Transparency and accountability are one of the most important pillars of any democracy to function in an effective manner. When India adopted the Right to Information(RTI) Act in 2005, it ushered into the era of ‘good governance”. However, achieving good governance is not a goal but it is a continuum and it needs to be supplemented by the other steps in terms of giving statutory backing to the concept of citizen charters, enacting the Rights of Citizens for Timely Delivery of Goods and Services Act and the Transparency of Rules Act. In fact, the government already introduced the bill related to the time-bound delivery of goods and services including the concept of citizen charters. However, the bill got lapsed. It needs to be reintroduced.
However, I want to talk about another issue which the Economic Survey 2017 proposed in its Volume II. I want to congratulate the former Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramaniam who has made the Economic Survey an intensive document by introducing many innovative ideas and principles. It’s up to the government of the day to take forward these ideas and make it a reality. The Volume II of Economic Survey 2017 introduced the idea of Transparency of Rules Act(TORA).
TORA is aimed at putting an end to the asymmetry of information, rules, and regulations imposed upon the average citizen. The act requires all government departments to display all rules affecting the citizens directly on their website. If the rule is not displayed on the website, the rule cannot be imposed upon the citizens. All rules have to be updated regularly and the history of all rules will also have to be displayed. Every department after displaying all the information related to laws, rules and regulation will become “TORA” compliant. Once a department has been declared TORA compliant, citizens can be sure that the information provided is authentic and updated.
As per the law, a person cannot take “ignorance of the law” as a defense for not complying with the law. Once TORA is implemented, any rule which is not displayed on the website of the government that applies to a citizen cannot enforce against them. This does not act as an exception to the principle of ‘ignorance of law’ but helps strengthen by holding the government accountable for not generating awareness regarding the rules and this act can help in improving transparency and accountability in the political system. If the information related to laws, rules, and regulations will be easily available, citizens will understand their legal obligations. It will finally help in reducing the number of cases due to non-compliance of the laws which happens due to the ignorance of the law.
When the Government of India enacts this Act and all the websites of the government of India become TORA compliant, it will bring about a radical change in the society in various ways:
- It will increase the transparency and accountability in the whole legal process and the citizen trust in the legislative structure will deepen.
- It will also help in decreasing the litigations which have emerged due to the ignorance of the law which leads to non-compliance.
- It will also help in organizing the legal structure which is very opaque and difficult to understand for the common people.
- It will decrease the discretionary power of the government officials which will check the problem of corruption and other misgivings in the decision-making process.
- As per the Economic Survey, even government officials are also not aware of the ‘latest version of complicated rules’. To make the whole governance process more efficient and effective, the government must enact this law.
- Most importantly, it can turn out to be one of the pillars of transparency and accountability after the enactment of Right to Information(RTI), Citizens Charter and Right of Citizens for Time Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of their Grievances Bill.
India has still very low score in Corruption Perception Index (81/180) in 2018, Ease of Doing Business Index 2018(Rank of India-100/190) and Democracy Perception Index 2018 etc. Indian democracy is very vibrant in terms of procedures, laws, rules, and regulations. However, when we talk about substantive democracy, there is a long way to go. That is why Ramchandra Guha in his book “India After Gandhi” calls Indian democracy “fifty-fifty democracy”.
To achieve the full potential of Indian democracy, Government of India must take a step to enact the other three laws including the Transparency of Rules Act(TORA) to make our democracy full-fledged. As one paper of World Bank- “Do more Transparent Governments Govern Better?” tells us that countries with better information flow also govern better. Only freedom to get all information is not enough but it needs to be publicised with the help of TORA and make it actionable with the help of giving legal backing to citizen charters in every government institutions. When these four pillars are adopted in a proper sense, our democracy will be one of the best in terms of ensuring transparency and accountability.
Image taken-2018: Predictions:Transparency