The Centre’s move to amend the RTI Act is attracting widespread criticism and protests. But the ‘Don’t Pay Bribe: Use RTI’ campaign has left Magsaysay Award winner and social activist SANDEEP PANDEY with a plethora of experiences. Here, he provides a lowdown on his firsthand experience.
ON VISITING Deoria, Gorakhpur, Moradabad, Faizabad, Mau and Kushinagar between July 1 and 15 (the period when the nationwide campaign ‘Don’t Pay Bribe: Use RTI’ was on) my experience was similar to those acquired during visits to Hardoi, Sitapur, Unnao, Chandauli, Varanasi and Sultanpur.
In these places, people didn’t know who the department’s Public Information Officer (PIO) was. The PIOs also didn’t wish to identify themselves and there was much confusion about how to accept the Rs. 10 fee with every RTI application. The officials were trying to find every excuse to turn people away from their offices. People were being made to run from one office to another.
In Deoria, no application had been accepted till July 10. After speaking to CDO, JB Singh, who was officiating as DM, some applications began to be accepted on treasury chalan. The officials of the Education Department, the Basic Shiksha Adhikari and the District Inspector of Schools, were missing from their offices during the entire campaign period as most of the applications pertained to this department.
Gorakhpur was one of the best-organised camps. In spite of the DM Dr. Hari Om having inaugurated the camp on July 1, except for the Gorakhpur Development Authority and the Gorakhpur Nagar Nigam, no department had accepted fees with applications.
The Police Department refused to entertain any RTI application. One PWD employee was able to get his Rs 16,000 pending healthcare expenses by applying under the RTI during this period.
In Moradabad, most people had not even heard of RTI or were confusing it with Lokvani, a computer programme through which people can file their complaints directly to the DM.
The awareness among people about RTI in eastern UP seemed to be better than that in western UP. It took more than two months for an activist to obtain the details about a Community Health Centre in Bilari. The young DM Pandhari Yadav agreed to look into the issue of institutionalising a mechanism to accept applications under RTI.
Faizabad happened to be the most successful camp as every application prepared was accepted by a clerk stationed at the camp itself. This, of course, would not have been possible without the cooperation of the dynamic DM Amod Kumar, who also happens to be the brain behind the Lokvani innovation. He had initiated Lokvani as the Sitapur DM.
However, Amod Kumar himself wasn’t sure whether the impact would remain when the camp was over on July 15.
In Mau, too, not a single application had been accepted before this campaign. District Magistrate P Guru Prasad was still finalizing his list of PIOs in various departments when the activists met him on July 14. Most of the officials were pretending ignorance about the Act.
Kushinagar was the only district, among the 12 visited, where District Development Officer Ravi Kumar was issuing official receipt on Treasury Form no. 385 to individual applicants. However, except for him, no other official was entertaining RTI applications.
District Magistrate Shashi Bhushan Lal Sushil was requested to replicate in other departments the system being adopted by his DDO for accepting RTI applications.
In many districts, despite assurances of officials, applicants continued to be turned away by ADM offices. However, Unnao, Chandauli, Varanasi, Hardoi, Sitapur and Sultanpur seemed to be doing comparatively better. But applicants in Sultanpur had to pay the Rs. 10 fees through challan.
Meanwhile, in Lucknow, people who had to file their applications with a PIO, whose office is located inside the Secretariat buildings, had a tough time getting inside these buildings because it required a pass based on the approval of the concerned official before one could enter these buildings. The DGP’s office, which had initially torn 3 RTI applications saying that they were not covered by the law, began to accept applications. Slowly the reality of the law was clearly sinking into the officials.
The achievement of the 15 days’ national campaign seemed to be a heightened awareness among the common people. In at least 14 districts, in which camps were set up in UP, and beginning of some process, in real or pretense, by the district level officials to set into place a system to follow the very important law.
The enthusiasm seemed to be infectious with the campaign spreading to other districts. Camps were planned in Azamgarh, Ghazipur, Naugarh and Chandauli.
Jaunpur DM Anurag Yadav spent 21 continuous days on his bicycle. He traveled for 4 hours a day in each Block to raise awareness among people about RTI among other things. The successes, though few, accomplished during the July 1-15 campaign were enough to keep the momentum among the people. It remains to be seen how long the officials will be able to avoid escaping implementation of the law.