12 Oct : The 4th Annual Convention on RTI got under way here today. President of India, Smt. Pratibha Devisingh Patil inaugurated the two-day Convention organized by CIC. The theme for this year’s convention is “Strengthening Right to Information”. In her inaugural address, the President said that for assessing deliverability, the citizens need information about how their government is functioning. RTI gives to each individual citizen the means to question and to get answer. The Act has in a way created a virtual “Parliament of People” where every citizen through a simple method can seek information authorities, she added. The President further said that RTI can be instrumental in bringing about improvements in the public service, delivery systems and mechanisms. She said that rights given under RTI Act are extensive and therefore it is important that there is a deep sense of responsibility while exercising them.
Minister of State for Personnel, Public Grievances & Pensions, Shri Prithiraj Chavan in his remarks said that in the first four years of this law the Government has been ably supported by different stakeholders like the information seekers, civil society, media, the Information Commissioners and the Information Providers. This has helped achieve the aim of the government to inculcate a culture of transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority and to secure access to information to all its citizens.
He further said that the Government undertook massive training and sensitization programme, which were organized both by the government itself as well as in collaboration with the civil society organizations. These efforts were supplemented by the State Governments. Shri Chavan said the Government initiated an independent study to understand the key issues and constraints in using this powerful tool, realizing that the Central Government itself will not be able to fully appreciate the practical difficulties at the ground level.
The Minister said that the Government last year launched a centrally sponsored Plan scheme to strengthen the working of the State Information Commissions. This involved building capacity of various stakeholders, propagating RTI, making interventions in the educational medium and setting up a National Resource Centre for RTI. The Planning Commission has given an ‘in-principle’ approval for extending the scheme to cover IT interventions/E-governance for RTI which would address the issues on both the demand and supply side through the use of technology. This he felt would help us in extending awareness to the remotest corners of the country.
Shri Chavan said, our experience has now prepared us to attempt further strengthening of the RTI Act by initiating some legislative changes. These would be in the nature of making the RTI Act more user friendly, trying to put more information in the public domain and removing some legal infirmities. He further said that a consultation with the Chief Information Commissioners and Information from the Centre and State Commissions, has been planned for October 14 in which Civil Society organizations working in this field will also be involved in discussion stage.
Shri Wajahat Habibullah, Chief Election Commissioner, in his welcome address said that the RTI Act has given India a model democracy and the Supreme Court has ruled that it is a part of fundamental rights under Article 19(1) of the Constitution. He further said that following the Indian law, some neighbouring countries like Nepal and Bangladesh have also moved towards freedom of information for its citizens.
The two-day convention is being attended by representatives of civil society and media both from within the country and from SAARC countries. The deliberations are expected to produce documents of contemporary as well as long term relevance to South Asia. Technical Sessions are being chaired by Justice Sri Madan B. Lokur, High Court of Delhi, Ms. Medha Patkar, Sri Sanjay Baru, Sri Wajahat Habibullah, Chief Information Commissioner and Sri A.N. Tiwari, Shri M.M. Ansari both Information Commissioner, Central Information Commission.
The deliberations of each of the technical sessions are aimed at bringing about the insight on the current issues of the Act and its mapping to the theory and practices of the Right to information.