ASSAM – http://www.assamtribune.com/ EDITORIAL on RTI Act
Posted by rtiact2005 on July 8, 2006
MESSAGE FOR TODAY
And yet the order of the acts is planned. The way’s end destinate and unconcealed.
— Boris Pasternak
Right to Information ActRS Mooshahary, the State Chief Information Commissioner, appears unhappy at the tardy implementation of the Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act) in Asom even after eight months of the RTI Act coming into force. In his first interaction with the media, he lamented that requisite number of officials in various government departments are not available to dispense specific information demanded by the public. Only about 50 per cent of the offices have started work, putting up information on the websites. The State Information Commission, set up on March 1, 2006, received only three complaints during the last four months which speaks volumes about public awareness towards this important piece of legislation conferring such a valuable right to its citizens. It is really a sad state of affair that the people of Asom have not taken advantage of the RTI Act to seek information on various critical matters. Lack of public awareness, State government’s apathy in the speedy implementation of the RTI Act, inadequate training of the officials appointed as public information officers/assistant public information officers have all contributed to the ineffectiveness of this important and revolutionary piece of legislation in Asom.
The RTI Act, 2005, conferred to the citizens of India right to information from the Central and the State governments, Panchayat Raj institutions, all public authorities whether controlled, owned or funded by the governments and even the NGOs receiving government assistance. All public sector undertakings come within the purview of the RTI Act. The universities receiving government grant are also within the ambit of the RTI Act. The citizens are empowered to ask questions, inspect sites, take photo-copies of record and files except on those matters specifically prohibited under the Act. The RTI Act, 2005 also empowers the appropriate governments to develop and organise educational programmes, to advance the understanding of the public and to exercise the rights contemplated under the Act. It also makes the appropriate government mandatorily liable to prepare guide book in easily comprehensible form and manner containing such information as may be required by a person who wishes to exercise any rights specified in the Act. Thus the RTI Act, 2005 puts much responsibility on the State Government to create public awareness about the Act, in educating the public in general by organising seminars, workshops, training programmes and making available literature in the local languages regarding the provisions of the RTI Act, 2005 and the prescribed procedure to apply for information from the concerned public authorities. So far the Asom Government has miserably failed on both the counts and only a few organisations and NGOs have come forward to create public awareness campaigns on the RTI Act, 2005. If such public apathy continues, the RTI Act, 2005 would remain a dead statute like the Consumer Protection Act, 1986.
The Government of Asom is one of pioneers in bringing a statute – Right to Information Act, 2001, which received the assent of the Governor on May 1, 2002. However, due to reasons best known to the Government, this Act was never implemented and silently buried. In the meantime, the Union Government passed the RTI Act, 2005 extending to the whole of India except the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The Asom Government constituted the State Information Commission only on March 1, 2006. The fact that this high-powered body has not been provided with adequate staff and infrastructure befitting such an institution, shows the commitment of the State Government in implementing the RTI Act. It is also reported that the Saikia Commission of Enquiry headed by retired Supreme Court Judge KN Saikia enquiring into the secret killings during the chief ministership of Prafulla Kumar Mahanta has not been provided with fund to run the office. Such shabby treatment to a judicial body is unwarranted and the Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi should take the concerned officials to task for lowering the image of the Government by their disregard for such high-powered bodies like the State Information Commission and Saikia Commission.