As reported by Seema Chishti in indianexpress.com on 22 April 2008:
IndianExpress.com :: Testing RTI: Govt vs activists, Pricewaterhouse vs Google
Testing RTI: Govt vs activists, Pricewaterhouse vs Google
Govt asks PwC to study efficacy of RTI, wary activists launch own study backed by grant from Google Foundation
NEW DELHI, APRIL 21: The Department of Personnel and Training has decided to get international accounting firm Pricewaterhouse Coopers to study the efficacy of the Right to Information (RTI) Act as it marks its third year on October 13. The RTI Act has been showcased by the UPA Government as one of its key achievements.
Suspicious that this study could end up helping babus instead of citizens, leading RTI activists, including Aruna Roy and her Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) and Shekhar Singh and his National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) have launched their own alternative study.
They have formed RAAG (RTI Accountability and Assessment Group) which will examine what they call “the RTI regime.” Significantly, Google Foundation has stepped in to make this study possible by offering $250,000 as an initial grant.
RTI activists, using foreign funds themselves, say they are not worried about money from a foreign source, but are annoyed at the way, a “foreign organization” (Pricewaterhouse) with “little or no expertise in the manner in which RTI works in India” is being asked to assess the efficacy of RTI.
Said Roy, formerly a member of the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council and among the earliest campaigners for a Right to Information law: “The process itself adopted by the government to select such an agency for such a key audit, and the record so far of the DoPT makes us wary of the study. There is little point in just opposing it all, so we are doing our own study. All the material we collect in order to draw our conclusions will be available publicly, and then let us have a debate.”
Activists say they are worried the government, under pressure from bureaucrats, might use this study to cut back or restrain certain freedoms available under RTI. Says Shekhar Singh: “The government is only looking at the problems it faces because of the RTI making the bureaucracy answerable, and how they may have to amend the Act to ensure that applications are not too long, not vexatious or filed for frivolous purposes. How we look at RTI is completely different.”
The survey being planned by these groups will also involve the Centre for Studies of Developing Societies (CSDS which also does election surveys) and the Tata Institute for Social Service (TISS).
RAAG also hopes to get assistance from the Nehru Memorial.
Last week, DoPT hosted a seminar where Pricewaterhouse Coopers presented its Project Progress Report to members of the Central Information Commission and representatives from the State Information Commissions of Assam, Andhra Pradesh, UP, Maharashtra and Orissa, and some Public Information Officers from these states.
Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah said he was consulted by Pricewaterhouse Coopers when it was finalising the project report. He says: “Their earlier proposal did have some weak points. It was too urban-centric, for instance. I have asked them to take into account the RTI’s immense impact on rural India.” Asked about the parallel study, he said: “Activists are welcome to do their own study...Why are they angry with DoPT for getting active? Earlier, it was just the CIC and the activists, with the DoPT taking a passive role, at least now they are active and are taking interest in the functioning of the Act.”