Anonymity and community in the age of RTI

(Draft under work.)

The year 2005 was a significant event in the history of India, as it
saw the introduction of bill for Right to Information. Under this
act any person could request data from government departments
pertaining to issues of interest. This was seen as first step
towards transparency of government of India, and indeed it was. The
RTI act was a weapon in hands of activists, who could now get the
required information officially. What was important also was that
there was a timeline which had to be adhered to while replying to
the RTI query. The information gathered from the various RTI queries
which individuals across the country empowered the citizens about
their rights regarding many issues. Also equally importantly RTI was
a tool for exposing the corruption running rampant in various
government departments. A RTI query could expose the irregularities
and bypassing of rules and regulations, leading to
corruption. There are many famous cases for their expose of big
names and massive corruption which were brought to light. (Some
examples?)

Some people became what are now known as RTI activists. The RTI
activists were whistleblowers of the RTI age. These activists
exposed many scams at local and national levels. Such expose make
the people involved very uncomfortable. And as it happens in many
cases the people involved are very powerful and would not stop at
anything to attain their goals. In many such cases the RTI activists
were “easy” targets. By using the four-fold approach of /saam/,
/daam/, /dand/ and finally /bhed/ those in trouble try to stop the RTI
activists. Unfortunately in many cases, it turns out the activists
were killed as a result of their whistleblowing acts. (Give
examples)

What the RTI activists in various parts lack is a safety net, by
this I mean they lack support from people with similar
interests. They also lack, in a sense, a feeling of community who
will stand by them in case of such bad incidents. What can be done
for them? What kind of mechanism can result in their protection?
There was a proposed whistleblower bill, which if enacted will
provide security to such people. But the bill was not passed. Is
there any other option? Is there a way in which people can still ask
for information under RTI, without revealing their identity, so that
they cannot be “targetted” as whistleblowers. Is there a way in
which despite being anonymous there is a sense of community among
the activists of the RTI? It seems there can be an alternative way in
which we the people can provide a sense of anonymity and at the same
time that of a community to the RTI activists. What follows is
such a proposal which will try to cover these fundamental issues.

The proposal is to setup a front, which for lack of a name I would
call a /collective/ for now, which will mask those requesting RTI
from various government departments. The activists can send their
queries to the government departments through this collective. This
collective will in a sense create a buffer between activists and the
respective government departments, and associated problematic
elements. Since the RTI queries will be sent through this
collective, there will be sense of anonymity for the RTI activists,
as their names wouldn’t come under spotlight as in the earlier
case. One can also have a way in which the activist need not reveal
their identity to collective, that is we should also allow for
anonymous requests for queries. Some may point out that this might
be abused, but we have to give in this possibility hoping that pros
will outnumber the cons. Thus at no point we would have any data
regarding the identity of the applicant, hence we will not be able
to reveal it, when asked. This as will be pointed out can be abused,
but Thus the collective will form a mask for all the RTI
requests. Of coure people who want their name displayed for their
work, will be proud public faces of the collective. It would be much
more difficult to subdue or silence or attack the collective as it
would not be single point contact, but rather a distributed system.

So what do the activists gain by submitting to the collective,
apart from the anonymity. The collective will have a policy that
all the data that it receives from these RTI queries, will be put
up in public domain. This will in turn create a public archive of
information which will be accessible to anyone. Such a archive will
address many issues, like redundancy in filing of RTI queries, or
making the future RTI queries much more pointed and making material
available for researchers.

Such is a very rough proposal for the formation of the
collective. Suggestions and refinements in the proposal and
possible way of execution of this collective are needed.

Privatization, Responsibility and Corruption

Privatisation seems to have gone from dynamic ideological choice, to route of least resistance for the state to abdicate its responsibility in a variety of policy areas. Anything difficult and measurable – problem schools; elderly care; waste disposal; big infrastructure projects – is left to private capital. In exactly the same way that outsourcing has evolved for private enterprise, it has become an expensive way of getting rid of problems to which those in charge have no solutions.

