GOVERNMENT OF INDIAGOVERNMENT OF INDIA
A Digital India Initiative

Right to Information Act & Open Government Data

May 29, 2015 Author : tuhin

The Right to Information Act(RTI) was enacted in the year 2005 to providing the citizens of India with values of Accountability and Transparency when it comes the functioning of Government machinery. Since its inception in 2005 exactly 10 years have passed, and one can safely say that RTI has made its impact felt in the functioning of Government bodies and the larger governance discourse. We have had instances where numerous activists and groups have used this tool to good effect ensuring the values of transparency and accountability are upheld. Through this course of 10 years there have been debates featuring the pros and cons of the RTI and how it has benefited the larger public and slowed the government machinery down, despite this without being judgmental and weighing in the objectives one cannot dismiss the fact that RTI is an essential piece of legislation which empowers the citizens of India and enables India to hold its democratic credentials intact.

However, looking at the last decade, RTI despite its achievements remains an underutilized tool unable to unleash its full potential when it comes to governance of accountability and transparency. If trends are to be analyzed, it is safe to proclaim that RTI as tool has been majorly used by organized citizen groups, activists and NGOs. As far as its utilization by the individual citizen or the common man goes the figures are far from satisfactory. Trends tell us that the use of RTI by the common man has been sparse and not up to the mark. This in itself is not a desired result as the RTI aims to empower the common man, irrespective of his/her association with citizen group or NGOs. There are various reasons for this trend starting from reluctance on the part of the individual citizen courtesy the cumbersome process and bad experience associated with the government machinery. At the same time mostly it is due to the lack of knowledge as to what is to be asked and how to ask it. The time taken for the processing of RTI query is also on the higher side, on an average it takes 30 days to process an RTI query further discouraging the citizens.

In addition to this it has also been seen that most of the queries which come in through RTI are pertaining to standard information which should be readily be available with the respective government departments, therefore, the time taken to process the query is totally unacceptable. At the same time it also shows that the departments are most of the times oblivious of the standard information which should be on their fingertips, eventually leading to unwanted utilization of resources at their disposal to mine out these data and information. The current Government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has stressed on Accoutability, Transparency and Efficiency when it comes to Governance mechanism. The RTI Act in itself has upheld the value of accountability but when it comes to Transparency and Efficiency, RTI in its current form is somewhat found wanting.

Clause 4 of RTI act very clearly talks about suo-moto disclosure of information and data by Government Departments so that when it comes to standard information the dependence on RTI query can be reduced. The clause in itself calls upon Government Departments to release data in digital format on their webpages so that it is easily accessible to the larger public cutting out the cumbersome process involved. It is at this juncture where the role of Open Government Data becomes important. When one is talking about suo moto proactive disclosures the tools developed through the Open Government Data initiative in India, specifically the Open Government Data Platform (data.gov.in) can fulfill this need for proactive disclosure of information and data in digitized format with enhanced accessibility. The Open Government Data Platform in India is a direct product of National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy (NDSAP) which advocates the need for accountable and transparent dispensation of government collected data through a robust platform (data.gov.in) in an open machine readable format. India which has been at the forefront of this Open Government Data movement must use this platform to complement the envisaged objectives RTI under clause 4 and in the process make RTI an effective and efficient tool for accountability and transparency.

It is very essential that the amount of data available with the government departments at this juncture is mostly in non-digitized format and going by the mandate in Clause 4 of RTI this has to be done at the earliest. Therefore, keeping this in mind the initiative undertaken by NDSAP through the OGD Platform is the best way to convert records into machine readable digital format with enhanced single point access across the length and width of this country.

Therefore, the Government Departments across India should be encouraged to release datasets and information through the Open Government Data Platform (data.gov.in) enabling it to become an important cog in wheel in the objectives of RTI and also uphold the larger values of transparency, accountability and efficiency enshrined in the National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy.

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