India’s "Right to Information" Act Even Extends to Sports Journalists Who Don’t Like Cricket

Jul 222011

Sports journalism and the use of India’s Right to Information act could be strange bedfellows. But the recent Commonwealth Games 2010 held in New Delhi reduced the distance. The billion-dollar sports extravaganza was mired in mismanagement, corruption and nepotism. Interestingly, a lot of this was unearthed by Right to Information activists. As a result, the key driver of the event, Suresh Kalmadi, is now in jail on charges of corruption.

Sukumar was among 12 journalists at a June 15 Right to Information boot camp held at the office of the Daily News and Analysis, an English-language newspaper in Bangalore. As part of the program, the journalists came up with about 16 RTI queries.

I ran the camp with Chandan Rona, our RTI expert. He’s an activist who has worked on anti-corruption campaigns in his district and across the state. He specializes in not only filing hundreds of applications himself, but also in forcing authorities to follow the guidelines of RTI. The camp started around 11 a.m. and went on till 7 p.m. Like the other boot camps I have held in Chennai and Hyderabad, journalists were invited to walk in with their queries and concerns about RTI. We would resolve their issues and help them file their first RTI applications.

The response at the RTI camp in Bangalore was heartening. As expected in a city that is among the fastest growing in the world, the questions focused on poor infrastructure and weak governance. Journalists wanted to use the Right to Information Act to know more about transferable development rights – the rights given when homes or shops are demolished to make way for wider roads. This is a new model in compensation for urban land. Instead of compensation, landowners receive a transferable right that can be sold to private urban developers. The developers then may be able to get around zoning laws. Fair compensation for land is a growing problem in Bangalore and other major cities that have embarked on major infrastructure projects such as the introduction of Metro rail systems.

Why should journalists look to the Right to Information Act for help in covering these issues? The journalists attending the boot camp found new ways to get information that is normally either overlooked or denied to them.

Since attending the boot camp, Sukumar says he’s a changed man. He filed his first RTI applications, asking the government for information about the implementation of job quotas for athletes in government and police recruitment. In a country where cricket is all encompassing, other sports suffer due to lack of sponsors. The Right to Information Act gives Sukumar and other journalists a new weapon, one that ensures that they get information that is credible and authenticated.