Other than the exercise of appointing Public Information Officers (PIO) and the State Information Commissioners, not much headway has been made in terms of the Right to Information Act here in Nagaland. Awareness level remains abysmally low. One problem appears to be the absence of advocacy groups, who can sustain a mass campaign to inform, educate and communicate the usability of this powerful legislation. It has to be understood that for the RTI campaign to move forward in Nagaland, public participation will remain fundamental. Along with this, what is required are advocacy groups and one which remains independent and people centered to be able to act as the agents for change.
To take the inspiring example of Rajasthan, rightly acknowledged as the birth place of the RTI movement, the Mazdoor Kisaan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) has led the way. The MKSS, born in 1990, began with a small group of committed citizens and today it is a massive grassroots organisation that grew out of a local struggle for minimum wages. People in Rajasthan have always had difficulty getting paid the minimum wage. Politicians would always promise to secure the minimum wage in return for votes. However, these promises never translated into lasting change and, over time, campaigners realized that they had to obtain the relevant documentation, in particular the muster rolls. The right to information and the right to survive (minimum wages) thus became united in peoples’ minds. This was an important ‘point’ to help generate greater public interest in the RTI campaign.
In the context of Nagaland, a beginning therefore has to be made in a small way by committed citizens and focusing on a few concrete issues to start off with like the MKSS did on the problem of minimum wages. Besides, advocacy on the right to information has been addressed most effectively in the rural areas of India, where peoples’ movements have shown how information can empower common people in their daily lives. One area that can generate the much needed public interest here in Nagaland is on the development front. Seeking information on the huge funds pouring in the name of development and demanding to look at the records (bills and vouchers) on how this money is being utilized can now become a reality if only people start using this phenomenal ‘right to information’. This should ‘check’ the siphoning off by fraudulent means of public money by corrupt politicians and bureaucrats. As stated through a powerful message by RTI Activist Preeti Sampat, during a participatory workshop at Dimapur on October 12, “Our Money Our Account, The Right to Know; the Right to Live”.
Significantly, even as the Right to Information (RTI) Act completed one year of its existence on Thursday, October 12, the one day participatory workshop organized by PANOS, South Asia and The Morung Express was able to conclude that as far as Nagaland goes, it rates poorly when it comes to public awareness and advocacy of the RTI Act. Several suggestions were put forward including greater public awareness of the Act; need to initiate advocacy groups specifically for RTI and taking up certain concrete issues to start the ball rolling. A spark is therefore required to push forward the movement for freedom of information in Nagaland. And this will not come from the government or the Information Commissioners but only through the active participation of citizens themselves. The task itself will require patience and persistence as the RTI Act is about a new approach and changing mindset. But the struggle has to begin now.