Right to be informed

Sunday 15 May 2005

Chronology of an uphill struggle in Meghalaya

Police confront activists on M (Credit: P Sohklet)Since 2001, Shillong-based Mait Shaphrang -- a body of people interested in generating a movement on 'positive thinking' and 'intellectual militancy' -- has been demanding a right to information (rti) legislation for Meghalaya . Today, seven local organisations front the initiative. The question they have constantly had to tackle is: Is the state government interested on not?

21 February 2002: Mait Shaphrang meets (then deputy chief minister) D D Lapang to discuss the drafting of a Meghalaya rti bill and clauses to be included. It is not tabled. Mait Shaphrang begins spreading awareness on the need for mrti.

February 2003: New Government elected to power. D D Lapang is now chief minister. First session of the legislative assembly gets over. No mrti.

20 June 2003: The day the Assembly's summer session is to commence. Mait Shaphrang leads a procession to renew their demand. Six people arrested.

August 2003: State government releases a letter from the Centre, saying the Freedom of Information Act, 2002 (foi) has been enacted at the Centre; and that state governments are to widely publicise its provisions, since it casts "an obligation upon all such authorities to grant access to information and to publish certain categories of information...". This letter is dated 10 February 2003. But the state government has released it six months later.

The organisations reject foi: Section 16(4) of the act empowers state governments to exempt, from foi's ambit, any of its specified intelligence or security organisations. Sections 18 and 19 confer on the state authorities the power to make rules so as to carry out the provisions of the act.

15 December 2003: Another mass procession to the assembly is launched. Police descend on it. Throughout the next year, the organisations hold public meetings to popularise their demand.

November 2004: A right to information bill, called the Meghalaya Right to Information Act, 2004 (mrti), is submitted to the government.

1 March 2005: A public meeting is held at Motphran, at the heart of Shillong city. A signature campaign is launched, to resume rti demand on March 11, the day the assembly is about to commence.

10 March 2005: D D Lapang says: "The Meghalaya government was in the final stages of framing its own bill, but...we had to delay the process."

11 March, 2005: Police stall a mass procession to the assembly. Subsequently, D D Lapang offers to meet a delegation of 'six or seven people'. At the meeting he tells delegates the new Central Right to Information Act is still in the process of being made. Thus, foi cannot be repealed. He is told he will have the people's support if he goes ahead and introduces mrti. He assures he will send officers to the Centre to find out if it is possible for s state to have a law of its own.

On the same day, the Meghalaya governor declares to the state assembly: "...the state government is committed to implementing [ foi] in Meghalaya as soon as the initial rules are framed by the Central Government and notified in the official Gazette".

31 March 2005: The seven organisations are invited by the government to try and work together on a new bill. They agree, but ask for a commitment that government will table it. The government replies they will wait for a response from the Centre.

April 13, 2005: Mait Shaphrang calls a 12-hour bandh in Shillong to protest chief minister's refusal to commit.

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