Why spread awareness about Right to Information?

One of the projects of LEAF Society deals specifically with spreading awareness about Right to Information Act. Now most people would wonder why it is so important to spread information about a particular act, for an NGO, rather than providing the disadvantaged people with food and clothing. The full form of LEAF, Leadership through Education and Action Foundation, answers that question.

This article discusses Right to Information, and why is it so important for the country to the extent that it is Rahul Gandhi’s second most favorite topic after women empowerment!

RTI Applications are a potent tool to gather information from Government organizations. It brings a certain transparency in the functioning of government, at all levels, let it be the information about the expenses of Prime Minister’s travels, or you just want to know how much your college is spending on the library. All of this is to help create a corruption free society. Using RTI one can take on their corrupt governments! In fact, RTI can also be filed against private institutions1.

It is very important for each individual to be aware of rights that RTI Act, 2005 intends to give them, because the Act intends to give the rights only to the individual citizens. Legal Persons (such as NGOs and other organizations) are not counted as citizens in India, and thereby only natural persons (i.e. individual human beings) can file an RTI under the act. This is what LEAF Society is trying to achieve through their ‘Governance: Right to Information’ Project. One of the key problems that RTI faces is the low awareness among general public about the Act.

Section 26 of the Act states that the appropriate Government may develop and organize educational programmes to advance the understanding of the public, especially disadvantaged communities, regarding how to exercise the rights contemplated under the Act. But till date, no government has taken any as such initiatives, however few SICs (State Information Commissions) such as SIC-Orissa, and SIC-Andhra Pradesh organize district level seminars to increase awareness about the act.  And also,  they are the only  two SICs  involved  in  publishing  user  guides  for information seekers! (Figure 1)

 1Figure 1

The survey revealed that only 15% people were aware of the Act, and most of them got to know of it through mass media, or some through word of mouth.

The awareness is particularly low among the disadvantaged communities such as Women, backward classes, and rural population. (Figure 2)

2

Figure 2

Most people are not even aware of how to file an RTI, despite the various simple options that are available to file an RTI. There are various other ways in which a person can file an RTI application, for example, through PIOs, by Post, by electronic mails, through a facilitation Centre, or if you seek any information from central government you just need to visit this website https://rtionline.gov.in.

3

Figure 3

RTI Act is of great significance when it comes to combating corruption in the governmental bodies. But like any other law, it too is not properly implemented. Around 20,000 RTI applications are supposedly pending with the Central Information Commission (CIC) 2. In the 8 years since the inception of RTI, the attacks on activists have been long on count, with 53 attacks (9 murders) in Maharashtra, and 34 in Gujarat (3 murders), among others by the end of 20133. Rinku Singh Rahi, a PCS Officer in UP, was first shot six times by local gangsters, resulting in damaged jaw and vision, when he exposed the corruption in sponsored welfare schemes in Uttar Pradesh, and later in 2012 was whisked away by the Police from the site where he was protesting, and falsely sent to psychiatric ward of a medical college in Lucknow4.

Anyway, the purpose of sharing this information was not to freak you out, or to give you a false impression that filing an RTI can be dangerous, but to highlight the power that it gives to common man, to fight with the corrupt government.

There have been many successful cases where RTI led to the exposure of corruption. Akhil Gogoi, a National Right to Information Award winner, was among the first people who successfully used RTI to expose corruption, when he exposed a Rs. 25 Crore scam in Sampooma Gram Rozgar Yojna (SGRY) and Rs. 60 Lakhs scam in the Indira Awas Yojana (IAY) in Golaghat district of Assam5.

LEAF Society itself, provides training on RTI Act, and has trained hundreds of women, children, and youths. Its members have attended numerous national and international workshops on RTI, have developed on toolkits on social accountability, and LEAF itself has filed over 1600 RTI applications.

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1. Only if there is a public utility accorded to them, and RTI can be filed on matters only related to that utility.

2.  http://www.deccanherald.com/content/145068/F

3. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Maharashtra-tops-country-in-attacks-murder-of-RTI-activists/articleshow/27743408.cms

4. http://www.ndtv.com/article/cities/lucknow-whistleblower-bureaucrat-picked-up-from-protest-site-taken-to-psychiatric-ward-190277?curl=1395421903

5. http://www.assamtribune.com/scripts/details.asp?id=nov2909/at09

NOTE: All figures used in this article, are taken from the report that has been prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in association with IMRB (market research partner), and can be found here.

About the author

Neer Varshney is a first year law student at Symbiosis Law School Noida. He is interested in writing over matters of Politics, Philosophy, Law, Minority Rights, etc. He is currently working as a Content Developer intern with LEAF Society.

Got any concern regarding this article? Drop in a comment below!

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