Saturday, June 02, 2007

Another success on the RTI platform

The RTI Act has several warts, it faces a lot of pressure from the bureaucracy which is being forced to take action, it is dependent to a large extent on the diktats of the information commissioners; but it is causing a number of long pending cases to be heard and resolved. And the prime reason, the main advantage of the RTI Act being that it gives people the right to take a peek inside Government file movement and decision making. The RTI Act remains one of the key laws passed in the recent past by parliament, and as it sinks more deeper into society, people will use it far more.
In this particular case, a widow whose husband was employed with the Government was entitled to receive Rs. 53,000 under a group insurance scheme after his death. For 12 years (12 years is a very large period of time in such circumstances), she was battling with the Gujarat state revenue department to get this money. There were some procedural issues with the premium that her husband had to pay, but she was not aware of these details. Finally, she filed a case under the RTI Act, and the Gujarat Information Commission asked the revenue department to file a reply. Based on this reply, the widow had to pay some amount against unpaid premium, and then she was allotted the insurance proceeds.
Besides the obvious issue of an uncaring department, the bureaucracy is normally unresponsive because the details of file movement are not disclosed to the applicant. However, the RTI Act entitles the applicant to know about current status of the file / application, and when the concerned babu is brought under the laser spotlight of the RTI application, things move.
All of us know this, that the bureaucracy is a picture of sloth, with things normally moving at a slow pace. Until there are some systemic reforms, the RTI Act presents a very good way (much better than other ways) of getting information (as a right) and then being able to get action taken based on this information.
There are a number of movements geared towards getting people aware of their rights under the RTI Act. Some of these are:
3. India Together
4. RTI (Govt)
The true powers of this Act are only possible when people use this right to information whenever they feel stone-walled or when they need information for a public cause (like amount of money allocated and spent in their sorroundings).

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 10:37 AM