Sunday, December 6, 2009

Open up to People

It is an established fact that the basic reason behind the Northeast having turned into a veritable crucible of insurgency and terrorism, and its continued backwardness, is bad governance. Successive State governments of every State in the region have failed to deliver the goods as they have collectively put in place a corrupt regime. And since a corrupt regime cannot function in an atmosphere of openness, the governments have taken meticulous care, with a willing bureaucracy in tow, to seal all avenues of information about governance and administration. In fact, till as recently as the eighties, the government would treat even simple information on as simple a matter as appointment, transfer or posting of its employees as ‘classified’! Journalists would have a harrowing time getting the right information from the government on every matter of public concern. It is not for nothing that it was during this period that all developmental activities had stopped, insurgent groups of various hues raised their heads, while total anarchy and chaos prevailed in the administration. And as is the case in such situations of bad governance, political corruption too reached a feverish pitch, what with parties and leaders changing colours overnight only to cling on to the purse strings and the lie-machine of the government. But as Karl Marx had said once, human ingenuity is such that it would find a way out for itself in the most difficult of circumstances. And so the Government of India had had to legislate on the right of the people to information and create a statutory apparatus for it. This was a great achievement of the people of India and in whose success the media played a no mean role. Thus, today we have an RTI regime in place through which every citizen can demand to know and get information on any matter related to governance and administrative decisions and actions. Or at least that is how the citizen has been empowered under the RTI Act.

But unfortunately, the governments of the Northeast still seem to suffer from the hangover of the corrupt, secretive regime as they seek to defeat the very purpose of the RTI Act by devious means. In several states, information commissioners have been appointed on ad hoc basis, they do not have full-fledged offices and secretarial staff, and not many departments have identified their information officers to whom the citizen could file a petition. This apart, the government has done precious little to create awareness among the people about the RTI Act. It is the media, the NGOs and concerned individuals who have had to play that role with their limited resources and reach. It was only on Friday that Meghalaya Chief Minister DD Lapang tabled the annual report of the State Information Commission in the State Assembly, and the report makes the startling revelation that as many as 31 departments did not furnish any information sought for by citizens! Is it not time for the civil society in every State of the Northeast to assert itself and make the government implement the RTI Act in its letter and spirit? The government could be given a deadline by which the entire apparatus for smooth operation of the Act is put in place and the required funds for creating awareness among the people, particularly in rural areas, about it is earmarked. The governments of the Northeast must realize that no society could call itself civilized if the government acts in a hush-hush manner and it is there only for itself. This is the very antithesis of democracy, and therefore, anti-people. Such regimes have no place in a democracy. THE SENTINEL

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