[Editorial Note: CA Narayan Varma expired on 24-12-2015. May his soul rest in peace.]

The Right to Information Act, 2005 is a potent piece of legislation under the Constitution. One can say that the Constitution is made effective through the legislation such as the RTI. The maxim POWER to EVERY CITIZEN is actualised through this one law more than any other or for that matter even all other laws put together.

Mahatma Gandhi once said:

“The true source of right is duty”

How true, our law is named “The Right to Information” but really it is duty to information.

RTI Act became effective on 12-10-2005. In this year, it completes 10 glorious years.

When one treats RTI as something basic to the democracy, one way of looking is that decade is not a long period and it has further to become more effective but other way of looking is that to survey and find out how much it has achieved and progressed and how much it has failed.

Nani Palkhivala in one of his talks said:

“One of the main reasons for India’s backwardness and stunted development is that we as a nation have no sense of time at all. We are individually intelligent and collectively foolish. It is characteristic of us that in our national language the word ‘KAL’ is used to denote yesterday and tomorrow. I attribute this absence of time sense to two factors. We were the first country in the world to evolve the concepts of eternity and infinity: against the backdrop of eternity what does the waste of even several decades matter? Secondly, we were the first to evolve the doctrine of reincarnation: if you waste this life you will have several more in which to make good.”

The word ‘KAL’ is unique. To me it seems the word was coined to understand philosophically life as a whole – beginning (yesterday) and ending (tomorrow) – from birth to death. It could go even beyond birth and death – i.e. of previous life before birth and future life beyond death.

You can’t change the past but the future will always be there for you to make what you want out of it. Let us all join in making RTI movement universal in this country especially because we have just crossed ten years of its operation. It is said: A car’s WINDSHIELD is so large and the Rear view Mirror so small because our PAST is not as important as our FUTURE. Let us march making RTI all pervasive.

As said above, India celebrates 10 years of the practice of the right to information. In this decade, this law, one critical to Indian democracy, has established the citizen’s right to make informed choices, not just once every five years, but every single day. Governments at the Central and state levels have been forced to concede to the democratic principle of sharing power. An estimated five to eight million applications are filed every year, making it clear how popular the law is. The more than 50 RTI users who have been killed bear testimony to just how much the act threatens vested interests. In posterity, those studying governance in independent India will be able to mark the patterns of a pre- and post-RTI era. It is, therefore, important to understand the immense contribution of the ordinary Indians who battled for years to get the entitlement and, since 2005, to implement the law.

Powerful and relevant local struggles can organically grow into national movements that enrich democratic practice. The demand for information was brilliant in its simplicity. People honed it locally on the nerve centres of unaccountable power. These demands for details of expenditures on roads, of life-saving medicines in hospitals, of disappearing rations, sent shockwaves through the establishment and shook the foundation of bureaucratic governance. The RTI has proved its efficacy from the panchayat to Parliament. Cutting through red tape and bureaucratic prevarication, it has exposed entrenched vested interests in policymaking and implementation, and undermined officials’ impunity in perpetuating both grand and mass corruption.

The RTI has been India’s most powerful “weapon of the weak”, enabling citizens everywhere to question and hold to account the legislature, executive and judiciary.

They have exposed misdeeds by governments across the board, in the delivery of basic services, in land and mining, as well as grand corruption in arbitrary contracts, like in the allocations of 2G spectrum and coal blocks.

In October 2015, PM Narendra Modi addressed the 10th annual convention of the Central Information Commission. He said:

“It is the common man’s right to question Government and this is the foundation of democracy,” Modi said, asserting that the Right to Information (RTI) could only be effective if it brought policy change. Adding that there is no place for secrecy in this day and age, Modi said, “The process of accessing information should be transparent, timely and trouble-free. Delayed information does not help solve the problem but increases it. Timely information can halt a wrong decision. We will emphasise this,” he said. Modi’s remark comes at a time when activists have criticised the Government’s implementation of the RTI Act. The transparency watchdog CIC has over 35,000 pending complaints and a waiting period of over a year.

Former PM Manmohan Singh had used the convention to highlight the drain on public exchequer due to “vexatious and frivolous” complaints. However, PM Modi chose to strike a positive note exhorting Government officials to analyse the RTIs being filed in their departments and effect policy changes to ensure good governance.

“If a question is asked by a citizen, there must be some issue in Government that the need for question arose. A small RTI question can force you to change policy,” Modi said.

We are the professionals – minimal less than 1% of total population of India. We are intellectual, we are prosperous individuals. I believe on us lies the responsibility of strengthening the democracy. While we devote our time to the profession and earn money, it is our duty to give some time and some money to the needy and deprived citizens. You may provide money to them but more important is to guide them to get their rights to achieve through RTI. They must become empowered citizens which RTI leads to.

Bill Gates said:

With affluence comes responsibility — why I give

He further writes:

“At the headquarters of our foundation in Seattle, each floor has a quotation etched in glass. On one of the floors is a saying attributed to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi: “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

These words of the Mahatma have a featured place in our building because they get at something very basic about philanthropy. They remind us that any search for real purpose in life must take us outside of ourselves.

Perhaps this statement resonates with me because I grew up hearing versions of it at home. My mother and father spoke often about the importance of giving back to the community, whether through volunteer work or financial contributions. They never let us forget that our relative affluence came with a deep responsibility to assist those who had not been born so lucky.

What’s more, I could tell from a very early age that even as my parents gave, they received. It was clear that they derived real satisfaction and a sense of belonging from their advocacy work and their donations to various causes”.

Before I end, I quote Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer “Ignorance is not bliss but bondage and knowledge is not folly but duty, if government by the people is to possess the semblance of reality, the battle for information swaraj needs awareness missiles”.

I end with sincere request, become RTI friendly; provide some percentage of your time and money in service of the nation through spread of RTI.

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