Ask, and you
ought to be told
of Hyderabad Residency
wildlife for a cause
leads to depression
How much has been spent on repairing city roads? What are the medicines that government hospitals distribute free of cost? Now you can seek a whole lot of information of public interest from the authorities. Yogesh Snehi on the strengths of the Right to Information Act as well as the pressures it might face from the bureaucracy
A NEW chapter was added to the history of peoples’ movement in India with the coming of The Right to Information (RTI) Act on June 15 last year. The necessity for this piece of legislation was inspired by the need to enlarge democratic spaces in the Indian polity. This Act has the potential to provide immense possibilities for developing accountability and transparency in decision-making and the utilisation of public funds. Thus, it is important for every Indian to read and make use of this piece of document.
Before the enactment of the RTI in the country, Tamil Nadu, Goa and Madhya Pradesh had upheld and enacted the RTI Act in 1997, followed by Rajasthan in 2000 and Delhi in 2001. The RTI owes its inspiration to Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), Rajasthan, which started the movement for minimum wages in rural India and exposed rampant corruption in schemes meant for rural development. The fruition of the Act in 2005 represents the aspirations of Indian people and their will to develop a new political culture in this country.
The RTI Act has given the people power to have access to all such information that was earlier inaccessible and was kept confidential. So now one can question and seek information about the absence of teachers in government schools, insufficient medicines in hospitals, policy and procedures followed in making decisions, etc. Initiatives for Democratic Rights (IFDR), Chandigarh, recently wrote a letter to Dean Students Welfare, Panjab University, demanding information about the utilisation of a fund meant for mess/canteen workers’ welfare. To make the role of public authorities meaningful, the Act lays emphasis on suo moto disclosures on the schemes initiated by any department which has access to public money and which concerns the interests of the common people.
Every department will appoint a Public Information Officer (PIO) who will be responsible for providing all such information sought by public at large, subject to the payment of a nominal fee which will be defined in the ‘fee rules’ framed by the respective state governments. Interestingly, this Act stipulates the time framework within which this information has to be provided. It should not exceed 40 days in any case. If the PIO concerned fails to provide such information within this time, he has to inform the applicant the reasons for the same. He can also be fined in case of wilful nondisclosure and the applicant has been given the right to appeal the appellate authority against the PIO. The Central Information Commission (CIC) and the State Information Commission (SIC) in the respective states will regulate the work in this regard.
The pace of implementation of the RTI is, however, abysmal. The Punjab Government has planned to digitalise the information and evolve a paper-free office for the Commission. I am not sure what will the government do with digitalising the information when the majority of the population is illiterate in information technology. Besides this, the seriousness of the government in reaching out to the people is questionable since it continues to be reluctant to translate the text of the Act into Punjabi. Something very significant came up at the workshop organised recently by the Ministry of Rural Development at Jaipur, where Aruna Roy (MKSS) pointed out that the Chief Information Commissioner did not have an office for himself and the Commission. The same is the case with the SIC, which continues to ‘hunt for an office’ for itself.
This Act continues to be under threat of pressure from public servants — our bureaucrats. Though the Prime Minister has said that ‘file notings’ relating to development plans, schemes, programmes and projects should be in the ambit of the RTI, there is immense pressure on the government and the Central Information Commission to exempt these from the ambit of this Act. The seriousness of the matter can be judged from the fact that on December 9, O P Kejariwal, one of the four Information Commissioners with the CIC, wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister expressing his concern over the eroding of the RTI by the bureaucracy and the abysmal working conditions at the apex commission.
It is a serious matter because if the exemptions under file notings related to identifiable individuals, group of individuals, organisations, appointments, matters relating to inquiries and departmental proceedings are implemented, it would amount to, as Kejariwal says, "nothing less than an effective amendment`85" It indeed raises questions on what would be the nature of the Act after file notings are exempted. Any information which may have the potential of creating trouble for the officer concerned may be classified as file noting. Further, if the officials concerned would not be named then on whom will the responsibility of the aberration be laid?
Finally, even though the central government should be given its due for the enactment of this Act, the public should continue to lay pressure on the government for its effective implementation. It is also essential to question the procedure of appointing the PIOs as till now those officers have been designated PIOs who have earlier denied information to public.
