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The dream of India as a strong nation will not be realised without self-reliant, self-sufficient villages, this can be achieved only through social commitment & involvement of the common man."

- Anna Hazare
 
 
  
Home Right to Information
India celebrated its first Republic Day on 26th January 1950. That day, India became a sovereign republic nation. The government exchequer collected by different ways ultimately belongs to the citizens of the country. Citizens elect their representatives and send them to the Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha for managing the public money. The people’s representatives are actually public servants. As they are public servants, their position is secondary to that of citizens. But, unfortunately, this fact has not been realized by the people in the last 60 years of Independence. Some people with vested interest deliberately kept the citizens in darkness. Citizens are at the helm of affairs in democracy, nobody is beyond them.
The President of India appoints Civil Servants in Indian Administrative Services (IAS), Indian Police Services (IPS) and Indian Forest Services (IFS). The People’s Representatives and the Civil Servants are ultimately the public servants. They have to serve the citizens. But, the picture is altogether different today. The People’s Representatives and the Civil Servants have become masters of the country and made the citizens poor servants.
In the Maharashtra State, a campaign was started demanding for the Right to Information. As Peoples Representatives and Civil Servants are public servants and the citizens of Maharashtra are owners of the public money, the citizens have the right to ask the public servants how and in what manner they spend the public money. He pressed for legislating an Act for Right to Information. The first campaign was organized at the Azad Maidan, Mumbai, in 1997. The State Government was giving only promises, but it failed to crystallize it in many sessions of the Vidhan Sabha. He had to make agitations, dharnas, morchas, maun and fasts many times.
State-wide tours were held for awareness generation among people. Public addresses were organized in many towns and programmes were arranged specially for college students. Posters, banners and folders were printed and distributed in thousands. All this resulted in the awakening of the citizens and making them aware of their fundamental Right to Information.

The Government made many promises, but it failed to keep one. Any government never wants to decentralize its power and hand over power to people. Many politicians think that decentralization of power will lessen
their importance, status and respect. So the Government was reluctant to make legislation for Right to Information.
Finally, with zeal of ‘do-or-die’, Mr. Hazare went on fast-unto-death on August 9, 2003 at Azad Maidan, Mumbai. He decided that unless the Act is passed by the Government, he will not end his fast; rather he will sacrifice his life for peoples rights.

The Government of Maharashtra felt that his resolution is firm and He would not step back from his decision of ‘do-or-die’. On the 12th day of his fast, the Government of Maharashtra got the Bill signed by the President of India and enacted the law of ‘Right to Information’ in Maharashtra. The Act on ‘Right to Information’ is a revolutionary step towards strengthening democracy.
This Act has enabled the common man to seek information. Till to-date, the people have to obey the laws; whereas the government machinery controlled everything. But by the advent of this Act, the Government Agencies have to obey the law and the people have got controlling power.
This Act should have come into force on 26th February 1950 itself; the day India celebrated its first Republic Day. This would have brought transparency and accountability in every transaction of the government and would have checked corruption to a great extent. The erstwhile British rulers had prohibited people from getting any information by creating the Official Secrets Act. The following Indian governments maintained status quo by not amending the Act as it provided them space for corruption. The British Act of Official Secrets was in force for almost 58 years after British left India. This Act gave the weapon in the hands of corrupt politicians and officers to exploit the common man.
Under the guise of the Official secrets Act, information was denied to people. So he started the movement for Right to Information. In freedom, every citizen has fundamental right to know how the public money is spent.The question to the Government was "Why do you deny information which is not confidential" under the guise of Official Secrets Act? Finally, the government had to make the Right to Information Act.
Due to this Act, transparency has come in in the administration. Now a common man can get information by just paying a nominal charge of Rs. 10 or 20. This has paved the way to good governance and healthy democracy.
If this Act reaches every village and every household, it has potential to check corruption to an extent of 80 – 85%. Due to corruption, only 10 percent could reach the real beneficiaries of the poverty alleviation programmes earlier. Rest of the money percolated to the purses of corrupt officers and politicians. Now, due to the Act of Right to Information, the poor villagers will get their due share in the development process. The quality of project works has started to improve after the Act.
Central Government stopped amendments in Right to Information Act:
It is a positive step after 58 years of Independence to enact the Right to Information Act. But as this Act has potential to check corruption to a great extent, some politicians felt it as a hurdle in their corrupt practices. Prime Minister Mr. Manmohan Singh’s Government tabled a Bill for amendments in the existing Act which were detrimental to the very cause of the Act. Citizens had got these rights after 58 years of Independence after a long struggle. The proposed amendments were going to nullify these rights. To protest against the amendments, Mr. Hazareundertook fast unto death at Alandi near Pune.

