Report on One-Day Seminar-cum-Workshop at I.T.C. Sonar Bangla, Sheraton Hotel Towers 
Kolkata – 700046 on 28.07.2006

One whole day Seminar-cum-Workshop on “Capacity Building for Access to Information with reference to Right To Information Act, 2005” was held at the Conference Hall named “PALA-III” of  ITC Sonar Bangla  Sheraton Hotel & Towers, Kolkata – 700046 on 28.07.2006.    51 participants besides the officials from ATI joined the Workshop and took part in the proceedings.   All the Additional District Magistrates  (General) and Nodal Officers for the UNDP assisted Project on RTI from 18 districts were invited to join the programme in addition to which representatives from some leading NGOs of Kolkata and districts known to have been working in the area of Right to Information for creation of mass awareness among the common people, as well as some special invitees from Victoria Memorial Hall, Asiatic Society,  Indian Museum were invited to grace the occasion.   The registration for the programme started at 9.30 a.m. and after a break for tea for about 10 minutes the Seminar-cum-Workshop started with Welcome Address from Sri M.L. Bhattacharya, Deputy Director, ATI for 5 minutes from 10.25 a.m. to 10.30 a.m.      After the welcome address was over a film-show of 16 minutes’ duration prepared by ATI covering the theme of Right to Information and highlighting major provisions of the RTI Act, 2005 was screened before the participants.   The story, script and main plot of the film were conceived by the trainee officers belonging to the 2004 batch WBCS (Exe.) cadre while they were undergoing their Foundation Training at ATI from 1st February, 2006 to 3rd June, 2006 and all the roles were played by a group of the said trainees.   The film was unanimously and unequivocally praised by all present in the programme specially by Sri A.K. Bhattacharya, IAS (Retd.), Chief Information Commissioner, West Bengal during his inaugural speech.   He also appreciated the steps so far taken by ATI as the State Implementing Agency for the UNDP assisted Project on the Capacity Building for Access to Information and emphasized the further needs for imparting training to various levels of functionaries including those working in the Municipal Corporations and Municipalities and also for taking appropriate actions for bringing out handbooks, pamphlets and guide books both in English and Bengali for future trainees as well as for a general action towards dissemination and advocacy of the provisions of the Act.

The next speaker for the seminar was Sri A. R. Bandyopadhyay, IAS (Retd.), Ex-Additional Secretary, Government of India who spoke on the subject “Right to Information as a Primary Tool for Good Governance”.   He emphasized the need for effecting an attitudinal change among all classes of stakeholders liable to disseminate information for all levels of common people braking away from the long standing culture of secrecy and control.   He stressed the need for sharing information not only for the sake of creating an informed citizenry, one of the major objectives of the RTI Act but also for the interest of the service providers as timely dissemination of information, as he opined, is liable to put off unjustified pressure and demand upon the public authorities by building up an environment of mutual trust.

Dr. U.N. Biswas, IPS (Retd.), Ex-Additional Director, CBI spoke on the subject “Right to Information – Obligations of Public Servants and Rights of Public  --  A Forensic Presentation” for 45 minutes from 12.00 Noon to 12.45 p.m.    His speech was mainly replete with doubts about the successful implementation of the provisions of the Act in a number of ways.   He was critical about the requirement indicated at the beginning of the Act for cataloguing and indexing of all official documents held by and under control of public authorities which conversely, he felt, to be most important and necessary for providing information to the information requestors readily.   He expressed doubts about how and what length of time it might require for the public authorities to translate this necessity into reality. He also stressed upon the importance and urgency of digitalizing and computerizing data to be made available by the instrumentalities of the Government, self-Government and non-Government organizations to the information requestors.    The speech by Dr. U.N. Biswas was followed by “An overview of the Right to Information Act, 2005” which Sri H.P. Mukhopadhyay, WBCS (Exe.) (Retd.),  a regular guest faculty of ATI very efficiently presented before the participants covering all  facets of the legislation i.e.  RTI Act, 2005.   After lunch break for about a period of 45 minutes two eminent journalists viz.,  Sri Rajat Roy and Sri Subhamoy Chatterjee spoke on the topics “Right to Information for Citizens --  The Basic Impediments”  and “Right to Information and Role of Media” respectively.   Sri Rajat Roy, who works for the TV Channel, Kolkata T. V.,  stressed on the need of involving common men of the locality whenever development programmes are in progress in their areas apprising them threadbare of the details of the schemes, money allotted, expenses actually incurred which he felt would go a long way for implementation of the schemes to the extent of 100% success and in alleviating the commonly generated problems as consequences of mistrust and information gaps.   He demanded immediate abolition of the Official Secrets Act, 1923 which he criticized to be instrumental over years in segregating the service providers from the target beneficiaries only surviving as an iron curtain between the stake holders and common public even after the long lapse of 58 years of Independence.    He also criticized the role of media so far not giving adequate publicity to the objectives and efficacies as have been envisaged in the RTI Act, 2005.    He lamented that media is still adhering to the culture of catering news which are sensational in nature and adjudged saleable to the readers of newspapers and viewers of T.V. Channel.   He highlighted the fact that common people are yet to be properly groomed to become aware of their rights and the ways and means to assert those effectively and he stressed the need for ensuring special initiative to sensitize them and make them aware of their dues as have been emphasized in the new legislation.    He cautioned that this not being done RTI Act, 2005 would meet the same fate as we have seen so far in respect of other legislations for Human Rights and similar welfare endeavours meant for the common people.

