Thursday, December 11, 2014

You, Me & RTI : Information about the Right to Information Act, 2005

“A government should be of the people, by the people and for the people.”
-Abraham Lincoln

Are the roads outside your house terrible ?

Is there a problem of un-hygiene in your area ?

Are you tired of making 15 trips to the Govt. offices and bribe and beg the officials to get your work done ?

Well, you need not worry because the Right to Information Act (RTI Act) has given you a lot of power that you can use and must use for solving such daily problems and for a better future and better nation building. If you, the average citizen learns to use this act, you can change the country too.

RTI stands for "Right to Information". Right to Information is a fundamental right that every citizen has! Basically, the RTI gives you all the information that you want about the Govt. and what they are doing with your tax money!

If you go into a Government office and demand that they tell you why your work has not been done, they will not entertain you or might even throw you out. That's why after much of debate the parliament finally passed it as a law in 2005 and made this fundamental 'right' so powerful that if you are not provided with the information you are seeking for, the concerned authority will be punished for it.

The RTI has made the inner working of the government very transparent and accountable. Every department/organization under the government (except the defense organizations under central government) has one Public Information Officer (PIO). All you need to do is file an application with the PIO and he's responsible for collecting and providing the information wanted by you within 30-35 days (in general cases). The PIO can refuse information on certain subjects of national interest, but for average citizens, the information we are looking cannot be rejected by a PIO.

Any Indian citizen can file a RTI application. The easiest way to file an application is to login to and do it right from home. Or you can go to your nearest post office and submit your RTI application and a fee which is as low as Rs 10. For getting information, you have to pay Rs. 2 per page of information provided for. In case of inspection of documents, there is no fee for the first hour of inspection, but after that, you have to pay Rs. 5 for every hour of inspection.

All you have to do is draft your application on a normal sheet of paper and submit it by post or in person to the Public Information Officer (PIO). [Remember to keep a copy of the application for your personal reference.] You can deposit fee in cash or through a DD or bankers cheque or postal order.

Many people enquire what information one can ask for or how does this Act practically help a citizen.

Let us take the case of Mr. X. He was not being given his ration card. So, he applied under the RTI. What did Mx. X ask? He asked the following questions:

I filed an application for a duplicate ration card on 13th August, 2013. Please tell me the daily progress made on my application so far. i.e. when did my application reach which officer, for how long did it stay with that officer and what did he/she do during that period?

According to the rules, my card should have been made in 10 days. However, it is more than three months now. Please give the names and designations of the officials who were supposed to take action on my application and who have not done so?

What action would be taken against these officials for not doing their work and for causing harassment to the public? By when would that action be taken?

By when would I get my card now?

In normal circumstances, such an application would be thrown in a dustbin. But this law says that the PIO has to reply in 30 days. If they don’t do that, their salary could be deducted. The problem is that it is not easy to answer these questions.

The first question is: Please provide the daily progress made on my application

There is no progress made. But the government officials cannot write in that they have not acted for so many months. Else that would be “admission of guilt on paper”. For which in a legal procedure they are going to be adjudicated.

The next question is: Please provide the names and designations of the officers who were supposed to take action on my application and who had not done.

If the government provides names and designations of the officials, their responsibility gets fixed. Any officer is most scared of fixing of responsibility against him in this manner.

So, the moment one files such an application, his/her pending work is done.

Often a lot of things start falling in place just by asking for information.

For instance, you would get your passport or a ration card just by asking for the status of your application. In many cases, roads got repaired as soon as the "money spent" on repairs was asked. So, seeking information and questioning the government is an important step, which in itself is complete in many cases.

But suppose you expose some corruption or wrongdoing using RTI. Then, you can complain to vigilance agencies, CBI or even file an FIR.

Generally, when you go to a Government office to get some work done, the situation is quite pathetic. The Govt. employees will either not listen to you or they will give you a vague response or they will raise some “irrelevant” objection.

This is generally done because the employees are “fishing” for a bribe! They are hoping that you will get frustrated and give them a bribe to “move things faster!” Do not give the bribe to them. Use the RTI Act and get your work done.

Generally, cases of corruption are either dropped on some “technicality” or the progress in these cases is very slow due to some influence. Because of this, corrupt officials go free! You can put an end to this. Use RTI!

You can seek details from the “vigilance wing” of any government department. In case you don’t know, the “vigilance wing” is supposed to keep an eye out and investigate into all malpractices, frauds etc.

You can send an application to the PIO and ask for the following details:

Please give a list of all the officials against whom any complaint of corruption was received from any quarter during the period ________ to _______.

Please give copies of all these complaints.

Out of the above, which of the cases have been dropped and why? I would like to inspect all these files. Please intimate the date and time when I can come to inspect these files.

Please indicate the progress being made in the rest of the cases.

Right to Information Act allows any citizen to inspect any government work. You can inspect an old project (which has already been completed) or a current ongoing project. If you inspect ongoing work, you will be able to prevent corruption from taking place in that work.

Most of the corruption takes place in records! For example, only 100 meters of road would be made but the officials would fill up 200 meters and would make payment for 200 meters.

Even if there is an inspection, the officials think that they will be able to bribe their way through it. But if, you file an application under the Right to Information Act before the start of any work, saying that, you want to inspect that work once it is completed, the officials would now know that someone from the public is going to inspect their work!

Now, they will not enter wrong measurements in the records. They will also be careful in using inferior material if you have asked for sample of material.

When you file such an application, you will be given a date, time and venue where you should go for inspection. When you go for inspection, please keep the following in mind:

It would be good if you take a technically qualified person along with you. Get him to verify each and every aspect. Make sure that they are using quality material. If you find corruption, report it and file an RTI to check the status of your report.

Seeking information like this and exposing the corruption does improve the future. The officials get a clear message that the people of that area have become alert and any wrongdoings in future would not remain hidden as they were in the past. So, their risks of getting caught increase.

Democracy is the best form of government which is classically described by the late American president Abraham Lincoln. In a democracy, the government is an agent of the people for the smooth functioning of the state. Government is not sovereign, the state is sovereign, and, the people make the state.

So, the government and its agencies must be accountable to the people for whom they are working. The secrecy that is maintained by the public organizations in their functioning is a loophole for the birth of corruption and legitimate dupery in a state.

There are many RTI activists who are exposing Govt. frauds every day and forcing the Govt. to improve. Support them! Support RTI!

Jai Hind !