Thursday, September 22, 2005

Implementing the Right to Information Act in India

The recent enactment of the Indian Right to Information Act, 2005 was rightly celebrated, coming as it did after a long struggle which saw many disparate groups of actors collaborating in creative and fruitful ways.

However, getting the Act passed is only part of the struggle, and the far bigger challenge, as activists involved with this issue for long know, is the task of implementing the new statute. Writing on a different (though perhaps more topical) issue in today's Indian Express,
K. Subrahmanyam notes the many factors which will impede access to information about crucial issues in India.:

"One of the reasons why our politicians are refusing to declassify documents more than 30 years old as is done in other countries may well be that secrets of the type disclosed in the Mitrokhin Archives may tumble out. In a country where there is continuity of leadership in parties over decades[,] the present generation of leaders has a stake in keeping the secrets of previous generations. If they are continuing in the same old ways — which probably they are — they do not want to create any precedents by disclosing state documents more than 30 years old. But such a shortsighted attitude will not prevent our secrets coming out into the open when other countries declassify their papers."

Returning to the issue of the implementation of the Right to Information Act, Mandakini Devasher of the
Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) has recently authored an excellent comment on the immediate challenges that government officials and civil society organisations will have to confront. After detailing these specific issues, she concludes:

"The Right to Information Act 2005 is a landmark piece of legislation. If implemented well, it could be a major step towards more accountable and transparent government. However, it is imperative to recognise that the road to implementation is a long one and there will be many hurdles and roadblocks yet. With proper governmental support and a willingness to adapt, it is a golden opportunity for India to end the culture of governmental secrecy and fulfil its potential as a truly great democracy."

The CHRI website has additional documents on the Right to Information, as well as other interesting legal issues classified under the heads of "access to information" and "access to justice".

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