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Right to Information Gospel Spreads in Dehradun

BBA Group with Aruna Roy & Nikhil DeRajiv Rawat
Garhwal Post, 11 October 2006

DEHRADUN, 10 Oct: Right to information as a key route to empowering the people of India, was the hot topic of discussion on the eve of Loknayak J.P. Narayan’s birth anniversary this October 9 and 10th. Coming also a year after the original Right to Information Act (RTI) became law, local activists came together in two days of workshops to launch an Uttarakhand-based movement similar to those that have taken deep root in other parts of the country including Delhi and Rajasthan.

While the first day was hosted by the People’s Science Institute and brought social activists from around the state to Derhadun, the October 10th meeting was organized by the Beej Bachao Andolan as a cozy conclave with Magsaysay award winner and Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey of the Rajasthan-based Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS). Both were on hand to work through some of the legal strategies available to citizens under the RTI Act.

Convened by well-known local activist, Biju Negi, the gathering held a minute of silence for the late journalist and social activist, Kunwar Prasoon, and veteran sarvodaya worker, Bhawani Bhai who had recently passed away after a lifetime of commitment to the youth of Tehri. Veteran Chipko activists Dhoom Singh Negi and Vijay Jardhari related their work with the Beej Bachao Andolan and thanked the chief guests on behalf of the organizers.

The meeting was graciously hosted by Dr. S. Farooq at the D.A.V. College Alumni Association. Justice S.H.A. Raza also addressed the gathering.

“The Foundation of Civil Rights”

Framing RTI as one the most important pieces of legislation since independence, Roy passionately strove to dispel cynicism about the possibility of real change emerging from the Act. Rather, RTI would empower ordinary citizens with the tools necessary to pry open the government’s books and ensure accountability in public spending. This in turn would touch off a revolution in social development and environmental policy that have been badly affected by endemic corruption for decades.

Moreover, according to Dey, not only was “any material in any form” under the purview of the act, but so were private bodies that conducted any business with the government. As such, multinational corporations operating in India would also be answerable to the public. He also explained how such reach was guaranteed under the act by the right of inspection as well as enforceable penalties against undue delay by any government agency or office. Such dilatory tactics had hampered accountability measures in the past, so this provision was especially important to ensure full compliance.

Recently it may be recalled that attempts to limit the reach of RTI by various sections of the bureaucracy were thwarted by the collective outrage of a wide spectrum of the public. However, activists such as Sowmya Kerbart Sivakumar (Frontline, 6 Oct.) fear the “devil in the details” scenario where the bureaucracy could still kill the Act through the “death of a thousand cuts.” As such, public vigilance demonstrated by this workshop may become all the more important for the Right to Information Revolution to succeed and take flight.