A calendar to inspire RTI initiatives
It's almost mid-2007 but not too late to look at a special calendar meant to keep reminding citizens about India's fairly new and powerful Right to Information (RTI) Act.
The calendar published by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) points out that the law in force since October 2005 has fuelled hope that India would see "a transition from a secretive system of governance to one of openness".
"The right to access information has meant that India has started to witness growing numbers of successful stories where people have actively taken up the charge to fight corruption and injustice," says the CHRI.
Once a club of nations linked by accidents of history, if not a network of former British colonies, the CHRI with offices in New Delhi, London and Ghana today has programmes on access to information and access to justice.
CHRI believes in the power of the stories emerging on its 2007 monthly reminder in the form of a calendar.
These stories "will go down in history, serving as a source of inspiration to millions of citizens who remain in the dark about the status of their allotment of ration cards, long-due passports, pending pensions, awaiting employment and much more".
CHRI has adopted as its mascot Saakshi, a young protagonist from its 'Ab To Hum Janenge' radio programme on the Right to Information. Saakshi is a postgraduate student who is willing to inform and help people solve their problems by using the RTI.
CHRI's "stories" focus on the quality of essential items sold through the government's public distribution system (from Gujarat), mutation cases of small landowners (Madhya Pradesh), windmills built over bauxite land (Satara, Maharashtra), and political transfers of police officers (Mumbai).
There are also 'stories' about citizens unearthing how taxpayers' money was spent over the use of official vehicles (Maharashtra); first-aid kits bought for schools at extortionate prices (in Madhya Pradesh); inspection of some of Delhi's poor quality roads; overcharging of citizens seeking official info (Mumbai); a village wall-newspaper from a Karnataka panchayat; and how the poor can recover their lost ration cards.
From its office in New Delhi, the CHRI says it "catalyses civil society and governments to take action over RTI and other issues, acts as a hub of technical expertise in support of strong legislation, and assists partners with implementation of good practice".
It also works with local groups and officials, to build government and civil society "capacity", as well as advocating with policy makers.
CHRI is active in South Asia, a region that has a lot of diversity but shares the commonality of a history of British colonialism.
It was one of the backers for a national RTI law in India, and is offering inputs for the same in Africa. In the Pacific, the CHRI works with regional and national organisations to catalyse interest in accessing legislation.