Tuesday, November 28, 2023
ArticlesSlow Poisoning Transparency – Sethu Nazeer, Kerala

Slow Poisoning Transparency – Sethu Nazeer, Kerala


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Corruption is a chronic cancer that has eaten into the pillars of democracy. A malignancy that is ubiquitous and plaguing the different facets of our nascent democracy from the panchayats to the parliament. The appalling revelations of chilling scams and unruly scandals of epic scale ,sins of commissions and omissions ,blunt charade of people’s choice, blatant ecocidal programmes, reckless land grabs and forced evictions of indigenous people has been an unrelenting scene lancinating into the minds of a young India and exhaling  as voiceless questions lingering and  begging for answers. This is an intrinsic trait of a system crippled by a zamindari psyche of a reluctant, arrogant and disillusioned government pursuing a non-people, non-participatory, unaccountable, exclusionary neo-liberal corporate development and growth dogma. The PM’s recent scripted statement trivializing alarming instances of plunder of public money as an assessment or corroboration error undermines the credentials and factual precision of our statutory anti-corruption machineries and amplifies the evident callousness of the agents of democracy in addressing and redressing such lethal issues concerning the common man.

The corollaries of such nonchalant responses were ensued by uprisings and backlashes from a hitherto dormant and mystical Team Anna and of a self-confessed yogi and street performer Baba Ramdev, which unequivocally had its ripples through the nation. The political drama that was staged thereafter was a monotonous and numbing act out of desperation, even the Trojan horses planted by the headless government to sabotage the anti-corruption crusade backfired and failed miserably. The unyielding and peaceful ‘Gandhian’ agitation against corruption did unify an India ragged exasperated and infuriated by the impinging corruption confronting them on every other turn. It inescapably sent tremors of apocalyptic magnitude down the power structure pressing the echelons to succumb to tabling of an effective JAN LOKPAL BILL. The ends justified the means.

The whole phenomenon is a natural consequence of decades of social churning and should be construed on the backdrop of a much larger and roaring call for a pro-actively transparent, accountable and participatory governance mechanism. All the repressive policies and escalating scales of corruption strikes a common chord: A manufactured, legitimate and connived dissent to deny any public participation, consultative process and transparency while formulating and executing policies which affect the people and thus to maintain the status quo. The enforcement of the RTI act empowered the people with a veritable legal right to know and to ask questions that were till date stamped down as taboo or illegitimate. It gave a whole new dimension to the power equation.

An aberration from the colonial bureaucratic opaqueness dint come cheap, it took around 10years of persisting  persuasion and coercion on every power centre by people who were marginalized, disadvantaged and denied of even there intrinsic fundamental rights. They organized and mutinied and aired questions that shook the citadels of power -why despite crores of rupee being squandered every year for our welfare we still languish in despair? Why we were never asked before our lands was acquired, before our rivers were polluted, before the fields were stolen? Why do we have to work for painstaking hours grueling with earth and still be denied wages? Why do we have ration cards and still have to wait for months starving for our entitlements? – They demanded imperative action. Their questions   dint echo aimlessly, instead it impregnated an impotent system. This was the inception of a new order, an outraged cry for downward accountability and transparency.

This demand for proactive information disclosure and power sharing governance did reflect in framing and enforcing of the RTI act and  the proactive disclosure provision inscribed under section-4 of the act.Section-4 ensures a pre- legislative participatory peoples deliberation process and mandates every public authority to make  proactive disclosure of all information that directly or indirectly affect  public  to be duly catalogued and indexed in a manner and the form which facilitates the right to information under this act.(The act stipulates every public authority to publish all relevant facts while formulating important policies or announcing the decisions which affect public (sec-4[c]).)It further demands that all records that are appropriate to be computerized are within a reasonable time and subject to availability of resources are computerized and made accessible. To make the provision more inclusive and effective it has been incorporated that all information shall be disseminated widely and in such form and manner which is easily accessible to the public. It embeds the onus on every public authority to communicate all such information to the public through notice boards, newspapers, public announcements, media broadcasts or any such means and to provide this information in a demystified and simplified manner in the vernacular language of that particular local region. The 17 items to be mandatorily disclosed i.e. entrenched under subsection (b) of section 4 to be is exhaustive and ensures that every intricate details relating to the particular government department is placed under public domain. The weak record management procedure that is a demon haunting our delivery system needs to be revamped and reinvigorated for the effective dissemination of information on a time bound manner. Processing of such vital information pertaining to a particular public authority needs to be urged in wartime urgency. The scope of such pro-people provision will enable and empower the people and the agents of democracy to have an integrated and effective service delivery mechanism which is inclusive, incorruptible and transparent. For a common man such a provision is sadly still a distant dream. The public authorities to a large extent have with absolute insensitivity to the implication of their onus evaded from being proactive in taking any measure whatsoever to abide by this provision and hence section4 has become a superficial legislation that suspires on an artificial ventilator. It is handheld by interventionist watchdogs of governance in most states- advocacy civil societies, individuals, political activists and in great rarity even layman (ironical but true).The resistance come from all corners -the power brokers, the public servants, the decision makers and from a feckless and obdurate institutional system of governance. But the tenacious clamor and comprehensive compulsion and intervention for the effective implementation of  section-4 has instilled over the years a definite and entrenching pressure on the archaic institutional framework forcing it to recalibrate its functioning to be proactively transparent.

Government departments (field and secretariat departments), government institutions (welfare bodies, universities, cooperative bodies etc)  and local self governance (corporations, municipalities, LSGD, panchayats etc) has preferred to walk the denial path by skillfully manipulating and distorting supplementary provisions made under the section in good faith  and thus derogating the spirit and the soul of the act. This is an act of fallacy that has gripped the public authorities and left them in an identity crisis at a time when the tectonic plates of power dynamics is changing and churning beneath. This realization and reconciliation with ground realities did amuse me in the northern most part of Kerala where literacy is inversely proportional to empowerment. A response for an RTI seeking information on the proactive methods adopted by the PIO of a panchayat office for disclosing the details of the SC/ST welfare programmes and the entitlements of beneficiaries under various schemes implemented was simple, transparent and more over ‘legitimate’. It said ’all information that you have asked for has been properly indexed, computerized and is available in our official website”, moreover he went to the extent of even quoting a subsection to substantiate his response. I feel for him for he missed the larger picture. Such a response to an RTI in a panchayat with a computer illiterate and socially humbled majority is a blatant mockery of the very overriding spirit of the Act. The diluting and tinkering of the section is rife across India .RTI activists have been hunted down and slaughtered unsparingly for seeking truth. A need for a strong whistle blowers act has become a prerequisite and is now complimentary to the RTI act. The time has come to rediscover political activism and to stand with unyielding perseverance in the fight to reclaim a proactive, accountable and transparent democracy. Every time the sacred ink is applied on the index finger the caretakers of democracy make a solemn oath to the people of India, to be in loyal servitude towards them without any prejudice or discrimination for their welfare and prosperity. To adhere to the vow, let all shackles of archaic power dimensions be broken and the people seek their ‘PROMISED LAND’.

Editorial Team of Indian Ruminations.


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