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Asha Kanta Sharma

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Important State Initiatives

ashakantasharma

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Important State Initiatives

Inspired and encouraged by the exercises taken up by the
central government, many state governments yielded under popular
pressure and prepared draft legislations on the right to information. A
number of states introduced their own transparency legislations
before the Freedom of Information Bill was finally introduced in the
Lok Sabha on July 25, 2000.

i) Goa: One of the earliest and most progressive legislations, it
had the fewest categories of exceptions, provision for urgent
processing of requests pertaining to life and liberty, and a penalty
clause. It also applied to private bodies executing government works.
One weakness was that it had no provision for pro-active disclosure
by government.

ii) Tamil Nadu: The legislation stipulated that authorities must
part with information within 30 days of it being sought. Following this
legislation, all public distribution system (PDS) shops in the state
were asked to display details of stocks available. All government
departments also brought out citizens charters listing information on
what the public was entitled to know and get.

iii) Karnataka: The right to information legislation contained
standard exception clauses covering 12 categories of information. It
had limited provisions for pro-active disclosure, contained a penalty
clause, and provided for an appeal to an independent tribunal.

iv) Delhi: This law was along the lines of the Goa Act, containing
standard exceptions and providing for an appeal to an independent
body, as well as the establishment of an advisory body, the State
Council for Right to Information. Residents of the capital can seek any
type of information -- with some exceptions -- from the civic body,
after paying a nominal fee. It was also clearly stated that if the
information was found to be false, or had been deliberately tampered
with, the official could face a penalty of Rs 1,000 per application.

v) Rajasthan: After five years of dithering, the Right to
Information Act was passed in 2000. The movement was initiated at
the grassroots level. Village-based public hearings, jan sunwais,
organised by the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), gave
space and opportunity to the rural poor to articulate their priorities
and suggest changes. The four formal demands that emerged from
these jan sunwais were: i) Transparency of panchayat functioning; ii)
accountability of officials; iii) social audit; and iv) redressal of
grievances. The Bill when it was eventually passed, however, placed at
least 19 restrictions on the right of access to information. Besides
having weak penalty provisions, it gave too much discretionary power
to bureaucrats. Despite this, the right to information movement
thrived at the grassroots level in Rajasthan, following systematic
campaigns waged by concerned groups and growing awareness about
the people‘s role in participatory governance. It was the jan sunwais
that exposed the corruption in several panchayats and also
campaigned extensively for the right to food after the revelation of
hunger and starvation-related deaths in drought-ravaged districts.

vi) Maharashtra: The Maharashtra assembly passed the Maharashtra
Right to Information (RTI) Bill in 2002, following sustained pressure
from social activist and anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare. The
Maharashtra legislation was the most progressive of its kind. The Act
brought not only government and semi-government bodies within its
purview but also state public sector units, cooperatives, registered
societies (including educational institutions) and public trusts. Public
information officers who failed to perform their duties could be fined
up to Rs 250 for each day‘s delay in furnishing information. Where an
information officer had wilfully provided incorrect and misleading
information, or information that was incomplete, the appellate
authority hearing the matter could impose a fine of up to Rs 2,000.
The information officer concerned could also be subject to internal
disciplinary action. The Act even provided for the setting up of a
council to monitor the workings of the Act. The council comprised
senior members of government, members of the press, and
representatives of NGOs. They were expected to review the functioning
of the Act at least once every six months. ..It needs to be noted that
not only is the Right to Information Act, 2005 a landmark legislation
in the Indian context, it also places India among a group of some of
the more evolved democracies of the world, to have enacted such a
law in an effort towards deepening democracy.

It also needs to be noted that the RTI Act is in keeping with the
provisions of some of the path-breaking international covenants.
However, progress on the part of public authorities towards effective
implementation of the Act in right earnest, and the Act‘s large scale
acceptance and use by the people, as an instrument for pressing
transparency and accountability of public bodies or officials – will be
the true indicator of the success of the Act. In order for the Act to
achieve its objectives, all the stakeholders concerned with
implementation of the Act – both from supply and demand sides – will
have to work in partnership and in a mission mode.
 



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