Outside the Loop

Working the RTI Act

Designating Public Information Officers in the respective department is one thing but what is required is the constitutionally mandated State Information Commission (SIC) which is now expected to exercise all such powers autonomously without being subjected to directions by any other authority. Now that the State Government has finally appointed P. Talitemjen Ao as the first ever State Chief Information Officer (CIC) to man the SIC, it is hoped that the new appointee will immediately get into the new job in right earnest and take control of the State information regime as laid out in the path breaking Right to Information Act. 

Since the Information Commissioner is expected to function autonomously much will now depend on how the new CIC is able to chart out an independent course and not be tied down by the entrenched bureaucracy of which he was the head until very recently. As the Chief Minister had himself declared that P Talitemjen was the consensus choice owing to his un-blemished career as a non-political and non-tribalistic bureaucrat, it is now incumbent on the CIC to deliver due justice without fear or favour.

While admiration for P. Talitemjen’s honesty and uprightness should not be doubted, there is some apprehension on whether the new CIC known for his low profile will remain openly accessible to the public’s demand for information. This is one area that the former Chief Secretary would have to hone his skills at. In fact from the role of a former bureaucrat to one who is now expected to virtually open up the government requires a complete makeover. To put it succinctly, after having worked under the tutelage of the Official Secrets Act regime known for its closed door functioning, Talitemjen has to make that paradigm shift towards opening the floodgates to the pool of information that has hitherto remained closed to the public eye. 

The barrier to information is the single most important cause responsible for corruption in society. It facilitates clandestine deals, arbitrary decisions, manipulations and embezzlements. Transparency in dealings, with their every detail exposed to the public view, should go a long way in curtailing corruption in public life. It needs to be mentioned here that the ambit of the RTI goes beyond Central and State administrations and will include local bodies and non-governmental organizations getting public funds. No one should therefore have the illusion that the RTI is merely confined to the politicians and bureaucrats. 

Being the first CIC, the task itself will require patience as the RTI Act is about a new approach and changing mindset. One way to start off is to send a strong message to the ministries and departments who are in the habit of treating public information like their own. Information is indispensable for the functioning of a true democracy. Open Government is the new democratic culture of an open society and Nagaland should be no exception. The new CIC has a historic opportunity to try and bring about probity in public life and be a bulwark against the tide of corruption.