The Right to Information (Act) Will Set You Free

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We’ve talked about Indian innovations from the bottom up, and now there’s an important structural change to improve Indian governance:

Chanchala Devi always wanted a house. Not a mud-and-stick hut, like her current home….but a proper brick-and-mortar house. When she heard that a government program for the poor would give her about $700 to build that house, she applied immediately. As an impoverished day laborer from a downtrodden caste, she was an ideal candidate for the grant. Yet she waited four years….Two months ago she took advantage of India’s powerful and wildly popular Right to Information law. With help from a local activist, she filed a request at a local government office to find out who had gotten the grants while she waited, and why. Within days a local bureaucrat had good news: Her grant had been approved, and she would soon get her check.

Of course, this isn’t a panacea. In fact, this bill doesn’t really advocate for any particular policy to help anyone except by revealing where money has flown. The idea is that through a relatively simple process, by constantly shedding light and enforcing results, India can work towards a place where trust helps create prosperity, and prosperity trust. And of course, incentives: “The law is backed by stiff fines for bureaucrats who withhold information, a penalty that appears to be ensuring speedy compliance.”

Ultimately, to complete the real power of this law more accountability has to be enforced on those who are shown to have committed corruption. But in the meantime, this bill shows how some simple structural changes can have far reaching positive effects.


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