In a comment to a recent post, “The Games Built on a Cesspool,” the commenter Eroteme says, “We help elect a govt., sit on our hinnies and then find faults with whatever they do. Much like the opposition. Why don’t we demand accounts for all the projects embarked on, all the promises made, all the measures planned to address situations?” and asks, “How many RTIs were filed in the past 7 years demanding to know how well this CWG thing was progressing and where each and every rupee of ours was going?” The question is interesting in what it reveals.
The answer should be, “No RTIs should have been necessary. That information should be routinely available rather than being exceptionally provided.”
I find the RTI — the Right to Information — rather puzzling. The need for an RTI law merely shows that the system is deeply flawed. The RTI is a patch to a buggy system. What it shows is that in the normal course of events, the government owns the information, and citizens have to exert themselves to extract information out of the government as a special favor.
Think about it. The government in a democratic setup is actually there to serve the public. In other words, the government is the agent and the citizens are the principal. Or if you like, the government is the servant and the citizens are the masters. Only when this fact is forgotten by the citizenry is the government able to act as the principal and the citizens meekly submit to it. It should be the norm that the government does what the citizens permit it to do, rather than the other way around where the government lords it over the citizens.
All information of public interest should be available to the public as the default. No special effort should be necessary for a citizen to know what the government is doing with his or her money. Perhaps in the olden days it would have been prohibitively expensive for the information to be freely available. But information technology has advanced sufficiently that it is trivial to publish all the information to be made available without anyone having to petition a government agency to extract some bit of information.
It is time we stopped congratulating ourselves about how wonderful the RTI is and started realizing that we have degraded ourselves to the point where we are actually grateful for the few scraps of information that is thrown our way in response to considerable groveling in front of those whose salaries we pay.
If democracy has any meaning at all, it means that the people are the rulers, and not those who are in the government who actually serve at the pleasure of the people.