Bureaucrats give thumbs down to the RTI Act

The much acclaimed Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005, might have unleashed a movement for transparency in public conduct, but its implementation is not finding favours with the state’s top bureaucracy. It became the point of a heated discussion at a recent meeting of the secretaries chaired by Chief Secretary Sudhir Mankad, with the top babus giving their thumbs down to the Act.

Stung by a couple of orders by the State Information Commission (SIC), which had put babus in a fix, the secretaries called for finding ways to discourage “vested interests” and “activism” from creeping into the system. Such is the anxiety among a section of officials, that some even termed the Act as a conspiracy to “sabotage” governance in the country. “We have done a realistic analysis of the applications we get and most of them are from vested interests. I would use the word tout for them. Except for helping government employees, the Act has not been much effective from the common man’s point of view,” says a top officer, who was part of the meeting. A principal secretary even went on to say that the Act was becoming a tool in the hands of the corrupt to misuse information and harass the government. “Irrelevant and non-useful information is sought many times, mostly by those acting on behalf of some sufferers,” he said. The lone voice of Secretary (Administrative Reforms), P K Gera, who showed some enthusiasm for the Act, was drowned by a majority voice vote of the rest of the bureaucrats.

he bureaucrats also discussed the possibility of devising ways to cut out what they termed as vested interests and calling the applicants directly to offices and showing them records. “The idea is to give only that information which an applicant specifically requires. This would deter vested interests from accessing that information,” a bureaucrat said. Behind this, say officials, is a recent spate of decisions by the SIC that might make the task of administration tough. The most significant in this list is the one in which Information Commissioner R N Das allowed file notings to be viewed by applicants. Since then, the Secretariat, including the Chief Minister’s Office have become extra cautious in making margin notes. Sources say that the chief minister leads by example, in preferring to avoid making any notings on files that come to him.

The SIC had given another verdict recently allowing students a certified copy of their answersheets in board exams. The State education board appealed before the High Court and got the order stayed. However, it is the same set of officials who had recently benefited when the SIC had decided in favour of their petition, asking the General Administration Department to let government servants see their Annual Confidential Reports.

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