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?Villagers can access information soon?

CHIEF INFORMATION Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah is not satisfied with the pace of disposal of complaints. Habibullah wants a regular office for faster disposal of complaints. The CIC is aiming at making the right to information (RTI) more easily accessible to rural people. To this end, the commission is working out a strategy in collaboration with the Panchayati Raj Ministry.

india Updated: Jun 08, 2006 15:58 IST

CHIEF INFORMATION Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah is not satisfied with the pace of disposal of complaints. Habibullah wants a regular office for faster disposal of complaints. The CIC is aiming at making the right to information (RTI) more easily accessible to rural people. To this end, the commission is working out a strategy in collaboration with the Panchayati Raj Ministry.

Retired as a Union Secretary, WAJAHAT HABIBULLAH is the key man to put RTI on tracks. He spoke to DEBOBRAT GHOSE during an RTI workshop in Bhopal on Wednesday.    

What is your agenda now?
First, to set up a regular office of the Commission. Next, to expedite disposal of complaints. Though we have cleared 300 out of 1,200 complaints, it is not fast enough.

On the first anniversary of the implementation of RTI in October 2006, we plan to organise a major conference of all State Information Commissions (SICs). This will be attended by commissioners, officials and NGOs.

After exchanging notes with them, a blueprint will be drafted to ensure better functioning of CIC and SICs. We would like to see all citizens, even in rural areas, access information sitting at home and filing of complaints can be done at post offices.        

There’s scepticism in certain quarters that the Act has some loopholes which government departments/ public authorities are manipulating to deny information to the public.

I do not know any specific instance as such. Sometimes the public information officer (PIO) may hesitate to share. But, if one is denied any information, he/she can go for appellate authority.

Can information be sought from judicial or quasi-judicial authorities?
Of course. Even, one can ask for information from the President. You have said RTI will usher in a transparency revolution but retired bureaucrats dominate information commissions in States.

How will that impact the Commission’s functioning vis-a-vis governments?
There are others also from different fields like the judiciary in the commissions. The advantage of having bureaucrats is that they know the government’s functioning well and will be in a better position to gauge if something is being concealed. This is what is required by the Act.

With low literacy rate in India, how effective will RTI be, especially in rural areas? 
By next year, villagers will be able to access information  through computers at panchayat level and derive the benefit.

For that, awareness has to be developed. Rural people should know how and where their money is spent. The Panchayat Raj Ministry is working towards bringing greater transparency through RTI. 


What about awareness levels of the common man about the Act?

It is Governments’ (both Union and State) responsibility to create awareness and I hope they will do. We have suggested setting up of an institute and a scheme to be funded by the Government to take care of awareness building across the country.

Are there any specific areas you would like to see RTI mechanism to be used more?
From my own experience, I will like to see it being used more extensively at the grassroots. Until now Panchayat Raj has had limited participation in (RTI mechanism). Now it should strive to get more information to pass on to rural masses.

Don’t you feel that while industry demands Governments to be more transparent, industry itself is not so willing to share information with public and Governments? How can RTI ensure more transparency in industry vis-à-vis Government and general public?
Private industries do not come under its ambit but they should come forward with information as service providers to public, like in the past, when they were more open.