Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Guest Post: Bringing transparency and efficiency in Government functioning

The following is a guest post from Sushant Sinha, the person behind Indian Kanoon.

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While the Right to Information (RTI) Act empowers Indians to obtain any
information about government functioning, it is still mostly reactive in
nature. People have to ask for specific information which will be furnished
only with in a specific time frame. In the age of information technology such
delays are of astronomical order. Making information proactively
available to people can significantly improve government delivery of services
by providing transparency in government functioning. Imagine an ordinary Indian
citizen that can browse, search, plot and compare all government contracts with
a few clicks. How fantastic would that be?

Some government departments and agencies have starting providing information
proactively about their activity. However, it is not quite clear as to why many
departments are still trailing in providing the information. The potential is
widely subdued. One important problem is that the software used by government
departments is mostly in house developed and in a very bureaucratic fashion.
They are not usually not answerable to any citizen about how fresh and complete
the data is. Unfortunately, the software developers can control all these
decisions without being answerable. And many times it is not clear whether
government department is not providing the data or the software is hiding the
information.

What is needed is to open up the software that government is going to use. Some
citizens can easily look into why certain things are behaving the way they are
and educate others. Other citizens can contribute the features that they think
are important. Hence, the software that controls the government information
would be accessible to everyone for criticism and contribution.

Beside transparency issue, Government will also benefit by leveraging community
support for its software development projects. This will also speed up
development and bring e-services much quickly to the people.

Finally the question is how we can accomplish this idea. If government is ready
to open up its software development agencies, well and good. Otherwise we
should start CodeForIndia (very similar to the organization
http://codeforamerica.org/). This can operate independent of government and be
supported by other organizations interested in government transparency and
efficient delivery of services. The organization should compete then with
existing government agencies for software development for India.

Anonymous question (edited):

Is the idea to open up even more information on government functioning,
possibly all? Is that even practically or legally possible? How could
government function by opening up everything?

My Reply:

Of course there is some level of confidentiality required in government
functioning. I think it is legislature's job to clearly demarcate what is not
public information. Currently, RTI draws that line. I am only arguing that the
information that can be obtained by public using a petition should be
"proactively" available. And the objective of this effort should be to enable
government agencies/departments to proactively share it by providing
technological help. A lot of that is missing which limits government agencies
in sharing the data. And government benefits by zero cost in implementation.

1 comment:

Tarunabh Khaitan said...

sushant, s 4 of the RTI Act requires pro active disclosure. in this article, i had discussed how the Act had a mechanism for enforcing s. 4:

"It is often presumed that the obligation of suo motu publication under Section 4 is not backed by any provision of the RTI Act. This is mistaken. Under section 19(8)(a)(iii), the Central and State Information Commissions are empowered to require the public authority to “publish certain information or categories of information”. This power is in addition to the power to direct disclosure to an individual applicant. The commissions must start resorting to this power for classes of information routinely being requested. In the long term, proactive publication of information is the only satisfactory way of dealing with the increasing workload of and procedural delays in the functioning of the information commissions."