 
Within two days of commencing his fast, people in various parts of Maharashtra started agitation on their own in support of my demand. People undertook ‘Rail-roko-andolan’ (train blockade) at nine places.
Gradually, the agitation spread to other parts of India. Even some Indians residing in the US went on fast in support of my agitation. Prime Minister Mr. Manmohan Singh sent one of his Ministers as emissary to Alandi, as the agitation gathered momentum in and outside the country, and promised that the existing Right to Information Act would not be amended by the Central Government. He requested Mr. Hazare to end his fast and he gave it up on 9th day. Fortunately, the Government gave up the idea of proposed amendments in the Right to Information Act.
Act for Regulating Transfers:
As there was no clear-cut policy on transfers of the Government Officers, the People’s Representatives and Senior Officers of the government misused their power to transfer the government servants as per their wish. In these transfers, usually money changes hands. Thus, a transfer was a source of bribery.
 
If an elected Representative wants his relative or confident to be posted in a key position where an honest Officer is already working, he would misuse his power to get the honest man transferred to other place; thus creating vacancy to bring his man to that position. This was injustice to the honest officer.
 
To prevent this type of injustice, He started a movement for legislation of an Act which would prevent transfer of any officer, at the will of his superiors or political heavy weights, for a minimum period of three years. It was also ensured that no officer will continue at the same place for more than three years. The local politicians like Members of the Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha, Ministers in the Government and Senior Officers of the Government opposed legislation of this Act as it was going to affect their vested interest.


Due to this act, the honest officers got some relief and the corruption involved in transfers has reduced to a large extent.
More Rights for Gram Sabha:
Gram Sabha is a Village Parliament; just like Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha being parliaments at Central and State levels respectively, in the Indian parliamentary system of democracy. Gram Sabha is supreme in the democratic set-up. Any villager who attains the age of 18 years automatically becomes a member of the Gram Sabha according to provisions in the Indian Constitution. Villagers, who are eligible for casting their votes by virtue of their age, are the members of the Gram Sabha. There is no election for constituting the Gram Sabha as in the case of Lok Sabha or Vidhan Sabha. It is an autonomous and sovereign body. The members of the Gram Sabha elect the members of the Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha through elections who subsequently form the
Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha. Thus, the Gram Sabha is the mother of Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha. The Ministry of the Government, may it be at Central or State level, has to take the Lok Sabha or Vidhan Sabha into confidence for undertaking any developmental programme. In the same way, the Gram Panchayat, i.e. the elected body at village level, should take the Gram Sabha into confidence before undertaking developmental programmes.
A peoples movement was carried out for 7 years for legislation for granting more rights to Gram Sabha. Finally, the State Govt. of Maharashtra passed an Act granting more rights to Gram Sabha. Now, it is made mandatory for the Gram Panchayat to take permission of the Gram Sabha before spending the money it receives from the government for different developmental programmes. If it is found that the Gram Panchayat did not take permission of the Gram Sabha and spent the money without information to the Gram Sabha, then the villagers (minimum 20% of voters) could approach the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Zilla Parishad for an enquiry into the expenditure. The CEO has to make an enquiry within a month and, if he is convinced that the money has been spent without the knowledge of the Gram Sabha, send his report to the Divisional Commissioner recommending for legal action. There is provision in the Act that the Divisional Commissioner can dismiss the Sarpanch (Head of the Gram Panchayat), the Deputy Sarpanch and the Gram Sevak (Village Development Officer).
The Act has helped in bringing transparency in village development schemes and thus curbing corruption to a great extent. Every citizen has a right to elect his representative in the democracy. In the same way, he should also have a right to recall the elected representative. This Act has given this right to recall to the villagers. This will foster a healthy and people-oriented democracy. There is a need for awareness generation and educating people to use this Act for bringing more transparency in the development programmes.
A Decade of Struggle
Anna Hazare had to struggle for 11 years continuously against government for giving rights to citizens by making legislations for Right to Information, More Rights for the Gram Sabha, Regulating Transfers of the Government Officers, Prohibition and against Red Tapism.
 
