Unlike states like Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, West Bengal never had any state law on the right to information. Even for reporters, accessing simple and even trivial information is sometimes a difficult taskthe general response would be we are not supposed to divulge this kind of information. Talk to the minister.
So, when the central government enacted a law on Right to Information, people expected that the Left government would at least
initiate work towards implementing the processes required under the Act.
Unfortunately, that has not happened. People like Debobrata Bandopadhya, a retired senior bureaucrat and the president of Transparency International (Kolkata) feels that the government is not doing enough to develop the required infrastructure in the state.
The Act has already come into force but still we dont have the state Information Commission, the highest appellate body required by the Act. No one knows when this will be set up, said Mr Bandopadhya.
Though the state government officially has said it has already appointed information officers for all government departments, very few people know of their existence.
We dont know who the information officers are and what we should do if we require any information, Mr Bandopadhya said.
Meanwhile, state chief secretary Amit Kiran Deb has cited the lengthy process of coordination that is required among various government departments, as the reason behind the delay in implementing the Act in West Bengal.
Considering the enormity of coordination that is required among various government departments for effective working of the Act, it was not possible for the state government to keep the October 12 deadline. But we are working hard so that the Act comes into effect as soon as possible, Mr Deb said.
Mr RN Das, joint secretary, personnel and administrative reforms department, agreed that no time limit had been prescribed for the appointment of the commission. But we have already appointed information officers in all the 52 government departments, he said.
He admitted that it would take some time for the commission members to be appointed.
Elaborating on the formalities that the state government had to undertake before setting up the commission, he said, Budget sanction to run the commission is an important issue. We need around Rs 20 crore per year as infrastructure and administrative cost. But the process has started and we think it will not take much time.
It is not enough for the state to set up information commissions and appoint information officers. For the common man to exercise his rights effectively, a fair degree of implementation of information technology is also necessary.
Without extensive use of technology, it would mean nothing for the common man. The common man would not be able to exercise his rights if he is not familiar with the procedures involved in eliciting information, Mr Das pointed out.