For the RTI Act to become more effective and used by young citizens, including it in the educational curriculum is being taken up seriously. While the government is in discussions with the NCERT about its implementation, Symbiosis has initiated a unique RTI programme for its media students
While the RTI (Right to Information) Act in India is being currently used by activists and thousands of citizens who have learnt through self-learning or workshops, the government is seriously discussing with the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) to introduce it as a lesson in schools and colleges.
Ten-year old Aishwarya Parashar of Lucknow created history by filing a RTI query regarding the garbage dump outside her school and had a library established in its place. In February this year, she created a flutter by sending a RTI query to the PMO office, asking for the order that gave Gandhiji the status of the “Father of the Nation”. She is a mini-activist with youngsters asking her RTI queries or doubts on her mobile or email, and she quickly responds to them. This shows that if school children are educated, they can become active RTI users and help in monitoring governance or satiating curiosity.
Last fortnight Nepal, which implemented its RTI Act in 2007, introduced the subject in the mass communication curriculum in its secondary schools. For this, a leading RTI organisation, Freedom Forum, continuously lobbied for educating students on right to information, since the last two years. Finally, the Curriculum Development Centre (CDC) under the ministry of education introduced it.
In Maharashtra, the discussion to include a lesson of RTI in the civics subject was talked about fervently in the early 2000s but is yet to see reality. At that time too, discussions were almost bearing fruition. RTI activists had lobbied for the introduction, in order that the citizen-friendly RTI Act is ingrained at that impressionable age and becomes known as everyone’s tool for pro-active participation in our democracy rather than a weapon in just the hands of few.
Many media colleges in India do touch upon the subject of RTI but not enough to inspire young journalists to use it as a key tool for their stories as they are not familiarized with it, comprehensively. Pioneer of RTI movement, Aruna Roy insists that since 2005 when RTI Act was introduced, journalists can take pride in procuring government documents themselves by using RTI and thus skirting the traditional “official source” which may have vested interest and may not provide the whole truth. However, the RTI use in media fraternity is quite low. Hence, it is appreciable that the Symbiosis Institute of Media & Communication (SIMC), Pune, has recently initiated a unique RTI familiarization and uses the programme for students to inculcate the wide use of this tool for investigative and informative journalism.
A fortnight back, 300 under-graduate and post-graduate students of Symbiosis Institute of Media & Communication, Symbiosis Law College and Symbiosis School of Economics filed RTI applications in subjects of their interest. The issues addressed were varied and the lesson on how to write RTI applications was monitored by noted RTI activist Nikhil Dey, member of MKSS (Mazdoor Kishan Shakti Sangthan) and RTI activist Bhaskar Prabhu, founder of Mahiti Adhikar Manch. Presently, these RTI applications are being classified as per ‘city’ and ‘subjects’ after which Pune-related RTI queries would be sent to the respective public authorities by the students.
This exercise was conducted at the second, two day seminar of Symbiosis Institute of Media & Communication, Pune. Pioneering RTI crusader Aruna Roy was the chief guest of the seminar and addressed students on the importance of using RTI as a tool for investigative journalism. While SIMC has a chapter on RTI Act in its Media & Civic Affairs subject, since March it has embarked upon a full-fledged practical orientation programme to the subject through a series of workshops and seminars to be held in the academic year. In order to amplify the knowledge and use of RTI, SIMC is preparing a RTI manual for journalists based on the two seminars, which would be available online as well as in print in a book form, for the benefit of students and journalists across the country.
It all started after stalwart journalist Dileep Padgaonkar took over as professor, RK Laxman Chair, of the Symbiosis International University in November last year. Elaborating the reason behind making RTI an important subject amongst media students, Mr Padgaonkar says, “some of the major scams in the past five years were revealed through RTI activists. The media saw the news worthiness and subsequently took it on as a systematic campaign. That’s when I realised that RTI must be used as a tool to improve the quality of journalism and the basic principle was to know how to pit the power of truth against the truth of power and therefore I thought, what is required, is a systematic expression of the history of RTI Act, its achievement, the risks involved as well as exposure of filing RTI applications, the follow up required and after that, the need to get to the other side of the story from the incriminated source.”
Dr Eshwar Anand, professor of journalism and media studies, who is steering this programme, states if students are well-trained in the RTI Act and on how to file requests at the college-level itself, they would become good journalists. “Earlier, there was a cloak of secrecy around government offices and it was tough for journalists to get to the truth. Now, barring some exemptions in the law, the young journalist can access documents of civic affairs or those of national importance. However, because training is lacking during his/her media education days, most young journalists in our country are indifferent to this powerful tool which can open up information quickly including file notings. We will hopefully equip students with the necessary confidence to file RTI, besides educating them about the law.”
With the government attempts to dilute the RTI Act every now and then, RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar believes that enlightening young minds on this law will throw up a whole new generation of RTI-informed citizens, making it difficult for the government to muddle around.
(Vinita Deshmukh is the consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte. She can be reached at [email protected])
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