The Union Minister of Home Affairs Shri Amit Shah presided over the 14th Annual convention of the Central Information Commission as Chief Guest. Also present was Minister of State for Ministry of Development of North East Region (Independent Charge); Minister of State for the Prime Minister’s Office, Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pension, Departments of Space and Atomic Energy, Dr. Jitendra Singh.
In his address, Shri Shah expressed pleasure at the functioning of the Right to Information (RTI) Act and said that in the 14 years since its enactment, the purpose and objective of the act has been fulfilled. He added that the main objective of RTI was to increase trust of people in the system of governance, and the act has been successful in instilling and strengthening the faith of the people that the system functions within the boundaries defined by the Constitution. He noted that this trust automatically increases a sense of partnership and ownership of people in governance, and this sense of partnership goes a long way in making the nation progress.
Shri Shah also said that in 1947, India attained freedom from a long era of oppression where the objective of the administration was discriminatory and was to fulfill the wishes of foreign masters, as opposed to looking after the welfare of people. This objective and the steps taken in that direction caused a disconnect between people and the administration. Shri Shah remarked that till 2005, no steps taken to remove this disconnect had been successful, but in the last 14 years, this gap is being fulfilled by the transparency and accountability ushered in through RTI. He called transparency and accountability the twin pillars of good governance and hailed RTI as a major milestone for good governance.
Shri Shah noted that RTI has channelized and transformed civil society into a force that ensures accountability from the government. He said that while till 1990 only 11 nations had some form of RTI, this number increased with information revolution and globalization, and this increase has helped advance the cause of good governance globally. He hailed India as the first nation to have successfully created an accountability system till the last leg of governance. He said that India has nearly 5 lakh information officers working to fulfill the writ of RTI at different levels of government, and such a large number of officers working for the cause of transparency and accountability is unseen anywhere else in the world.
Shri Shah praised RTI as a great step to remove injustice and corruption from the system and increase the efficiency of governance. He said that RTI removes arbitrariness from governance and acts as a major grievance redressal tool. He said that the use of high technology methods like video conference and digitization of RTI files makes the lives of litigants easier.
Shri Shah said that under the leadership of Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, the government is committed to creating a system where there is enough suo moto declaration of information that the need to file RTI applications itself is reduced. He said that the success of a transparent government lies not in an increase in the number of RTI applications but in the fact that RTI applications reduce in spite of the RTI process being completely accessible to people.
Shri Shah expounded upon the dichotomy between RTI and Data Protection laws. He noted the importance of proactive, suo moto declaration of information by the government and said that from Mudra to online registrations of FIR, the use of internet has helped infuse transparency in the system. He said that the job of officers dealing with RTI is to create awareness, and that people should know they do not need RTI for many things for which the government proactively declares information.
Shri Shah noted that there has been very little misuse of RTI and said that this shows the maturity of our democracy. He said that awareness regarding transparency should not be limited to quasi-judicial proceedings and disposal of cases but govt servants should instead actively reach out to people to make them aware of the proactive steps taken by government to increase transparency, accountability and efficiency in the government.
Shri Shah gave the example of the Kedarnath all weather road as a successful attempt to harness technology to increase transparency in government projects. He also mentioned the GeM (Government e-Marketplace) portal where the smallest vendor can be part of govt tendering. He hailed the portal as a major step forward for small industries and reiterated that the government was committed to creating a system where people would not need to use RTI because information would be proactively disclosed and available in public domain.
Shri Shah advised the officers present that they should increase the sense of responsibility in people, along with awareness about RTI. He said that RTI should not be misused or used for personal enmity or vendetta. He said that the power of RTI brought with it the responsibility to use it carefully. He added that Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi was determined to create a system where information was given freely, so that people would not need to resort to RTI. He added that the government would further ease the process of RTI to take justice and accountability to the last mile. He said that RTI would go a long way in the creation of a welfare state envisaged by the makers of our Constitution, and New India as envisioned by Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi.
Speaking on the occasion, Dr. Jitendra Singh said that under Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, the government has further strengthened the cause of transparency and accountability by creating an online portal for RTI, which did not exist previously. He said that the proactive increase in transparency in the last five years has led to a reduction in the need for RTI. He added that in 2019 alone, more than 12 lakh RTI related grievances have been redressed successfully. He said that the government has taken several steps to increase awareness about RTI, but cautioned that the law should not be misused.
