The Right to Information Act 2005 is the single most revolutionary Law that has ever been legislated in this country. Using the power conferred on citizens to get information about any matter under the control of the public authorities baring a few departments RTI activists and common people in this state have been dragging out all kinds of information about government projects, schemes and policies and with this exposing corruption by the people sitting in authority at many levels. It is most encouraging to see that the RTI Act is being used to get information at all levels by activists and concerned citizens and more so that information about how programs are being implemented at the grassroots level is being sought and brought out for public view.
But what after the exposure of corruption through the RTI answers? It seems to naïve to hope that exposure will shame the wrong doers and rest the case in the hope that shame alone will work to make the people change. Unless the RTI revelations of wrongdoing leads up to an FIR or Government action against their officials and ultimate punishment for such it will remain an unfinished task and just so much fodder for the front pages of a newspaper or become a subject of a viral message on social media which will soon be lost and forgotten.
Recently, among many others, RTI seekers have unearthed bundles of scams in the implementation of the MNREGA in the Garo Hills districts. Folks at the grassroots level are under tremendous stress as jobs, livelihoods and opportunities have virtually dried up because of the COVID19 pandemic. What little amounts of money they can access is through government schemes and programs like the NREGA. The corruption in Village Employment Councils (VEC) of many several villages were revealed and it was plain as day that the people in the VEC had siphoned off lakhs of rupees. In Demdema Community and Rural Development Block in village folk demanded that the Block Development Officer initiate an inquiry into the matter so that the office bearers of the VEC are punished and most importantly, the money recovered from them.
Similarly, action has been sought from the West in West Garo Hills District administration for the fraud and misappropriation of government funds which came to light through an RTI done on the Border Areas Development Organization.
The seriousness of the wrongdoing has to be seen in the context of the objective of the MNREGA program which is to tide over the rural poorest of the poor. Fixing accountability is the only right thing to do under the circumstances.
Without taking them to task and getting the money back to be distributed to their legitimate beneficiaries, the whole exercise of that particular RTI is redundant. If the Government refuses to take this seriously, it will be the biggest failure of governance which will erode the people’s confidence in anything to do with the government system. Therefore it is important now to ensure that the RTI movement works out the next step, i.e, how to make the RTI answers and exposures relevant to the fight against corruption and fixing ultimate responsibility.