After the ShivSena – BJP government came in power on March 11, 1995; Anna Hazare started communicating with the government for taking steps to curb corruption. He wrote to the government 15 times and had meetings with it.
He sent a letter to the government on January 12, 1998 asking it to make an act for Right to Information for checking corruption.
As government was not paying any heed to his demand even after writing many letters and discussions, he started dharna on April 6, 1995 at the Azad Maidan, Mumbai.
He again wrote to the government 10 times between April 6, 1998 and August 2, 1999 asking it to make the Act for Right to Information. In the mean time, Congress – NCP government came in power.
He communicated with the newly formed government 5 times pressing it to make the Act. As it failed to do this, he wrote to the govt. on April 6, 2000 warning it that a statewide dharna agitation in front of Collector Offices would be started from 1st may and he would go on fast from 20th May, 2000.
As per schedule, the dharna agitation started in front of all Collector Offices all over the state on 2nd May. The fast was postponed as the Central Government passed a bill in Lok Sabha on Information Technology.
Continued communication with the govt. Wrote 14 times and had meetings with the govt. One year lapsed.
On 1st March 2001, wrote to the govt. that he would start statewide maun andolan from 1st May if the govt. did not make the legislation. The Chief Minister held a meeting with other concerned ministers and Secretaries and made a promise that the govt. will pass the bill in the coming session.
After the promise from the Chief Minister, 81 days lapsed. Anna’s correspondence with the govt. was continued. He wrote again on 1st March 2001 telling that he would undertake maun on 9th August 2001 at his native village Ralegan Siddhi.
As per his warning, he started maun agitation on 9th August. On the same day, people started agitation all over Maharashtra.
After 4 days of maun, the Minister of Law and Justice Mr. Vilas Kaka Undalkar visited Ralegan Siddhi to discuss with Anna Hazare. He facilitated a telephonic discussion with the Chief Minister and the Chief Secretary of Maharashtra. After promise from them, Anna stopped his maun.
After the lapse of 1 year and a month and writing more than 15 letters, the govt. was not taking any action. So Anna started maun again on 21st Sept. 2002. After 5 days, four Ministers of the maharashtra Govt., viz. Mr. Dilip Valse Patil, Shivajirao Kardile, Shivajirao Moghe and R. R. Patil came to Ralegan Siddhi for discussions with Anna Hazare. After getting a written assurance from the Chief Minister and Chief secretary, Anna stopped his agitation.
A meeting between Anna Hazare and the govt. was held on 30th October 2002 at Mumbai where the Chief Minister, the Chief secretary, other ministers and senior officers participated in the meeting on behalf of the govt. Again a promise was made.
But as the govt. was not kepi ng its promise, Anna again warned on 21st January that he would undertake agitation on 20th February at Mumbai.
In the men time, the Chief minister of Maharashtra got changed. The new CM Mr. Sushilkumar Shinde informed Anna Hazare that a solution would be found within a timeframe after a meeting with Ministers and Senior Officers. So Anna postponed his agitation.
A high level meeting was held at the Secretariat in Mumbai on 17th February and the CM promised that appropriate action would be taken.
After the failure of the govt. to keep its words, Anna again warned the govt. of agitation from August 9, 2003 at Mumbai.
Anna finally went on fast on 9th August 2003 at the Azad Maidan in Mumbai. Thousands of people from all over Maharashtra gathered at the site of fast in support of his agitation. At the same time, people also protested at Collector Offices at all district headquarters. All this mounted tremendous pressure on the govt. There was a threat of govt. collapse if the Act was not passed. Finaly, the President of India signed the Bill on 12th day of Anna’s fast and declared that the Act would be effective from 2002. Anna ended his fast at the hands of a noted Social Worker Mr. Tukaramdada Gitacharya.
The Right to Information Act came into effect in Maharashtra from 2002. With Anna’s persuasion, the same Act came into effect for the whole nation.
Likewise, the Acts for more rights to the Gram Sabha and against Red Tapism were passed by the government.
 
These Acts are revolutionary steps towards strengthening of democracy in Maharashtra.
 
   
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