Interview with Satyanand Mishra, Chief Information commissioner, Central Information Commission (CIC). Satyanand Mishra talks about more power for a greater efficiency in implementing RTI.
As CIC chief, do you think RTI need more teeth to make it stronger?
The RTI right now lacks teeth to enforce and make sure that its orders are followed. In most of the cases the officials are reluctant to part with information. And we have limited power because of which departments sometime does not takes our orders seriously. More power is needed to make sure that CIC /SIC orders are followed.
As has been demanded by some section of the society and politicians like Nitish Kumar, do you think that the corporate/ private companies should also come under the purview of RTI?
Right now the focus should be on consolidating the gains made by the RTI during all these years. Widening its ‘reach’ to include private sector will make it difficult to manage its operation in an effective way. Once a certain level of effectiveness is reached in government sector, it should be made applicable to the private sector. But currently, its reach and effectiveness is something that is still unfolding.
You said that you are opposed to the creation of Jan Lokpal?
Yes I opposed the creation of Jan Lokpal in its present form because it will be impractical to implement it. My experience as a bureaucrat has taught me that it will be impossible for a single body to keep vigil on the entire government from PM to peon. The Janlok pal in its present form will be a huge organization. Who will keep tab on its own employees?
There are Instances where the orders of IC have not been followed. Also in many cases the complainant and the activists have been harassed by government officials for seeking information. What measures do you suggest to tackle this issue?
The way to handle is for the CIC to be persistent in its endeavor and to go out against the government department and use its power of civil court. The long term recourse is to sensitize the officials, keep up the pressure through civil society and media and make sure that erring officers fall in line. For any law to be effective the actors/characters should be on same wavelength. A greater degree of consensus is desired.
The CIC has ordered UPSC to show the copies immediately after conducting the exams. However, it has not been done yet. Is not this worrisome that an institution like UPSC is protesting the order of CIC when the question is about transparency?
It is not very unusual. They have their certain points of view like they think that disclosure of information would add to their workload and the information will be misused by certain vested interest. But at the end of the day we have passed the order under RTI. Either they can take a stay or abide by our order. Their decision to go to court cannot be faulted. Ideally they should have accepted the order. That would have been an ideal situation.
The attack on RTI activists have been increasing. What is your take on it?
It is a very unfortunate development. But the government cannot possibly give a security guard to every activist. However the government must come out heavily against who are found guilty and punish them so such incidents are curbed. Unfortunately this is not happening.
What do you have to say about the allegations of political consideration while appointing ICs?
Appointment must be above any affiliation and should have some semblance of credibility for the people to take RTI seriously. If we make appointment on basis of considerations which are not objective, it will reduce the whole value of RTI itself. I expect that the government should be careful about it.