A new kind of “information society”

by October 21, 2010

A promotional poster for RTI

There’s an information revolution going on in India right now — but not of the Facebook/Twitter/Internet-driven kind. Rather, it’s a revolution engendered by the passage of the 2005 Right to Information Act, known as “RTI”, which enables Indian citizens to demand unprecedented amounts of information from their governments and civil institutions, information that is being used to force formerly unresponsive bureaucracies into action. According to the Indian newsweekly Outlook, an RTI youth organization conducted an audit of 50 roads in Delhi and discovered that one had been constructed only on paper; when the group asked to inspect it, the road was hurriedly built over a weekend. Education is an even greater focus:

One reason why RTI is firing the imagination of the young, at least in urban areas, is its usefulness in dealing with educational institutions. As Magsaysay awardee RTI activist, Parivartan’s Arvind Kejriwal, puts it, “The culture of questioning is taking root. Even in so-called hallowed institutions, walls are crumbling.” He cites how the use of RTI forced the UPSC to reveal its long-controversial selection procedure, and pushed IIT-JEE against the wall to check irregularities in cut-off marks. In Delhi University (DU), thanks to RTI, the university budget was finally released on its website. Bhopal, too, is seeing young engineering students questioning fee structure and fund allocation in their colleges, while both in Shimla and Imphal, teachers found to be appointed without meeting the required criteria were dismissed.

Such tangible impact has meant a rise in RTI applications, confirms DU public information officer Jay Chandra, “from 1,100 in 2007 to 1,900 in 2009”. (These figures exclude colleges that handle RTI independently.) This year, 1,500 applications have already come in. For students fearing a backlash, Saurabh Sharma of the youth organisation, Josh, offers an ingenious way out: “Students file for information in each other’s colleges instead of their own, so that no one gets into trouble.”

Read the rest here.