Angered by the government's persistent failure in implementing a key clause in the Right to Information (RTI) law, a citizens' group in Pune is working on taking the state to court. Section 4, at the heart of the two-year-old law, directs state departments to ensure easy access to information about a large chunk of government activity.
They must do this, the clause directs, by continually providing "as much information suo moto to the public at regular intervals through various means of communications, including internet (sic), so that the public have minimum resort to the use of this Act to obtain information." "This clause by itself would ensure genuine transparency, and prevent RTI applications, appeals and more red tape," Said Jugal Rathe, a 61-year-old chartered accountant and head of Sajak Nagrik Manch (Alert Citizens Forum).
"But old habits die hard, and most organisations are still evading the clause, which is why we are filing this petition in the Bombay High Court." The forum, set up in 2006 in to help Pune residents use the RTI law, has had volunteers survey 20 government organisations, including the Pune Municipal Corporation, the Pune Municipal Transport, the Bank of Maharashtra and electricity board Mahavitaran.
"We find a near-total evasion of the clause," Rathe said. Attributing the dumping of the clause to "a lack of will", Information Commissioner for Pune Division V.
Kuwalekar said: "Departments have had enough time to put in place systems that follow this clause, but they continue to make excuses." Since the law came into force in October 2005, the Commission has written to successive chief secretaries in the government, citing "umpteen complaints" from citizens and asking them to ensure their officials follow the rulebook.
Rathe said he would like citizens to contact him if they have had similar problems in accessing information which should be public under the clause. "We would like to add their experiences while petitioning the court," he said.