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Why the RTI Act is right
September 19, 2006
Why should Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel argue that making notings in official files public, under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, will make bureaucrats more scared of taking decisions?
The argument, prima facie, seems strange. But Patel is not the only minister who has voiced such apprehensions. Several other ruling party politicians feel the same way. And joining them are a large number of officials who also feel that making file notings public, will increase their fear of being identified and then later being targeted for taking hard decisions that might be unfavourable to powerful vested interests. So, the decision-making process will suffer.
The irony of this is that the RTI Act had enforced disclosure of official file notings because it wanted to prevent such political victimisation of officials who want to take a firm stand on an issue.
If the minister and the officer do not see eye-to-eye on a certain issue, that difference of opinion is rarely captured in a file. Most officers feel that disregarding the wishes of the minister may not be very rewarding in the final analysis. In fact, they fear that this might adversely affect their career.
A minister or an officer can no longer feel secure under the belief that the official notings in files will always remain confidential. Whatever decision they take or whatever stand they take on any issue, they will be forced to formulate a considered view and, indeed, suggest what is in the best interest of the people.
Ministers, too, will be more careful while forcing their decisions, which may not have followed all the norms. The decision-making process will become more mature and governance standards should improve. And all this because of the RTI Act.
What's more, he can even take a look at the comments made on his performance as an officer by the departmental promotions committee. It is reasonable to assume that this too, will be opposed by ministers and bureaucrats. And the argument against this will be that such disclosures may undermine the very process of assessing an officer's performance and making recommendations on his suitability for promotion.
Most officials have become so used to functioning under the protection of confidentiality and secrecy, that they have no idea of what transparency, openness and access to such information can do to their own effectiveness in service. Politicians will not like this transparency ushered in by the RTI Act.
It is important that bureaucrats see its long-term gains and learn to adjust to the much-needed changes being brought about by the RTI Act.
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