Tahmina Shafique The Complete Portfolio

24Oct/080

Ensuring our right to know

For most of the Bangladeshi citizens, some of the worst and horrid experiences perhaps involve dealing with public institutions and government officials.

From getting a passport to a tax paper or just a birth certificate, include weeks, and more often months of running from one desk to the other, standing at the gates and corridors, coaxing the sleepy and ignorant officials to get through the officer-in-charge.

In the first week, you will probably try to figure out who the actual person responsible for providing your information is. This will involve you going to one desk, wait for a few hours and be told to go to another desk and the week will end by the time you know who to contact.

If by some luck, you get through the actual person who will get your work done, you must wait for a few more hours until he finishes his cup of tea, or even just sit up from his slouching position, reach his hands out, and take out the piece of paper from the file.

Most often, it will depend on his mood really. If he wishes to, he may ask you to come back anywhere between the next day to the next one year, to inform you that either he does not have it or as a responsible official he cannot disclose it.

‘It’s a nightmare to even think of approaching any of the public institutions for any form of information,’ says Golam Mostafa, a businessman. ‘You would rather pay your way through, than to run through months, from one desk to the other, one place to the other to get any form of information out. Go ask any relevant government institution that – just from starting up your own business to wanting information concerning investing, banks and license – you are bound to go through this painful and lengthy procedure.’

Similar are experiences at a police station. ‘It’s an experience you would rather not have,’ says Imran Asam, a student. ‘This one time, I went to the station to find out about the status of a report we had made about our stolen car. I was asked to sit for hours, and then at the end asked to come the next week. Three weeks down the line, I was told the file was not found and that I should come later- it’s been two years, and do I dare ask the status of the case?’

If you are a journalist, who is ought to be able to enjoy outmost press freedom and the right to information, it’s not any different. One of the most dreadful task for you then will be to get a comment from a government official or just a piece of information- a document from a ministry.

You call his office repeatedly only to receive the ‘sir is at a meeting’ or ‘please call an hour later’ reply. Then, having tried and failed to get him on the phone for a couple of days, you decide to go to the relevant ministry or division or department.

Inside the ministry building, you move around from one room to the other, if ‘sir is not in his seat’, asking the grumpy assistants for his whereabouts. The personal officer takes time to inform ‘sir’ that you are there. If you have the patience, and you are persistent enough, ‘sir’ has a minute for you before a very important meeting.

He informs you, on some occasions eagerly and on others dismissively, that either his superior officer is only authorised to speak on the matter or a junior officer is better informed to speak about it. Of course, the senior officer refers you to the same or a different junior officer. Only the most polite official will take his time to explain to you that as a government official he or she is bound by the ‘Official Secrets Act’ not to speak to you. Not that he wants to speak either.

In case of the many policies and laws being drafted and approved, there is hardly any information that a citizen is aware of. ‘One week you hear a lot in the news about debates over a certain policy or law being drafted, and a few months later, one fine morning you hear that a new policy or a law is in place, and you hardly know what it is all about and it is supposedly impacting your life,’ says Salma Huq, a lecturer at a private university in Dhaka.

Supposedly, a citizen, according to the constitution of Bangladesh, has the right to information. Over the years, across the globe it has been constantly stressed that every citizen must have access to information in all spheres of life. According to experts, access to information in specifically public bodies have been of outmost need as the public bodies hold information not for themselves but as custodians of the public good.

‘They should provide us with those pieces of information that they hold because it is our information entrusted in their hands, not their information,’ says Ayesha Khanam, President, Mahila Parishad. ‘A democratic society must have access to information, as it is a tool of power and development which are crucially important for the growth of a nation.’

In 1997 the UN Commission on Human Rights issued a request to the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression to look closely into the right to seek and receive information, as the earlier provisions did not impose a corresponding duty to any entity. In 1998, the Special Rapporteur reported on the issue and notes that ‘The right to seek, receive and impart information imposes a positive obligation on states to ensure access to information, particularly with regard to information held by governments in all types of storage and retrieval systems.’

According to article 19 (2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948, and article 19 (2) of the Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, both of which deal with freedom of expression and both of which Bangladesh has ratified, the right to seek, receive and impart information is an inalienable right of every individual. Bangladesh is further party to the Vienna Convention, the Limburg Declaration and the Bangalore Colloquium, which makes it a legal obligation of the state to introduce the right to information in domestic laws. So far, 75 countries in the world, including neighbouring India, have ensured the ‘right to information’ of its citizens through the enactment of laws under different titles.

