Magic bullet for bribery and corruption?

No, RTI alone is not enough.

Amidst all this new-found excitement and debate about RTI (Right To Information), allow me to make a reality-check post on why I think it is a bit over hyped. Talk of RTI connects me with two dots of memories I have:

  • Remember those Bollywood flicks of early eighties that showed hero cops chasing goons for over 2 hours. They would do all to prosecute the goons, but would still be unable to lodge them behind the bars.
  • Also remember this basic lesson you may have read in your high school Social Studies. The subject was called “Civics” when I did my high school. The lesson went, “every right has corresponding duties for citizens”. We used to call it the Newton’s third law of civics :)

NDTV and CNN-IBN have been selling RTI as a single cure for bribery and corruption. RTI does help, but it is certainly not a cure all. It does half the job, helps you find the guilty or irresponsible public servants. What should happen after RTI helps you with names and deeds? Legal follow up. And how easy it is to do that? Well, about 20 times as tough and time taking than filing RTI applications.

On a similar note, recall the frequent spurt of support media and public showers on Lokayuktas. What do the Lokayuktas say to that? They ask for powers to prosecute! (it is on the cards, but not happened yet).

RTI does not have ‘corrective’ actions associated with it. But see how this news report (Parents file RTI on kids’ safety norms) misleads readers into believing that:

The concerned parent say their next RTI application would be to the education department asking them to assign a special officer who can accompany the school children on these trips.

Going back to the “rights have associated duties” lesson, what are our corresponding duties on RTI? These would be to make full use of it, and then use it to participate in how we are governed, or to do legal follow-ups. Making use of RTI is really easy, but making use of information obtained is not.

So what could happen is this. After the initial flood of stories about RTI applications scaring public servants into action, we will see the same public servants settle down to account for RTI annoyances at their work. For they all know that at end of the day, India is full of lazy and selfish citizens, and will most likely not take the next steps even after getting to be in the know of most of the happenings.

I think the real spirit behind RTI was to make citizens participate in how they get governed, and to provide us with one of the tools to help improve quality of governance. I am afraid the point about “one of the” is getting lost, and RTI is being sold as the tool here.

Tell me if you think I am wrong in saying that RTI alone is not enough.


2 Responses

  1. […] While this will be the headline on on RTI related blogs and sites, and RTI certainly helps eliminate some corruption, I still maintain that RTI alone is not enough. Till we get an easier way of incriminating public servants using information “uncovered”, full power of RTI isn’t utilized. […]

  2. It is true that there are no magic bullets around. But still we need to celebrate whatever small victories that come our way. RTI does have the potential to become a handy tool if onnvoations like ‘Jaankaari’ in Bihar, where RTI Application can be filed telephonically, gather steam.


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