Monday, 25 October 2004

Right to information Act: Officials fail to create awareness

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Oct 25: Even two weeks after the Right to Information Act came into force the Municipal Corporation of Hyderabad, the largest civic body, received just two applications seeking information.
This poor response in the city with a population of 60 lakh plus, most of whom are educated indicates the lack of awareness among people about their newly acquired Right. Apparently sensing in advance the lukewarm response from people, the State government too brought the Act into force without really preparing its machinery to implement it effectively.
Official sources told this correspondent that the government was still in the process of formulating rules for implementation of the Act. It is also unable to set up the Chief Information Commissionerate, the State level authority to monitor the implementation of the Act, because of hectic lobbying for the top post by bureaucrats and retired government and judicial officers.
"Using the provisions of the Act, we wanted to know from the MCH about how many trees were felled in the city and who authorised indiscriminate tree felling by MCH as well as other government authorities," said Capt J Rama Rao of Forum for Better Hyderabad, a Non Governmental Organisation said. The organisation also sought to know the MCH's plans on road widening and parameters for selecting roads for widening and other related details.
According to Capt Rama Rao the government authorities themselves violate the prohibitory orders and rules and Right to Information Act will be a powerful weapon to expose the officials responsible for such violations provided the government sincerely implemented the Act.
In the absence of applications in printed format, MCH recived applications on a white paper and gave an acknowledgement. "We have also not collected the fee since we are not clear as to which head of account the money should be transferred," Mr M Krishnanand, Public Information Officer designate in MCH said adding that the applications were forwarded for further action.
Meanwhile, the A P Revenue Services Association representing thousands of revenue employees expressed its reservations on implementing the Act. "There are hundreds of vacancies of land surveyors, junior assistants and typists in the department. More importantly, the village secretariat system has totally neglected revenue activities because of which preparation of vital land documents took back seat and we are not in a position to provide information before deadline," said association president Mr K Lakshmaiah.
The association submitted a memorandum to Chief Secretary Mr T K Dewan demanding that penalty provision should be put on hold till the goverment machinery is prepared enough to meet the 30 day deadline.
"The government's silence over an open defiance by its employees against implementation of the Act raises doubts over the sincerity of the government in implementing the Act," Mr Ravi of Watershed Support Services and Activities, a NGO, said. Contributing to awareness programme on the Act, the organisation translated the Act into Telugu and was distributing books to other NGOs.

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