In the last 53 years since statehood Nagaland has imported one of the negative aspects of bureaucracy and also the ruling class around the world for centuries. The information that pertains to public welfare is a secret so well guarded that a mere public seeking information will be looked upon with raised eyebrows and suspicion. At times if the antecedents of the person especially the family background is known and if the civil servant considers it does not pose a big threat that person seeking information may end up being reprimanded. A brief indirect lecture on strict instructions from ‘higher-ups’ and that the information is ‘confidential’ are preferred lines used to obstruct the free dissemination of information from public offices in the state.
One of the biggest effects of such a practice is on the fourth estate in the state that has resulted in a society that lacks to take well informed decisions. Within the corridors of power in the state there are strict unwritten instructions not to divulge any information to the media persons. Almost every department and office has a Public Relations in-charge officially and unofficially who is that only allowed to give out information; well prepared and polished statements most of the time. At times it becomes plain ridiculous that even if media persons were present during an incident, a prepared statement is again released by the public offices and agencies to be used in the media.
The Right to Information Act 2005 (RTI Act) was enacted in parliament to dispel all such misconceptions about information being incorrectly made as privileged by those in power, ushering in transparency in public offices to minimise corruption. None of the departments in the state including the police department are exempted from the RTI Act. Unfortunately, in Nagaland the RTI Act is almost reduced to a procedural memo with many offices using it to prolong the process of giving out information. There are instances where some information that can be communicated within a few minutes are made to go through the whole process making use of the 30 days timeline provided by the Act to prolong the time in giving information. It is accepted that the RTI is sometimes the only way to shield the lower rung officers from their higher ups but at times it just reaches high levels of absurdity.
Either it is a strong feeling of kinship among the employees of that particular office and department protecting one another or it is just plain ignorance of one’s own fundamental rights but any official information is very securely kept with high evidences of being gagged too. It might also have been the incorrect interpretation of the traditional ethos of maintaining certain secrets in the village during times of headhunting that has further aggravated the scenario in the state that at present every information in the public offices in the state have almost all become privileged information. However the Naga society even in the olden times was a very open society where open dialogue was the guiding principle in making decisions. It was only in the morung that dealt with war and raids where secrecy was maintained by the members. This practice of control of information by the bureaucracy is the first signs of oligarchy in the making because it protects the interests of just a few in power.