Right to Information Ordinance 2008

In a modern democratic state, ‘the right to information,’ more popularly described as the ‘right to know,’ is a prerequisite. It is in view of this, that last month, on September 20, following years of debate, that the Right to Information Ordinance 2008 was finalised.

According to Article 4 of the Ordinance, section A states that ‘Every citizen shall have the right to information and every citizen, through application or request, shall know any decision, written proceedings of or any work performed or proposed to be performed by any authority’.

‘It’s a step that was long over due and certainly something we welcome,’ says Abdul Matin Khasru, former law minister. ‘Although initially the government had undertaken a participatory approach in drafting the ordinance, it was not so later on. There was a need for participation of many stakeholders throughout, but since the ordinance will be placed in the parliament for approval, it can be amended.’

The finalisation of this act comes in two folds- for one it is, as Khasru points out a step that has been long overdue, and indeed a progressive move. The other overriding impact of this ordinance is the fact that it has not taken into consideration of various issues and points, tabled by various stakeholders including the media.

‘Earlier on, Bangladesh did not have any specific ordinance that related directly to people’s right to know. Rather, what it had were certain clauses,’ says Khasru.

These clauses are Official Secrets Act 1923, Evidence Act 1872, Rules of Business 1996, Government Servants (Conduct) Rules 1979, and the oath (affirmation) of secrecy under the constitution act as an impediment and barrier to getting access to information.

While clause 5(1) of the Official Secrets Act has been designed to protect military and strategic secrets, on many occasions, it has been the most popular excuse of government officials to deny information. Section 123 of the 135-year old Evidence Act stipulates that only the head of the department of any government machinery holds power to disclose information. The more recent Rules of Business specifically bars government officials from disclosing information to members of the press. Crucially still, government servants are bound by both their oath and service rules to refrain from disclosing information.

In 2002, the Information Commission drafted the ordinance which was in pipeline till date. The proposed act included clauses such information being properly recorded, catalogued and indexed, the publication of information, the procedure for the access to information which includes a fee of Tk 5 and a time limit of fifteen days, as well as exceptions and enforcement measures.

The ordinance provides for a three-member autonomous information commission headed by a chief information commissioner, mandated with a four-year term, to enforce the law and deal with complaints from the information seekers.

According to reports, the government will appoint staff at the suggestion of the commission to discharge its responsibilities across the country. The president will appoint the chairman and members of the commission at the suggestion of a five-member selection committee headed by a Supreme Court judge.

The others who will be sitting on the commission will be two lawmakers from the treasury and opposition benches of the parliament nominated by the speaker, the cabinet secretary and a government representative.

People will have the right to seek information from public offices in a prescribed form with a fee. The public offices will also maintain information so that the people can get information on demand. In this case, people living below poverty line can apply in white paper without paying fee.

According to experts, there are various dimensions and spheres of life that a Right to Information Act can address, economy being one of the major focuses.

‘Over the years people have been kept in the dark about the economic policies pursued by the government and the direction the economy is taking,’ says Dr Anu Mohammed, a professor of economics at Jahangir Nagar University. ‘That we have signed the GATT and have become a part of global capital control is known and understood by few. Ordinary citizens, who had to pay for this through rising cost of living, did not have a say in it.’

‘In the future, all major contracts including that of oil, gas and coal and strategic papers such as the PRSP will come to the public domain hopefully through the right to information. People can then decide what is best for them and we can avoid events like those in Phulbari,’ adds Anu.

Grey areas

The approved Ordinance, which is expected to be signed into law, has many areas that need ratification, say experts.

According to the Ordinance, ‘As per the ordinance the related officials will supply primary information on issues including arrests and releases within 24 hours.’

‘The scope of the current ordinance is restricted to only “primary issues”,’ points out Rubana Huq, CEO, Mohammadi Group.

‘This clause of the ordinance had 48 hours, following objections, this was reduced to 24 hours,’ says Manjoorul Ahsan Bulbul, Head of News, ATN Bangla.

The ordinance further stipulates officials sitting in new posts to be created in most government offices and NGOs give the people information within 20 days of receiving applications.

Organisations funded by taxpayers’ money and NGOs run on foreign funds are required by the ordinance to ensure people’s right to information, officials who attended the meeting of the council of advisers said.

