"We need to keep on with jan andolans, dharnas and morchas, but politicians in the government are scared of only losing their power. In a democracy, citizens have this power. They can strip any government of its power. For better governance, we need to work towards empowering citizens," says noted social activist Anna Hazare. He was speaking at a webinar organised by Moneylife Foundation on the 16th anniversary of the RTI Act coming into existence, also known as RTI Diwas.
It was part of an RTI series called "Conversations on RTI with Shailesh Gandhi," organised by Moneylife Foundation.
It has been 16 years since the RTI Act came into existence. Calling it one of the best transparency laws in the world, Mr Gandhi started by asking Anna his views and thoughts on 16 years of the Act and where we are today.
Anna says, "In the 16 years of RTI, we have achieved a lot regarding transparency and corruption, but there is still more to be done. I have heard complaints from many public information officers (PIOs) that RTI is giving them trouble. But this can all be solved if they rigorously follow section 4 of the Act about suo motu sharing of information in the public domain."
"Agar har ek karyalay ne is pe amal kiya, toh aap ke pass koi jaankari lene aayega hi nahi aur RTI ka asar bohot accha dikhane lagega (If every public authority uses section 4 of the RTI Act in true spirit, then no one would need to file an RTI and its impact can be huge). Keep using section 4 and sharing information in the public domain and citizens will come to your office seeking information. They do not follow section 4 of the RTI Act and then blame citizens for seeking information through RTI."
The RTI Act has been around for more than 15 years, has gone through many rounds of unsuccessful amendments, with the union government finally making some amendments in 2019.
Mr Gandhi shared his apprehensions and asked, "Since the RTI act was implemented 16 years ago, many people feel it is becoming less efficient. The initial few years were fine, but since then, it is being misused and misrepresented."
Anna says, "I have been experiencing that after RTI came into existence, Maharashtra has become the leader to have the best implementation of RTI. I have been working on that since 1997 and have printed over five lakh copies of books to explain to people the effects of RTI. People started understanding the power of RTI, and this happened after 33 districts used it oppose corruption."
"Unfortunately, not a single political party wants the RTI Act. Today Delhi has a lot of pressure, but they do not want this Act in place. I have always said, whether it is the state government or the union government, citizen empowerment is more important. We have to keep empowering people and the government will ultimately bow down. After opposition from the government for nearly 10-11 years, finally, we got the RTI Act passed by the Parliament. The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, headed by Dr Manmohan Singh, tried to change the Act in 2006. However, after increased pressure and criticism from citizens, it eventually gave up the idea. Then the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government headed by Narendra Modi came to power. The NDA government tried changing the law at least on three occasions before amending the Act in 2019. So, whether UPA or NDA, nobody wants the RTI Act to remain in its original and powerful format. It is such a beautiful act and so important for changing the country and governance. Unfortunately, those in power only think about their party and not about the common people," Anna says.
"The RTI Act is such an important law, which empower citizens with the right information. However, the government still doubts whether citizens should be given the right information or need the right to information. Today is RTI Diwas and it is important to know that citizens still have the power in their hands to force a change. Do you feel RTI is poorly implemented? Take action! The government of the day has to react to the democratic power of the country's citizens. It is an uphill battle, but people need to come together and take action to force a change," the veteran activist concluded.
In 2006, the Maharashtra legislature passed the Government Servants Regulation of Transfers and Prevention of Delay in Discharge of Official Duties Act. The law was passed as Act 21 of 2006 and is also known as the Transfers and Delays Act. The Act was passed in 2006 but its rules were framed only in 2013.
It was Anna Hazare's effort to get the Act enacted. Section 10 of the Act mandates that the decision and necessary action on any file must be taken within 45 days if a matter has to be decided within a department. If more departments are involved, the limit is 90 days. Most decisions must be taken within three levels, and no officer can keep a file on his table for more than seven working days.
According to Anna, citizens are made to go round and round for their work in a government office. "If the file is not moved within seven days, then that should lead to punishment," he says.
Unfortunately, the Act has not been as successful as RTI. Anna says, "The movement we were able to build for RTI, unfortunately, we were unable to do the same for the Transfers and Delays Act. However, we will work to make it a successful Act like the RTI Act."
Asking ordinary people to unite, he says, "while coming together, and to get better results, everyone needs to join hands and keep their differences aside. People who join organisations need to have clear thoughts. If you have stains in your public life, nobody will listen to you. Plus, this cannot happen without sacrifices. People who walk the path of truth face difficulties, but it is important to remember that while the ship of truth sways in corrupted waters, it will still never sink. Persist with a just cause and you shall be rewarded."
The conversation was followed by a discussion with the audience that saw attendance from senior RTI activists like Vinita Deshmukh, Commodore Lokesh Batra, Anil Galgali, and Girish Mittal.
A member from the audience asked Anna his thoughts on the subject of RTI activists being murdered. In response, he says, "I was saying this from the beginning, but it never got incorporated into the RTI Act. I still feel the government needs to take care of the security of RTI activists. It is their responsibility."
Another member of the audience wanted to know Anna's thoughts and ideas on how to combat corruption. In response, he says, "The larger a group you present to the government, the more likely your issue will be noticed and the government will be pressurised to take action. This is true for all issues other than RTI. We must present a united front to counteract corruption."
You can watch the full video here:
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