February 3, 2007, The Hindu India

The first year after the enactment of the much talked about Right to Information Act has proved a mixed bag for Rajasthan, the State where it all started as a people’s movement a decade ago. The common man armed with provisions of the precious Act tried to seek information though lack of adequate support from the Government in the form of training of its staff and framing of rules left many information seekers frustrated.

The State’s Chief Information Commissioner remained a helpless observer at times. “The first year has been crucial though what we could have done in a year could not be accomplished. There is a need to make the law more powerful and more effective,” says M.D. Kaurani, the Chief Information Commissioner, who was the chief guest at a seminar on “One year of RTI in Rajasthan: Problems and possibilities” here on Thursday.

“There is a feeling that the Commission has to be pro-active. I too agree with this,” said Mr. Kaurani, adding that the CIC basically has the role of a judge. Efforts were on to perk up the effectiveness of the Commission with more resources and manpower, he informed, adding, “Whatever had been the performance of Act in the first year, its significance has been widely acknowledged.”

The seminar was organised under the auspices of CUTS, Centre for Consumer Action, Research &Training, Jaipur, in collaboration with the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, New Delhi.While Mr. Kaurani said the common man was yet to fully make use of the Act in Rajasthan, Nikhil Dey of Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, a people’s organisation which spearheaded the right to information movement in the State, said thousands of citizens had tried to get information under the Act in various parts of the State. “RTI has been the biggest newsmaker in the past one year,” he added.

Mr. Dey said among the three most important components— the people, the Government and the Commission — for implementation of the law, the Government had lagged behind in creating a conducive atmosphere and making provision for imparting information. “The Government’s role has been most disappointing. It did not make adequate rules nor trained the staff or provided support to the Commission,” he noted.

CUTS International secretary-general Pradeep S. Mehta said “soft laws” tend to remain ineffective as long as the implementing agencies do not assume a pro-active role. “The Consumer Protection Act was passed two decades ago but Indian consumers continue to be exploited,” he observed. Venkatesh Nayak of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative said RTI was not an expensive law to implement and many States had already given training to their staff in information dissemination.

If the Governments had the courage they could also bring private enterprises under the purview of RTI, he said citing the example of South Africa where Microsoft as well as McDonald’s were under the RTI Act though not in their own home country.

The workshop underlined the need for creation of an information clearing-house manned by people who understand the documents.