Citizens' role needed to make IT Act prosper

NEW DELHI JUNE 26. This is one area where Delhi seems to be taking the lead. Even though the average person is still unaware of his or her right to information, the Capital is better off than six other States where the Act has come into effect.

``In comparison to the other States, Delhi is certainly better off. But the situation is far from ideal. Karnataka is also almost at par with Delhi. However, the awareness level in Karnataka is mainly restricted to big cities like Bangalore. In villages, people don't know that they can get information. Delhiites need to be made more aware for the Act to really become effective,'' says Mrinal Ojha, a lawyer at the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative.

Judging by the numbers, there needs to be much more citizen participation for the Right to Information Act to really become effective. Since the Act came into effect in October 2001, a total of 1,083 applications had been received by governmental departments by March 2003 out of which 1,030 have been disposed of.

The Municipal Cooperation of Delhi (MCD) received 151 applications during this period out of which information was given to 142 applicants. Co-operative Societies under the Delhi Government got 169 applications and information was provided in 141 cases. Interestingly, the erstwhile Delhi Vidyut Board (DVB), got the most number of queries from citizens -- 259 -- and all of them were disposed of with information.

While information is given in almost every case, there is no check on the quality of information. "We cannot tell at this stage whether the applicant was satisfied with the information he got. But as the Act is still new, people are not very clear on how to frame questions correctly. But with the Act becoming more popular this is a problem that will get solved,'' claims Mr. Ojha.

Though the onus of implementing the right rests on civil society, often the attitude of governmental employees also hampers the efficiency of the Act. "The Act provides that information should be made available within 15 days and maximum within 30 days. But employees tend to delay giving information. The penalty for delay is also not levied on them,'' he claimed.

The biggest obstacle in the way of this Act being used frequently is the fee structure. "The fee is just too high. A normal application fee to get information is Rs. 50. For commercial information, the price is Rs. 500 and Rs. 5 is charged per page of information. The Delhi Government agreed in principle that the fee should be lowered, but nothing has happened so far,'' he rued.

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