Krishna Sapkota

India’s first Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) Wajahat Habibullah has highlighted that the success of Right to Implementation (RTI) hinges on not only the strengths of the RTI laws and pro-transparency mindsets of the information commissions but also and most importantly the level of public participation.

In his keynote address to the Right to Information Learning Programme India for civil society and media representatives from South Asia taking place at Indian capital, New Delhi, on November 24-30, he emphasized the key role the Information Commission can play in facilitating effective implementation of RTI in every country. “Where laws containing specific provisions to override other contradictory laws it is the job of the Information Commissions to make such determination where transparency will override secrecy prescribed in older laws”, he added.

This specifically applies to laws like official secrets act which are common across the South Asian countries and have imposed regime of secrecies that is several decades old. On another note, Habubullah, who led the implementation process of RTI in India as the first CIC, also shed light on promoting proactive disclosure of public information so that the state can better know the needs and priorities of grassroots people and the citizens also understand the government functioning. “Proactive disclosure is a solution to bridge gap between the state and the citizens as it widens interface between the two sides and avoids mismatch of development and governance delivery”.

The RTI-LP, organized by Commonwealth Human Rights Initiatives (CHRI) headquartered in New Delhi, has brought together participants from Bangladesh, India, the Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Venkatesh Nayak, Programme Head, Access to Information Programme, CHRI, said the learning programme was organized to use the space as a platform for exchanging learning and experience about the use and implementation of RTI in between and beyond the borders. It is an attempt to revive South Asian RTI Advocates’ Network (SARTIAN) through regular interaction and engagement, he shared. “Demand for transparency is most acute because our governments operate on the basis of understanding that RTI is on need-to-know basis not the right to know basis”, he asserted, explaining the governments generally want to retain discretion about which part of their functioning will be made public and which part will be kept secret”.

Inaugurating the learning programme, Sanjaya Hazarika, International Director of CHRI, said this learning programme will deepen collaborations among the young functionaries of RTI, including media, CSOs, citizens and governments to the change for public good. The participants will interact with key stakeholders in government, Central Information Commissioners, and representatives of civil society and mass media sectors to better understand India’s 14-year long experience of implementing the Right to Information Act, 2005. They would also like to understand how the law is being used to improve transparency and accountability in the public and the private sectors. This RTI-LP is in tune with Government of India’s (GoI) policy of deeper engagement with South Asian countries as part of the efforts to enhance South-South cooperation.—

Source: National News Agency of Nepal