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October 17, 2006: Arvind Bay Area Report Print E-mail

Fight Corruption and Better Governance with Right to Information (RTI) - A talk and discussion with Magsaysay Award Winner Arvind Kejriwal

San Jose, CA, October 17, 2006: Several Bay Area Indian-American organizations came together Monday to host a public talk and discussion about India's Right to Information act, that country's equivalent of the Freedom to Information Act here in the United States. Arvind Kejriwal is an Indian social activist and a crusader for greater transparency in governance. He was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Emergent Leadership award in 2006 for activating India's Right to Information movement at the grassroots and for empowering the poorest citizens to fight corruption by holding the government answerable to the people. The Magsaysay Awards are often referred to as the Asian Nobels, and this year's Nobel Peace Prize awardee, Mohammed Yunus from India's neighbor, Bangladesh, is a former awardee himself.

The Right to Information Act 2005 is a law enacted by the Parliament of India giving Indians access to Government records. Under the terms of the Act, any citizen of India may request a department of the Central Government, State Government, or a Public Sector company or bank for information on almost any question related to the department or company's functioning. The Act also requires government bodies to publish certain specified information on their web sites.

While the RTI Act is widely heralded as a tool to contain corruption in public life, it is also significant for its affirmation of the basic principle of the government's accountability to its people. RTI also underscores the idea that democratic governance requires an informed citizenry, and that a lack of transparency in government works to conceal the operation of vested interests against the public interest. By facilitating the public's participation in governance, RTI could potentially lead the way to a truly participatory democracy.

In his career as a civil servant, Arvind Kejriwal was instrumental to bringing in a number of changes to increase transparency in the Income Tax office. Later, as the founder of the civil society group Parivartan and while working with activists such as Aruna Roy, Sandeep Pandey etc., he campaigned for the Right to Information Act, which was finally passed in 2005. Later in July 2006, he spearheaded an awareness campaign for RTI across India which included conducting workshops to educate the public on how to avail the law.

Many individuals and groups in the Indian and Indian-American community have closely followed the campaign around the RTI Act. The Bay Area chapter of the Association for India's Development (AID), for example, sponsored a series of public workshops in Tamil Nadu on the RTI, says Sudarshan Suresh, a member of the organization. Suresh also referred to AID's protests against the recent attempts by the Indian government to amend the RTI in ways that would have significantly undermined the law's ability to act as a tool of accountability. The proposed amendments led in India to a popular campaign at the national level that included Gandhian hunger strikes by anti-corruption crusaders, Padma Bhushan, Shri Anna Hazare, as well as another Magsaysay awardee, Bay Area alum Sandeep Pandey. Finally, in August 2006, in response to mass protests, and in a major victory for the ideals of a free and open society, the Indian government withdrew the proposed Amendments to the Right to Information Act and promised to follow the democratic process in any future action on this issue.

The organizations hosting the talk were the Association for India's Development (AID)'s Bay Area Chapter, the Friends of South Asia (FOSA), Asha for Education-Bay Area Chapters and Prajanet.

Press Contacts:

Sudarshan Suresh  Tel: +1-480-363-0081;  Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Further Information:  

1. 2006 Magsaysay Award for Emergent Leadership: http://www.rmaf.org.ph/Awardees/Citation/CitationKejriwalArv.htm
2. India Together interview with Arvind Kejriwal:   http://www.indiatogether.org/2006/aug/ivw-arvind.htm  
3. Right to Information Campaign in India: http://www.righttoinformation.com  
4. Parivartan : http://www.parivartan.com  
5. AID's  Right to Information Campaign  http://rti.aidindia.org
6. Photos from the talk: http://gallery.aidindia.org/gallery2/v/Arvind_Kejriwal/  

Arvind Kejriwal graduated as a mechanical engineer from IIT Kharagpur in 1989 and proceeded to join the civil services, taking a position in the Indian Revenue Service (1992). Here he soon realized that much of the corruption prevalent in government was the result of a lack of transparency in the process, and started a crusade against corrupt practices. After several years on Extra-Ordinary Leave from the Government, he resigned his official post and now devotes full time to his work as the founder and head of Parivartan - a Delhi-based citizen's movement trying to ensure transparent, just and accountable governance.

Association for India's Development (AID) is a volunteer movement committed to promoting sustainable, equitable and just development. In solidarity with non-violent people's struggles, AID supports grassroots organizations in India and initiates efforts in various interconnected spheres such as education, livelihoods, natural resources, health, women's empowerment and social justice. Today, AID has 25 chapters across the USA, and over 2000 members & 300 active volunteers. AID currently funds over 80 projects in 15 Indian states. AID's website is at http://www.aidsfbay.org/  

Friends of South Asia's mission is to achieve a peaceful, prosperous, and hate-free South Asia by most immediately working towards a demilitarized, nuclear-free South Asia and promoting respect for and celebrating the diversity and plurality of South Asia. FOSA carries out its work through people-to-people contacts, dialog, and other non-violent, non-exclusionary means, working as a single group and with other organizations that share similar aspirations. FOSA's website is at http://www.friendsofsouthasia.org  

Prajanet (People's Resolve to Act for Justice and Accountability - Network) is a people's movement for governance reforms which aims to bring about broader transparency in civic life. Prajanet came together in 2003 to organize a signature campaign in support of a landmark judgment by the Supreme Court in India requiring full disclosure by candidates contesting Parliamentary and State Assembly elections. Since the signature campaign, the group has organized a variety of fund-raising and awareness events. The funds raised are used to financially support selected programs that further democratic governance in India. See more at: http://www.prajanet.org/  

Asha for Education is a secular organization dedicated to change in India and focuses on basic education, in the belief that education is a critical requisite for socio-economic change. Asha was started in 1991 at the University of California, Berkeley, by students who saw education as an effective catalyst for social and economic change in India. Today, there are over 66 Asha chapters worldwide: 45 in the US, 14 in India and 7 in Europe, Singapore and Australia. Asha's website is at: http://www.ashanet.org/

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