Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh in his speech at recently held annual convention of Central Information commission made many remarks which have angered and alarmed many RTI activists all over the country. The Prime Minister expressed his concern about “frivolous and vexatious” RTI applications saying that such “misuse” is hindering the use of RTI Act by honest individuals.
RTI activists are correctly arguing that the two terms “frivolous and vexatious” are not defined in law and hence information officers can term any application frivolous as per their whims and fancies and hence refuse to part with the information. When one looks at thousands of applications which are not being answered properly by the officials, this concern of RTI activists is very well founded.
However, what is even more alarming is the fact that in the same breath the Prime Minister said that blanket disclosure of information on public-private-partnerships (PPPs ) could dissuade the private sector from signing up for more of these ventures and hence such enterprises should be kept out of the purview of RTI Act. Currently, details about these joint ventures between the state and the private sector cannot be accessed through RTI and many RTI activists are raising this as a major issue. The Prime Minister is clearly concerned only about the interests of Private Parties ! RTI activists have unanimously condemned this stance of the Prime Minister saying that Public Private Partnerships should have even greater standards of transparency and accountability, since a public service is being passed on to a private body. All the activists are unanimously demanding that PPP should be brought under the purview of RTI.
It is very important to look at this issue on the background of what is happening all over the country vis-à-vis government’s Privatization drive. Government is pushing for PPP model for more and more public sector undertakings and especially public services. Recently while confirming Central assistance to various State electricity boards the Central government has clarified that the electricity boards which will employ PPP models will get more assistance. PPP models is also being pushed in Water distribution sector and already in many towns and cities Water distribution has been handed over to Private companies under PPP model. On March 5 this year, the government announced a new policy for the corporate control of agriculture called Public-Private Partnership for Integrated Agricultural Development (PPP-IAD) — a scheme for facilitating large-scale integrated projects, led by private-sector players in the agriculture and allied sectors, with a view to aggregating farmers, creating critical rural infrastructure, introducing new technologies, adding value and integrating the agricultural supply chain.
The department of agriculture and cooperation has launched the PPP-IAD, which is proposed to cover 10 lakh farmers across India during the period 2012-17. This action when viewed along with the recent action by Central Ministry as regards allowing FDI in retail trade leaves no doubt about government’s real intentions.
The Right to Information Act was a showpiece achievement of the Prime Minister’s first coalition government UPA-1. It was introduced in 2005 with a pompous declaration that “it is a proof of government’s intention to increase transparency and check corruption”. Though in practice use of this act to gather information has been made quite difficult by various hurdles placed by government officials , it is also true that many activists by their dogged perseverance have managed to gather some damaging information leading sometimes to mass agitations. It is very clear that Prime Minister is no more concerned about maintaining any pretense of “transparency”, when it comes to eliminating all hurdles in pushing for Privatization in it’s new Avatar, the Avatar of PPP model. This intention of government must be roundly condemned by one and all. We all in fact must unitedly demand not “more transparency” but “total transparency” and “total accountability”.
By Girish Bhave