Plenary on “Reclaming Democracy: The Power of Information and the accountability of Power” was organized in the 3rd RTI national Convention.
Session was chaired by James Lyngdoh, former chief election commissioner. The eminent speakers who spoke in this session were Usha Ramanathan, Legal Researcher, Trilochan Shastry, Dean IIM Banglore, Harsh Mander, writer and social activist, Soumya Kidambi, Director Social Audit (Andhra Pradesh), Manoj Mitta, Senior editor Times of India, Stayanand Mishra, Central Chief Election Commissioner.
Usha raises the point of privacy of an individual. She pointed out that there is fundamental difference between movements for RTI and RTI act 2005. Movement is for making state transparent and accountable. But it is going other way round. Today efforts are being at all the levels to make people accountable to state.
This process of making people accountable is projected as the matter of great importance for the national security and politicians say that this is the only way to curb corruption.
“Unique identification Number (UID) project will give all the details and information of an individual to the state. Now this data will be in the hands of authorities, like RAW, Intelligence Bureau etc. who are not at all accountable to people” says Usha Ramanathan.
Trilochan put forth even a wider issue prevailing in the country. He says “People who are honest in the polity and bureaucracy are not at all active and they also hesitate in taking responsible positions. This vacuum is filled by the dishonest and corrupt ones”.
Harsh Mander opined that RTI is one of the most significant reform happened in Indian Politics. He reiterated that “RTI has empowered people to exercise their sovereignty over the establishment and let them know that who are the real masters”.
If government wants real transparency they have to back this act with their full heart. Soumya says “If state doesn’t take the responsibility to safe guard the interest of RTI petitioners or activists, than even if we move from pillar to post we would not be able to achieve anything.
She cited an example from Andhra Pradesh that, “Once the social auditor was beaten by the nephew of Chief Minister N Kiran Kumar Reddy. Chief Minister himself asked the police to take the necessary action”. This is the kind of response we would like to have from the establishment.
Manoj Mitta discussed a very important issue in respect to RTI and media. He says “Media is a corporate entity with business interests and also the fourth pillar of Indian democracy. They need to tread in between this dilemma”.
He asserted an incident that happened with him. “I have never seen such uneasiness in Bureaucracy and Political establishments when RTI became act. This I have witnessed personally when I interacted with the then minister Suresh Pauchri. He was so annoyed with this act that just on asking him a simple question on RTI he unleashed his anger on me and I got the worse tongue lashing of my whole career” adds Manoj.
Stayanand Mishra who is also a Chief Informtion Comissioner, Government of India says that RTI has not only empowered people but governments too. Interaction of a common man with government provides legitimacy to government.
He adds that the biggest concern for Information commission is about the pending cases. “There is monthly pendency of 1000 cases and if continues that very fabric of RTI will die down”.
James Lyngdoh statements shaken the audiences and forced them to think over and over. He started his speech with some hard but true facts. He says “Today’s session is on “Reclaiming Democracy” but reclaiming from what. Where is the democracy”?
The remarks by the speakers made one thing for sure that RTI is for transparency and accountability. But we need to get on with a fact that only “rights” based approach without any “duty” based approach will take us to nowhere.
3rd National RTI Convention in Shilong