The Central Information Commission (CIC), which had given the task of compiling success stories of Right to Information (RTI) from across the States, to Pune’s Yashwantrao Chavan Academy for Development and Administration (YASHDA), has come out with a glossy, 120-page coffee table book. This contains over 50 RTI success stories of citizens and several transparency initiatives by public authorities.
YASHADA reached out to Administrative Training Institutes of all States, seeking success stories from them. It also held a workshop, inviting citizens who had success stories to narrate through the use of RTI. Out of the entire compilation in the coffee table book, 11 stories have also been sourced from Moneylife
Released recently by Home Minister Rajnath Singh at the National RTI Convention in Delhi, the hard copies of this book are unavailable for sale and only 1,000 of them have been printed. The CIC has instead uploaded the book on its website. Here is the link
The book makes for an interesting and exhaustive read. Regarding initiatives taken by the public authorities, some of them are wonderful models for replication but one wonders why the CIC or the government has chosen to ignore.
One of them is from Bihar, which has set up `Jaankari’, a government-initiated call centre that accepts RTI applications, first and second appeals over the phone. The Rs10 fees for the RTI application is compensated through the premium rate services of the BSNL applied when a citizen calls up 155311 for telephonically filing RTI applications. It also has a helpline where citizens can report, if they have received threats as a result of using this transparency law. The system has been designed in an ‘information at your doorstep’ format whereby the hassles of physical movement by the common man have been removed.
Another good initiative, the RTI Act in Braille, an English booklet, `A Guide to the Right to Information Act 2005 for the Visually Impaired,’ has empowered hundreds of visually challenged citizens of Meghalaya to use the Act for their personal grievances like procurement of certificates required for education/jobs and so on. This is an initiative of the Legal Awareness Cell, Bethany Society and the Meghalaya Administrative Training Institute.
S Rajendran, Section Officer, Secretariat, Chennai on deputation as District Treasury Officer at Thanjavur was disturbed at the larger number of cheques or Rs50,000 each, which were to be disbursed to widows of pensioners after the demise of their husbands, but were returned due to lack of correct address. So, he himself sought details of the cheques that were returned, under the Right to Information (RTI) Act from the Public Information Officer (PIO) of the Directorate of Pension at Chennai. A few days later, the Joint Director of the Directorate of Pension, Chennai personally visited the District Treasury at Thanjavur and provided Rajendran a long list of unpaid cheques, which had been returned as the families of pensioners had shifted their residences after the death of the pensioner. The list also contained cheques for medical treatment of the pensioners who had passed away. However, the list given by the Joint Director contained only names of pensioners and their PPO Numbers. Rajendran worked relentlessly to procure addresses, with help of the Association of Pensioners. As a result of these efforts, cheques to the tune of about Rs1.5 crore were re-issued to 327 pensioners on 5 August 2016.
Another interesting story is the Department of Publications, working under the Ministry of Urban Development, which launched a portal www.egazette.nic.in
to maintain duly categorised gazette notifications online to provide easy access to citizens. However, users were required to pay fees or charges prescribed by the government to download the soft copies. This was in contravention of the provisions of the RTI Act, 2005, which mandates all information, rules, laws, and notifications to be made available free of cost to the public. C Ramesh, a resident of Sathuvachari at Vellore filed a complaint, which directed the Cabinet Secretariat to inform all ministries and departments of the government to make available digitised version of the gazette notifications to citizens not only for reading but also for downloading, without any charges. Consequent to this CIC order, downloading of the e-gazette in the portal www.egazette.nic.in
has been made free.
Personal success stories of women power in Rural India are also inspiring. For example, Kamla Moirangthiem is a resident of Uchekontakhok village of Manipur had applied for the Indira Awas Yojana (IAY). However, only three applications were approved and she did not know whether she had made it to the list of beneficiaries. Kamla’s friend filed an RTI application, seeking information of the list of beneficiaries under the IAY scheme. The information revealed that Kamla was selected as one of the beneficiaries. When Kamla approached the Pradhan of her Gram Panchayat with a request for money for her house, he said she would be given Rs18,000 to build a house. Knowing that she was entitled to Rs35,000, Kamla refused to sign the paper.
She then filed a complaint with the District Collector but no action was taken, upon which she filed a writ petition in the Guwahati High Court’s lmphal bench in 2009. The High Court directed the administration to take appropriate action on her complaint. She became the first person to get the entire amount not only in her village but also in nearby areas. Now, people look up to her and promise her that they too would fight for their entire money that they are entitled for, under the Indira Awas Yojana.
(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”.)