Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Participative Vigilance in Times of RTI Conundrum

           How ironical is it that while there is a talk about tinkering (read curbing – the reach and import) of the RTI Act, the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) has chosen Participative Vigilance as the theme to observe the Vigilance Awareness Week from October 31 to November 5, 2011?
       Participative Vigilance is nothing but a euphemism for transparency. The CVC enjoins that the fight against corruption can’t be pursued in isolation but with the active involvement of all stakeholders. “Corruption is a social evil and in addition to punitive and preventive steps, we need to work together as a team to sensitize and motivate public at large to make an impact in our progress towards zero tolerance for corruption,” says the CVC. “Systematic improvements need to be brought about to reduce administrative delays, simplify cumbersome rules and procedures, and promote transparency, fairness and equity in governance. The corrupt must be dealt with ruthlessly whereas the honest need to be protected.”
Today, we stand in the cusp of history. On one end, stands the leviathan called Power with its love for Opacity; on the other, the nuisance named Change with its focus on Transparency. And this battle is playing itself out before our eyes! The scams and mega-scams – CWG, 2G, Adarsh et al – have been the harbinger of this demand for change.
Be patient if you’re plumping for change. The Old Order will not yield without a fight. It can’t afford to. For one, a harsh future stares at it. For another, the sins of the past are sure to visit it. Either way, the path ahead is strewn with problems.
For all the horror of scams and mega-scams that have tumbled out with unremitting putrescence, let’s not undervalue RTI’s singular contribution: it has brought to light and catalyzed scams, granting the corrupt retributive justice. At least the ball has been set rolling. Let’s get real: Anna movement and fast did nothing more than create awareness among the citizens that corruption is the bane; it needs to be extirpated.
“You can’t stop this transparency revolution,” said the Defence Minister, a few months ago. He wasn’t off-mark. But his was a solitary voice. And how his prescient words have been drowned in the sea of cacophony? Far from accepting the reality and the groundswell of public ire, words and ideas have been sown maliciously and mischievously to modify the much-acclaimed RTI Act in the name of granting public servants the much-needed elbow room to tender frank and honest advice.
It is well to remember that as long as this long arm of RTI given to citizens stays with them, RTI will continue to be the ubiquitous ombudsman acting from within! It gives most public servants a creep, an unease – a compulsion to stay straitlaced. Power is heady; it gives a swollen head to the wearer of this scepter – the few chosen elites of the society. How can such headiness be questioned? No powers-that-be – used to absolute, sweeping powers – will countenance their unquestioned and unquestionable power to be questioned. It’s a heresy, a sacrilege to sit judgment on their decisions.
This would explain why the powers-that-be are toying with the idea of fiddling with the RTI Act. True RTI has, even is, being abused for narrow personal consideration, often to settle scores with one another. But amendment is not the answer; it is like throwing the baby with the bathwater. It will detract from transparency and put pay to CVC’s emphasis on participative vigilance. It is rather the disease is cured and given prophylactic shots through a cross-stitch and scaffold of simple rules and transparent processes than administration of palliatives through punitive actions. How else can you rein in human beings, who are forever on the look out to make hay when the sun is not shining on them? Sunlight, we know, is after all the best disinfectant.
Let us not delude ourselves with idealism. Human beings, to start with, came together, on purpose, voluntarily, to conjointly synergize their efforts and entered into a social compact. The gain was as much mental as physical. It granted them physical security. The division of labour and eventual skill-sets garnered over generations helped them to bounce along faster than as isolated wholes. Remember, the underlying philosophy was the creature comforts such social contract granted them. Deep down, this base instinct, though somnolent and bridling, remained the same: creature comforts and its appurtenant – material wealth that only rooted for more and more of the same thing: creature comfort.
If anything stopped them from transgressing the bounds of the compact, it were the laws and prescriptions they had given to themselves for the common weal. When the laws and prescriptions are shrouded and not open to all contract-signers but are manipulable by small governing elite, the first casualty is fair decision-making. It impacts everyone save the elite who, anyway, tweaks law for narrow, partisan gain. This gain is plain thievery, thereby reducing democratic governance to one of kleptocracy or the rule of the thieves.
That explains en passant why most from the governing classes don’t ever wish to retire but go on and on – much as no one wants to die, even the ones wishing to go to Heaven! Days, even months, before retirement, a pall of gloom attends not only the officer but also the entire family! Because, nowhere else in the civilized world, the post or perch held by a public servant is as much appropriated by the family as in India. “My car, my bungalow, my perks, my rights,” intones the wife; the children roundly echo their mother’s sentiment. The peons who do the domestic menial chore too belong to her! She owns them! So much for the terror of severance.
Abraham Lincoln was percipient when he once said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Few will come out of this acid test unscathed if he were to wield power not visible to others. As history has shown, and we know so well Lord Acton’s putative words, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Mustn’t we admit that it is only a microscopic minority who has the internal moral compass to upend all things immoral – the rest trundle along, appropriating benefits strewn across the path? Look, the feudal order is crumbling fast! It, ultimately, will. Make no mistake. History is being made; we are its living witness.
          The way, then, to stop people from stealing other people’s money is through checks and balances and – or the antidote of thievery: transparency. The RTI Act must not be tinkered with, if anything, the governance processes must be built to approximate to this exacting goal. How can CVC’s aim of involving all stakeholders be achieved if this singular potent instrument of RTI that enables citizen participation is abridged?

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