Shri T.K. Jose IAS, Additional Chief Secretary, Local Self

Government Department,

Shri M. Vinson M. Paul, State Chief Information Commissioner,

Shri Somanathan Pillai S., State Information Commissioner,

Shri V.I. Vivekanandan, State Information Commissioner,

Priya Madhyama Suhruthukkale, 

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

Ellavarkkum Ente Namaskaram.

I am very happy to inaugurate this Workshop on the Right to Information Act, organized by the State Information Commission, Kerala, for the officers of the Local Self Government Institutions of Thiruvananthapuram district. 

Let me begin by appreciating the State Information Commission, for conducting a series of sensitization workshops to acquaint the government officials with smoother methods of implementing the provisions of the Right to Information Act.  

This Commission, which came into being on 10th October, 2005, has been noted for its pro-active approach to the implementation of the Act. 

As we all know, the Right to Information is derived from our fundamental Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression, guaranteed by our Constitution. The enactment of the Right to Information Act was a very bold and progressive step taken by our Parliament at a time when nations all over the world were revisiting the very concept of confidentiality.  

We, in India, especially those in the various arms of the Government, were more conversant with the Official Secrets Act for decades after Independence. And since that Act often failed to clearly define a secret, there were   instances of its gross misuse, even to the level of   imprisoning people for carrying a PhD thesis, which was mistaken for a secret document. 

The Right to Information served to drastically transform our concept of public information by making access to it, a democratic right of the people. The message was very clear : If democracy   means  a government of the people, by the people and for the people, the people have to be active participants in governance. 

And, for this, people must be well informed about governance, the issues to be resolved, the arguments for and against different solutions and so on. Our scriptures talk of Bahujana Hitaya, Bahujana Gunaya, that is for the happiness of many, for the welfare of many.  We also hear of a Greek statement on governance  : Vox Populi, Vox dei - the voice of the people is the voice of God. 

The Right to Information Act has been enacted to ensure transparency and to empower people with valuable inputs so that they shape their voices well enough to be heard in our democracy. As officers who serve the people of India, it is our duty to assist in this process of empowerment, since Information is power. And in this process, we are also empowering ourselves, because, 'we the people' includes all of us. 

Let me remind you about Swami Vivekananda's words about the two ideals of India which apply to our democracy – Renunciation and Service. Let us not see Renunciation as a process of renouncing the world as such ; that is for sanyasis. The idea of renunciation, pertains to treat power, authority wealth as a trust which must be employed for public good and not for personal aggrandizement.

As people in government, each of us must introspect on the quality and quantity of information shared with the public as part of the disclosure which is mandatory as per the Right to Information Act. We need a system to regularly update and renew this database in consideration of the changing nature of the demands for information.   

The second ideal I had mentioned was Service, for which I feel belongs not so much to the domain of law but more to the domain of the enforcement of the unenforceable which includes the sensitivity and compassion towards the needy and the underclass. 

However, we still have organizations which are yet to update or even publish their citizen charter.   Good and transparent governance are possible only through the active involvement of the civil society, which is a reform that must come from within all of us. 

I am informed that the State Information Commission receives the maximum number of second appeals in relation to the departments which have a direct contact with the people – Revenue, local self government and the Police. Obviously, a second appeal indicates that the handling of the petition as well as the first appeal by the officers concerned, was not to the satisfaction of the citizen.  

It also points to a wide gap among people and officers in the understanding of the realm of what the Act defines as Information.  I feel that if citizens too, had a clear idea about the concept of information, many disputes and appeals could have been avoided. Therefore, I feel that sensitization about Right to Information should be extended to our citizens also. After all, an informed citizenry always strengthens a democracy. 

The Right to Information Act has been subject to reappraisal at various stages. However, a reworking in terms of the use of information technology in the implementation of the Act and the disclosure of information requires active consideration. Electronic means of communication should be encouraged in the implementation of the Act. 

At present, many public authorities complain about loss of revenue due to the low rates prescribed for copies of documents. But, if these documents are readily available on the public domain, with a provision for electronic authentication through e-payment, where is the need to move a paper? It is high time State Information Commissions in the country mooted this idea. 

To conclude, let us not be offended by the questions we receive under RTI. A question ignites a dialogue, which is the essence of a democracy. Let us not forget that democracies all over the world have only matured through the incessant flow of questions from citizens.

Each of us in the government, who gives answers to such questions, are adding strength to our democracy.  

I wish all the participants, success in their efforts to thus strengthen our democracy. 

I compliment the State Information Commission for conducting this inaugural function in a befitting manner. I hope the sensitization programme would achieve the noble goals it has set. 

                                                          लोका: समस्ता: सुखिनो भवन्तु ।
                                                                     वलरे नन्नि
                                                                    जय हिन्द ।