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Farmer leader wins RTI award in Assam
GUWAHATI, NOV 28:
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Published on 28 Nov. 2009 10:57 PM IST
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Assams most influential farmer leader Akhil Gogoi has bagged the National RTI award. Gogoi was chosen for his outstanding contribution to the RTI movement. He was among 19 finalists selected from nearly 5,000 nominations from across the country. He will receive Rs 2 lakh in cash, a trophy and a citation. ‘’This is an award for the people of Assam. This is a recognition for our struggle and we shall continue to work for the society,’’ Gogoi, Secretary of the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samity (KMSS), said. The prestigious National RTI Awards have been instituted by Public Cause Research Foundation (PCRF) in 2009. The foundation was set up in December, 2006 by Magsaysay awardee Arvind Kejirwal, former journalist Manish Sisodia and TV producer and writer Abhinandan Sekhri to ensure that the society becomes more inclusive and real power rests with the common people. To this end, Kejriwal donated the prize money of his Magsaysay award as corpus fund to PCRF. The foundation works to collect, research, analyse and disseminate information about various aspects of governance to ensure that rules and laws are enacted and enforced and policies implemented. For this, PCRF uses the RTI Act extensively and promotes awareness of the Act. Mr Gogoi has exposed scandal in the Public Distribution System in Golaghat district and forced the district authorities to take action against the malpractices. Interestingly, Arunachal Pradesh State Information Commission has won the institutional award for Overall Public Satisfaction of 85 per cent in handling RTI. This means that if 100 people approached Arunachal Pradesh Information Commission, 85 of them finally got the information they were seeking. This is almost three times the national average of 26 per cent. The state is very high on getting its orders implemented. In 91 per cent of the orders passed by Arunachal Pradesh commission, people got the information. The Commission does not close a case till the appellant registers satisfaction. While Arunachal Pradesh State Information Commission got the state-wise award, Assam has been reflected very poorly in the findings of the Public Cause Research Foundation. The award declaration says Akhil Gogoi was selected for his work in using RTI for exposing corruption in government schemes in a hostile environment, despite great personal risk. In Assam, the PCRF has noted that denial of information is very high. It said many Public Information Officers in Assam report missing records or records not traceable as reasons for denying information. This trend seems to be on the rise, depending upon the response of Information Commissioners to such pleas. Moreover, while the RTI Act specifies penalties for officers who refuse or fail to provide information to the public, in Assam, the State Information Commission had not imposed a single penalty so far. In fact, the report particularly mentioned the name of Birendra Kumar Gohain, State Information Commissioner of Assam and said he did not impose a single penalty on the erring officers. Gohain, the PCRF report said, imposed only one penalty, but subsequently withdrew it. In sharp contrast to this, Arunachal Pradesh set an example by clearly establishing the importance of the penalty clause. Arunachal Pradesh imposed penalties on 25 officers in 45 cases in 2006-07. They have consistently been imposing high number of penalties on guilty officials. This has ensured high-level of compliance for Arunachal Pradesh. The RTI Act empowers Commissioners to order arrests of errant officials or use force to get information or documents from the government departments. Barring Arunachal Pradesh, none of the Commissioners ever used any of these powers.

 
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