By Himadri Gosh
Until few years back, Social Justice Committees (SJC) is an alien term to the Public Information Officer (PIO) of the Kalol Taluka, Gujarat. Although, according to the Gujarat Panchayat Act it is mandatory for every Panchayat to set up SJC.
SJC, are statutory bodies meant to ensure the participation of the marginalized communities in the decision-making process of the Gram Panchayats.
Ever since the Panchayat Act is passed, these committees have remained inactive. In hundreds of villages, these committees just exist only on the papers.
A few years ago Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) started working with the rural communities in Panchmahals district aimed at increasing awareness about the rights and entitlements of the backward community.
CHRI’s representative Zakir filed an RTI before the Taluka Development Officer (TDO), the designated PIO. Zakir seeks elemental information of the SJC members in all villages falling within the Kalol Taluka.
In a week’s time, the applicant received a response, however not in writing. TDO’s secretary telephoned Zakir and asked him to visit the office in person. This manner of conduct by the TDO’s office is unprecedented and contrary to the spirit of the RTI Act.
For the response, the official told Zakir that the formation of the SJC was not the responsibility of the TDO and instead advised to collect the information from the talati of each village.
Later, he realized that was TDO’s job to dispose of the information and assured Zakir that he would issue a circular to all the Talatis of the Taluka, asking them to provide the necessary information regarding the SJC.
Presently, across the Taluka these committees have become functional. An application under the RTI Act has brought these committees into existence.
After 45 days of filing the application, Zakir received all the necessary information of SJC’s members across the Taluka.
Himadri Ghosh is a Bangalore based freelancer