Government hopes to suppress crucial information, says Govinda Pillai `Voluntary organisations, media to play a key role'
Thiruvananthapuram: Marxist leader and litterateur P. Govinda Pillai has accused the Central Government of trying to sabotage the Right To Information (RTI) Act. He was inaugurating a State-level seminar on `The RTI Act and citizens' participation in governance' organised by the Sahayi Centre for Collective Learning and Action here on Monday in connection with the silver jubilee of the society for Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA).
Mr. Govinda Pillai said the proposed amendment to the Act was part of a deep-seated conspiracy, involving the bureaucracy and the ruling class, to conceal administrative matters from the public. "By not divulging the notings made by officers on official documents, the Government hopes to suppress crucial information. This is a terrible conspiracy. Participatory democracy becomes impossible if the public is kept in the dark," he said.
Mr. Govinda Pillai called for laws to enable local bodies to handle all the basic responsibilities of the Government at the local level. Pointing out that the literacy rate in Kerala had come down because of the absence of follow- up action, he said local self-government institutions could handle the literacy drive better.
Delivering the keynote address, PRIA president Rajesh Tandon observed that the right to learn, know and question formed the foundation of democracy. "Without these three rights, democracy is meaningless and irrelevant," he added. Mr. Tandon said people's participation was crucial to the success of local governance.
In his presentation, Principal Secretary, Local Self-Government, S.M. Vijayanand said the RTI Act was rarely invoked in Kerala, the first State to incorporate the right to information in the Panchayati Raj Act. "Seven years after the amendment was introduced, only 10 people have invoked the Act, most of them contractors," he said.
"In a State that has won acclaim for its achievements in education, literacy and political consciousness, it is surprising that NGOs, social workers and the media have fought shy of utilising the RTI Act to elicit information," Mr. Vijayanand said.
"It is not enough to provide information, it has to be delivered in the common man's language. That is where voluntary organisations and the media can play a prominent role," he added. State Information Commissioner V.V. Giri said the proposed amendment aimed at suppressing crucial information in official documents would dilute the essence of the RTI Act. He decried the tendency of officials to devise new means to keep information from the public. Chairman of the Indian Council for Gandhian Studies N. Radhakrishnan and director of the State Resource Centre M.A. Karim were among those who spoke.