August 2006

Right to Information Act

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Right to information Act, 2005 has come in to force in India. With its legislation, it is said that Indian citizen has now the right to “demand information” if desired and every public authority is liable to share information. This right to information act is perhaps originating from Arctice 21 of right to life and liberty. It recognizes the importance of informed citizenry, maintenance of transparency of information which are vital to its functioning and to hold government and their instrumentalities accountable to be governed. In other words it is meant for putting systems in place; operationalise these to bring transparency in governance systems.


In order for appreciating the “right to information”, it is essential that we discuss the fundamentals of information. Information is defined to be a “form of data” that provides a context as well as some meaning to the recipient. Therefore, information is citizen-centric whereas data sources reside with the information providers i.e. public authorities / organizations in this case. In this exchange process, managing latency in maturing transactions, maintaining current forms of data and above all the place of receiving the service are bound to influence the very nature of Act. Therefore, relevant and adequate infrastructure and policy level support need to be put in place to optimize the latency on coordination and transactions to respectfully implement the objectives of the Act. It is a mammoth task that lies before the governments. Governance and government systems are essentially meant for such services. National e-governance plan (NeGP) of ministry of IT, Government of India, with the mandate to provide information to citizens and especially to the rural citizens through 100,000 citizen service centres is a step in this direction. State level wide area networks (SWANs) and content designs are planned in this NeGP with the objectives of providing common and integrated portals for ICT enabled services. NeGP action plan will certainly synergize the objectives of the right to information Act.
 
Process architecture of this Act recognizes “latency” as one of the critical factors and makes the information providing agencies accountable. The other factor that needs to mention here is the “fee” that is charged for providing information. Urban, semi-urban population probably would benefit much from this Act and may not be affected much due to the built in latency and fee structure. But how equitable is the benefit it in the context of rural-urban divides? Rural citizens are still facing daunting deprivation from the infrastructure as well as services. ICT infrastructure readiness exercises in the national level and state levels speak enormously about the voids that rural India still encounters. Though state level readiness exercise has recently been put in place, policy is yet to be framed to assess the ICT infrastructure readiness in rural areas. This Act which is centered around information provision does not speak about the support processes, work flows among processes that the information commissioners should look at. The Act is primarily perhaps meant to engage in a reactive process delivery which means information demanded would be looked in to and provided for with an expected latency and cost. Any deviation would be referred to the bureaucratic system for redress. However, it needs to explore the possibilities of arranging information proactively as well as routinely. This means enough management exercise needs to be built in to the process linking information commissions with that of the government as well public offices. In absence of process links, it would probably be difficult to provide rural citizens who are unable to transact with machinery, manage the latency and even meet the costs. Livelihood security is a major problem among rural citizens and information is very critical to support their livelihood securities. The latency accepted in the Act ranges from forty-eight hours to thirty days. The transaction cycle also does not describe the place/premise of initiating it and receiving the services. It is therefore, necessary to provide information proactively to the rural citizens who need immediate attention to their livelihood problems. A synergic link between NeGP and right to information Act is probably warranted in the policy level to garner the benefits.

  

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