These activists fell shy of making headlines, but their work ensured better governance and improved the lot of thousands across the country.
Vijay Khumbhar, 51, Maharashtra
The RTI law, under Section 4, provides for suo motu declaration of information, but it is seldom followed in government offices. Vijay Khumbar’s campaign for transparency pushed the Pune Municipal Corporation to declare two hours every Monday as an open house, during which citizens could visit the municipal office and take photocopies of any document they wanted. Similar models have now been adopted by the Solapur and Thane municipal corporations.
The Pune corporation also has an RTI library that allows people access to information on the master plan, salaries of public servants and expenditure on various public works. “The municipal corporation allotted R25 lakh to the library after I told politicians it would give them positive publicity,” he said.
PK Ibrahim, 52, Kerala
Ibrahim’s RTI application and the subsequent petition in the Kerala High Court ensured that every school in the state has one toilet each for 20 girls and 40 boys, which is a state government norm. Ibrahim and his colleagues, DB Binu and Abey George, pushed the state government in 2010 to issue an order that every school should meet the prescribed norms, and failure to do so would ensure action against principals of government schools and managers of government-aided ones.
Recently, RTI applications issued by the forum had helped thousands of tribals get back their land from rich plantation owners. “We have shown that RTI can be used for public good and to improve transparency in the government. But the state information commission is not helping,” Ibrahim said.
Geeta Potsamgbam, 35, Manipur
A panchayat head in a village near Imphal had to construct houses for eight families with his own money after an RTI application filed by Geeta revealed that he had swindled the money. Records had, however, showed that the houses had been constructed. Geeta started women RTI groups, called the Macha Leima, in more than 48 gram panchayats — each having 15-20 women members.
“They have filed over 2,000 RTI applications, which have helped them get full MGNREGA wages and ration under the government’s public distribution system,” she said. Before that, they were getting just 10 kg of the 35 kg subsidised ration, and half of the MGNREGA wages. “Now, we don’t even have to file an RTI application to get information. Corruption has declined too,” Geeta added.
Manjunath, 42, Karnataka
Sometime ago, Manjunath published name of all beneficiaries of a government scheme in Arivu, India’s only RTI newspaper. One of the beneficiary claimed that he had not received even a single penny from the government. Another RTI was filed by him and the person received all his dues from the official within 15 days. Through his monthly newspaper, which is sold at Rs 10 a copy and has circulation of 4,000 copies, he also unearthed a scam of Rs. 1.5 crore in MGNREGA, after which he was brutally assaulted.
“Every word published in my monthly newspaper is based on RTI applications that I and my friends file,” said Manjunath, who uses his agriculture income to fund his unique initiative. “Through RTI, the common man can question the top-most person in power,” Manjunath said.
Dr Shaikh Gulam Rasool, 38, Jammu & Kashmir
A few years ago, Dr Gulam Rasool was visited by a daily wage worker suffering from depression. The cause of the ailment, he found, was the fact that he did not get a ration card because of his inability to pay a bribe of Rs. 500 to the panchayat head. A comprehensive RTI revealed that as many as 24 ration cards were registered in the names of the panchayat head’s four-member family. Following a complaint, the fake ration cards were cancelled and the worker received his document.
Similar RTI applications filed in the Valley further improved transparency with regard to ration card issuance. Now, the RTI Act has helped unravel the mystery surrounding the unmarked graves and disappearance of local residents in Kashmir. “It has also reduced fake encounters,” he said.
Ambesh Meghwal, 30, Rajasthan
Fed up with the corruption prevailing at the Sajiyali gram panchayat, Meghwal filed an RTI application in 2008 to seek a list of all development activities in the area. He was beaten up and denied access to the information. When he continued to insist, they asked him to cough up a sum of R35,000 for photocopies of the documents. "They deliberately gave me useless and misleading documents just to harass me," Meghwal — who was education till Class 10 — said.
Unwilling to give up, Meghwal challenged the officials in court and soon, his RTI application had started a trend. “After that, other villagers also started filing RTI applications. That put pressure on the authorities and, in the years that followed, there was a clear decline in corruption in matters concerning the Indira Aawas Yojana, etc.”
Pradip Pradhan, 43, Orissa
When he came to know about the corruption that exists in the paddy procurement programme under the public distribution system (PDS) in Bolangir district, Pradhan filed a number of applications under the RTI Act to expose the alleged nexus between millers and government officials. "They had come up with fake kisan cards. We identified at least 200 such cases in just one area," Pradhan, who takes the lead in organising state-level public hearings on RTI applications, said.
Also, in the aftermath of the Orissa farmer suicides in 2009, he was able to set a time frame for the much-delayed report/recommendation of a state-level farmers’ commission.
Activist gets 1,700 blank pages for an answer
- K Srinivasan, Tamil Nadu
When the babudom wishes to evade RTI, they blank out the information, literally.
RTI activist K Srinivasan of Tiruchirapalli’s Perakambi village received 1,700 blank pages in response to his application seeking information on the irregularities in the auction of babul trees. Worse, he had been made to pay R16,080 for it. And the worst? Exactly a month after the reply came, Srinivasan was mercilessly thrashed to dissuade him from pursuing his inquiries.The irregularities had occurred in the felling and auction of trees across 120 acres in Perakambi village between 2007 and 2009. The contracts, Srinivasan maintained, were given for a pittance, causing a huge loss to the exchequer. "On October 4, I was attacked for trying to expose panchayat president Logeswari and her husband Anjanenjan," Srinivasan said. Anjanenjan is a local BJP strongman.