A Workshop Report on ‘Right to Information’ Act, 24 July 2006, Hyderabad, India

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The Right to Information (RTI) Act which came into force from October 2005 signals an important change in the process of governance in India. The present act provides ample opportunities to make governance transparent, though India is late in initiating it as an institutional device to make people’s right to know.

A workshop on ‘Right to Information’ was held at University of Hyderabad on 24th July 2006, that was organised by Academic Staff College. The Vice-Chancellor, Syed E. Hasnain, University of Hyderabad, presided the session.

In the first session, the Chief Information Commissioner, Government of India,  Wajahat Habibullah delivered inaugural address as a chief guest. He stated that private institutions that were substantially funded by the government and those governed by Indian laws were liable to be covered under the Right to Information Act.  RTI Act was one of the most radical pieces of legislation, which was instrumental to strengthen the governance. He said that enormous awareness should be created to empower people to reap the benefits of the Act. He also mentioned that the success of the Act depends upon whether people wanted good governance and were ready to participate in the process of governance. He made it clear that the RTI should not be an instrument for humiliating the Government. The Act propagates an invitation to all to actively participate in governance. He pointed out that ‘weakening the Act will be akin to weakening ourselves’. He emphasised that NGOs and media should take up task of spreading awareness about it. State Chief Information Commissioner (CIC), CD Arha while delivering the keynote address, said the Act was pro-development. He said it was important for government employees not to view the RTI Act as an adverse legislation that would affect their interests or functioning. The CIC underscored that this RTI Act would bring a ‘transparency revolution’ in the functioning of the government bodies. The session ended with several questions and answers concerning RTI Act and health sector.

The second session was chaired by former professor and Head of  the Department of law, Osmania University, V Negeswar Rao. The discussants were R Venkent Rao, principal of University college of law, Andhra Pradesh, M Sridhar, principal of Nalsar and  G B Reddy, principal, College of Law Osmania University. In that session the legal foundation of Right to Information Act was discussed.

The third session was on RTI and Good Governance. Former Vice-Chairman of AP Minorities Commission, F D Vakil, who chaired the session, stated that RTI ensured enlightenment. M Narayana Rao, Director General of MCR institute of Human Resource Development, opined that RTI Act was a key that could open many doors of government. P K Mohanty, Director of Centre for Good Governance, Hyderabad stated that e-Governance, good governance and RTI jointly constituted a powerful tool which could promote governance.

H Natarajan, Sr. Partner of Harisson, Hyderabad, gave an industry perspective of RTI. He talked on how much industry per se could be affected by RTI Act. He said country like India is very strong in legislation and weak in implementation. The discussions in this session gave a closer perspective on RTI in building a good governance.

The next session captured the theme of implementation issues involved in RTI Act. Founder of Loksatta and Vote India, Jayprakash Narayan, explored various issues involved in RTI Act. He said that it is an outstanding law. Deputy Director of The Hindu, Siddarth Varadarajan stated that this RTI Act had to join up with various other laws existing in the country for the proper implementation. He shared some of his experiences concerning RTI. Dileep Reddy, Information Commissioner of Government of Andhra Predesh spoke on the official secrecy and RTI Act.

In the valedictory session,  Rambrahmam, Director, Academic Staff College, presented a brief report on the proceedings and overview of workshop. Justice Bilal Nazki, Andhra Pradesh High Court, presided the session and told that it was a very good beginning, but the process should evolve. Kamal Kumar, Director, SVP National Police Academy, as Chief Guest delivered the valedictory address and said that RTI as a regime was gaining ground in India. This  would make information for the people and would create an open regime of functioning of government. It would definitely substantiate a participatory governance. He said the Act is citizen centric and progressive in outlook. g

Report prepared by : Dipsikha Sahoo

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