Empowering the Public

Empowering the Public
Government offices are bound to display information on their premises under RTI Act

Access to information has been recognized as a key development mechanism as it has the potential to empower the citizen. It enables people to demand more accountability and greater transparency from the administration and the state and also acts as a deterrent to the arbitrary exercise of official power.

ACCESS TO INFORMATION

Highlights

  • Sensitization and training in partnership with the Rajasthan Institute of Public Administration that has pushed forward an information campaign in the state on Right to Information Act
  • Information dissemination is ensured through published booklets on the Act, printed posters and information boards for district and village-level government offices
  • Trained elected representatives of Panchayats on fulfilling roles and obligations with regard to sharing of information

Information is furthermore an enabling tool for citizens to demand and realize their rights. In this regard, the Government of India (GoI) enacted the Right to Information in 2005, which has also been upheld by the Supreme Court of India as a fundamental right. UNDP India is supporting initiatives and undertaking projects that further the implementation of the act.

This act holds special significance to Rajasthan as the forerunner in the information campaign owing to its intrepid people’s movement of the late 1980s for justice for the poor and disadvantaged of the State. This movement that started with stripping bare village-level administrations (Panchayats) through public hearings also paved the way for the enactment of the Rajasthan Right to Information Act 2000. UNDP’s project has pushed forward this information campaign in the state through sensitization and training sessions. The trainings were undertaken by the Rajasthan Institute of Public Administration (RIPA1), UNDP India’s local partner in Rajasthan. “It is a tool not a weapon.” explains Mrs. Kumudini Chabaria of the Udaipur chapter of RIPA, as the approach and objective of not only the project but also the Right to Information Act (RTI Act).

From the outset, there was a sense of apprehension and misunderstanding regarding the information law among government officials. The sensitization and training sessions cleared their fears that the law might be used as a weapon and enabled them to see it as a tool. The trainings also clarified their roles and obligations with regard to sharing of information. Now government officials, civil society and others in Rajasthan are aware of the Act and its many benefits. The increased and improved awareness has also initiated a realization of the flaws of their information systems, which government officials and civil society members are working to better. “A record keeper would help us with records management”, says Mr. Girish Chandra Trivedi of the Udaipur Irrigation Department. Mr. Trivedi, like many other government officers, understands that a good records management system could improve the information delivery system.

Some others like Mr. Nandlal Kishori, an activist, is aware that there are systemic weaknesses but thinks that the people are weaker still, “The public has to be trained and made aware of the intricacies of the act and the systems, whether the government officials are trained or not.” Meanwhile, Mrs. Shashi Tyagi of Grameen Vikas Samiti – a local NGO – is sceptical about the RTI as a tool and fears it is a still a weapon, “People know and use the Act as the 10 rupee application form. Unfortunately, RTI has not been able to break political barriers, as most often the act is misused for political cookie points and least in public interest”.

However, Mr. Ummaid Raj Jain, one of the trainers of the project has made information dissemination his personal goal. Following the training workshops, Mr. Jain, realizing the need to further inform the public, has published booklets on the Act, printed posters and information boards for district and village-level government offices and also trained elected representatives of Panchayats. The RTI Act is still at its nascent years and as Mrs. Archana Chawla of the Jodhpur chapter of RIPA said, “It is this training that will be more effective in future generations” when the public is more aware, educated and armed with the RTI Act – as a tool to achieving justice.

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1 RIPA is a government training institute

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