During the October RTI clinic at Cubbon Park, I met Jacob P (name changed to protect identity), a private sector employee who participated in the September edition for the first time. After that, he has never missed a clinic and has been updating me on the status of his applications regularly. "The commitment and enthusiasm of some of the RTI activists I met during the clinic inspired me to use the Act in public interest. I have told one of my friends about what I saw and heard and hope to bring him along next time", said Jacob.
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In October and November, Jacob filed applications to Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Limited (BMRCL) and Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) respectively. BMRCL responded unsatisfactorily to his inquiry about the fate of delayed projects.
Jacob’s question to BMTC about the criteria for determining the passenger fares evoked some interesting action from the body. Within two weeks, Jacob received a letter from the BMTC head office on K.H. Road (Double Road) inviting him to a one-on-one discussion. One of its officers seemed to appreciate Jacob’s interest in the matter. He was pleased with BMTC’s responsiveness initially but slowly sensed that it was trying to discourage him from pursuing the issue although the officer revealed that the Karnataka state cabinet decides the ticket prices. After a few days, Jacob received a letter from BMTC requesting him to deposit Rs. 20 by cash at its office on a weekday morning and collect relevant documents immediately. However, after he paid the amount on the morning of 15th December, he was asked to wait until 3 pm for the papers as the concerned person was unavailable. "Such delays are not surprising!" said Jacob who observed that the cash collection counters close much earlier than stated on official notice boards.
RTI activist Anand S of Anti Courruption Forum, Bangalore concluded that the additional fee charged was for the 10 page documentation that BMTC had provided. This detailed the fare calculation based on number and distance of stops, type of service like Pushpak, Vajra (Volvo), Suvarna, etc. Vikram Simha, another seasoned RTI activist in Bangalore from KRIA Katte suggested that Jacob could exchange ideas and information with online RTI discussion groups. "The next step is to verify if the stipulated fare rules are being followed and to what extent", said Jacob.
Observations at the monthly RTI Clinics
After participating in some of the sessions over the last 6 months, I have found the following until now:
• Persons from low income background or their representatives have not attended although NGO’s/CBO’s working with them are keen that they do.
• Often, there have been only two or three women out of a total of nearly 30 participants – sometimes the number dropped to zero or one when the overall attendance was around twenty. And the women counted include one of the RTI clinic’s facilitators from the Centre for Advocacy and Research (CFAR) and me.
Interestingly, these facts are in concordance with a report from a Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT, Government of India) initiated study on Understanding the "Key Issues and Constraints" in Implementing the RTI Act. Published in June 2009 it is available at Study on RTI – Final Report