General Studies Paper 2 (Indian Governance): Transparency & Accountability in Governance

Transparency & Accountability

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Syllabus: General Studies Paper 2 (Indian Governance)

 

What is Transparency & Accountability in Governance. Explain how the recent amendments proposed to RTI Act, 2005 will dilute the very purpose of the original act (15 Marks)

 

Introduction:

Transparency is broadly accepted as a major principle of good governance. Transparency means “sharing information and acting in an open manner“. Transparency is required to make the system of public service delivery effective. Accountability becomes crucial concept in maintaining good governance. Accountability means being answerable for the performance of tasks assigned to a person, Accountability is the harmonizing function of Transparency .Transparency and Accountability are related in its mission of an organization, Transparency and Accountability in the Governance reduces occurrence of corruption, favouritism, nepotism and improves the accountability of the staff.

Transparency and accountability cannot be achieved without a robust legislative agenda, which establishes a strong regulatory framework that is administered by an independent body. The Right to information (RTI) in India is governed by two major bodies Central Information Commission (CIC) and State Information Commissions, State and Central Information Commissions are independent bodies.

 

RTI(Right to information act)

It is an act to provide for setting out the practical regime of Right to Information for citizens to secure information under control of public authorities, in order to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority.

Objectives of the Right to Information Act:

  • The basic objective of the Right to Information Act is to empower the citizens.
  • Promote transparency and accountability in the working of the Government.
  • Contain corruption and make our democracy work for the people in real sense.
  • It goes without saying that an informed citizen is better equipped to keep necessary vigil on the instruments of governance and make the government more accountable to the governed.
  • The Act is a big step towards making the citizens informed about the activities of the Government.

 

Recent amendments to RTI

The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2018

The purpose of the amendments proposed is to provide for enabling provision under the RTI Act to frame Rules regarding salaries, allowances and conditions of service for Chief Information Commissioners and Information Commissioners and State Information Commissioners.

The proposed amendments show that the Central government seeks control over the tenure, salary and allowances of the Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners at the Centre, and the State Chief Information Commissioners.

  • The Central government will prescribe the term and salary of the commissioners by issuing notifications from time to time.
  • This means that the government need not go to parliament to amend the RTI Act, but it can simply issue a notification either to reduce or increase the term of a particular batch of commissioners and their salary.
  • The Centre will also fix the terms for State Information Commissioners.
  • The current law sets tenure of five years and salaries which match those of Election Commissioners and the chief secretary to the state government, respectively.

Why this amendment is proposed by Government?

Rationale given by the Central Government for this question is mentioned below.

  • The functions being carried out by the Election Commission of India and Central and State Information Commissions are totally different.
  • The Election Commission is a constitutional body and is responsible for the superintendence, direction and control of the preparation of the electoral rolls for, and the conduct of, all election to Parliament and to the Legislature of every State and of election to the office of President and Vice President held under the Constitution.
  • The Central Information Commission and State Information Commissions are statutory bodies established under the provision of the Right to Information Act, 2005.
  • Therefore, the mandate of Election Commission of India and Central and State Information Commissions are different.
  • Hence their status and service conditions need to be rationalised accordingly.

How independency is curtailed

  • Bringing down the strength of the Commission will impact the work and increase dependency.
  • The Centre usurping the power to decide the tenure and salaries of State Information Commissioners raises key issues of federalism.
  • It’s ironic that the process of amending a law meant to bring transparency itself lacks transparency.
  • The Centre has violated norms of transparency by not having any public consultations over this vital issue and has thereby trespassed democratic norms.
  • Centre is wrongly interpreting CIC/IC as a statutory body and not as a constitutional body unlike CEC.
  • Fixed term plus higher rank and difficult process to remove makes the CIC independent. Uncertain term and fluctuating salary by executive notification reduces the CIC to an obedient subordinate.

Solutions to make RTI Act better

  • Even if the changes are to be made, it should be carried by parliamentary law and not by executive. Giving power to executive violates constitutional proprietary.
  • Place all the factors that warranted any major policy change before the people and sought the opinion of the affected people.
  • Make it easier to pay the application fee
  • Develop a reliable online system to apply for information
  • Over all strengthening of RTI is required. i.e. Timely filling up of vacancies in central as well as state information commissions.

 

Conclusion:

The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill 2018 attempts to dilute the independence of central and state information commissioners, besides giving undue powers to the government of the day to appoint commissioners with an uncertain term and salary.  The Bill intends to defeat the very purpose of the RTI Act 2005, besides being an affront to the federalism enshrined as one of the basic features of the constitution.

 

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