Two thousand years and some centuries ago the Greek philosopher Aristotle stipulated the qualities required and duties expected of those holding public office. In ancient India there were codes of conduct for the Kshatriya, the warriors and rulers. Chanakya who founded, through his disciple Chandragupta, India’s first empire in 4th century BC mentioned bureaucrats in his treatise Arthashastra. In a book titled “Consumerism, Crime and Corruption” MG Chitkara quotes Chanakya, “money misappropriated by government officials from state funds is as hard to ascertain as it is to find out how much water a fish has drunk from a pond”. Chanakya wanted the offenders to be punished harshly.
In 21st century AD, India is not yet a corruption free country but an example of the contrary. Indian parliament passed Right to Information Act under pressure of public activists who hoped it would make the bureaucracy more accountable. But the bureaucracy is unwilling to accept to being questioned by common people. Today’s article on Times of India titled “Sleep on RTI Queries” glimpses into this mindset of bureaucracy. Here are some excepts (words in italics are mine):
“Now, senior bureaucrats are giving crash courses to public information officers (PIOs) on how to delay or deny information to applicants.”
A scientist at a national institute, to whom an RTI application was forwarded, said his senior was unhappy that he readily gave the details. “Asking for information is their job,” he quoted his boss as telling him, “Not giving away everything is part of our job.” The scientist said the senior administrator gave him a few tips on how to intentionally misdirect queries to delay things. “While RTI activists are well versed with the act and pursue applications, many common people who seek information give up after long delays. This is the guiding reason for creating barricades,” he added.
Appeals against denial or delay of information under RTI have been piling up with the state information commission to the point that the commission lost count. RTI activists attribute this increase in appeals partly to the practice of senior officials training public information officers (PIOs) on ways to delay replies.
In most cases, senior officials or heads of department help PIOs draft the replies, said advocate and RTI activist V S Suresh. “Some of the replies are diplomatic, some are unreasonable and others are just stupid,” he said.
The state chief information commissioner has powers to initiate action against PIOs who don’t act on applications. Officials said they have issued show-cause notices to PIOs who don’t give proper replies on time, but they did not have any number or details of action taken against such PIOs.
Some officials (say) misuse of RTI by some applications should also be blamed for the pile-up. An official with the state information commission noted that several people seek information on several lands pattas to blackmail landholders. “We have received 55 RTI applications from one applicant seeking details of various land deals,” he said.
(The concern of this public servant for the honour of the land owner is really touching!)
India is expected to play the role of a spiritual guru in the world but the non transparent attitude of its own government towards people is highly unfortunate. If world takes this bureaucratic India as guru it will not find the path to truth and light!