Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Opening Files, Indians Find Scams (washingtonpost.com)

Transparency and the Right to Know at the Grass Roots Level

Great article in "Today's Washington Post by Rama Lakshmi on the role Freedom of Information Laws are playing in village life in India.

A man called Rawat's name. "Did you buy 77 pounds of wheat every month from your local ration shop?" he asked. "I did not," Rawat answered. "But the register says you have been buying wheat every month," the man said, pointing to a copy of the government food register, which he had obtained under a state law that grants citizens access to government files. "How can the records say that? The ration shopkeeper in my village said there was no wheat supply from the government for the last six months," Rawat said, as the crowd of about 600 villagers shouted, "No wheat, no wheat!" As ration shopkeepers tried in vain to disrupt the public hearing convened by the Workers and Peasants Empowerment Organization, a grass-roots advocacy group, the names of 30 more impoverished villagers who had been cheated out of their wheat entitlements were read out.

The group that Laskhmi refers to is Rajasthan's MKSS, a grassroots movement advocating for greater transparency at the local level. My boss here at the Archive was at this meeting, along with a couple other meetings that the MKSS held this past January and February. What is quite interesting about Right to Know laws that are being passed all over the world, is that not only does it give ordinary citizens the ability to play a greater role, it really seems to help in empowering people.


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