In October 2005, UPA-I introduced the Right to Information Act (RTI) to bring about transparency and accountability in governance. Barely seven years later, the RTI is in danger of being severely blunted since it has proved to be an embarrassment for the Centre and states. Activists have wielded it with great force to expose corruption in public departments and enterprises. There was a general belief that the Act would turn things around even though political leaders and bureaucrats hated it. India was finally inching towards accountability.
But deep-seated endemic corruption seems too powerful a monster to be slain. Public Information officials entrusted with the responsibility of answering RTI queries have either refused to respond or have misled journalists and activists with incorrect information. As applications pile up, officials even cite manpower crunch as the reason for the delay in furnishing information. These officials know it is never easy to to pin them down since aggrieved individuals have to go through a cumbersome redressal process.
There are other ways too to break the spine of those in search of information. RTI activists across India are intimidated, beaten up, shamed and sometimes murdered to prevent the truth from emerging.
UPA-II, which could have set an example for the states by taking up RTI to boost its image, is curiously silent about the state of affairs. Is it RIP then for RTI?