Mining for information begins in Orissa

Bhubaneswar | Updated: Oct 31 2005, 07:12am hrs
Kunja Bihari Das, a resident of Bhubaneswar, was much enthused by the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005. Mr Das has formally submitted his application (Form-A) under the Act with the state steel and mines department, asking for information on Poscos steel project in the state.

Mr Das application, however, has caused ripples in government circles. For, Mr Das has sought information on 26 issues on the project. He has also asked for copies of the PMOs correspondence in this regard.

Mr Das case is viewed as a test case. Many in the state, however, are quite sceptical. Anarchy will prevail, if the authorities and the citizens fail to respect the spirit of the Act, cautions JP Das, the former state information and public relations secretary. There is ample scope for misuse, he points out.

JP Das, who had drafted a Right to Information Bill for the state Assembly before the RTI Act, 2005 came, points to the scope for citizens to seek information in the name of BPL persons. Besides, as the states rules provide, if the government supplies information in the form of photocopies, CDs, floppies and sample materials to BPL applicants free of cost, the state exchequer could be drained. The former bureaucrat also refers to the states poor record keeping status. Eminent social activist Mr Jagadanada says, Every government found some pretext to hold back information and this is likely to continue. It depends on implementation. In six months, well know how it was used or abused.

Former state finance minister, Panchanan Kanungo, currently campaigning to sensitise the public and the authorities about the Act, is also not quite sure about its proper implementation. Public information officers (PIOs) may take advantage of the rules that allow applications to be rejected, if not filled up properly. Moreover, they may seek shelter behind clauses 8,9 and 24, he fears. Similarly, he says, appellate authorities may delay the process of adjudication, as there is no time limit for them to dispose off the complaint s.

Mr Kanungo also fears the state information commission (SIC) may turn out to be a rehabilitation centre for retired bureaucrats and politicians. Meanwhile, controversy has dogged the selection of DN Padhi as the first chief commissioner of the SIC, with opposition leaders protesting against an allegedly tainted officer in the top post. Mr Padhi, special secretary in the central energy department, was entangled in the polythene purchase scam during the super cyclone. However, Mr Padhi has already been exonerated by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) from the scam.

State director for information and public relations BP Mohanty says, steps have been taken to position PIOs in state departments, and from the district to the tehsil level and the RTI cell at the state secretariat has been activated.

Until October 27, the cell had received 30 applications, including that of former chief secretary RM Senapati, says Mr Mohanty. These are being promptly forwarded to the PIOs of the departments concerned with a stampRTI Application: Avoid Delayin red letters. So far so good. But will the government machinery be willing to reveal information of the kind that will embarrass the government The response alone would indicate how transparent the Naveen Patnaik government will prove to be.