‘Under this, we feel other organisations including private institutions should be included,’ says Shawkat Mahmood, president, National Press Club. ‘Many functions of private bodies are relevant, the information held by them can equally be important for citizens. People should also have the right to access to those pieces of information held by private bodies that are necessary for the exercise or protection of any other right. This can only ensure a transparent system.’

According to private institutions, however, they should not be liable to such information acts. ‘We provide our balance sheets to joint stocks and other report platforms, what more is required. We are a profit making organisation and all across the world, private institutions are not liable to such laws,’ says a businessman, preferring anonymity.

‘The public sector itself lacks the required infrastructure to provide adequate information. That is an area that needs to be worked on. Right to information is indeed a valid demand. But the public sector has to be first covered completely before moving on to the private,’ says Rubana Huq.

In addition to this, the ordinance has made exemption on six security and intelligence agencies from the reach of the new ordinance. These agencies are often accused of overstepping their legal jurisdiction, point out experts.

‘Criminal Investigation Department of the police will routinely have information it cannot divulge for fear of hampering an ongoing investigation. But the CID personnel are also often accused of harassing innocent citizens and the law should instead have made a distinction in what kind of information this agency would divulge so that a modicum of checks and balances could be ensured,’ says Bulbul.

Similarly, the financial irregularities, the budgetary indiscipline, the lack of accountability, and the alleged political machinations of many of the other agencies, cannot be brought under democratic public oversight under the new law, say experts.

Although welcome, the ordinance did not include the explicit points that the Press Association and others had indicated earlier, says Mahmood.

‘Odhikar believes that the draft Ordinance will curb, rather than extend press freedom, and the people’s right to know,’ says Adilur Rahman Shuvro, director, Odhikar. ‘The draft ordinance proposes the establishment of an Information Commission, which will eventually help the authorities concerned to evade the responsibility of giving information. If the ordinance is promulgated, people- even a journalist - will need to apply in a prescribed form for information and the authority will have the power to reject the application or provide the information sought.’

Challenges

While the ordinance, in many ways does conform to specific rights of citizens to know, many feel that the country does not have the given infrastructure or system to follow this law.

‘RTI has now become a hot topic,’ says Shahdeen Malik, the eminent lawyer. ‘But, practically, the government in its present capacity does not possess the ability to implement the law. Government offices and NGOs registered with the government, who have also been considered under the same law, will need a totally new budget and will need to introduce a new section to disseminate information.’

Government offices will have to change the way they operate and keep efficient computerised records of everything for rapid release of information. The administrative management will have to change. ‘At its current state, it is next to impossible,’ he adds.

‘The idea and its benefits must reach all levels of society and reach throughout the country for it to function properly – which was essentially one of the major reasons for demanding units to be set across the country,’ says Khasru. ‘A person living in Rajshahi or a remote village will not be able to access the provisions of this law.’

‘In a society which is dominated by the culture of secrecy, male domination and conservatism, the right to information can actually empower women, given this is followed,’ says Ayesha Khanam.

It is for time to tell the actual impact of this law, point out experts. ‘Given that time is given and proper system is developed, the country can see the benefits in a few years, if not now. In addition to this, in due time, amendments can also be made to make this RTI an indeed empowering law,’ points out Khasru.

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17Oct/080

Yasmin’s legacy

On August 24, 1995 a fourteen-year-old girl was on her way to her mother’s house. It was a quiet evening in Dinajpur, when a group of police officers picked her up and assured her that they would drop her home safely.

A day later, her dead body was found at the roadside and the entire district of Dinajpur rose up in arms against the police and the local administration, forcing the government to take note of this incident.

Yasmin Akhter’s case represents one of the most shameful moments in Bangladesh’s history. The public protests ignited by Yasmin’s rape and murder made her a symbol of violence against women, of the violence of the powerful perpetrated on the powerless. But at the same time, public protest and women’s movement in reaction to Yasmin’s murder also became a means of social resistance to such violence.

Following strong judicial inquiry and police investigations, the three officers were finally arrested in 1997. Two out of three policemen convicted in Yasmin rape and murder case were hanged in Rangpur jail after midnight, nine years later on September 1, 2004.

The executed convicts were assistant sub-inspector of police Moinul Haque and constable Abdus Sattar. Their last appeal for life, the presidential clemency, was rejected. This was often termed as a beacon of justice served in a short time, the duration being almost ten years. Yet, the third constable Amritlal Saha, years later is still absconding.

