The Right to Information (RTI) Act came into being in 2005 and was implemented from the very next year. It was the outcome of a tionwide campaign led by grassroots level and civil society organizations in India for such a law that would eble citizens to demand information relating to the functioning of all government departments and some other organizations when such information was deemed to be essential mainly in tackling different forms of corrupt practices in such departments and organizations. In the matter of just one decade the tion has seen how powerful the RTI Act has been in providing information about organizations and government departments bedevilled by corrupt practices. The RTI Act has been regarded as a landmark legislation that has ebled citizens to exercise their rights in the matter of eliciting vital information that had hitherto been denied to the public. The RTI Act has ebled citizens to exercise their legal right to information and thereby to ensure the kind of transparency and accountability that makes corrupt practices in administration more difficult than they were in the past when citizens were in no position to demand information related to government departments and some other organizations.
The impact of the RTI Act in Assam has not been up to the expectations of the people. This is because the RTI Act has not been used to its full potential in the State compared to what is happening in the other States of India. In Assam, only a handful of people, confined to particular section, have been taking advantage of the RTI Act. According to Assam Information Commission sources, 80 per cent of the total RTI applications received by the Commission were filed by the same section of people year after year. Of the total RTI applications received by the Commission only five per cent were filed by women. In Assam most of the RTI cases were filed to extract information about different departments of the State government, but not a single RTI application has been filed by any person seeking information on on-going Central government schemes in Assam. However, this is unlikely to be the reason why most people might regard the RTI Act as being ineffective in eliciting vital information. What is beginning to happen is that many government departments have discovered a simple way of skirting around the provisions of the RTI Act or of delaying matters. This is a plain and simple refusal to abide by the time limits set within the provisions of the RTI Act. What happens or is likely to happen with greater frequency is that even the enthusiastic citizens are likely to lose interest in pursuing RTI cases that have great bearing on matters of public interest or human rights if the departments concerned resort to delaying tactics. It is indeed fortute that we have a section of people who are enthusiastic enough to file RTI cases even though such cases may not relate to their persol interests alone. Even if 80 per cent of the RTI cases are filed by the same section of people, we should have reasons to feel satisfied that such an alert and vigilant section of citizens exists in our society. They have realized how powerful a tool the RTI Act can be, and given a few more years, this awareness is bound to spread to a larger section of the people. That is when the RTI Act can become a very potent weapon in the hands of citizens. What is important at this point of time, before people have realized the full potential of the RTI Act, is that government departments should not conspire to delay action on RTI Act cases. At the same time, it is important that there should be RTI applications also seeking information on the progress of Central government schemes in Assam.