मंगलवार, 20 अक्तूबर 2009

RTI in a dwindling state in Bihar....

The much hailed RTI Act passed to fight corruption and transparency in the administration has completed four years. In January 2007, Bihar’s CM Nitish Kumar declared Bihar a ‘model state’ not only for India but the whole world, when a call centre ‘Jankari’, literally meaning information, was inaugurated. Thus information from any department was just a call away or that’s how it was supposed to be.

The project was applauded by many civil rights activists and statesmen, including Sonia Gandhi and a reputed consultancy agency Price-Water Housekooper. Department of personnel and training is in fact planning to expand it to entire country. However, on ground the situation is quite different.
Earlier one would often hear “the number is not in use” or “kindly check the number” in Hindi. Even now, frequently the phone is either not received or is disconnected.

Ten rupees, as application fees are charged on the telephone bill. Still many times the information officer actually ask for the application fees. Further, don’t be surprised if it takes months, or sometimes a year, for the information to reach you. Even the information provided is often incomplete. Many citizens have actually been put in jail for the crime of soliciting information under the Act.

In fact, Jankari itself appeared reluctant in providing any information. After several applications and appeals, the call centre finally provided some information relating to its ‘publicity’. But that took them more than a year.
According to information received under RTI Act-2005, on November 18, 2008 approximately Rs. 25 lakh have been spent in organizing seminars, distributing pamphlets, putting posters and hoardings and issuing post-cards. The Central government, in comparison, had spent only Rs 2 lakh till 2008.
Information provided under another application also reveals that the six-seater Jankari call centre being run by the State Electronic Development Corporation Ltd. received Rs 33,26,000 from the government while it spend Rs.34,40,586.
Besides, the State information commission has spent more than 2 crore 75 lakh rupees till 2008-2009. Still there are only two information commissioners for the entire state, while there is provision for ten commissioners, besides one Chief Information Commissioner (CIC). Interestingly, the post of CIC is vacant since October, 2008. After Justice Shashank kumar’s term ended last year, Patna High Court’s retired Chief Justice J.N.Bhatt was appointed the CIC. He had however, not yet taken charge. According to latest report, he has now refused to join. As a result more than nine thousand appeals/complains are pending.

Nitish kumar had come to power with the promise of good governance. Although he generously allotted money to the commission, it has become like any other department in the state. Unless, Information Commission and its call centre is overhauled and made more transparent and accountable, there is very little hope of any significant improvement in the system.

Afroz Alam ‘Sahil’

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