The 100th week of RTI Katta celebrated last week in Pune has empowered citizens to courageously and precisely file RTI applications
Two youngsters, studying in a Pune college (names withheld on request), had won scholarship of Rs25,000 each for their brilliant academic performance. But they did not get the same despite following it up with the college authorities. They wondered whether RTI could help them. Vijay Kumbhar, a prominent activist from Pune guided them on how to file the RTI application to find out the status of their scholarship. The college authorities pretty piqued with this audacity of these two students using RTI but unable to take them to task for it, followed the middle path. It did not accept the RTI application but immediately gave the scholarship money much to the delight of the students. However, they were told not to spread the word, otherwise the college would be inundated with such RTI applications!
Their success was the fallout of a novel initiative. Every Sunday, at the picturesque Chittaranjan Vatika, a popular public garden in the upper class neighbourhood of Model Colony in Pune, a motley crowd of about 30 to 35 people, of varied ages, gather at 9 am. The meeting is called RTI Katta (meet-up), pioneered by Kumbhar, to spur citizens to empower themselves to file RTI, on issues that they feel strongly about or are directly affected. The Katta is not about spoon-feeding RTI users, but guiding them to seek information, of their own accord.
K Mali was angry when a petrol pump was constructed in a vacant land of his housing society, illegally encroaching on the society land. He had filed several RTI applications but had failed to procure any information. He began to attend the RTI Katta and showed copies of his applications. He was told that he had applied in the wrong format. He was guided on how to precisely file RTI, which he did to the Pune Municipal Corporation as well as the Collector’s office. Lo and behold, he has managed to get 950 pages of information. He is now armed with enough ammunition to fight the battle in the court.
Jaisingh Jadhav is a small time builder who greatly feared to take on the municipal corporation officers, whenever he wanted information related to several of his projects. However, says Kumbhar, he has now completely shed off his inhibitions and has begun regular use of RTI. Based on the relevant documents he has also filed complaints with the PMC, and in one such case the corporation body has also slammed a legal notice on the offender.
Shailesh Gaikwad is a long time vendor, operating from outside one of the public gardens in Pune but permission was whisked away by the PMC. He invoked RTI at PMC, to procure documents to prove that he is a license holder and that the civic body had illegally snatched off his livelihood. The PMC, based on his fight through RTI, revoked his license. That was a great victory for him but it was short lived as the local political leader convinced him that he would offer him a better place for his business, and so he is still waiting. However, he is grateful that he now knows the RTI way to fight for his causes.
Mr Marathe has been fighting against an illegal restaurant that has sprouted in the garage below his building. No amount of letters to the PMC helped until he was advised at the RTI kata that he needs to get proof that it is illegal, through documents which he can procure under RTI. He successfully did so and this propelled the PMC to slam a notice against the restaurant owner but he is yet to vacate. The matter is presently pending in the court.
There are many such examples. States Kumbhar, "although RTI is here for 10 long years, citizens are yet not aware and informed about this powerful Act. It shows that the government has failed in public awareness, one of the mandatory clauses in the RTI Act. Besides, it is mandatory for Public Information Officers (PIOs) to assist the RTI applicant in case he has not filed his RTI in the proper format However, most of the PIOs resort to rejection of the application. At the RTI Katta, we encourage them to do file inspection under Section 4 of the RTI Act so that they can get information in a faster way. We are also putting pressure on public authorities like the PMC, to abide by the Suo Motu disclosure under Section 4 of the RTI Act as well as upload all RTI applications and replies on its website, so that people would be able to see how applications are filed.’’
Indeed, the RTI Katta, an informal platform to learn the use of RTI has helped in individual empowerment and confidence at that level, to use the tool to fight causes that directly affect the individual. Quite admirable and worth applying all across the country.
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, and also convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.