We are living in the ‘Age of Aquarius’! It is the time that’s known as the Golden Age or the Age of Enlightenment. In other words, we are living in the age of knowledge, where knowledge is power. In fact, we have borne witness to its potent power in the recent past. When and How, you wonder?!? Through the Right to Information Act that was passed by the Parliament on 15th June, 2005. The Act was intended to bring about ‘transparency’ and ‘accountability’ by enabling and empowering ordinary citizens to seek information that was under the control of public authorities. The RTI Act, to be honest, has been instrumental in bringing to light, several instances of corruption and scams. And then came the man with the vision…
Exactly a decade later, on 1st July, 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the much ambitious (and another of his pet projects) Digital India Programme (DIP) that intended to create a more participative, transparent and responsive government. The vision of Narendra Modi – in perfect sync with the ‘Age of Aquarius’ – is simple and idealistic: a vision to transform India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy.
This was also reiterated by the technology-savvy Prime Minister, who described “Right to Information” Act as a tool through which the common man has got not just the right to know, but also the right to question those in power. He further called the “Digital India” initiative to be complimentary to the RTI Act, because putting information online brings transparency, which in turn, builds trust.
His maxim of ‘Maximum Governance and Minimum Government’ has roused the collective belief of a young democracy. Of course, as with cynics everywhere, I too encountered people who believed that while it sounded nice on paper, nothing would change on the ground. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
But…I am not a cynic. I am a realist. And if there’s one thing that my eight years (of research at IIT) taught me; it was to not take things at face value. Hence, to see and judge the efficacy of the programme, I decided to test it for myself.
In two different instances (for two completely different reasons), I filed (1) a complaint with the PMO (through the PM’s portal with registration number – PMOPG/E/2015/0067985) and (2) an RTI application (through the RTI portal with registration number – UGCOM/R/2015/64894). [Note: The registration numbers were provided instantly, which were to be stated in all future correspondences. The registration numbers did provide a certain ‘trust’ factor, to be completely honest. Hence, so far…so good!]
While I was sure about the RTI application, that is, I would receive the information in 30 days (or sooner), I wasn’t too sure about receiving a reply from the Prime Minister’s Office. After all, it’s the Prime Minister. And I am no one. [By the way, the complaint lodged with the PMO was free-of-charge, while the RTI application cost me Rs. 10.]
So, would you like to know what happened?
Well, let us talk of the RTI application first. Funnily enough, the request (which I assumed was fairly simple and straightforward) kept getting assigned from one person to another (well…so much for the “alleged” accountability) and was eventually closed/disposed of. Did I get the required information??!!?? Well, the answer’s a huge NO! For starters, the information did not come in the mandated 30 days. Furthermore, the status showed that the requested information had been sent to me via speed post. And as you would have guessed by now, I still haven’t received it. [Of course, I didn’t stop there. After a month had passed, I raised an appeal (requesting them to share the ‘tracking number’…which is still pending with “whoever” is behind the computer screen). Well, maybe we can be cynical after all and blame it on the ‘Indian Post’ but then again, let’s reserve that judgment for now. At least, till the time, I receive the tracking number. For then, we’ll know who’s accountable for denying me the information – the Public Servant or the Public Servant?]
The complaint to the PMO, however, was a different story altogether. Not only was I informed of the status at every stage, I received a hard copy (for official documentation purposes) notifying me clearly as to the action that had been taken. For the sake of confidentiality, I am not disclosing the complaint and its resolution but let me just say that I am happy with the outcome.
It’s weird! The information I expected, never came. The resolution I dared-not-hope-for, came about. Do you know what that means??!!?? When it comes to the machine, everything’s transparent! But when it comes to man, everything’s yet to be accountable!