It is much easier to close a free school than to explain why a state school has gone disastrously wrong.

via theguardian

The same is happening in India. Now they are planning to privatize airports and Indian Airlines on the reasons of efficiency. For education, the government supports private school with aids. When the same money could have been used to better the government schools. In each sector the reliance on private sector to do the jobs is increasing. Even in case of vehicles in government offices, the trend is that you employ a private vehicle and a driver, instead of having a driver on the payroll. So is the case with computer maintenance. In each government office there are private firms which are paid large sums to make sure that the computers are kept running. Why can’t there be an internal department to look after that? The privatization both complete and contractual, lead to massive corruption opportunities for both politicians and the bureaucrats as can be seen in the recent series of scams that have surfaced in India. The main problem that is facing the people is privatization of our natural resources and that of responsibilities of the Government, the resulting corruption is just the tip of the iceberg. It is a symptom of the disease. Even then the major media houses never question, why these mega scams became possible in the first place? They are more eager to make scapegoats out of certain people, but the system which allowed the scams to happen is never challenged.

That said, it seems the ideological stance privatization, resulting in denial of responsibility of state and loss of money from the public purse cannot be halted unless there is a strong pressure from within to halt such measures.

Cost of environment

Former Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha on Tuesday blamed Congress leader and union minister Jairam Ramesh as being “singularly responsible for shaving off 2.5% of the GDP” by not giving environmental clearance to projects during his stint as the environment minister, escalating the war of words between the two.

via ET

Mr. Sinha should understand that economy is not everything. If at all protecting environment costs so much of GDP indirectly, even then it is okay. Perhaps we should provide 2.5% of GDP to protect our environment, and that would ensure it will remain for posterity.  The rampant rape of environment in form of various “developmental” projects and its toll on the flora and fauna is something that needs to be stopped. For example consider the illegal and legal mining in Goa and its impact on the fragile ecosystem there. Ramesh had a choice, and he exercised it. How many ministers do that? If the environment ministry will itself not worry about the environment then who will? Sinha in criticizing Ramesh seems to have forgotten this basic fact. Otherwise what is the reason for the Environment ministry to exist? For there are certain things that cannot be equalized in terms of money, and our flora and fauna is one of them. Mr. Sinha should understand that extinction is forever, no amount of money can bring back lost species or lost ecosystems. But people who are corrupted by lure of money at any cost (to environment and other people) will not understand this. Even if they do, their priorities are set by the bottom line, which is money.

Cram, don’t think

The message from 15 years of education in my country – first at a top-notch school and then at one of the best known colleges in India – was:

Facts are more important than thought and imagination; that it’s more important to know the answers than think critically; that exams are more important than knowledge itself. Some may say that in college the majority of us chose the convenient way out and they are right.Our system of education, even at the undergraduate level, does not encourage us – in fact, gives us every opportunity not to think independently, critically, creatively or analytically.

via The Hindu

Love or Lust?

My predecessors believed only good people fall in love and bad people have sex. This was the simple thing — falling in love is the aspiration that should be endorsed and having sex is something that should be outlawed. The garden needs to be weeded off this thing called lust.

Mahesh Bhatt via Tehelka.

Which category do you fall in?

Irony at its best!

The President (well there is only one President, the President of US of A, rest others are just presidents) said,

“In our global economy, we can’t just have a few leaders of the most advanced economies making decisions that touch the lives of billions of people around the world.”

via Firstpost

Isn’t it ironical that President Obama is saying this. Him, his predecessors and his successors have done it, he is doing it, and they will continue to do it. Is it still a secret that the decisions that indeed affect lives of billions of people are taken by “just a few leaders of the most advanced economies.” How do you otherwise explain monopolies of a few companies over most of the economy in the “Free World”?

… तर मराठी शाळा बंद पडतील

मैदाने आहेत , पण क्रीडा साहित्य नाही .. प्रयोगशाळेत प्रयोगाचे साहित्य नाही .. तुटके बेंच आणि गळकी छपरे .. अशा दारुण स्थितीत असलेल्या मराठी शाळांना संजीवनी मिळावी , यासाठी वेतनेतर अनुदान तातडीने सुरु करावे , अशी मागणी राज्य शिक्षक परिषदेने केली आहे . हे अनुदान न मिलाल्यास राज्यातील शेकडो मराठी शाळा बंद पडतील अशी भीती परिषदेने व्यक्त केली आहे .

via Maharashtra Times.

आता आपण काही केले नाही तर मग कोण करणार? आमच्या खैरात शाळे मध्ये विज बिल भरायची काही तरतुदच नाही आहे. त्यामुळे तिथला विज पुरवठा खंडित पण करण्यात आला होता.