JODHPUR: The effectiveness of the country's 18-month-old path-breaking transparency legislation, the Right to Information Act, came under review for two days ata workshop on RTI over the weekend in the Sun City of Jodhpur.

There were complaints of lack of interest on the part of State Governments in creating the necessary infrastructure for disseminating the information under the Act but the speakers -- who included Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah and pioneer of the movement Aruna Roy and CICs of Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan -- hailed the new law as one of the "outstanding legislations" in the world and "unprecedented" in the country going by the public response.

Even while cautioning the public against assuming that the new law would act as a "jadui chhadi" (magic wand) to solve all the problems, Mr. Habibullah conceded that enough time had been given for the system to get attuned to the provisions of the new law. "The period training has ended. Now for denial of, or for delay in, providing information there should be a serious reason; otherwise penal action will have to be initiated," he said.

The time was up not for the country's adamant bureaucracy alone. "It had been a training period for all of us. Now we have to move forward and give people what is theirs by right," Mr. Habibulah said. "This is an Act the people have accepted and adopted as theirs."

"No better law could have been possible to curb corruption in the country," noted Congress general secretary Ashok Gehlot, convener of Bharat Sewa Sansthan.

The workshop, meant to train youth in RTI and NREGA, was the first public programme at the newly inaugurated Rajv Gandhi Sewa Sadan premises of the Bharat Sewa Sansthan.

"It is for the Governments to spread awareness on the application of the legislation. A certain amount could be earmarked for educating the public on the law," Mr. Gehlot suggested. He expressed happiness over the passage of the State level Right to Information Act in 2002 when he was the Chief Minister of Rajasthan.

"Unless the penalty factor is not put into use the information will not come out," said Aruna Roy, whose Rajasthan-based Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan pioneered the public movement for the law. "Punish three; three thousand will fall in line," she said.

Even after the legislation many officers continued to deny information to the seekers, she noted. "We need to put pressure on the State CICs to truthfully implement the Act," she added, pointing out that the offices of the State Commissions, including that of Rajasthan were forced to function under limited resources. Ms. Roy suggested a bold stance from the CICs. "The Commissioners should not be cowed down by the Government in power," she said.
Giving an update on the law and its implementation, Nikhil Dey of the MKSS said there had been "tremendous input from the people" on the Act in the first year of its being.

(The Hindu, Dec.19,2006-online edition)