Deja vu for TN: will it make the cut this time

Chennai | Updated: Oct 31 2005, 07:13am hrs
Tamil Nadu passed the Right to Information (RTI) Act much ahead of the Centre, way back in 1997. Not surprisingly, it remained on paper. Very few knew of it and those who tried to use the law, got no answers. With the Central Act coming into effect on October 12, Tamil Nadu, an early bird, had only to frame rules according to the Centres directives. Through two notifications issued on October 7, the state constituted the Tamil Nadu Information Commission to exercise the powers and perform the functions assigned to it under the RTI Act. The state would have one chief information commissioner and two state information commissioners.

The central Act permits up to 10 state information commissioners. However, appointments are yet to be made. The state government has also fixed Rs 50 as the application fee for obtaining information. For each page of the information, one has to pay Rs 2 or the actual cost if the information sheet is larger than A3 or A4 size. Officials say that the state government has taken the central Act very seriously but given the past experience, various NGOs and other experts are unwilling to accept this statement till they see improvement on the ground.

Though there has been an RTI Act in the state over the last eight years, not many citizens have used it to get information from the state government departments. However, non-governmental organisations had tried to make maximum use of the Act.

We got some information on some issues like aquaculture. But, in general it was very difficult, even impossible sometimes, to get any information from government offices. They just did not reply, said an NGO activist. We have been depending on the Tamil Nadu Act for the past eight years to get information from government departments, but the result was not enthusiastic as there was no reply from the officials for most of the applications, said an official of the Federation of Consumer OrganisationsTamil Nadu and Pondicherry (Fedcot).

The state government has engaged a nodal agency for training its officials at the state, district and taluk levels, to empower them to comply with the Act. Official sources said all the government departments were being geared up to implement the Act. Further, departments are collecting data and organising them for public access.

The state government has been making use of 120 preparatory days between June and October, 2005 to ready itself for the implementation of the Act and things are progressing well, sources say.