21-year old Bhadresh Wamja becomes the youngest Sarpanch of Saldi village, from where he had launched his RTI campaign against ration shops as a teenager. Two years ago, Bhadresh succeeded in persuading the Gujarat government to proactively disclose ration supply information on the walls of fair price shops as well as at the tehsil level
As a 18-year old in 2011, Bhadresh Vamja, used Right to Information (RTI) effectively to find out why the two ration shops in his village Saldi were not supplying food grains under the public distribution system (PDS). It led to the Gujarat State Information Commissioner directing the food and supplies department to make it mandatory for fair price shops to pro-actively disclose supplies, on a weekly basis.
Two years down the line, Vamja, last week, has been elected as the Sarpanch of Saldi village, about 225kms from Gandhinagar, making him the youngest Sarpanch in Gujarat, at the age of 20.
Moneylife was amongst the first to write about his RTI campaign in 2011. Vamja excitedly called me and said, “I have become the Sarpanch by securing 758 votes out of 1,805. I have won by 310 votes.’’ He has become an instant celebrity.
Vamja’s passion with RTI began with the daily columns on this subject in a leading Gujarati newspaper, which he ardently read. One day, the amount of food supplies under PDS for the above poverty line (APL) and below poverty line (BPL) category was published in this daily. Taking a cue from there, he went to his fair price shopkeeper to ask for his family’s quota. Predictably enough, he was told that the stock hadn’t come since months. Vamja followed it up rigorously through inspection of files under Section 4 of RTI Act, against all odds including threats to him. (Detailed story here, as to how he took the issue to the logical end).
Vamja’s activism reflects the good effect of the media when it highlights laws like the RTI Act. He not only awakened his sleepy village from taking injustice lying down through corruption in ration shops, but created a social revolution across the state of Gujarat, by the mandatory weekly pro-active disclosures in all fair price shops, ordered by the State Information Commissioner.
Vamja says that RTI has helped him in understanding the power of pro-active citizen participation in a democracy. He said, “It is time that all of us exercise our rights and ensure we get them by fighting for them. This is the very reason why I decided to contest the Sarpanch election. I feel that, now that I am part of governance; I will be able to make a difference through transparency.’’
Vamja’s tryst with RTI has motivated him to spread the word by inspiring his peers to use RTI and by holding workshops. He works closely with Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel, a NGO in Ahmedabad, which has a very active RTI helpline for citizens. He says, “The young generation must use RTI for all their daily issues like procuring a driving license, passport etc so that corruption will subside. Youngsters should also get into politics and stand for elections at every level, in order to cleanse the political system.’’
Vamja’s mission now is to implement e-governance in his capacity as Sarpanch. “This is the best step towards transparency and justice to the people,’’ he says.
We wish him all the best.
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(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and 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”)