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Tuesday, Oct 26, 2021
Outlook.com

The Tunnel’s Last Mile

The fight against graft must invoke the spirit of the RTI movement

The Tunnel’s Last Mile
IIlustration by Sandeep Adhwaryu
The Tunnel’s Last Mile
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+05:53

I am not unduly worried by the muck being hurled at non-government members of the government-notified drafting panel for the Lokpal Bill and recall the beginning of the village-based RTI movement in 1996 in Rajasthan. One of the ridiculous allegations against the agitation leaders was that they had received a hefty commission from a Japanese manufacturer of photocopiers who would profit hugely from the demand for photocopied panchayat documents if RTI came about. Yet, the movement didn’t lose focus, and the RTI Act eventually became a reality, not only in Rajasthan but at the national level, the result of widespread public networking and consultation with citizens’ groups, jurists, journalists, political parties, the Press Council of India, and even government institutions like the Lal Bahadur Shastri Academy for Administration and the National Institute of Rural Development. There were significant differences within citizens’ groups even then. One difference, to give an example, was over whether people could directly demand information and documents from business corporations and NGOs. The government successfully batted for the corporate and NGO sectors and managed to keep them out of the purview of the RTI Act. Had it not been so, there would have been more information about activists and NGOs in the public domain by now, restricting room for mischief by either side. Even in a less than ideal form, the RTI Act is a huge gain.

The lessons for people wanting an effective ombudsman to restrain corruption is obvious: don’t lose focus; defeat mudslinging with transparency; well-meaning disagreements over substance and provisions only help evolve a better law; go for a wider public consultation spread out to bodies like the bar, media associations and political parties and various regions which often...

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