Echoing the same sentiment and observation made by Sri Rajat Kumar Roy, Sri Subhamoy Chatterjee, Senior Correspondent, Hindusthan Times expressed his grievance against the media for not doing enough yet to publicise the importance of the RTI Act, 2005   for the benefit of the common public.   He invited attention to the fact that all Government functionaries including the police personnel, the media people and others live in the same social set-up and they have to work collectively as such towards betterment of the environment they live in having the common good will to effect change towards a better tomorrow.    He lamented the fact that efforts are already in the offing at the highest level to bring change in the RTI Act to keep file notings out of the access of information requestors.   He said that if this was allowed to be done the efficacy and purpose of the enactment to a major extent would be castigated.   He further lamented that though there are a good number of well-intentioned people around us there is a vitiated section who form a power lobby to keep alive the culture of obtaining everything by illegal means by way of illegal gratification and he emphasized that RTI Act might be used as a potential weapon to counter this culture of malpractice and bring about a change for transparency and corruption free governance.  

During the Open House Discussion Session  Dr. Ashok Sarkar of Lokakalyan Parishad a very leading NGO working in the area of Right To Information for common people in the districts emphasized upon the importance of pro-active disclosure as has been insisted upon in the Act under Section 4(1) and 4(2)  as the first step  towards implementation of the provisions of the Act.    He further stressed that the method and process of capacity building for access to information should be developed in such a manner and with such positivity in the out look so that all sorts of information may reach grass-root level people living at the remotest corner of Panchayat areas.   He expressed his conviction that by giving due importance to pro-active disclosure, publication of citizens’ charter and establishment of help line positive changes can be effected in the targeted direction.   He stated that there should be some acceleration in the working and roles of media for imparting information about the rights of people within the shortest possible time.  

The ADM (General), Bankura also wanted the media to be pro-active and positive in disclosure of appropriate and reality based information instead of complicating situation by catering camouflaged news, part of which on several occasions have proved to be half-truth.   He observed that if the newspapers and the electronic media would take care to provide précise and correct information about the development schemes during the crisis situations many problems might be solved readily and the half informed and even ill-informed people would not have to rush to Administration to strengthen the ongoing crisis and slow down the process of implementation and crisis management activities.    He requested NGOs  and media to play their role to help administration by criticizing service providers  particularly the Government and Panchayat functionaries in the positive and constructive manner and guiding people to come  forward  to help administration with appropriate information.   

Reacting on this Sri Rajat Roy admitted that there was truth in what was stated by the ADM (General) and in tune with his statements he criticized the media for working mostly with commercial intents, giving more emphasis to boost up the sale of their commodity than catering reality based news.

The District Magistrate, Hooghly raised the following questions :--

  1. How one information requestor sending his application for information through electronic means i.e. by e-mail would be required to pay the requisite fee of Rs. 10/- which he has to pay by way of Court Fee Stamp as per provision laid down in the RTI Rules of the State?

  2. Whether information requested to be supplied from several sources not covered in one place would have to be collected, compiled and supplied thereafter?

  3. Whether the SPIO would be held responsible for providing information, which is not available within his official authority?

  4. Whether the money collected from the information requestors could be retained with SPIO or the establishment he belongs to?

  5. Whether money would have to be refunded to the information requestors if the information requested for cannot be provided?

  6. If the money collected has to be deposited in the Government Account and what would be the Head of Account under which the money would have to be deposited?

  7. Whether SPIOs would have to be designated at the Gram Panchayat (GP) levels and whether the District Magistrate had anything to do to designate officers?

  8. He also wanted to know how fund provisions could be met for the preliminary and immediate expenditure for providing information when requested and whether the Government was considering about providing support in terms of money and staff for the substantial workload that the SPIOs, SAPIOs and the Appellate Authority would have to deal with.  

Replies to the queries of the District Magistrate, Hooghly were provided by the Nodal Officer, SIA except the query no.  1 for which it was decided that reference would be made to the Government.  Also it was decided that the issue relating to the fund requirement and staff support would also be referred to the Government for active consideration.

Sri Dipak Sanyal, IAS (Retd.), who attended the programme as a special invitee spoke on the occasion and stated that though the legislation in the area of Right to Information was a relatively new one in our country, in the global perspective initiative  for providing scope and right for access to information to citizens had a long tradition and history, common people showing exemplary interest and activity in making use of their rights in relatively small and newly independent countries all over the world.   He expressed hope that RTI Act, 2005 would also be successfully implemented in our country, but cautioned that collective efforts, common good-will and serious approach towards addressing the preliminary impediments that may come in the way would how to be ensured at all levels, particularly at the levels of the multi-stake holders and service providers.

The programme ended with a Vote-of-Thanks by Dr. Arabinda Ghosh, Deputy Director, ATI.

The Seminar-cum-Workshop was covered by Kolkata Door Darshan and AIR, Kolkata.

         Sd/- Gautam Sengupta

        [ GAUTAM  SENGUPTA ]