Civil society groups try to shake off Andhras apathy

Hyderabad | Updated: Oct 31 2005, 07:15am hrs
While many state governments are taking the lead to implement the Right to Information Act with civil society groups playing a complementary role, progress in Andhra Pradesh (AP) has been sluggish, to say the least.

Consider. According to the Act, states had to set up an Information Commission within 120 days of the Act being passed (October 12). However, AP is yet to establish its Information Commission. In fact, this non-compliance could very well attract the displeasure of the Parliament.

While the government might claim that it was preoccupied, attending to relief operations necessitated by the recent calamities, the excuse does not pass muster. The real reason was that the government, including the Oppositionwhich should have logically raised the issuewere busy with the municipal elections in the state.

The government does not seem to understand the depth of the issue and is rather nonchalant or less serious about the issue, points out an observer. Interestingly, it is the civil society groups in the state, which have kept the pressure on the government, and have attempted to reach out to the public to educate them on the power of this tool, the Right to Information Act.

For instance, Lok Satta, the AP Press Academy, Union of Working Journalists and the Centre for Good Governance have held a state level workshop to analyse and explain what the Act means and how the public can use it.

We have trained about 80,000 citizens to take advantage of the Right to Information Act. We have also held many meetings on the subject at the mandal and taluk levels across the state, says Jayaprakash Narayan, Convenor, Lok Satta. Further, the NGO has brought out and distributed leaflets and posters in Telugu, explaining the provisions of the Act using the vast network of the APSRTC. It has also created and aired seven TV programmes about the Act in all the major Telugu channels. We, along with the Centre for Good Governance, have translated the entire document into Telugu and circulated it, stresses Dr Narayan.

Ironically, the fact that this reporter could not access a copy of the document either from the state information and publicity cell or the chief ministers public relations office, underscores the importance the government attaches to this issue. Moreover, while the government has announced that it will appoint information officers, the fact that the Information Commission has not been set up dents the governments credibility.

Interestingly, the Act provides for 90% proactive disclosure of information and 10% by seeking. For those bureaucrats, steeped in the mindset of sticking to secrecy, the Right to Information Act is a compelling driver to change.