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food for thought

Back in December 2005, there was much embarrassment in Parliament as 10 members from Lok Sabha and one member from Rajya Sabha were expelled for taking cash to put up questions in House. There was much soul searching then about the ethical aspects of raising questions and answering these in good faith in the legislature, a process so intimately connected with public good in our democratic system. In Assam presently, we are seeing the other side of the picture. Members of the Assembly are raising questions, to which the concerned minister in charge of the department is giving incomplete replies. One member asked about land revenue collected and land requisitioned under the Ceiling Act, but the Revenue minister could provide him data for only 18 out of 35 districts. This left the member frustrated, for such a half answer is almost as bad as no answer. Another member asked about the cases registered against IPS officials in the State, but the Home department merely answered that it is still collecting the information! Such tardiness has now prompted Speaker Hitendra th Goswami to ask MLAs to straightaway complain to him of any incomplete reply; he has also directed Secretariat officials to carefully scrutinize departmental replies for any iccuracy and report to him. Surely, this issue needs to be dealt with very seriously. It is an open secret that common citizens nowadays have little hope of getting correct and useful information through RTI queries from State government departments. The official mentality is to sidestep any inconvenient RTI query by unnecessary dawdling or giving obfuscating replies that misrepresent facts, replies which hide more than they reveal. If public representatives also fail to get full and accurate replies to questions of public importance in the Assembly, then it is a worrisome development. The government machinery cannot be allowed to gets away with such undemocratic practice of monopolizing information and keeping it away from the public eye.