An NRI has used a new Indian law to get his income tax refund without bribing. After waiting for five years without any reply from the income tax office, 60-year-old Tushar Dalvi, an NRI living in Mumbai, filed an application under the Right to Information (RTI) Act and got his refund pronto - in fact, in a week.
Earlier, he tried to use the services of a chartered accountant who wanted Rs 50,000 ($1,130) as his fees and "other expenses". Since this amount was almost half of the refund, Dalvi looked for a solution and filed a query under RTI and got speedy action.
People are now taking the RTI route in a big way to get what is rightfully theirs. Take, for example, Radhey Shyam, a construction worker. He wanted to go to the Gulf for work, and applied for a passport in May 2006.
He didn't get it till October. Fed up, he filed an RTI application in the Regional Passport Office. Sure enough, he got his passport by December.
Though it's been more than a year since the RTI Act came into effect, not many know about it. So a series of awareness campaigns in different cities and parts of India has been organised. These awareness drives have been a great success as the poor people get to know about their rights to get information on their applications or dealings with the government.
RTI is a fundamental right of every citizen buried by the red tape and corruption. But if the right to information is a fundamental right, then why does it need a law?
Simply because if you go into a government office and demand that it tell you why your work has not been done, it will not entertain you or might even throw you out. If it's a law, then it becomes harder to do this. If the office did not give you the information you wanted, it will have broken a law and can be punished for it!
To provide the information, every Indian government department has a Public Information Officer or PIO responsible for collecting the information you need and giving it to you within a short, specific period.
Of course, some information on defence, scientific and economic matters and foreign affairs and other sensitive areas cannot be disclosed. Since most people do not require information on these matters, RTI can serve them well.
You can file an RTI application on a plain paper either by post or give it personally with a small fee. The application fee for the central government departments is just Rs 10. For getting information, you have to pay Rs.2 per page of information provided by a central government department.
There is also a fee for inspecting documents. There is no fee for the first hour of inspection, but after that, you have to pay Rs.5 for every hour of inspection.
You can deposit the fee in cash or through a demand draft, banker's cheque or a postal order. However, different states have different fees.
You can file your application with the PIO of the department you are questioning and obtain a receipt and you must receive information within 30 days. For more details, go to www.rti.gov.in among other websites.
All NRIs moan about the apathy and corruption of government offices and how they are sent from one dreary office to another to get nowhere. Now RTI can help them but, like all government departments, it has piled up hundreds of cases and a large number of irate applicants accuse PIOs of dismissing their applications summarily.
The authorities say that the number of applications has increased so much that they are unable to handle them as enough staff is still to be appointed. A new government body just over a year old is drowned in paperwork and lack of action. Typical of any government department!
Instead of appointing more clerks, perhaps technology can solve registering and tracing applications with a heavy-duty scanner to create a computer database. But an application pointing to high corruption got 'lost' although most officers know about it! A suggestion is that PIOs be appointed from the private sector and not from government departments.
RTI came into effect on Oct 12, 2005, but has not been fully implemented in all states and at all levels. RTI requires an aggressive and massive campaign to inform the people about their fundamental right to information.
Despite its slow start, RTI heralds a new era for government accountability and transparency for the common man. Next time an NRI gets frustrated with no response from the apathetic and pathetic government departments, there is hope of speedy action as Tushar Dalvi discovered.