Pune’s traditional katta culture, wherein like-minded people gather informally to chat in public places, has now, RTI, as the new topic of discussion
Although Maharashtra is one of the states with a large number of users of Right to Information (RTI) Act, knowledge and information about the Act, is still found wanting. This is amply reflected during my RTI workshops or public lectures on this topic.
In an innovative and fun-loving approach, leading RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar, who is the founder president of Surajya Sangharsha Samiti, launched the `RTI Katta’ last fortnight at Pune’s premier public garden, Chittaranjan Vatika, in the upper crust Model Colony neighbourhood. More than 50 Puneites attended the meeting, out of which several of them came from across the city. Within a week, the ‘RTI Katta’ fervor has spread to five more public gardens, with the respective local residents taking initiative to host them.
The objective of the `RTI Katta’ is not to preach about the RTI Act, says Kumbhar, “but to empower oneself through discussions amongst each other. It is an umbrella where the attendees get an insight into various issues that crop during the informal chat. A person’s query or problem is answered by several people which results in a healthy and relevant solution than one RTI expert providing the answer. Moreover, it strengthens the belief in RTI movement which is time and again scuttled by the government through various circulars and amendments.”
Kumbhar has laid down some rules for forming an RTI Katta, one of which will soon be launched in Ahmednagar: RTI Katta should be formed in such a public place where no official permission is required, a public garden is the best bet; the name of any individual or organisation should not be added wherever the RTI Katta is being formed; the meeting should be purely a discussion forum and there should be no one-sided speech; any attendee is welcome to seek advice on his RTI applications; any attendee is welcome to give his opinion, however he or she should ensure that he is not misguiding the person; no one should object or scorn if an attendee, new to the RTI Act asks an irrelevant question – he/she should be enlightened through this forum; there should be no exchange of money for either asking a query or answering it; since this forum is all about individual empowerment, no person should try to solve the problem of the other but encourage the individual to fight his/her own RTI battle.
Shamala Desai, a noted social activist who had attended the maiden `RTI Katta’ stated, “there was tremendous curiosity and eagerness to be a part of the RTI movement. It also showed that many people put a RTI application but do not know how to follow up if they do not get a reply. Several youngsters too who attended it were keen to make this citizen-friendly law, stronger, by its constant use.”
Pune is the pioneer of the RTI Library, which was named after stalwart journalist-activist Prakash Kardaley and inaugurated by Arvind Kejriwal in 2008. Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) is also the first city to introduce the 3pm to 5pm walk-in for citizens, every Monday, in all its departments. Pune was the first city wherein Inspection of files under Section 4 of the RTI Act was conducted, the RTI activist being Vijay Kumbhar. With Pune having so many firsts to its credit in the RTI movement, its latest addition–RTI Katta–is sure to bring more people close to RTI.
Here’s wishing that many more cities, towns and villages start `RTI Kattas’ which is a real cool way of gaining knowledge about RTI and using it to good effect. For more details on how to start a RTI Katta get in touch with Vijay Kumbhar at [email protected] or call him on 09923299199
(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”.)