This article explores how transparency laws reconfigure work practices and relations within the bureaucracy, and between bureaucrats and citizens. In a bureaucratic setup where a culture of secrecy looms large, India’s Right to Information (RTI) Act (2005), sometimes called the “sunshine law,” promised citizens unprecedented access to information. By tracing the journeys of multiple RTI requests within the largely understudied high offices of India’s federal government, we unravel how the new demands of disclosure intersect with entrenched bureaucratic norms and practice. We find that the act allows applicants a tenuous wedge into the everyday life of the state, including its uppermost echelons, precipitating a bureaucratic encounter. These encounters disrupt habitual modes of bureaucratic functioning by (1) allowing applicants the capacity to self-represent through the RTI request, a new, unusually autonomous kind of document; (2) forcing bureaucrats, who do not ordinarily engage with the public, to interact with applicants; and (3) concentrating decision-making authority and accountability in an individual, identifiable bureaucrat. Analyzing these practical disruptions, irrespective of the information they yield, suggests that the RTI Act proliferates bureaucratic encounters and politicizes secrecy. Individual bureaucrats get pitchforked into broader political struggles through their responses to requests.
A Dappled Sun: Bureaucratic Encounters in the Working of the Right to Information Act in India
Aniket Aga, Chitrangada Choudhury; A Dappled Sun: Bureaucratic Encounters in the Working of the Right to Information Act in India. Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 1 December 2018; 38 (3): 540–556. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/1089201x-7208856
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