Yasmin’s murder led to widespread protests in Rangpur – one police station was besieged by a crowd for two days. In the ensuing riot, officers fired on the protesters. Six people were killed and there were calls for the government to stand down.

‘An administrative flaw and our failure are visible when we see that we have not really done anything in case of those who were killed,’ says Farida Akhter, executive director and founder of UBINIG, a human-rights organisation.

For the longest period of time, the local police force tried to block the investigation in an attempt to protect their colleagues. Activists and lawyer continued to hammer on the case, until the officers were executed. ‘The lone fact that police officials actually tried to block the investigation and at several times created barriers for this justice to be served, is again a powerful indicator of how our society has been shaped,’ says Ayesha Khanam, President, Mahila Parishad.

‘The departed soul of my daughter will now rest in peace,’ Yasmin’s mother Sharifa Begum had said to the media, on the day the two police officers were hanged. ‘I pray to almighty Allah to save all other girls from predators, including police.’

Thirteen years on, nearly two months back, August 24 marked exactly thirteen years since that fateful incident took place. Social and women activists strongly point out that, legally and socially Yasmin’s justice has not been served. Yet this year in Dhaka, National Forum to Resist Repression on Women was perhaps the lone organisation which observed the day with a public function. The press and civil society seemed largely to ignore the day’s significance.

‘Yasmin’s case was one of the most symbolic cases,’ says Ayesha Khanam. ‘Yet, on a day such as this, there was very little done from the society or the press for that matter. Yasmin’s perpetrator is still around free and this fact represents the weak and ineffective judicial system in our country that failed to serve justice of this case even after so many years.’

Yasmin’s case remains to be symbolic and representative in several ways. For one, it was a case where those ought to preserve the security of citizens- the police officers were the perpetrators, secondly, the case also represented, as Ayesha points out, the weak and flawed judicial system.

‘After her body was found, it was easier to state that she was ‘prostitute’- reiterating the patriarchal society we live in and the narrow perceptions towards a woman’s respect and rights.’ adds Ayesha Khanam.

‘At the moment Yasmin’s case is at standstill,’ explains Advocate Zead Al-Mamun, one of the lawyers from Mahila Parishad who has been dealing with this case. ‘After the inspectors were hanged, following an appeal that was rejected, a warrant was made in Amritlal Shaha in that very year, as he had escaped. This warrant of arrest has been hanging till date- for ten years. It was the responsibility of the police to execute this, but unfortunately nothing has been done from that end.’

In addition to the fact that nothing was really done in case of the third criminal, Yasmin’s case also included the gruesome process of the police trying to hide all forms of evidences. ‘They even made sure the first autopsy report was false,’ says Ayesha Khanam.

‘The autopsy was first conducted by civil servants in Dinajpur- greatly influenced by the police, they concluded that Yasmin was not raped,’ says Advocate Zaed. ‘Later, a board was formed consisting of principals of medical colleges, it was then that her body had to be exhumed from the grave, and it was proven then that it was proven that she had been actually abused and raped.’

Further depiction of injustice in this case, was that those who had conducted the earlier autopsy and submitted a false report were not punished, rather released after trial, says Advocate Zaed.

‘We look at Yasmin’s incident from several dimensions,’ says Farida Akhter. ‘For one there was the issue of class, since Yasmin was economically at a more vulnerable position the police officers had the audacity to commit such a crime. A significant point concerning this case and in fact various others was the reflection of failed administration in our country.’

Akhter points out that the failure of Yasmin’s case has been also influenced by the ruling political parties; rather than keeping the case autonomous, as each ruling party changed, the stress and the focus changed with political interest. ‘One of the major failures for us has been the simple fact that we have not been able to keep this issue of a woman’s right irrespective of political power. In case of Yasmin and several others, the role of administrative powers – the way they looked at this issue and took it to the court was significant,’ says Akhter.

Apart from the fact that Yasmin’s justice is yet to be served, there are countless other cases of women’s rape and abuse that have not received due judgement or treatment. Even as human rights groups, over the past decade have championed the cause of helping victims of sexual assault file cases against their aggressors and the financial clout to carry cases through the courts of law, the incidence of rape seems to be phenomenally on the rise in the country.

According to statistics compiled by the Bangladesh Mahila Parishad, about 458 women and adolescents were raped last year while 201 were gang-raped. A total of 126 were killed after rape, 48 were burned and 125 women were victims of acid violence.