The World Monuments Fund is making an effort to revive dilapidated monuments of the world. One such Indian monument is the old British Residency in Hyderabad, writes K.D.L. Khan
THE world puts a high value on the United Nation’s award of World Heritage shrines and we have in India 30 of these priceless treasures ranging from the Taj Mahal to Victoria Terminus in Mumbai. But many are not aware that a parallel body known as the World Monuments Fund has been staking its money to revive fast-disappearing monuments of the world, which, while being important, do not merit the World Heritage tag.
One such Indian monument is the old British Residency building in Hyderabad, at present housing Osmania University College for Women. It is one of the most important Anglo-Indian structures still standing in India.
Constructed in 1803, many apocryphal stories are told of the mansion. By the end of the 1790s, the British knew that they were fast becoming masters of India, especially southern India, where their role of pitting one Indian ruler against another (for example the Nizam and Mahrattas against Tipu Sultan) had borne fruit.
The British Resident at Hyderabad wanted to build a manor for his accommodation, which would compare well with the palaces of the Nizam and his chief nobles. But when he presented the drawings of the mansion to the Nizam, he met with non-cooperation. The Nizam did not not approve of it. Nonplussed, the Resident sought the advice of important Hyderabad nobles like Sir Salar Jung. He was advised that when he gave a huge drawing of the future residency to the Nizam, the potentate was worried that this new building will eclipse his own palaces. As such the British Resident Kirkpatrick was advised to make a smaller copy of the same drawings and show to the Nizam. The Nizam saw the small paper and immediately approved the construction.
It is massive in size and has an opulent fa`E7ade of massive Corinthian pillars 40 feet in height. Many of the chandeliers are said to be from the palace of King William the IVth of Britain. Two massive lion statues guard it across a 60-foot space of 21 marble stairs.
As a former British Residency, it weaves its own mystique with galleried halls and drawing rooms, a darbar hall of stupendous proportions, painted ceiling, parquet floors of inlaid wood, flanked by tall mirrors. Its landscape is dotted by three arched gateways, named after Lord Roberts, the Commander-in-Chief, Lord Lansdowne, the Viceroy, and Queen Victoria herself. Its well-fortified outer walls served to guard it from the turbulent days of the 1857 First War of Independence.
According to John Dalyrymple, who has written a biography of Col James Kirkpatrick, "This vast Palladian villa was one of the most perfect buildings ever erected by the East India Company, and lay in a massive fortified garden just over the River Musi from the old city. It was built by Lt Col James Achilles Kirkpatrick, British Resident, effectively Ambassador at the court of Hyderabad between 1797 and 1805.
"Kirkpatrick had apparently adopted Hyderabadi clothes and Hyderabadi ways of living. Shortly after arriving in the town (so the story went), he fell in love with the greatniece of the Diwan (Prime Minister) of Hyderabad. He married the girl Khair un-Nissa – which means ‘most excellent among women’ – in 1800, according to Muslim law."
The portico (of the Residency at Hyderabad) was usually the scene of historic gatherings. Here, the Nizam was ceremonially received when he came to a darbar held by Lord Dufferin; and English guard of honour faced the great flight of steps and the avenue up to the house was lined with cavalry. On this occasion, he came in a yellow coach. At other times, he was more traditional and rode on an elephant; he would send a procession of three elephants with a message of welcome to the newly arrived Resident, who would afterwards set out on an elephant of his own, accompanied by other elephants and a cavalry escort, to present his credentials to the Nizam.
After the British left India in 1947, it was decided to convert this mansion into a college for women. Hyderabad had many old historical buildings but until recently, the average Hyderabadi seemed quite unaware of his heritage. Only for the past 20 years, voluntary societies like the Golconda society, Intach, the Heritage society are striving to restore and conserve important monuments.
One of the prominent members of the local heritage conservationists, Bilkiz Alladin, says, "I invited Elbrun Kimmelman, an active associate of the World Monuments Fund, in 2002 to visit the erstwhile Residency and have it included in their World Monuments in Danger list. Elbrun recognised its heritage value the moment she set foot in the building and before we knew it, she had had it listed. Soon after, the Fund organised a grant of $1,00,000 from American Express for its restoration."
