Enabling the right to information in Nagaland

Wonchi V. Patton

The structure of any democratic nation is built on a foundation based on its actions and reactions to public activity and public tolerance. Information as a resource is fundamental in determining the course of bringing about this active citizenship and re-asserting democratic ideals of people participation and public interest. 

In this era of ‘rights’, the free flow of information remains crucial in enabling responses constructive to the process of maintaining or developing our social, political, cultural and economic rights. 

The access to information as a right is one such development wherein the language of ‘rights’ has been used to give more power and legality to the citizens in accessing what is known as a public good.

Democracy only runs when people participate. To ensure this participation, citizens need to know what the government is doing, how they are doing, for whom and why. The government on their part needs to ensure that the citizens are well aware and well-informed. In this way both parties could ensure that each does its job efficiently. 

Nagaland has a history of not so very successful experiences when it comes to, say, project-scheme implementation and economic packages utilization. It has an even sorry tale to tell when it comes to maintenance of public utility services like transport and communication, electricity and water supply. Case in point, the situation in the State capital Kohima. 

And we all wonder… trust me, rocket scientists or not, we all have certain pressing questions regarding the way our government functions, regarding our terribly, horrible road condition, regarding our very sad and slow progression to excellence and all that.

Now there arises a possibility or a realization that we as a democratic society aspire to enable a healthy and progressive environment in which to live.  

And it is very true when we say many of us remain pretty concerned about the state of affairs in the State. We are aware of what’s going on and what is not going on; what’s lacking and what’s in abundance. Many of us know.

Now the question arises, what are we doing about it? How do we, as responsible citizens, act? How does the law of the land equip you to tackle these situations? What can be done?

This is where legislation like RTI comes in handy. RTI provides us with the perfect mechanism to ensure active people participation. 

RTI or the Right to Information Act came into effect all over India on the 12th of October, 2005. The Right to Information is basically a manifestation of the fundamental right guaranteed to the citizens of India under Ar 19 (1) of the Constitution of India which states that every citizen has freedom of speech and expression. This act lays down the various processes by which we could access government documents, samples of governmental projects or any such information which is not endangering to the safety and security of the nation.

RTI enables a citizen to have free and full access to official information with respect to matters of state and governance. It is derivative of the larger framework of the rights rhetoric in a global democratic set-up and is asking of transparency and accountability in the governmental system. For the bureaucrats, it is one tool to maintain the status of ‘good governance’. For the general public, it empowers them to act out their democratic role of governing themselves by ensuring that developmental projects are carried out and progressive schemes implemented in a proper and systematized manner. 

RTI holds within its purview the obligation to disclose and disseminate information pertaining to public interest from governmental agencies even when not solicited. RTI gives us the power to ask relevant questions and seek convincing information.

It enables us to identify loopholes in governmental procedures. It enables us to locate the discrepancies in the system. It has the ability to give us the properly metalled roads we all dream of. It could provide us with a cleaner and healthier environment. It could ensure that licenses and permits are granted to the right people; that funds disbursed and schemes implemented are in place and in tune with public sentiments and aspirations. 

Unlike other legislations, RTI has been dubbed a very ‘people-friendly’ and ‘effective’ legislation more so because it is a very easy tool and accessible by everyone. 

For any legislation to be effective, it is imperative for us citizens to realize that we live in a democratic society. We are the ones electing our leaders to power. We have the mandate. We have the power. In a society like ours, we, the people are the ones responsible for the fate of our own existence. If we don’t act on our rights and insist on an honest and effective administration, no one will.

Remember, any information pertaining to public policy is an accessible good and every citizen has the right to be furnished with that information on demand.   

Information is power. Think about it.

(patton.wonchi@gmail.com)