GUWAHATI, Nov 21 - The RTI is the most potent tool in the hands of the common man to effect some desired changes in the manner the government machinery functions and also to check corruption. It is also imperative that this powerful instrument is judiciously used with an eye on achieving greater public good.
This was observed by Chief Information Commissioner of Assam HS Das while addressing a seminar-cum-workshop on RTI organized by the Assam State Information Commission at Srimanta Sankardev Kalakshetra today.
Das said that in �the post-truth world dominated by social media where half-truth and falsehood are plentiful�, the RTI assumed all the more importance in obtaining the correct information from the government authorities.
In the context of Assam, Das said, the use of the RTI had been low compared to the national average and that called for a concerted campaign for popularizing the RTI as an effective recourse to address public grievances. He added that another conspicuous trend in restricting the RTI to obtain personalized information was also negating its effectiveness in addressing larger issues of public interest.
�Often, the RTI is used to obtain information that have little to do with public good whereas its chief use lies in ensuring transparency and accountability in public offices and checking corruption. In my tenure of almost five years, I have never received any application concerning the NRC updating exercise, running of illegal syndicates, so-called witch hunting, etc.,� he said.
The very low percentage of woman applicants constituting barely two per cent of the total number of applicants was another concern, he said, adding that this needed to improve.
�Given the high rate of crime against women and social evils like witch-hunting, we ought to have more women at the forefront of the RTI movement,� Das said. He also urged the government departments to streamline the RTI response from them through proper updating and documentation of records. �There is also a misplaced notion that private establishments like schools and hospitals are not under the RTI Act�s ambit but information about them can be obtained through the government-appointed regulatory authorities,� he said.
Giving an account of the State Information Commission�s functioning, Das said that during the past five years, it had managed to bring down the pendency of applications to 1,200 from the earlier 8,000 � something quite satisfactory.
PJ Baruah, Executive Editor of The Assam Tribune who was the chief guest of the event, stressed the need for RTI activists and applicants to be guided by the principle of public interest rather than using it as a tool to settle personal vendetta.
He also said that the Government and its various authorities were often reluctant to disclose information to the public and that was one reason why there had not been any sustained thrust by the Government to popularize the RTI Act.
�Many people in the State are unaware about the RTI Act and its mandate. This lack of dissemination of information on the RTI has hindered its use among the masses. This needs to change, and NGOs too can play a key role in enhancing people�s awareness levels on the RTI,� he said.
Senior journalist DN Chakravartty, in his speech as guest of honour, dwelt on the evolution of the people�s right to question the Government�s functioning since the last few centuries.
State Information Commissioners Nilofar Alom Hazarika and Pinuel Basumatary also addressed the function.
There was also an interactive session with students and RTI activists.