This summer, we followed up on a New York Times report featuring the positive results of India’s right to information law. Tracking with data from the Global Integrity Report: India citizens are filing a high number of personal requests to break down corruption-related barriers to service delivery– The Times cite preferential treatment in housing grant distribution as one example. In July, we hesitantly noted that India’s law could serve as a model for other countries, but after reading this weekend’s Wall Street Journal we’re less sure.
Friday’s Wall Street Journal piece profiles a handful of Indian citizens who, after making use of their right to information, were either attacked or killed for their “activism.” The story profiles how each individual’s quest for fair access and treatment morphed into something more than a personal request. By pointing out the inequalities in the system, in the eyes of public officials, these individual requestors were whistle-blowers. They were not only building cases for the enforcement of their own personal rights, but they were also questioning the status-quo of “how things are done.”
While applauding the incremental progress India has made in access to information, the Global Integrity Report: India also highlighted gaps in whistle-blower protections in the country, a challenge laid bare in the Journal’s reporting of the extreme consequences that befell some of the requestors it profiled. The Central Vigilance Commission was
created expanded in 2004 as a response to the death of a whistle-blower, but thanks to the decentralized nature of the agency, the capacity within individual government departments to receive and investigate civil servant complaints is low. In the private sector, the processes for blowing the whistle on fraud are even less transparent and more difficult to navigate.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the police are still investigating the cases of freedom of information retaliation. Some public officials call the investigation a crazy police conspiracy theory. Regardless of the outcome of the investigations, it turns out that India may be a model for something: the need to couple freedom of information laws with processes and institutions to protect the citizens who use them.
— Norah Mallaney