the diverse and complex nature of our society, the information revolution underway has the potential to make the Act an effective tool of social change. Public authorities are shouldering the responsibility of implementing this Act without any additional staff and are creating electronic databases to meet the demands placed on them by our citizens and the Civil Society too has played no mean role in spreading awareness among citizens regarding their rights and preventing arbitrariness in processes of decision-making. However, a great deal more needs to be done. All public authorities must ensure that all records that can be computerized are, within a reasonable time and subject to availability of resources, computerized and connected through a network all over the country. Networking through the country through the institutionalized framework of panchayats, community service centres and knowledge centres down to the village level will ensure public participation in the development process.

The Central Information Commission has been playing the role of information provider of the last resort to civil society. This convention has given an opportunity to interested citizens, eminent personalities from civil society, Government and Information Commissions at all levels, to deliberate on substantive issues of common concern and enrich us with their suggestions. I am sure the recommendations of the Convention will help Government in addressing measures required to improve the effectiveness of this revolutionary Act.

I am sure that there will always be various opinions about the interpretation and implementation of some provisions of the Act. This is true of any legislation – particularly those that usher in far reaching changes. In a democratic society, sometimes, it takes time for new ideas to take firm root. This is part of the learning curve any legislation has to undergo. We need to evolve a consensus to facilitate the effective exercise of the right to information by the needy, by those who are directly affected by the information. We need to balance the need for information with the limited time, material and human resources available with public authorities. Vexatious demands should not be allowed to deprive genuine information seekers of their legitimate claims on limited public resources. We must also realize that laws, over a period of time, adapt themselves to changing realities as societal perceptions change and most importantly, right to information is not a substitute for good governance. It has to support and aid the process of good governance.

The positive manner, in which all stakeholders have responded to the challenges posed by this Act, encourages me to imagine that a time may come when a citizen may not have to make an application for seeking information under this Act. Public authorities could place on their own, more and more information in the public domain, with easy access as mandated by the Act.

On behalf of the Government, I assure all stakeholders that it shall be our endeavour to strengthen the implementation of the Act in favour of genuine information seekers and the people. The Act has been a matter of pride for the UPA Government. It was a commitment we made to our people. Therefore, we are - as, if not more, interested in its abiding success.

We will continue to pursue the goal of ensuring the fullest and freest flow of information under this Act. We shall work with all stakeholders for promoting effective usage of the rights granted under this Act. I assure you the complete support of our government in achieving fully the aims and objectives of this Act. We remain firmly committed to its effective implementation in letter and spirit".

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