Published on 29th August, 2017
The RTI act has helped Indian journalists unearth the most sensitive, important and hidden data to break major stories. Shyamlal Yadav has beautifully taken the readers through the transformation of RTI Act, its history, how it evolved and how it has altered journalism realm in India over the years.
Right to Information Act is an extension of Article (19) A and after a long delay, India got its right to information (RTI) in 2005. This was 58 years after Independence.
It took 30 years since the first ruling of the Supreme Court that right to information be included in the right to freedom of speech for subsequent governments to finally give RTI to its citizens.
Henceforth, RTI has encouraged citizens, journalists and activists to question the state of affairs and government policies. It has the power to promote accountability and can be used as tool to collect trustworthy information especially because press freedom is not adequate in India.
Shyamlal Yadav is one of the pioneers in the effective use of RTI for investigative reporting. The book takes its readers through his journalism expedition and the use of RTI for breaking big stories. The book effectively explains how powerfully one can use RTI. The book is a huge learning source for young journalists since it is a tale, a narrative of how to weave evidence based story with the help of information, evidence and data.
It elaborates upon the fact that official records, police reports, documents, archives, proceedings of a meeting can be powerful resources for fair reporting if you are ready to do that bit of extra work. Because many a times RTI response is not enough, rather it depends how a journalist manage to unearth through repeated efforts and follow up on stories.
One remarkable trait which he has highlighted is the need to verify and follow up on the stories. He says “while it is true that sometimes activists unearth major public interest issues, many of them may be driven by their own agenda. Therefore, while utilizing the information accessed by NGOs and activists, the need for media is to visualise and explore the information.”
The book highlights major ground-breaking stories like Ishrat Jahan’s case where a file containing legal documents and notings of 70 pages was unearthed using RTI. It is one of the biggest political controversies and the information was hidden in documents which were never in public domain. Ritu Sarin of Indian Express came to know through RTI in 2008 that barely 10 members of the 14th Lok Sabha have updated their list of assets since 2004. Rahul Gandhi was one on the list.
It further details out some very interesting stories highlighting the power of RTI to fetch details about foreign travels of ministers, foreign travels of bureaucrats of the central government, assets of union ministers, personnel in personal staff of MP’s besides others.
But he says that despite terrific work and with Indians using it for extracting information at all levels from school admissions, passport applications to political developments, foreign travels of ministers etc. Indian media has not done enough to explore the RTI Act and it has a long way to go.
Journalists need to understand that RTI enquiry is no cake walk. The use of RTI Act for investigative journalism needs a lot of persistence, patience and the ability to understand that the efforts may go waste many a times. The techniques to use RTI needs to be taught to every Indian journalist in order to make their jobs more impactful, relevant and reform oriented which is the need of the hour.
Collection of watchdog reporting from India