More than a decade in the making: A study of the implementation of India's Right to Information Act

Jeannine E. Relly, Md Fazle Rabbi, Meghna Sabharwal, Rajdeep Pakanati, Ethan H. Schwalbe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations

Abstract

India's progressive Right to Information Act (RTIA) is a global model. The RTIA was adopted a decade and a half ago to serve as a check on corruption and to advance democracy, citizen equity and public accountability. Little primary research has been conducted on the implementation of the RTIA. This research employs a socio-political and technocratic framework to study influences on RTIA implementation over time from the citizen requester ‘demand-side’ and the governmental ‘supply-side’ from an institutional development process perspective. Our constructivist approach utilizes in-depth semi-structured interviews from frequent information requesters and information commissioners (N = 114) and a new dataset of a random stratified sample of information commissioner decisions for release of information under the RTIA (N = 500). We found that political will, bureaucratic culture, and societal activism and engagement were the strongest overarching socio-political factors impacting implementation. Socio-political subfactors that appeared weak or wanting in the RTI regime were leadership, oversight, coordination, positive workplace incentives, reflexivity, and public information officer communication style with citizen requesters. Technocratic constraints, directly influenced by socio-political factors that impact implementation, included follow-through on administrative policies and rules, capacity building, monitoring, oversight, and sanctions. This study found that technocratic factors included in the institutional design of RTI legislation may not be sufficient for short-term institutional change in cultures of bureaucratic secrecy. However, coalitions of citizens, civil society organizations, media, engaged public officials, and interested politicians can drive a transparency agenda in a country when political will and bureaucratic leadership are weak.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number105088
JournalWorld Development
Volume136
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2020

Keywords

  • Bureaucratic culture
  • Corruption
  • Development
  • Freedom of Information laws
  • Government transparency
  • Implementation
  • India
  • Institutional development
  • Right to Information Act

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Economics and Econometrics

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