One of the basic tenets of democracy is the ability of the people to determine how they should be governed. The modalities of self-government are many, but by and large most democratic countries in the world have adopted one form or another of representative democracy. This involves the people collectively, or in different groupings or geographical segments, electing representatives who are then expected to interact with their constituencies and represent their choices at the various levels of governance.
Unfortunately, almost from the start, representative democracies have deteriorated into “party democracies” where the loyalty of the elected representatives are , at best, divided between the dictums of their political party and their electorate. In India, with the enactment of the anti-defection law and other related regulations, even the semblance of a representative democracy have been replaced by what can be best called “elected dictatorship”, where all decisions are taken by the party high command and all elected representatives have to toe the line or lose their seats.
In such a reality, which transcends any specific political party, the people of India has to find other, innovative, methods of being heard and of influencing governance. But in order to do that they need, as a minimum, access to reliable and timely information regarding the decisions taken or being taken by the government, the basis for these decisions, the options available, and the safeguards and supervision being applied. Secondly, where they do not agree, or have serious doubts, decisions and practices of the government, they must have methods by which they can vocalise these disagreements and doubts, and publicise them.
The National Right to information act, enacted in 2005, was intended to fulfil the first of these needs and give access to public about information related to governmental processes, decisions, actions and inactions. The Indian RTI act was widely hailed, and rightly so, as 1 of the strongest transparency laws in the world. It was also unique in that it was drafted by members of the public and lobbied for by various people’s organisations. The documents included here give a detailed account of the formulation of this law.
Unfortunately, its implementation has been compromised because of various problems, mainly unsympathetic information commissions and an unresponsive bureaucracy. There are at least three reports included here which document the problems with the implementation of the law.
A method developed by various people’s organisations collectively access critical information and to publicly discuss it actually preceded the enactment of the national law. The passing of the RTI act made this significantly more effective and it acquired the name of “social audits”. These social audits, as can be seen, were not only methods by which information was collected both from the government and from the affected people, especially at the local level, but also provided a forum where this collected information was publicly discussed in the presence, and with the participation, of concerned officials and others relevant functionaries.
Documents under Right to Information and Public Accountability
2002 – Report of the Bhopal Public Hearing on the Maheshwar Project
2005 – Securing the Environment
2005 – The Notion of Transparency
2006 – Administrative Reforms Commission and Right to Informationct
2006 – Governance, Transparency, Participation, and Environmental Impact Assessment
in the Environment and Forest Sector
2006 – Transparency and the Natural Environment
2007 – Right to Information Act 2005 – A Primer
2007 – Right to Information Act 2005 – A Primer – Bengali Translation
2007 – Right to Information Act – A Primer – Hindi Translation
2007 – Right to Information Act – A Primer – Oriya Translation
2007 – Right to Information Act – A Primer – Urdu Translation
2007 – Social Audit – A Peoples Manual
2007 – The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act – A People’s Manual for Social Audit
2007 – Social Mobilization and Transparency – The Indian Experience
2009 – Safeguarding the Right to Information – Report of the People’s RTI Assessment 2008 – Revised Executive Summary
2009 – Safeguarding the Right to Information in India
2011 – Implementing Freedom of Information Legislation in East Asia & Pacific
2011 – The Genesis and Evolution of the Right to Information Regime in India
2011 – Transparent Governance in South Asia
2011 – Gross National Happiness and the Right to Information
2013 – Open Parties to Public Scrutiny
2013 – Lets All Come to the Party
2014-The Lokpal Act of 2014 – An Assessment
2014 – Peoples’ Monitoring of the RTI Regime – 2011-13
2015 – R Stands For…
2015 – Empowerment through Information – Volume – I
2015 – Empowerment through Information – Volume II
2017 – Tilting the Balance of Power – Adjudicating the RTI Act
Files of the Government of India (GoI), Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), relating to the Right to Information – 1997 to 2009
Given below are copies of Government of India (GoI), Department of Personnel & Training (DoPT) files relating to the right to information (RTI) or freedom of information, as it was earlier referred to. This collection consists of fifteen files, arranged in eight bundles, separately for each year or, where files cover more than one year, together for two or more consecutive years. The last three bundles, apart from being organised yer-wise, also specifically deal with the setting up and staffing of information commissions.
In total they comprise nearly 3000 pages of correspondence and notes (or file ‘notings’, as they are popularly known). These have been accessed by various RTI activists, over the years, using the RTI Act, and I am particularly grateful to Amrita Johri, Anjali Bhardwaj, and Prashant Sharma for sharing these documents with me. I am grateful to Chandra Kaushal and Rubina Mondal for helping me organise and scan these files.
Unfortunately, these files are not well organised, as is usually the case with government files, and there are many gaps and misplaced pages. This is aggravated by the fact that it seems that some pages have been removed from the files before they were made available to the
RTI applicants. Also, they have not been properly photo-copied and many pages are partly or wholly illegible.
Nevertheless, they give an interesting glimpse into how civil servants, political leaders, and even NGOs and activists have thought and acted when faced with the prospect of adopting a more open system of governance. As examples of the thinking of prominent political leaders, your attention is specifically drawn to a 2005 letter from Narender Modi, who was then Chief Minister of Gujarat, to the then Prime Minister (pages 496-498, file: 2005 DoPT) Also, you might like to see the 2005 letter from Abdul Kalam, the then President of India, to the then Prime Minister, and the response of the Prime Minister (pages 536 to 542, file: 2005 DoPT).
Another interesting fact is that in the files leading up to the enactment of the RTI Act (October 2005), almost every page in the file was marked ‘SECRET’, making it impossible for any ‘unauthorised’ person to either read it or be in possession of it, without attracting the very stringent provisions of the Official Secrets Act, till the RTI Act came into force. The frequency with which even routine correspondence was marked secret also highlighted the crying need for an RTI Act.
Three sets of files, from 2005 to 2009, deal almost exclusively with the setting up of the information commissions and the appointment of central information commissioners. These files illustrate that there was little application of mind or even the semblance of fair-play in the selection of central information commissioners. Though hundreds of applications were received for these posts, the files only contain curriculum vitae of serving or retired high-ranking government servants and letters of recommendation from political and administrative VIPs. There is no record of any process by which the other applicant’s names were considered and, inevitably, the ICs were chosen from among these high ranking officials or those recommended by a high-ranker!
1997 DoPT Files
1998 DoPT Files
2000 DoPT Files
2001-05 DoPT Files
2005 DoPT Files
2005-09 DoPT Files Pertaining to ICs
2008-09 DoPT Files Pertaining to ICs
2009- DoPT Files Pertaining to ICs