Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Inspiration on Independence Day yesterday

Speaking to a group on India's Independence Day, and given the job of saying something inspiring, I had prepared a considered speech.

However, as there was an extensive programme of Bharatanatyam and (even more) of Bollywood dancing, there was the question of how to follow that!

No point in giving a speech, I thought, a few remarks would have to do.

So I extracted the juicy bits, and offered the thought that the most important Indian contribution to democracy worldwide consists in two legal innovations:

1. The Right to Information Act (RTI) which requires government officials at all levels and divisions (excluding the Cabinet Office and Defence) to respond to requests for information within 30 days. As always, there are caveats regarding the functioning of the law (and there is some legal history for the functioning of the law, which was originally created in 2005, if memory serves). In some ways similar to the Freedom of Information Act in the USA which was created some ten years earlier, RTI goes well beyond it.

2. Public Interest Litigation (PIL), which was created not by India's Parliament, but by India's Supreme Court - which decided to proceed on its own account or in response to a request made to it - not because an individual was aggrieved but because the public is affected. As far as I know, there is no precedent for this innovation, nor has any country so far followed India in this unique form of judicial activism. I conclulded by giving an example of how PIL had contributed to ameliorating Delhi's air pollution.

So, while the country is sick of hearing about scams and frauds, it is worth reminding ourselves that there are some things that we have achieved: here are at least two areas where we have not merely avoided degrading the good institutions which the British left us at independence, here are two areas where we have actually improved upon what the British left us!

We may have a long way to do (we DO have a long way to do!), but on occasions such as Independence Day, it is good to stop and rest and be encouraged by the positives that have happened - and the many initiatives that are being taken to improve things, which are too numerous to mention, though the Indian media won't report them as the matters are neither scandalising nor thrillingly entertaining, and neither for nor against the interests of any one in a powerful position.