GUWAHATI, April 27 – More than two years after the Right to Information Act came into force, Assam continues to witness a markedly limited use of its provisions, which could be linked to its poor promotion by the State Government. In a large number of government offices and institutions receiving Government funds, there are no functionaries who have been properly trained to handle RTI applications. Other offices are handicapped by lack of supporting infrastructure. This has created a discouraging situation for the applicant, and a restraint in the flow of authentic and updated information.
Since the Act became operational in October 2005, there have been attempts by vested interest at undermining the Act through various stratagems. According to NGOs working in the sphere of the RTI Act, the worst cases involve threats to RTI applicants in the State.
The present scenario, according to different sources, is worst in rural areas where few people are aware of their privileges vis-à-vis the RTI Act, thanks to a lack of government will to spread awareness about it. But the situation in the cities, including Guwahati is hardly any better.
Recently a group of journalists approached authorities at the Gauhati Medical College Hospital to file some RTI applications. Initially, they found it hard to locate the official because his designation as the Information Officer was nowhere on display.
However, after another senior functionary was contacted, he guided the group to the official who was in charge of receiving applications. The group of media persons were then told that there were no applications forms available at the office. Undeterred, the scribes asked for some plain paper on which they made their applications seeking information.
But soon thereafter another challenge stared them in the face. The media persons were told that there were no receipts at the GMCH to acknowledge the ten-rupee fee per application.
Here ingenuity came to their aid, and the GMCH official acceded to their request that the fee be accepted at the time of disbursing the information. From the time of locating the proper official to the actual submission of three, the time taken was more than an hour.
Later, a source in the GMCH revealed that the present official in charge of receiving RTI applications has not been provided necessary training. One of the officials who had attended an 11-day training programme was actually serving another office.
Not surprisingly, GMCH is not the only Government institution where the RTI is yet to be an integral function. Believe it or not, the Assam Government’s official website reveals a worse reality. “Powered by NIC,” the home page consists of a link to RTI Act 2005. However, if one clicks on the icon, the new page (The Official website of the Government of Assam) contains only a disclaimer over a big blank space in white.