A bank manager who refuses to accept a ration card as residential proof; a policeman who hints at a bribe to expedite an investigation or a passport officer who keeps your application in deep freeze. These are only a few faces of the red tape and corruption one encounters every day. Instead of succumbing to the corrupt, exercising your right to information can help you deliver them a body blow.
For the uninitiated, the right to information (RTI) is a part of fundamental rights under Article 19 (1) of the Constitution. The Right to Information Act 2005 empowers citizens to ask any questions from the Government or seek any information; take copies of any Government documents; inspect Government documents; Inspect Government work and even take samples of materials of Government work. All one needs is the resolve to take the corrupt on.
Take the case of former State Bank of India official Prem Sharma. Sharma, 73, wanted to meet his pregnant daughter based in Germany. When his passport did not arrive even 75 days after his application, Sharma filed an RTI application. He got it 10 days after filing an RTI application. “This is the last resort for anybody who is dismayed by the rot in bureaucracy. The application worked like a magic wand.”
Similarly, Dilshad Garden resident Mohammed Arif applied to the MTNL for an STD connection on his Garud phone. Beyond the 48 hours stipulated for the connection, the work was delayed for over two weeks. Then Aarif was told he wouldn’t get the connection as the verification report said the phone was not in his name. After using RTI, the job was done in a day.
Spearheaded by the Hindustan Times, a number of media organisations have joined hands with NGOs such as Parivartan for a national campaign against bribes. The campaign focuses on using the Right to Information to get legitimate, pending work with the Government such as issue of passport, any type of licence, certification like marriage, death, birth, inclusion of name in voters’ list etc – without having to pay ‘speed money’.
On the ground, volunteers from hundreds of NGOs will assist citizens in filing RTI applications. The 45 cities, where assistance centres have been set up, besides Delhi are Bhilai, Chhindwara, Mumbai, Pune, Ahmedabad, Shahdol, Satna, Lucknow, Hyderabad, Vishakhapatnam, Vijaywada, Faizabad, Sangli, Satara, Indore, Guwahati, Patna, Ranchi, Raipur, Jamshedpur, Devgarh, Dhanbad, Gorakhpur, Jaipur, Ajmer, Karauli, Chittorgarh, Bhim, Abu Road, Bhadesar, Bikaner, Nokha, Bhilwara, Akola, Nagpur, Shillong, Jabalpur, Bhuvaneshwar, Chitrakoot, Dumka, Lumding, Jhanjharpur, Katni, Rajnandgaon, Ludhiana.
Over 2,000 volunteers have been trained to man assistance counters in these cities. This includes 200 volunteers in Delhi and another 250 in Mumbai.
In Delhi, volunteers will assist people in drafting RTI applications and guide them on how to deposit the fee and application with the Government at the Nehru Yuva Kendra in Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium. Two national helplines (09250492504) at (01243000000) have been set up to answer basic queries. “The bureaucracy succeeds by tiring you, hoping that you will give up. Often we do. It is time people stood up for their rights,” sums up Manish Sisodia of Parivartan.