PUNE: Around 300 applications seeking clarifications and facts regarding land acquisition and other aspects related to special economic zones (SEZs) were filed under the Right to Information (RTI) Act 2005 by activists in about 16 districts across the country. The applications are likely to be disposed of within the next fortnight. All the retrieved details, regarding the ways and means of creating SEZs, will be put in the public domain by activists groups for scrutiny by civil society.

This was disclosed by social activist and Magsaysay award winner Aruna Roy on Sunday, the concluding day of the two-day national convention of the Right to Information crusaders. More than a hundred activists from 23 states reached a consensus on formulating a 16-point agenda for taking forward the campaign on use of RTI.

Roy, whose Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghathana's (MKSS) more than two decade old agitation is considered as the pioneer in the fight for an RTI Act, said once the applications seeking information on SEZs were disposed of by the respective state information offices, activists from all over the country would engage in an informed debate on the findings.

"This is the first time that the RTI is being used in such a large scale, simultaneously across the country, to bring out the facts regarding an issue of concern for the country's sovereignty," Roy said. The alleged mismanagement and wilful distortion of rules affecting the SEZs by the so-called ‘bureaucrat-contractor-builder-politician' nexus and use of the RTI to expose the "elite's hidden agenda" has been the much discussed issues during the convention.

Another Magsaysay award winner, Arvind Kejariwal, said the convention has been a landmark as far as formulating a common nation-wide agenda for the fight on RTI was concerned. "The right to information is one of the most essential elements for the proper functioning of any democracy and we will not allow any dilution in the provisions under the RTI."

He cited the chief demands and suggestions made by the delegates which included imposing compulsory penalties on errant officials, extending logistical support to new activists, formation of state level committees for helping volunteers, extension of the RTI Act to cover Jammu and Kashmir, repeal of the system of payment of fee during filing of applications, publication of monthly progress report by state information commissions, action against public authorities who violate RTI rules, hearing both parties before passing any verdict by the commission and so on.

"This is the most comprehensive agenda ever formulated by the activists and, if followed with prudence, it could change the entire system of bureaucracy and public governance," Kejariwal said.
The convention also decided to have a series of visits to various states by RTI activists working at the state level from July onwards as part of an effort to sensitise the state information officials about the problems faced by activists.

In addition, a team of activists led by Roy will be meeting the prime minister soon to oppose the proposals from certain quarters to exempt some of the central departments from the RTI Act.

RTI pleas aim at exposing SEZ norms-Pune-Cities-The Times of India