20 Years of the Right to Information Movement

On Sunday, celebrations were held to commemorate the 44-day dharna in Beawar, which culminated in the passing of the RTI Act.

Beawar, Rajasthan:

Twenty years ago, in a small dusty town in Rajasthan called Beawar, a people's movement was launched to fight against corruption. This dharna, which went on for 44 days, ultimately resulted in the Right to Information Act in 2005, which now allows every citizen to get information and access government records.

But those who started the Right to Information Movement say it is still a struggle to get the government to stick to its promise of providing transparency.

On Sunday, celebrations were held to commemorate the 44-day dharna in Beawar, which lies midway on the highway between Jodhpur and Jaipur.

Talking about his struggle, Kesar Singh, a former army man, said he joined the movement when he retired from the army and came home. Asking for government records before RTI was passed was a huge struggle, he said, and added when you finally accessed records it opened up a Pandora's Box.

"There is so much corruption to be found if you uncover records. Where there should be payments for tractors there you will find camel carts; in some instances sarpanches take wages in the name of dead people," he said.

Sushila Devi, an RTI activist from Ajmer district, said after RTI became an act, government officials have become scared.

"Now officials are scared. They think if they do something worng it can be uncovered even five years from now. Because now there are people empowered to ask for information," said Ms Devi.

But others who have been part of the movement say there is still a long way to go. Nikhil Dey of the Right to Information Campaign said, "Governments are still not serious about implementing the act."

The Chief Information Commissioner's (CIC) post at the Centre has been vacant since 2014. The backlog of appeals and complaints pending with the CIC office is over 25,000 applications.

In many states, non-functioning of information commissions leads to a huge backlog of appeals.

According to the Right to Information Movement, even today, 10 year after the act was passed, people have to wait for long periods of time to access information.

At the current levels of pendency and rate of disposal, an appeal filed today with, for example, the Madhya Pradesh State Information Commission (SIC) would be taken up for consideration only after 60 years, while it would take 17 years in West Bengal, making a mockery of the law that promised information to every citizen within 30 days.

"We have to stop them from diluting the law and keep to the tenet that is they will maintain records, maintain minutes... We want a paper trail because a paper trail cannot be tampered with," said Aruna Roy, Magasaysay award winner, and one a moving force behind the movement.