'I can feel the pulse of common man'
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- Published 20.11.10
● All these years as a bureaucrat you used to safeguard information. But now as the new state Chief Information Commissioner (CIC), you would seek information. What is your take on this role reversal?
It is not really a role reversal. We had been sharing a lot of information even before the law came into force.
The Right To Information (RTI) Act has been a great epoch-making event and is already yielding some very good results.
Initially, many public authorities could not understand the provisions and legal applications of the Act. When I was the home secretary, people in my department would ask me if a piece of information should be shared and I would tell him there’s no harm if it was in the interest of the public.
Even during the Kandhamal riots, we gave all information we had, barring some sensitive details, which was also a provision under the RTI Act. Whatever information is given to the MPs and MLAs can also be shared with the masses.
● What kind of information do people mostly seek?
There is a large spectrum of information people are seeking. Even in the interior villages, people ask how much revenue the government has collected from them and how much has been spent on their development. There may be some who file RTI petitions just to harass officials. However, most seekers have genuine intentions.
● You are known to be a pro-people bureaucrat. Do you think this image would help you as the new CIC to strike a chord with the people?
I grew up in a middle class family and I have been brought up in tribal districts. Even my field postings have been in tribal-dominated districts like Koraput and Sundergarh. I have seen hunger, poverty and deprivation. Therefore, I think I would be able to feel the pulse of the common man.
● You were the “unanimous” choice to take over from D.N. Padhi as the next CIC but there has been some resentment from the Congress regarding your appointment. What is you take on this?
● What kind of changes would you like to bring about in the RTI format?
Sometime ago, I interacted with the secretaries of some departments, NGOs, activists and others who are involved in propagating the RTI. They had suggested some amendments. Those were sensible suggestions. Even I feel the process of application, prescribed form need to be simplified and the fee structure should be reviewed if we compare it with other states.
● How do you aim to popularise the RTI campaign, particularly in rural areas?
Awareness programmes and campaigns are being conducted regularly at different levels — collector, block development officer (BDO), state commission and many more. We are also trying to promote the RTI clinics in the state.
● You are also a writer and an avid reader…
My first story was published when I was in Class X. By the time I completed my masters, I had written 50 stories, including a collection of short stories. I am fond of fiction.
At present, I am reading Inside the Hornet’s Head- An anthology of Jewish American writing, Identity Lessons: Contemporary Writing About Learning to Be American, The Vintage Book of Contemporary World Poetry by J. D. McClatchy and a collection of Oriya poems called Adhunika Orissa Kabita Sambhar by Jatindra Mohanty
● What would you have been if you had not been a bureaucrat?
Honestly, I became a bureaucrat by sheer accident. I always wanted to be an academician. My dreams took a different turn when my elder brother Arun Kanti Mishra joined as a professor at a private university in Montreal, USA. That was when my father, an engineer, told me I should do something different. While I was preparing for my MA exams, he asked me to sit for the civil service examinations. I hesitated at first but then went for it and cleared the papers. Looking back now, I can’t say if it is my good luck or misfortune that I got into the Indian Administrative Services..
A poetic personality
● Soft-spoken and renowned for his literary pursuits, former chief secretary Tarun Kanti Mishra has an unblemished record of service spanning 36 years. Mishra will be sworn in as the state chief information commissioner on Saturday.
● Born on August 3, 1950 in Keonjhar, Mishra joined IAS in 1975. He holds a post graduate degree in applied economics from Utkal University. He also holds a masters degree from the University of East Anglia. He worked as secretary in over 12 departments before becoming the chief secretary of the state in August 2009. He retired on August 31, 2010.
● He was the home secretary when the tribal dominated district of Kandhamal witnessed communal violence. He was instrumental in restoring peace in Kandhamal. The land-reform programme, initiated by him, in the form of “land-pass book” has brought him many accolades.
● Mishra is a writer with poetic elegance and poise. His literary talents blossomed at a tender age. His first anthology of short stories appeared in 1968. At that time, he was an under-graduate student of BJB college. So far, he has published over 200 short stories, 11 anthologies of short stories and one novel.
● Mishra’s canvas is wide, embracing a large spectrum of life. He has received several awards, including Orissa Sahitya Academy Award for his contribution to Oriya literature.