Advocating the right to access to information
By Rabia Ali
Karachi: Senior Project Officer of the ‘Access to Information Program’, the inspiring Sohini Paul, visited Karachi last week to organise and conduct a two-day workshop on the Pakistan Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002. Paul, who is associated with Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) in India, shared her experiences with the The News, and expanded her aim about helping citizens of other countries to be aware of their basic right to access to information, be it from government, public or private bodies.
“I was born in Kolkata, but raised in Delhi where I completed my studies. By the time I graduated, a campaign by the CHRI was in full swing about presenting a bill titled ‘Right to Information’ in the cabinet. I conducted some research and was moved by the grassroots campaign of Rajasthan started by the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) to bring in transparency in village accounts, which became the basis of CHRI’s movement. Hence I joined CHRI in 2004 to help them with their cause.”
Paul said that in 2002, the Freedom of Information Act was presented in India, but it never came into operation. Therefore the need arose to have a proper act which grants rights to a citizen to avail the maximum availability of information.
“In December 2004, the Right to Information (RTI) Bill was presented for the very first time in Lok Sabha. After that, we ran a massive campaign to bring awareness to the parliamentarians, lawyers, journalists about RTI and its importance. We gave our recommendations and suggestions, and coordinated with other NGOs. The bill was passed very quickly and approved by the Lok Sabha on May 11, 2005, and by the Rajya Sabha on 12 May. On 15 June 2005, APJ President Abdul Kalam gave his approval to the national Right to Information Act 2005. Finally, the RTI Act formally came into force on 12 October 2005,” she said. “Today we are running our campaigns in not only in India, but we have also expanded our projects and are focusing on other commonwealth countries such as Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and African countries. In Pakistan, we are closely working with Shehri-CBE, and Liberal Forum Pakistan to spread awareness the people about their RTI, and how to make use of their Freedom of Information Ordinance.”
Visiting Karachi for the first time, and the country for the third time, Paul finds the people very friendly, but thinks they should actively work to improve the Freedom of Information Ordinance as ‘it is very weak’. “We have also shortlisted Pakistanis for job vacancies, and in this would like to encourage others to apply for the opportunity to come and work in India for us, and get a better understanding of the RTI,” Paul said.
Source: The News