Might of the right

Under public pressure, the Rajasthan government has formed a committee to examine the implications of the people's demand for the right to information

 
By Himanshu Thakkar
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

ON MAY 15, after 40 days of the Majdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan's (MKSS) dharna (sit-in protest) for people's right to information (Down To Earth, Vol 4, No 24), the Rajasthan government at last bowed to mounting public pressure and constituted a five-member committee headed by the additional chief secretary Arun Kumar, to look into the implications of the MKSs' demands and submit its report within two months.

The five-member team also includes the MKSS sympathiser, V S Vyas, director of the Institute of Development Studies, Jaipur, who mediated with the administration while the dharna was on. Thus, the struggle of the Rajasthan villagers for the right to photocopy documents like bills, vouchers and muster-rolls related to village development projects has garnered more strength.

Earlier, after two years of sustained campaign by the MKSS, the state government, by an order of April 6 1996 - the day the MKSs dharna began in Beawar in Ajmer district - gave the people the right to inspect development- related documents. However, the MKSS, dissatisfied with the order as it did not allow them the right to photocopy the documents, continued their dharna and later shifted it to Ajmer and later to the state capital Jaipur.

The MKss had accused the Rajashthan chief minister Bhairon Singh Shekhawat of going back on his words of April 5, 1995, when he had announced on the floor of the state assembly that the people would enjoy the right to inspect and photocopy development- related documents to have a better understanding of the welfare projects in the state.

Within days of shifting the dharna to Jaipur, the government relented. The formation of the committee was accompanied by an announcement by the government, that there was no question of the latter going back on the stand taken by Shekhawat on April 5, 1995. The government statement of May 14, 1996, also said that if there are practical difficulties in granting the right to photocopy documents, the committee shall look for ways to solve the impasse.

Kavita Srivastava, an MKss activist, told Down To Earth, "The timebound commitment and this significant announcement gives hope that the people will get their right. In ihe meantime, we will utilise the April 6, 1996, order which allows us to inspect the documents, and systematically expose the fraud going on in the name of village development works."

The government press release recommended the need for such orders in other states too. The MKSS press release said that this right should be legalised through an information bill, and that the Madhya Pradesh government has already initiated the process of drafting such a bill.

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