Sunday, July 09, 2006

Interview with Mrs Aruna Roy, a former member of the National Advisory Council (NAC)

Mrs Aruna Roy, a former member of the National Advisory Council (NAC), has refused an extension of the term. The NAC has been a high rofile body headed by Mrs Sonia Gandhi before she had to resign from the post as well as her membership from Lok Sabha because of the Office of Profit controversy. Mrs Gandhi has since been reelected by a massive margin in the May by-election from Amethi. Mrs Roy has gone back to work at the grassroots level in Rajasthan, something which she has done for decades now. A former Indian Administrative Officer, Mrs Roy resigned from the government. She had tirelessly campaigned for the right to information law. She was the spirit behind the Right Information (RTI) Act, passed by the Parliament. She has also been one of the moving spirits, along with economist Jean Dreze, behind the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), which has been legislated by Parliament.

In a telephonic interview, Mrs Roy clarified that she did not quit the NAC, and that she did not want her decision to be sensationalised in the media. She said that membership in NAC was on a yearly basis, and that she had served two one-year terms, and that she did not want a third. She wants to move on, get back to the grassroots and help in monitoring how the RIT Act and the NREGS are being implemented at the ground level. She has recently organised a large social audit for the NREGS in the Dungarpur district in Rajasthan. She feels that it is a huge task, and a similar social audit needs to be carried out in the other 200 districts in the country where the NREGS is eing implemented.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q. What are rhe reasons for quitting the National Advisory Council (NAC)?

A. I did not quit from the NAC. I have not accepted a third term. The membership is for a year, and I have served for two years. I did not want a third. I do not want this simple decision to be sensationalised in the media. I have been asked the same question over and over again. I cannot go over the same ground so many times. It is physically impossible to do so. You must read the letter I have written to the Prime Minister. You will get to know the reasons.

Q. Is there any reason that you did not want a third term in the NAC? Were you happy with its working?

A. I did not want a third term because I wanted to move on. I wanted to get back to the grass root and work with the people. I would like to monitor the implementation of the RTI Act and the MREGS at the ground level. The NAC has achieved much through the record legislation of the RTI ACT and the NREGS. It is n o mean achievement. But there have been no sittings of the NAC in the last four to five months. The main job of the NAC was to see to it that the National Common Minimum Programme (NCMP) was implemented. But the government has been in clear violation of the NCMP, especially with regard to Narmada Bachao Andolan. (NBA).

Q. Are you happy with the RTI Act in its legislated from, or do you think that there should have been something more to it?

A. We in India have the habit of looking for things that are not there. The RTI Act is a very good law. A few weeks I went to the US to deliver a memorial lecture at the University of Illinois for the Brookings Institute. I found that our RTI Act is better than what they have in the US. Even the President and the Prime Minister who wanted to exclude file notings from the purview of the RTI Act have not been able to do much about it. It now depends on us how we make use of it. It is a powerful democratic weapon.

Q. Do you think that the RTI Act has opened up a new political front apart from the existing political institutions like political parties and legislatures?

A. I think so. The ordinary citizen has access to the same information that a member of the state assembly and a member of Parliament are entitled to know. The citizen is as powerful as the MLA and the MP.

Q. Do you think that it has taken a long time to get the law on right to information?

A. Eleven years is not a long time in the life of a campaign. It has happened quickly. When I was on a dharna (a sit-in protest) in 1996 about the right to information, Laxmi Chand Jain, a friend, had sent a note to me saying that the right to information law will not happen in my lifetime, but he asked me to go on nevertheless. Remember, Gandhiji fought for 30 years for independence.

Q. What is it you would like to do now?

A. I would like to work with the people. I can work for 18 hours in a day. And perhaps I can work for another 11 years or during the rest of my life. There is a huge democratic agenda to be fulfilled.

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