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Monday, September 27, 2021

10 ways in which RTI has changed the functioning of govt, officials

The Right to Information Act was implemented on October 12, 2005. Over the last decade, it has transformed the functioning of the government machinery in several ways.

Written by Shyamlal Yadav |
Updated: January 5, 2021 9:38:41 am
10 years RTI, right to information, right to information act , RTI act, rti, right to information, UPA RTI, RTI, indian express, RTI has put people in public life under scrutiny, made the functioning of government from the President’s Secretariat downward more transparent.

1 Ministers’ foreign trips: In February 2008, an RTI-based investigation revealed union ministers had made overseas trips equivalent to 256 rounds of the globe. On June 4 that year, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh wrote to all ministers asking them to cut expenses on foreign travel: “…It is not only necessary from the resources conservation point of view, but also as a moral duty, to cut out all wasteful expenditure in our own establishments.” Information accessed through RTI later showed expenditure on ministers’ foreign travel had come down — a trend that has intensified in the Narendra Modi government.

2 Bureaucrats’ foreign trips: Several reports used RTI to expose huge spends of public money on foreign visits by bureaucrats. The Sixth Pay Commission report, submitted in April 2008, said: “There is an increasing tendency on the part of government officials to travel by air in order to gain mileage points which are then used by them for private travel… All mileage points earned by government employees on tickets purchased for official travel should be utilised by the concerned department for official travel itself…” In several circulars subsequently, the government asked departments to put details of foreign travel by ministers and officials on their web sites.

3 Ministers’ assets: In 1964, the union Cabinet passed a resolution requiring ministers to submit details of their own, spouse’s and dependents’ assets and liabilities to the PMO. But until 2009, the practice was hardly followed. After questions under RTI were put to the PMO and Cabinet Secretariat, and the CIC directed that proper answers be given, all UPA 2 ministers submitted details of their assets and liabilities on time. This has since become the norm.

4 Bureaucrats’ assets: After ministers’ and judges’ assets were put in the public domain, RTI applications were filed seeking details of assets of bureaucrats. After initially denying requests on details about IAS officers, Department of Personnel and Training Secretary Shantanu Consul wrote to some top officials on February 24, 2010, that DoPT was “considering… that the asset declarations made by All India Service Officers should be placed on website of Ministries of respective Cadre Controlling Authorities”. As a result of pressures brought about by the transparency law, the assets and liabilities of every civil servant are now available in the public domain, and are updated annually.

5 Judges’ assets: A 1997 resolution on judges declaring their assets to the Chief Justice was not put into practice until 2010, when RTI activist Subhash Aggarwal asked the Supreme Court about it. While a legal battle (which is still ongoing) began on whether the office of the Chief Justice of India is a Public Authority under the RTI Act, it posted details of assets and liabilities of all judges on its web site. Several High Courts followed the Supreme Court’s lead.

6 Exam results: Applicants for government jobs and some RTI activists asked for making public marksheets, answer keys, etc., and it was as a result of those demands that the selection processes of the UPSC, IITs, UGC etc. became more transparent. The UPSC remains among the most resistant organisations — even so, the existing levels of transparency are owed almost entirely to the RTI Act.

7 Personal staff of MPs, ministers: In 2013, an RTI-based investigation by The Indian Express showed that 146 MPs had employed close relatives like fathers, children, spouses as their ‘Personal Assistants’ to keep the sanctioned allowance of Rs 30,000 within the family. It was also revealed that several ministers had employed personal staff in violation of norms prescribed by the DoPT. The reports prompted the Rajya Sabha Ethics Committee to intervene, and the NDA government issued specific directions to put an end to such practices by ministers.

8 Accessible file notings: After a series of orders and reminders by the CIC, the government, in 2012, made available file notings under the RTI Act. This has created pressure on bureaucrats to write properly on files. Accessing file notings on a decision was unthinkable before the implementation of the RTI Act.

9 Scams exposed: Several scams were exposed using the RTI Act, including the Adarsh Housing scam, which resulted in the exit of the Chief Minister of Maharashtra. RTI was also used in the 2G, coal blocks allocations and Commonwealth Games scandals. Activists have used RTI widely at the state level as well.

10 I-T returns of parties: In 2008, CIC ordered the disclosure of I-T returns filed by political parties — which triggered a battle for bringing political parties under the purview of RTI. A CIC order of June 2013, declaring political parties to be Public Authorities under the RTI Act, has been challenged by the government.

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