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Central Information Commission

Address by MOS(PP)

Address by Minister of State for Personnel & Parliamentary Affairs, Shri Suresh Pachouri at the National Convention on RTI
15-10-2006:New Delhi

12th October, 2005 was indeed a historic day for all of us.It was on this day that the Right to Information Act, one of the world's most potent information legislation came into full force vesting in the people of this country a powerful legal right to seek information from public authorities.We shall remain ever indebted to the Prime Minister, De. Manmohan Singhji and UPA Chairperson, Smt. Sonia Gandhiji for giving the country such a potent legislation that not only covers within its ambit all the three organs of the State but extends even to non-governmental organizations receiving public funds.

2. While moving the motion for consideration of the Right to Information Bill in the Parliament, I had stated that this historic legislation would completely alter the administrative ethos and demolish the culture of secrecy. I had expressed the hope that the new law would bring an era of openness, transparency and accountability in governance and empower the ordinary citizen as never before.

3. Where do we stand now is the question which engages our attention here today. It is time to take stock-see how far we have moved; what have been our successes and shortcomings-and chalk out a road map for the future. The initiative taken by the Central Information Commission in organizing a three day national convention to review the working of the Act is, therefore, very appropriate and timely.

4. The Right to Information Act, 2005 is one of the most progressive legislations in the world. It has certain radical provisions not found in similar laws of other advanced democracies. For example, under the Act, a citizen is not required to establish his locus standi in respect of a subject matter for seeking information/ Even the organizations that are concerned with the national security, intelligence etc. are not exempt from the purview of the Act in respect of allegations relating to corruption and human rights violation. It provides for stringent punishment to public servants for denial of information. These liberal features have been built into the Act mainly with the objective of securing the rights of the "Aam Aadmi" especially those from the weaker sections of the society. The Act cannot be said to have achieved its objectives until their aspirations are adequately met.

5. I note with satisfaction that we were able to fully enforce the act within a short time of 120 days when may other advanced democracies have taken years to operationalise their Information Acts. The Central Information Commission and most State Information Commissions have already been constituted; many Public authorities have appointed their Public Information Officers and created necessary infrastructure for smooth implementation of the act. In the last one year, various training and educational programmes have been organized both for public servants and for the public to familiarize them with the provisions of the Act. Pro-active disclosures have been made and electronic database created by various governmental organizations. Public authorities have ungrudgingly shouldered the additional responsibilities placed on them by the Act and they have generally done so without any additional staff. Campaigns have been launched by the Central and State Governments and Information Commissions, civil society groups and the media to popularize RTI and familiarize people in effective usage of the Act. I compliment and commend all of them for helping the cause of information revolution in the country.

6. I am happy to see the success stories reported from time to time regarding the use of the Act by common citizens in addressing their day-to-day problems. Citizens have successfully used the act in maters such as issuance of a ration card, securing admissions in Government schools, getting passport electricity and water connections and other public services. This certainly is a good beginning. Stories of the use of the Act by the more enlightened citizens in getting developmental schemes and projects sanctioned and executed in time and exposing corruption have also appeared. These success stories, however, mainly come from metropolitan and other major cities. The real challenge lies in making this right an effective tool in the hands of the most deprived sections of our population. The RTI Act should be used more extensively to elicit vital information reg. livelihood and gender issues, developmental programmes, health, education and literacy issues and so on. Its use should not get restricted only to individual concerns especially of those who have personal axes to grind with little implication for public interest. We must encourage the use of the Act for achieving good governance and resist any attempt to use the Act to cripple the functioning of public administration. I seek the cooperation of civil society groups and other stakeholders in achieving this.

7. The RTI has already set in motion, a revolutionary process, which has the potential to root out corruption and to make public administration truly participatory, accountable and transparent. In fact, the public authorities have already started responding by becoming increasingly transparent and accountable. We in the Government are fully sensitive to the power and the potential of the Act and are committed to do everything possible to further strengthen the Act and to ensure its effective implementation. We believe that it is a resource that will strengthen and redefine India's tomorrow. I have, no doubt, that the Act will go a long way in nurturing and deepening the roots of democracy in our country and in building a new India of our dreams.

8. The Information Commissions have a large role to play in the democratic process of the country. The Act envisages a proactive role for them to spread awareness and build competencies. This requires them to reach out to the public. On the other hand they also have quasi-judicial functions to perform. They are required to arbitrate between public authorities and information seekers. This makes it imperative that a code of conduct, guidelines and conventions are put in place to help the Information Commission discharge its duties in the highest traditions of judicial conduct, safely distanced from temptations of publicity.

9. I have been informed that detailed deliberations have taken place on various aspects of the information regime and the convention has had the benefit of participation by eminent personalities from civil society, government, Information Commissions of the States and other stake holders. I compliment and congratulate the Central Information Commission for organizing this convention and facilitating the process of stocktaking. I hope that the recommendations of the Convention will help in evolving suitable strategies for furthering the objectives of the Act. I assure the fullest cooperation of the Government in committing the necessary resources from our side so that we are able to work together to achieve our common objectives.

Thank you.

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