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Association of Retired Senior IPS Officers (ARSIPSO)

This is with reference to my letter No. ARSIPSO/GS-BSD-4/2023 dated. 10/08/2023 on the 4th B.S. Das Memorial Lecture, which had to be rescheduled for unavoidable reasons.

The 4th B.S.Das Memorial Lecture to be delivered by Shri Anil Kumar Sinha, IAS (Retd.), on the subject Disaster Management: Creating Safer Communities, has now been rescheduled for October 14, 2023 as per the following:

Conference Room No. 2, India International Centre, Max Mueller Marg, New Delhi, October 14, 2023 (Saturday)



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RTI - A Babus bug - By Joginder Singh, former Director, CBI

 
 


The Prime Minister says he was aware of the nervousness in the corporate sector arising out of the powers conferred upon the government authorities to tap the phones for protecting national security and preventing tax evasion and money laundering...... While these powers are needed, they have to be exercised with utmost care and under well-defined rules, procedures and mechanism so that they are not misused........ Legal mechanisms already in place should be stringent for more effective enforcement. I am asking the cabinet secretary to look into these issues and report back to the cabinet within the next month."

The Prime Minister's comments came in the light of Tata Group Chairman expressing serious reservations over the leakage of his tapped conversations with a corporate lobbyist to the media over which he also moved the Supreme Court.

According to a government affidavit in the apex court, Radia's phone was initially tapped following a complaint that she was allegedly an agent of foreign intelligence agencies and had amassed Rs 300 crore in a span of just nine years.

Later, the scope and duration of the wiretap was extended when some conversations were found "sensitive" in the matter relating to award of airwaves to telecom companies, the affidavit said.
Communications Minister had resigned when the CAG indicted him in what is called the alleged second generation (2G) spectrum scam.

The entire issue has to be seen in the light of Right to Information Act 2005, which came into force on the 12th October, 2005. The only exception is its non-applicability to Intelligence and Security Organizations (u/s 24).

A very important right has been conferred upon every citizen of India under this Act. Information is empowerment. This law enables citizens to access information. The objective of the law is to operationalize and augment the fundamental rights of the citizens. However, the law has limited utility in the sense that punishment for delay is only a fine and there is no fear of loss of job. Unless the complainant pursues the matter vigorously, even the possibility of fine gets diluted.

According to the Government, this Law was needed to make access to information a reality for every citizen. Government also felt that it would operationalize the fundamental right to information and help in setting up systems and mechanisms that facilitate peoples easy access to information. The Government also claims that the Law on RTI will promote transparency and accountability and enable peoples participation in governance and minimize corruption and inefficiency in public offices. However, it is worthwhile to examine the experience gained, with a view to enumerate the stumbling blocks to RTI.

Section 22 of the Right to Information Act 2005 provides that this law is to have overriding effect over inconsistent legislation or rules. Although this is a commendable provision, the practical application of the Act by bureaucrats is slanted and sometimes not done. They are influenced by the continued presence on the law books of several restrictive pieces of legislation.

The Official Secrets Act, 1923, a legacy of the British rule in India, contains several provisions prohibiting the flow of information from the Government to ordinary people. It was enacted to protect the Government against spying but its provisions are far-reaching. They serve not only to restrict access to information but also make disclosure of certain kinds of information by any person a punishable offence. My own experience shows that even the routine letters, including reminders to the communications already sent are classified as top secret.

Sections 123 and 124 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 also impose restrictions on making available official information as evidence. Section 123 deals with evidence as to affairs of the State and provides that no one shall be permitted to give any evidence derived from unpublished official records relating to any affairs of the State, except with the permission of the officer at the head of the department concerned, who shall give or withhold such permission as he thinks fit. Further, section 124, which deals with official communications, states that no public officer shall be compelled to disclose communications made to him in official confidence when he considers that the public interest would suffer by such disclosure. Conduct Rules for Civil Servants are also anachronistic in prohibiting disclosure of official information.

The Second Administrative Reforms Commission headed by the present Union Law Minister, had also submitted a report on the implementation of the Right to Information law to Government of India. The report sets out key recommendations to improve the functioning of the Act which include repealing the Official Secrets Act 1923.

In spite of all this, almost all the State Chief Information Commissioners are the former Chief Secretaries of the States, whose main previous job was to cover up the doings and misdoings of the Government. This is undoing the very objectives of the RTI.

The first Chief Information Commissioner says, after his experience of the RTI, "There is apathy towards the peoples problems in all government departments. Government employees don't work as a team.... There is a total lack of cooperation. They will not help each other even where it is possible. This is sad. But people come to CIC after they have been turned away elsewhere. There is much bitterness and pain."

The same sentiment was repeated by a former Central Vigilance Commissioner, who said, Almost one-third of Indians are utterly corrupt and half are borderline and only 20 per cent of Indians were honest, regardless of the temptations, because this is how they are. They have a conscience. He added, "There would be around 30 per cent who would be utterly corrupt. But the rest are the people who are on the borderline, the corruption was palpable..... If somebody has a lot of money, he is respectable. Nobody questions by what means he got the money.

Recent corruption scandals in our country, like the Common Wealth Games, or the Adarsh Society scam, or 2G have once again shown that how little effect or fear, RTI has on the powers that be. May be small officials in Panchayat or District level, may feel that heavens will fall or they will be shamed if they do not do things right.

However, the big fish, in spite of Prevention of Corruption Act, or Right to Information Act, feel no fear, as they are confident that nothing will happen to them. In fact the Supreme Court has clearly said that no public servant has a right to indulge in corruption as a part of his job. If any tape reveals cheating and bribery, the Government even under the law is duty bound to expose and reveal it in an answer to an RTI. Right to Privacy does not extend to committing corruption, or bribing, or influencing decision-makers.

The Prime Minister has often spoken out against the damaging effect that bribes, extortions and frauds have on all levels of life, and warned that the problem threatens India's future economic prospects. But it has not changed the response of the bureaucracy to his exhortation.
Despite all this, Right To Information is a Good beginning. Something attempted and something done is better than nothing at all. It is only hoped that the Prime Minister will stick to his protestation of zero toleration to corruption, however high the captain of industry may be involved. It appears that the Government does not want to touch the high and the mighty ones and only the intervention of the Apex Court has led to high profile fraudsters seeing the inside of the jail. So far its protestations have been far from its actions.

With Best Wishes and Regards, Joginder Singh, IPS (Retd.), Former Director, CBI, India, 123-124, Nav Sansad Vihar, CGHS, Sector 22, Plot Number 4, Dwarka, New Delhi 110077. Phone: 011 28052742. jogindersinghfdips@hotmail.com



The views and facts stated above are entirely the responsibility of the author and do not reflect the views of this Association in any manner.




 
     
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