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Right to Information: For opening governance to the people

'RTI is a powerful tool in the hands of ordinary citizens'

August 20, 2008

Arvind Kejriwal, winner of the Magsaysay Award, on the landmark act.

The kind of stories that are pouring in from various parts of the country, clearly indicate that the right to information introduced by the Government of India has become a powerful tool in the hands of ordinary citizens and has held the government accountable.

But those appointed to share information to the people are so weak that they invariably give verdicts in favour of mighty individuals than the ordinary citizens.

In the right to information, there is a clause that the information commissioners would deduct Rs 250 per day from his subordinate's salary if the information is not provided within 30 days. But nothing happens. The impression going around in the power centres is that no matter what happens nothing will work.

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Under the right to information, a case became a landmark when the Delhi government wanted to hand over the distribution of drinking water to multinational companies. With the help of the law, we were able to send copies of the documents to Bangalore and Ahmedabad. A majority of professors who went through the case wrote letters to the prime minister saying that in their opinion it was a bad project. Consequently, the project was withdrawn.

This is not only the landmark case. Several persons belonging to the poorer section of society have got their work done. For instance, a resident of Rajathan got his pension by using the right to information.

The government needs to make the anti-corruption unit more effective. I would say that this is the first law in the country that gives real power to the people. Only if the panchayats start working effectively they would work better.

Arvind Kejriwal, a former civil servant and IIT-Kharagpur alumnus, was a leading campaigner for getting the RTI Act passed in Parliament. He quit his job in the civil services and now works for a citizen movement advocating greater transparency in governance. He spoke to Onkar Singh. Photographs: Getty Images.

Also read: 'The people are the masters of the country'

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