Interview with Arvind Kejriwal, Magsaysay Award winner.
RIGHT to information activist and Magsaysay Award winner Arvind Kejriwal is of the opinion that the purpose of the RTI Act will be defeated if the government does not set up an independent commission to probe corruption cases exposed using the Act.
A mechanical engineer from IIT Kharagpur (1989), he joined the Indian Revenue Services in 1992 and worked in the Income Tax Department until 2000. During this time he got involved actively in bringing about transparency in his department. In 2000 he founded Parivartan, a citizen's movement for just, transparent and accountable governance. Along with Aruna Roy and others, he campaigned extensively for RTI and was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 2006 for his work in this field. He has since resigned his government job and is involved in his crusade against corruption. Excerpts from an interview he gave Frontline:
The number of attacks on RTI activists has increased. Does it mean that RTI has emerged as such a strong tool to expose corruption that those getting exposed will go to the extent of eliminating the activists?
There is no doubt that RTI has emerged as a very strong tool to expose corruption. Why only RTI activists, anybody who is raising his voice against corruption is being targeted for attack. In the case of RTI activists, it is all the more so since the number of corruption cases being exposed has seen a quantum jump in the last four-five years, and this is making the culprits nervous, which is reflected in their desperate act of trying to harm those who expose them. We have got disturbing reports of people being attacked, also being killed, for exposing corruption.
The larger issue involved here is not only attacks on individuals, including RTI activists, but the inherent threat to democracy itself. Those who indulge in corruption have become so aggressive, so bold and so intolerant that they don't even fear the law and order machinery. This is shaking the very fundamentals of our democratic polity, of the rule of law.
Have the law enforcement agencies tackled such complaints with due urgency or do you sense connivance on their part as well?
Of course, the authorities are in connivance. No corruption can take place without the direct or indirect involvement of the political and bureaucratic machinery at large. So, when you complain against a corrupt official, the complaint goes to the same people who are hand in glove with [the perpetrators of] that particular case of corruption.
Here two angles are involved: first we don't have an independent agency to investigate cases of corruption. The system is such that suppose you have exposed a corrupt official, where do you go to register a case against him? To the same authorities and the same institutions of which he is a part. Take the example of the CVC [Central Vigilance Commission] or the CBI [Central Bureau of Investigation] or the departmental/State vigilance departments. The CVC is a toothless advisory body and the government may or may not heed its advice. Besides, the CVC can only investigate bureaucrats, not politicians, so half its purpose gets defeated.
The CBI is overburdened and is under the same political establishment that you are seeking to expose. How can you ever expect the CBI to expose its own political masters? The CBI will certainly investigate with all its might if it is an opposition leader or somebody from the common public, but has there been a single case of a Minister having been exposed/charge-sheeted by the CBI?
The same is the case with departmental/State vigilance departments. They are working under the same political/administrative establishment you are trying to expose, so how can they ever function independently? We need to have a truly independent institution to investigate cases of corruption, and this institution should have powers to grant punishment too. Only then the purpose of RTI can be realised to its full potential.
The other angle involved here is inadequate laws. Our legal system is saddled with such loopholes that it is almost impossible to nail anyone for corruption. This needs to change. I would like to quote the example of Hong Kong in the early 1970s when corruption had reached unheard of heights, the crime rate had shot up and people had become utterly frustrated with the system. There was a mass uprising and lakhs of people came out on the streets, forcing the government to establish an Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). At that time there were a total of 107 police officers in Hong Kong, and the ICAC in one stroke dismissed 103 of them on corruption charges. Today, Hong Kong is one of the cleanest places in the world. We need to have something as drastic as this, only then the real purpose of having a revolutionary Act like the RTI Act will be served.
But in India, how do you think this can be achieved?
People's power. Unless people come out openly against the government, against corruption, unless people force the government to have an independent institution to investigate corruption, nothing can be done. Only people can do this, but where are the people here? There is not enough awareness about such issues in India yet. Besides, people have become complacent, they have suffered for so long that they have come to accept corruption as a way of life. We have to start a people's movement to force this change. We RTI activists are planning to launch a people's movement, and something should be visible soon.
Do you think the Central Information Commission can play a role in this?
I doubt it. What role can the CIC play when this institution, too, has degenerated into a typical bureaucratic institution, bogged down by the same red tape?
Do such attacks have a deterrent effect on RTI activists?
If it has, it has not been reflected in the use of RTI. Yes, people are being targeted, they are being attacked, but this has not stopped them from using the RTI Act to expose the corrupt. And this is a healthy sign, an indication that this fight against corruption can be won.
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