Maharashtra emerges as leader in RTI activism
Reported By Nithin Belle (Mumbai Musings) in Khaleej Times 4 June 2008
THE Right to Information Act (RTI) is a landmark piece of legislation,
enacted in 2005, which enables ordinary citizens to seek information
from various government departments. The act aims to bring about
transparency in the functioning of various departments and improved
communication with citizens.
Every government department — both at the central and state levels —
public bodies and state-owned companies are required to provide vital
information about their functioning to citizens seeking such details.
Public authorities have to appoint central public information officers
or state public information officers (PIOs) to address the requests
State information commissioners (SICs) have been appointed all over
India to ensure that government departments respond to the RTI
applications of citizens and provide them the necessary information.
The success of the legislation can be gauged from the fact that
government departments have been overwhelmed with a flood of
applications in recent years and SICs are also clogged with appeals
In Mumbai, for instance, the SIC has over 3,600 appeals and complaints
pending, while the figure for the whole of Maharashtra is around
16,000. Citizens file appeals and complaints with the SIC when the
response from a government department is not forthcoming, or the
replies are wishy-washy.
The groundswell of applications in a state like Maharashtra reflects
the public hunger for information – ranging from details of a pension
scheme, to modifications in town planning schemes and from information
about a polluting unit to the manner in which money has been disbursed
from the Chief Minister's Relief Fund.
RTI activist Shailesh Gandhi recently got details about how money from
the CM's Relief Fund – meant to be disbursed at times of calamities –
was being misused and diverted over the years for irrelevant
activities, including cricket matches. Successive chief ministers in
the state have been dipping into the fund and dispensing huge sums to
their favourites for things like organising a cricket match, or making
a film. Maharashtra has emerged as a leader in RTI activism, with over
300,000 applications having been received last year by various public
authorities. RTI activists, however, fear that citizens take recourse
to the act for even frivolous reasons, which adds to the clutter,
resulting in unnecessary delays.
BUT the flood of applications has resulted in activists working at
cross purposes, not knowing what one group has filed, what another has
obtained, and what are the cases that pending. To set this right,
Rishi Aggarwal, an activist, has launched a website (www.rtidirectory.in), to enable citizens to share information.
"The usual thing that happens to most such responses is that they get
filed," says Rishi. "More often than not they contain valuable
information on matters of public interest, which would be of interest
to many spirited citizens and can be used effectively by them."
Rishi has been working on the web-based platform for uploading RTI
responses and applications since six months. He believes it will help
facilitate the flow of information on responses to RTI applications
filed by thousands of citizens all over the country.
The media also focusses only on a few major cases, but equally
important ones tend to be ignored. The web site will be a
comprehensive one, enabling visitors to upload the initial application
to a public authority and the response that is received.