campaign for right to information in India has its genesis in Rajasthan
led by the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan. MKSS's struggle and its
success made the issue more public at the national level. After
that, numerous groups and individuals have taken up the issue and
have led a campaign for this right both at the national and state
levels. They have campaigned not only for this right to be guaranteed
in legislation, but also for the practical implementation of the
right at the grassroots level.
Kisan Shakti Sangathan
first major step forward in the history of the freedom of information
movement in India was spearheaded by Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan
(MKSS) in Rajasthan that forced the state government to pass the
right to information Act in 1997. The MKSS, led by Aruna Roy, was
a people's movement that began at the grassroots but reverberations
were felt across the whole country. It was a movement by peasants
and workers that demanded social audit of accounts in the villages
and thereby exposed the corruption at the lower levels of administration.
Their campaign for right to information has been effectively linked
to the livelihood issues of the rural person and is deeply rooted
in the struggles and concerns of survival and justice of the most
disadvantaged rural people. MKSS's demand for right to information
arose from the demand to get minimum wages and check rampant corruption
by inspection of muster rolls and bill vouchers. They employed a
direct technique to fight for the right to information, namely,
the use of jan sunwais or public hearings.
Campaign on People's Right to Information
success of MKSS had its impact all over India and at all sections
of the society. The MKSS advocacy gave rise to a National
Campaign on People's Right to Information (NCPRI), which was
formed as a support group for the MKSS and to do advocacy on right
to information at a national level. Although as a group it has not
been highly active or aggressive, the presence of senior and respected
media persons, serving and retired bureaucrats and members of the
bar and judiciary in the committee make it an important nodal body.
Constituted in 1996 in New Delhi, its main objectives are to provide
active support to grassroots struggles for right to information;
assistance in critical review of rules and executive instructions
for the right to information, capacity building and support to citizens'
groups to exercise the right to information; and demystification
of government programmes, laws and policies including technical
documents in order to make them comprehensible to people.
have also been smaller groups and movements struggling for various
causes who have invoked the Right to Information in their campaign.
Recently in the heart of India's capital, Parivartan, a non government
Delhi-based organisation has launched a campaign to promote transparency
in the public distribution system in Sundernagri, a resettlement
colony in East Delhi. Parivartan
is a group of citizens who are extremely disturbed with the present
levels of corruption and an absolute absence of governance in the
country and are working towards altering this situation. It consists
of people from all walks of life including lawyers, journalists,
artists, doctors, government servants etc.
Association for Democratic Reforms
Association for Democratic Reforms based in Ahmedabad in Gujarat
seeks to bring transparency in elections and makes an attempt to
cleanse the electoral system. In a run up to the Gujarat polls in
2002, this group launched an Election Watch Experiment wherein its
members collected and gave wide publicity to the background of candidates
collected from affidavits filed under "The Representation of
the People Act Amendment ordinance" which was in force at that
time. The organisation is responsible for the court cases which
resulted in the voter's right to know being declared a fundamental
right by the Supreme Court. The latest judgement of the apex court
makes it mandatory for every candidate to file five affidavits at
the time of filing nominations. Taking cue from the success of the
experiment in Gujarat, Delhi Election Watch, a coalition of concerned
citizens and civil society groups is conducting a similar exercise
aimed at informing the largest number of people on the Supreme Court
judgment about the voters' fundamental right to know who they are
voting for; persuading political parties through public pressure
not to field candidates with criminal backgrounds; and getting people
who do not normally vote, to cast their votes; and cast them wisely
and well. This is keeping in mind the elections in Delhi in December
struggle of Anna Hazare, a Gandhian from Ralegaon Siddhi village,
85 kms from Pune in Maharashtra, who gave a clarion call to root
out corruption is no less significant. The Maharashtra Government
had taken steps to introduce their own RTI Act in 2000 but repealed
it in favour of a more powerful Right to Information Ordinance in
September 2002 due to growing pressure by the civil society groups.
Since the Ordinance was going to lapse, the Maharashtra Government
made efforts to convert it into an Act but even after its passage
by both the houses of the assembly the Act was lying with the Centre
for consideration. Amongst Shri Anna's list of demands from the
Maharashtra Government was the immediate passage of this Right to
Information law and action against officials for serious charges
of corruption. He went on a fast unto death till his demands were
met. His main aim is to bring transparency in the governing structure.
He was able to stop his fast when the Central Government finally
took notice of his demand and the President gave his consent to
the Maharashtra RTI Act in August 2003.
Centre (PAC), Bangalore, is dedicated to the cause of improving
the quality of governance in India. PAC and CHRI together launched
an 'Implemenation Audit' to test the working of the Karnataka Right
to Information Act. For more information on this please click here.
Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative's Campaign
on Right to Information, go to the workshop page.