The citizen vis-a-vis a reluctant informer
Close to three years after the Right To Information (RTI) Act was passed in Parliament, West Bengal has been put on notice. This was only to be expected and the alarm bell that clubs the state in the company of UP, Bihar and Orissa has been rung by no less than the country’s Chief Information Commissioner. Wajahat Habibullah’s statement that Bengal “lacks a proactive approach and is bad in giving information” amounts to a virtual indictment of the state information commission. Which statutory body is headed by an official who retired with a record of bureaucratic taciturnity and media unfriendliness... the confidence of the Chief Minister being a value addition in his career graph. Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee himself is loath to disseminate information in the manner envisaged in the RTI Act. It bears recall that there was a seven-month delay between the passage of the Act and the setting up of the commission in Bengal. He would rather that official data be doled out only by his information department that he has headed for the past three decades.
Mr Habibullah can’t possibly be unaware that the state commission that Mr Arun Bhattacharjee heads is structurally defective. It flies in the face of the RTI Act which provides for a ten-member commission. Yet it still makes do with a trustworthy single-member panel. Three years after its foundation, there is no indication as to when, if at all, the other nine members will be appointed. Till very recently, its website didn’t even carry its address. If, as Mr Bhattacharjee admitted on Tuesday, the state “is lagging behind”, it is primarily because information gets filtered and dished out to anxious citizens only on the government’s terms. There is little doubt that any data that the party and the government wish to suppress will not be disclosed. The administration doesn’t seem to be convinced that a citizen has the right to know. West Bengal and the three other states in the same category need to be a lot more serious with a piece of parliamentary legislation ~ ultimately a reflection of the will of the people. The manner of functioning ought not to be as fictitious as the title of this comment.