[ View the story "Two Sides to Indian Transparency Law" on Storify] Two Sides to Indian Transparency Law Critics say India's 2005 Right to Information Act fails to redress many of the country's notable social inequalities, and may even work in favour of already-advantaged socio-economic classes and corporations.
Storified by The Stream · Wed, Oct 26 2011 22:00:10
The Stream talked Amitabh Thakur, president of the National Right to Information (RTI) Forum.
The Stream - Two Sides to Indian Transparency Law - Amitabh ThakurAJstream
India's Right to Information Act turned six last month and since its inception, the country has seen a proliferation of web-based tools, from aid organisations and websites, to bloggers and dedicated Twitter feeds, that have been facilitating and encouraging use of RTI requests.
rtination - File Right to Information act (RTI) applications online : From passport/income tax/provident fund delays to fighting corruptionrtination.com - File RTI online in minutes - from passport/provident fund/income tax delays to cracking corruption
Some web-savvy Indians have organised online to help facilitate RTI requests for fellow citizens who may have limited computer access, difficulties reading or writing, or simply don't know their rights.
This English-language video shows petitioners how to draft an RTI request.
RIght to InformationA short tutorial on how to file an RTI Application in India. A training video on how to file an RTI application. Right to Information. how to file an RTI application Carrot Films - 09810018837, Carrot Communications Moumita Das
The Right to Information Act allows Indians to demand access to records and information from any public authority and receive that information within a 30-day period.
The law also mandates that authorities computerise records to reduce incidents of fraudulent record-keeping.
In 2001, the Indian state of Karnataka digitised some 20 million rural land records for Bhoomi, the country's leading e-governance project. Now that the records have been digitised, Bhoomi reports that nearly 7 million farmers in that state can access records and make transfers. Identities are verified with a fingerprint scan.
revenue officials finally think they've got to near-total transparency, because foolish, as it may seem - until now, one could register a sale deed for land they didn't own. In fact, one could register even government land. Only now, is ownership record getting networked with registration.ibnlive.in.com
Transparency projects, in most instances, have worked to protect underprivileged Indians from abuses of power. According to one farmer who accessed his land title through the Bhoomi project:
"This is now pukka [genuine]. The Village Accountant cannot change names anymore."infochangeindia.org
However, full access to government information has led to instances of abuse. In one case, corporate lawyers have exploited loopholes through the Bhoomi project.
the portal proved a boon to corporations and the wealthy, who hired lawyers and predatory land agents to challenge titles, hunt for errors in documentation, exploit gaps in records, identify targets for bribery, and snap up property.wired.com
Critics say new systems of computerised records fail to address inequalities when it comes to basic accessibility issues. An illiterate farmer, for example, may be unable to complete forms required to request information guaranteed to him under the RTI Act. Additionally, women are grossly underrepresented in the landowner population, and are less likely than men to have any education.
An estimated 15 to 20 per cent of all land transactions in Karnataka are fraudulent and in an era of land disputes, land acquisitions for industries, and land scams, a networked system will at least keep one informed of their land status time and again, and it's not about one or two but 70 lakh farmers.ibnlive.in.com
In spite of or perhaps in response to existing inequalities, digital tools and web-savvy communities continue to proliferate to help broaden Indians' access to essential information.