Right to Information – Master key to good governance

RTI Act – Is it working – How to make it work?

Posted by rtiact2005 on September 9, 2006

The Statesman
September 3, 2006

– “This is my story of trying to find a copy of the Gazette in the
age of Right to Information”

“Ignorance of the law is no excuse for breaking it” goes an old
dictum of criminal jurisprudence. That is a fair position considering
how many lawbreakers would demand to be let off if the courts thought
otherwise. But fairness also requires that adequate efforts be made
to inform people about the laws they need to abide by. People need to
know the rules, orders, byelaws and regulations that public servants
formulate for implementing these laws. This requires that the
government put in place systems for disseminating information about
its working.

Every government in India publishes its own newspaper called the
Gazette which carries the text of all laws passed; rules made; orders
issued; in fact every important matter a government decides that the
people ought to know. Publishing information in the official gazette
implies, its entry into the public domain. The Gazette is an
important source of information to public officials as well. But how
accessible are these Gazettes themselves? This is my story of trying
to find a copy of the Gazette in the age of Right to Information.

One humid afternoon in Kolkata, I chanced upon a photocopy of the
West Bengal Right to Information Rules at a workshop. Not satisfied
with a photocopy, I decide to look for the original notification
published in March in the Kolkata Gazette. Certain good samaritans
advise me to visit the New Secretariat Building on KS Roy Road.
Being a Delhi’ite, I ask the staff at this sales counter in Hindi for
a copy of the Kolkata Gazette dated 29 March, 2006. Pat comes the
reply ~ “Aise nahin milega, number batayiye.” I show the gentleman
the number printed at the right hand top corner of my copy. “Kya
cheez ke baare mein hai?” is the next question. He looks at my copy
of the Rules for a while.

His eyes brighten up behind the thick glasses as he says, “Yeh to
purana hai, sab khatam ho gaya. BG Press jayiye. Wahaan sales counter
mein purana issue shayad mil jayega.” Not to be discouraged, I ask
him how is it possible for all copies to have been sold out.

Surely there were a few copies lying in stock somewhere inside the
backrooms. Nodding his head, he tells me all copies would have been
picked up by government officers. The man had not moved an inch in
his seat and yet he seemed to have the entire inventory position of
the back numbers of the Kolkata Gazette on his fingertips. I have no
choice but to ask for directions to BG Press.

It is almost 1 o’ clock as I reach the sprawling compound of BG
Press. About seven men of all ages and two women are sitting in a
large, gloomy hall that passes for the sales counter on the second
floor. I take Hobson’s choice and start my inquiries with the chap
sitting closest to the door. He is busy copying something from what
looks like a handbill inserted in newspapers. He tells me, “number ke
bina nahin milega”. I give him the number of the Gazette. He gives me
an uncertain look and says, “Woh Gazette ko dekhnewaale baahar gaye
hain, thoda wait kijiye” and motions me towards a bench.

As I look around, I see two officials are having a pre-lunch siesta.
A woman official is multi-tasking, knitting a cardigan and chatting
with her colleague. The hall has loads of bundled up copies of old
issues of the Kolkata Gazette lying in heaps. Several piles are so
damp and dust-laden that they would not survive the journey to the
raddiwala’s. After a 10-minute wait, the gentleman seems to have
finished copying the handbill. I ask him whether he could look for
the issue as I have the number. Confidently, he replies, “Hum dekh
sakte hain lekin confirm nahin bataa sakte.” I tell him that he
merely needs to match the numbers on the copy with the original and
that should do the trick. He gives me a quizzical look. A few seconds
lapse, he relents and assures me, “Woh neeche gaye hue hain. Agar
nahin aaye to hum dekhenge, lekin confirm nahin bataa sakte.”

After a further 10-minute wait, I move to another table where three
men are discussing something seriously in Bengali. A fourth is dozing
away. I repeat my query only to be gifted with the same
reply, “Please wait for the other official to come. He knows where
gazettes are kept.”

Ten more minutes have passed as I continue waiting. I start worrying
as it is almost lunchtime. Looks like my stars are smiling again. The
official asks for my copy and walks into an ante-room with it. I
curse myself for not telling him I need two copies. I voice my
request as the official comes out. “Pehle mile to sahi,” he tells me
After a while, a third official walks out of the ante-room waving my
copy. He comes over and says something in Bengali. I do not
understand a word. I hurry up to the table again and ask the
officials for a translation. Voila! The sleeping beauty now wide
awake comes to my assistance. He tells me, that issue is not
available in stock. Miffed as I am, I ask whether the copies have
been exhausted.

“Nope. That issue of the Gazette has not been delivered in the first
place!” “But isn’t this the BG Press?” I challenge him. “Yes it is,
but this issue is printed at the Kadapara press,” he says, and shows
me the address at the bottom of the copy. He is correct.

I ask, “Is it not almost three months old? How could it not have been
delivered?” He checks the date again and nods his head
disapprovingly. “Those chaps at that press do not deliver stocks
regularly. Hence this problem.”

Not one to give up, I ask him for the address of the other press. He
hesitates. Suddenly his eyes brighten up. “Lekin wahaan jaane se koi
faayada nahin hai. Wahaan sales counter nahin hain. Aapko wahaan
nahin milega. Woh jab hi print karte hain idhar bhejte hain aur idhar
se distribute hota hai. Jab tak idhar nahin aayega, aapko kahin nahin

That does it for me. I have been checkmated by the efficiency of the
system. Not to give up on the last straw, I ask him if I could get
hold of a copy of the RTI Rules published by the West Bengal Vidhan
Sabha and Kolkata High Court. I should have guessed the answer
~ “Number nahin hai to bahut mushkil hai milna. Aap number layiye to
dekhenge.” I walk out of the hall, dejected, utterly frustrated and
seething inside.

If democracy is government of the people, by the people, and for the
people why do people in government treat people outside government in
this manner? Is specialisation of tasks of such a high order in a
government press that one official who has put in decades of service
in the same office cannot find a copy of a gazette notification in
the absence of its designated keeper?

While crores of the tax payer’s money are spent on printing the
gazette, it lies rotting in the sales depots due to the apathy of its
They have no qualms dozing away in office but would not spend a
fraction of the time putting their store in order, dusting off the
piles and maintaining a working catalogue of all issues to make
access easy.

Perhaps all this is done. But my experience compels me to think ~ the
Kolkata Gazette is a newspaper of the government, (published) by the
government, for the government. People had better wait until they
have violated some law to be told what it is all about. Incidentally,
West Bengal is amongst a handful of states that are extremely
lethargic about implementing the Right to Information Act, 2005.

– The author is the Programme Coordinator, Right to Information
Programme, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, New Delhi


3 Responses to “RTI Act – Is it working – How to make it work?”

  1. routhangopal said

    i want to complent Against to my company employed who is sit high post plz help me

  2. routhangopal said

    i want to complent Against to my company employed who is sit high post plz help me.
    my id is routhangopal@yahoo.co.in

  3. An interesting discussion is definitely worth comment.
    I believe that you ought to publish more about this subject matter, it might not be a taboo matter but
    generally people don’t speak about these topics. To the
    next! All the best!!

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