Over the past several months, a small team led by conservation architect Vasanta Sobha Turaga has been involved in documenting the building and devising a comprehensive conservation plan for the place. But it will take some time before the old building regains its pristine glory. — MF
wildlife for a cause
Deteriorating environment and the threat to flora and fauna worries the Delhi-based filmmaker, Syed Fayaz, who has four investigative wildlife documentaries to his credit.
"Documentaries are an effective medium to sensitise the common man about the deteriorating biodiversity," believes Fayaz. One of his investigative documentaries is on the endangered otter in India.
...And Then There Were None, the 15-minute documentary on the rampant poaching of the otter, shot in Jammu and Kashmir, focuses on the shocking illegal trade of the animal. The film, which made it to the final of the International Wildlife Film Festival, 2004, in Montana, USA, showed how nomadic riverine communities hunt the otter with the help of trained hounds. It also highlights the widespread illegal trade of tiger and leopard skins and their body parts.
"These playful animals are being hunted for their highly prized pelts, which are smuggled out of India for making fur coats and trimmings," says the filmmaker, who won the Golden Tree Award at Vatavaran 2003 (National Wildlife Film Festival) for his film on conservation, A Brush with Death.
This film is about the poaching of the mongoose to make drawing and paint brushes. "Let art not wipe out the species" is the theme of the 22-minute documentary.
"Making wildlife documentaries is not a matter of livelihood but a passion with me. I treat it more as a social responsibility."
"To be an investigative wildlife filmmaker, one needs to be aware of many things such as the law and, of course, the threat involved."
"Before making a documentary, one should be mentally prepared to work round the clock and even go without food for days," says Fayaz.
"What has always shocked me is that we all tend to focus on big animals and ignore the small animals. Every animal and insect has a role to play. If we lose even one of the species, there are definitely going to be repercussions. We may not be able to see them immediately but we will have to face them in future."
In 1998, he made a documentary on shahtoosh trade in Jammu and Kashmir.
His recent production is A Walk on the Wild Side. Funded by the British High Commission, the documentary is yet to be released. "The documentary takes you through the natural heritage of our country," says Fayaz.
He has also received the UK-Centre for Media Studies Environment Fellowship for his proposed documentary The Hot Planet and the Hole in the Sky. It will look into the effects of global warming in India.
AN international team of researchers has identified the gene that regulates mood, sleep and memory, and may play a crucial role in determining a person’s susceptibility to depression, according to a study published in the journal Science.
For people suffering from depressive illnesses, the best pharmacological treatments are those that increase levels of serotonin. The gene, called p11, is closely related to serotonin transmission in the brain, and could lead to new treatments for mental disorders.
"We have shown that a gene called p11 is involved in the multiple complex changes that underlie depression. Our findings demonstrate that patients with depression, and mice that model this disease, have decreased levels of p11 protein, and they suggest that drugs that increase p11 are likely to have anti-depressant properties," said lead researcher Per Svenningsson.
The researchers used a blind screen called a yeast two-hybrid screen to identify proteins that associate with the serotonin 1B receptor. They found an association with a protein called p11, a protein previously identified as a regulator of the localisation of several proteins on the cell’s surface.
They analysed tissue from a mouse model of depression as well as post-mortem tissue from depressed human patients, and found decreased levels of p11 protein in both cases. In contrast, p11 levels increased in rats and mice that were treated with anti-depressant medications or electroconvulsive therapy.
To further test the connection, the researchers genetically engineered two strains of mice: one that produced more p11 than normal and another that produced no p11 at all. They found that mice that overexpress p11 were hyperactive and, in a test designed to identify depression in rodents, acted just like mice that were on anti-depressant medication. Mice that lacked p11, meanwhile, acted depressed and showed less responsivity to anti-depressant medications.
"In addition to exploring ways to increase p11 in depressed patients, it may also be possible to develop peptide-based compounds that can mimic the action of p11 to achieve a new class of anti-depressant compounds," said Svenningsson. — ANI