The Minister said that the Government under the leadership of Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has adopted the Mantra of ‘Maximum Governance, Minimum Government’ from the very beginning. He quoted the example of making efforts in the direction of doing away with the practice of attestation of documents by the gazetted officers. He added that to bring transparency in governance, the DoPT has done away with the practice of interview for recruitment at the lower level posts w.e.f January 2016. Speaking about the RTI, Dr Jitendra Singh said that the Government has started an RTI portal in order to bring more transparency in implementing of RTI Act. He added that to bring maximum governance, Modi Government scrapped the redundant and obsolete rules during the last five years.
Dr Singh said that Modi Government’s call for zero tolerance towards corruption has been implemented in each and every functioning of the Govt. He said that the Government has made efforts to reform the training curriculum in order to make administrative services more people-friendly. He added that PM’s Excellence Awards are being given to the districts for their performance in implementing the priority programmes. The problem of stagnation in promotions has also been resolved by giving promotions to 4,500 employees early this year and this process still continues, he added. The MoS added that now everything is in public domain as all ACC appointments are put on website first and then circulated to the concerned departments and persons.
Speaking about the redressal of public Grievances, the Minister said that Public Grievance Cell has become pro-active and more responsive. There is visible surge in satisfaction level in the people and there is a telephonic feedback system in DARPG where random phone calls are made to the complainants to check their satisfaction level after disposal of their grievances. The Minister said that awareness needs to be created among the people about the RTI to reduce the load on administration of unwanted RTIs and added that RTI rule was brought with good intentions and it should be used for good cause only, he added.
The Chief Information Commissioner Shri Sudhir Bhargava remarked that the annual convention offers an opportunity to reflect and introspect on the implementation of RTI Act and the success it has achieved in furthering our shared democratic values.
The inaugural Session was followed by three brain storming Sessions on Gandhian thoughts and RTI, RTI as a tool of effective Governance and RTI Act – challenges ahead.
To celebrate the 150th birth of Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi, the first session was on Gandhian thoughts and RTI. The participants were addressed by Shri Pawan Kumar Varma and Shri Anurag Gangal. The speakers laid stress on the relevance of Gandhian vision of transparent and participatory governance and the role of RTI in furthering this. Shri Varma stated that RTI Act has been an exceptional step in the empowerment of the citizens. Shri Anurag Gangal informed that RTI is helping the poorest and achieving the dream of Gandhian philosophy of Antyodaya to Sarvodaya. This session was moderated by Shri Yashvardhan Kumar Sinha, Information Commissioner.
The IInd Session focussed on how RTI can be used as a tool of effective Governance. Former Chief Information Commissioner, who was the first Chief Information Commissioner, Shri Wajahat Habibullah, Shri A. N. Tiwari former Chief Information Commissioner and Shri Shyamlal Yadav, Senior Editor, Indian Express shared their thoughts on the subject. The Speakers explained how RTI has enhanced transparency and accountability in the working of Government and how it can lead to a more effective governance. Shri Wajahat Habibullah, first Chief Information Commissioner, Central Information Commission elaborated that RTI is instrumental in attaining the dream of Swaraj. This is achieved by holding the Government responsible for dissemination of information to common citizens especially the poor. Shri A.N. Tiwari stated that RTI is adversarial to opaque form of Governance and has the potential to increase efficiency of Government. Institutional transparency will lead to acceptance of Government activities. Shri Shyamlal Yadav stated that RTI has brought transparency in the functioning of Government. The Session was moderated by Smt. Vanaja N. Sarna, Information Commissioner.
The IIIrd and the last Session was dedicated to challenges faced in the implementation of the RTI Act and discussed ways to overcome these challenges. The speakers included Shri Bimal Julka, Information Commissioner, Prof. Partha Pratim Chakrabarti and Ms. Anjali Bhardwaj. Shri Julka emphasized upon the constraints faced by the Commission in adjudicating complaints/appeals, the constraints due to the nomination of officers as CPIOs etc. Shri Partha Pratim Chakrabarti suggested some solutions to challenges faced in effective implementation of RTI Act with the use of ICT technology. Ms. Anjali Bhardwaj informed that biggest challenge is lack of adequate mechanism for ensuring proactive disclosure under section 4 of the Act and training of CPIOs & FAAs. The Session was moderated by Shri Suresh Chandra, Information Commissioner.
The Convention was attended by State Information Commissioners, former Chief Information Commissioners and Information Commissioners of Central Information Commission, besides Central Public Information Officer’s (CPIO) and First Appellate Authority (FAA) of various Ministries/ Departments and other stake holder such RTI activists.