Experts point towards repeated cases such as Yasmin, where the perpetrator was again the police- those ought to ensure the security of a citizen.

On the afternoon of October 8, 1996, exactly a year after Yasmin’s case, an 18-year-old garment worker, Shima Chowdhury, was walking with her boyfriend, Abdul Hafiz towards the village of Majidapura near the city of Chittagong.

A group of police officers suddenly arrested both of them on the grounds that a woman may not walk with a man to whom she is not married. They were both taken to the nearby Moghdi police camp and kept for a day and then transferred to Raozan thana where Abdul Hafiz was sent to a cell and Shima was kept in the safe custody at the OC’s room.

Later that night, Shima was forced to drink something, after which she was raped four policemen. As Shima lay unconscious, the officer-in-charge called a doctor, after which she was transferred to the emergency ward of the Chittagong Medical College Hospital.

Following tests and dotor’s examination, it was proved that Shima had been raped which led to media and women’s rights groups attention. Shima was however kept in isolation and not allowed to meet anyone, and the officers claimed that she was a prostitute and had been raped by her own boyfriend and not by police personnel.

‘On October 15, Shima was again sent back to the ‘safe-custody’ at the Chittagong Jail,’ says advocate Alena Khan, executive director of Bangladesh Society for the Enforcement of Human Rights.

In January 1997, Shima’s health deteriorated and even after repeated requests by the doctors and lawyers, she was not transferred to the hospital. Soon afterwards, Shima Chowdhury died.

Shima should never have been in custody and, at the very least, she should have been released as soon as her medical condition deteriorated, says women’s right activists.

‘The case reflected the corrupt and the dirty system that so many women have been victims of,’ says Ayesha Khanam. ‘Once again, the whole idea of labelling her as a prostitute seemed to keep these officials away from any form of worry.’

On July 14, the trial judge set free all four policemen accused of raping Shima, as there were not sufficient evidence.

‘The irony of her case was the same as well, the police tried to save the culprit who was also a police officer. In fact the judge in the case herself stated clearly that the investigation was flawed. She also said that the accused, the witness and the culprit included only the members of the police,’ remembers Alena Khan. The case was reopened, through movements and protests. ‘Reopening the case meant running to so many places, moving through the years of procedures and so much more.’

Like Yasmin, Shima’s justice is yet to be served. ‘But, we will not lose hope,’ says Khan. ‘We have taken the case to the court and those who had been involved in this incident and had assisted the police officer have been charged and we are battling to ensure that at least they are punished. We cannot stop this fight- it is indeed a long fight, but not an impossible one.’

Indeed, the fight is a long one. Yet, as people point out the legislative, administrative and the whole social system calls for a change. ‘We have gone through more than a decade since those incidents, yet how much have we achieved in terms of a woman’s right – in terms education, economy, family and more, is a larger question,’ says Ayesha Khanam. ‘The patriarchal society that we lived in is still the same – the perceptions and the way the society has been shaped is yet to change.’

‘A woman’s right needs to be autonomous,’ Farida Akhter adds. ‘The administrative set up needs to be accountable and needs to be able to address some of the dimensions which cause the failure of such cases from being solved and also for such cases not to take place, in the first place.’

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10Oct/080

‘I don’t think I am that stupid to take the idea of a national government seriously’

It’s been about a year since the anti-corruption drive kicked off in Bangladesh - till date the government has arrested scores of politicians -including two former premiers and dozens of ex-ministers and lawmakers. It was said that the aim was to clean up graft-ridden politics in Bangladesh. Following various turns in the recent events and release of several politicians, how do you see the future of this drive and the Anti-Corruption Commission itself (ACC)?

In short, the future is bleak, if we end up electing corrupt politicians again. However, if reasonably decent politicians can be elected or re-elected, the present anti corruption drive may not lose its momentum. Secondly, our expectation from the anti-corruption drive was probably unrealistic- prior to 2007 we had our main anti-corruption law (prevention of anti-corruption 1947) in the books for the past 60 years. But in the past 60 years, there has not even been 60 successful prosecutions of high profile corrupt persons.

Anti-corruption establishment - the bureau of past anti corruption drive, and present - hardly had sufficient or even reasonable expertise, skills or experience in nailing corrupt persons. The present anti-corruption establishment inherited a large numbers of officials from the past tenure.

