Unable to live up to the expectations of transparency, accountability, democratic governance and ‘the practical regime of right to information for citizens’ and longing for the good old days of red tape bureaucracy and easy corruption, several State Governments have sought to amend the Right to Information (RTI)Act in an effort to curtail its power. The Bihar State Government is notoriously janus-faced about it. While it pays glorious lip service to its ‘power-to-the-people’ potential, it makes alterations to key sections of the bill with the sole purpose of rendering it into a damp squib.
The 2009 amendments
The 2009 RTI Amendments in Bihar prescribe a 150 word limit for filing an RTI.
Only a single piece of information can be accessed by a single application. This increases both the cost (every application costs Rs. 10/-) and substantially increases the paperwork involved.
Previously, the people in the BPL (Below Poverty Line) category were supposed to have free access to information. Not it has been reduced to a mere ten pages.
Corruption in the Information Office
While the 2009 amendments have made it increasingly difficult for the public to access information from the state and state bodies, it is the corruption within the Information Department itself that is defeating the system.
The State Information Officer has acquired a notorious reputation of sweeping damning information under the carpet. Key posts in the information offices are lying empty. Officials who withhold information are left scott free without the prescribed fines and penalties.
Assault, Harassment and Murder
The Wikipedia page on threats received by RTI activists (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attacks_on_RTI_activists_in_India) records atleast 2 individuals who were murdered in Bihar for filing an RTI. Cases of harassment and assault are routine. There has been a rising trend of RTI petitioners who are booked and jailed under false cases.
The current Bihar Government bandies its mantra of ‘good governance’ at press conferences and election rallies. Community Correspondent Ajeet Bahadur calls it an expensive and effective PR exercise. Not all in well in today’s Bihar, he says. “The state keeps manufacturing the good news. They love it, the newspapers love it, the people love it. There’s been an excess of good news recently.”
“But information, it seems, is very bad news.”