The past bureau has been in one word, dysfunctional. The present commission does not have even a single full-time trained prosecutor or lawyer. It has very few investigators with expertise in anti-corruption investigations as such. Given this institutional background, it is not surprising that they have not succeeded tremendously. It is due to these reasons that I am not terribly disappointed. These institutional flaws can be corrected without much difficulty, but one has to recognise these weaknesses and take appropriate steps.

Do you feel that any steps are being taken for these institutional flaws to be corrected, especially after the $150m loan for a good-governance programme granted by ADB - a major portion of which is targeted to go towards the Anti-Corruption Commission?

I am not aware of any form of comprehensive actions or interventions that are being addressed as of yet.

There has been much anticipation over the two top leaders - Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia’s meeting for the first time after almost a year, in the coming days. What are your views?

I do not expect much from this meeting, honestly. Though the meeting has hit the headlines constantly, one or two discussions among these top leaders will not resolve any of the major problems that the country is facing today. I do not think they have any magic lanterns to do so. Since my expectations are too few, I am honestly not much bothered about this meeting.

What are your views concerning the upcoming elections? What do you think this election will bring about?

Logically, the only aspect I can think of is that we would be coming to a formal understanding - meaning this is an umbrella to the legality or validity to the actions undertaken by the present government.

Clearly, there will be constitutional issues to the legality of the caretaker government being in place for a period of more than two years. It is for us to see if the two leaders will validate all the deeds of the present government in the next few weeks and that will probably give a clearer picture for the upcoming elections.

You mentioned the legality of the present government taking over for a period of more than two years. How will this be treated ahead of a ‘credible national election’?

This issue cannot be considered as void. Earlier I had fewer doubts concerning the constitutional validity and continuity of the present government, but increasingly I am becoming doubtful. I feel, some kind of indemnity will be required or at least this will be too important an issue, for the parliament not to consider.

With the elections set to take place after two years, how do you see the idea of a national government in Bangladesh?

I do not think I am that stupid to take that seriously.

It’s been almost a year since the separation of the judiciary. It was assumed that this will result into a well co-ordinated justice system for the country? How do you evaluate its performance?

The public perception, as I understand is that the judiciary is subservient to the government than it was in the recent past. Clearly, so far, I do not think there has been much of a positive outcome or impact of this separation seeking justice in the court of law. Institutional and infrastructural support necessary to the truly separate judiciary is yet to be provided. More disturbingly, there has not been any form of visible effort at enhancing the administrative and managerial capabilities of the judiciary to enable it to administer independently.

A number of dialogues and discussions are coming up for the political parties, how do you see the future of the political parties in Bangladesh?

The purpose of a parliament is to provide a platform for the political parties to oppose. In other words, by definition, a parliament is a place for dialogue between political parties. I do not see why these discussions and meetings need to take place elsewhere. The issue of these meetings have arisen, however, due to the fact that these political parties have not been engaged in the parliament. An alternate to this problem should be to engage them in meaningful dialogues in the parliament.

You have worked extensively in the field of juvenile justice and how do you see the state of the justice system for juvenile at present?

The state has clearly improved to a certain extent. Now if there is any news of arrest regarding children below 16, automatically it creates a stir among the relevant stakeholders. In many instances, judges of the High Court division have taken up their own initiatives.

Secondly, the average number of children detained in jail has gone down significantly - figures show a substantial fall. In major cities across the country at least, police has become aware of juvenile rights. In addition to this, the Department of Social Welfare has started to take appropriate steps - some probationary officers have been appointed. All of these indicate that the juvenile justice system is actually moving ahead. Having said that, there is a need for provisions in the Children Act 1947.

State responsibilities regarding protection and children in distress is hardly being implemented. The State has only taken into account immunization and provision of primary education, to some extent, as a major responsibility while there are many areas that need to be addressed. Children clearly remain marginalised from the standpoint of state responsibilities’ and this certainly calls for desperate change.

There have been various comments made concerning the legality of policies and establishment of commissions during the state of emergency. Is there truly a legal question to such steps taken by the interim government?

I do not really take into account of comments of legality made by Tom, Dick and Harry.

The right to information act was drafted in 2002 and has been under various criticism and debate. According to reports, the act is soon to be finalised and implemented, how do you evaluate the existing draft and also the result of finalisation?

The Right to Information Act has become a sexy topic, at the moment. But, in very short, the state does not possess the system, infrastructure, expertise or capacity to be able to pull of this act. There are bridges that need to be passed before such a system can actually be effective.

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