Having missed the Right to Information (RTI) clinic in September, I was determined to participate in this edition. Despite the minimal participation, Bangalore’s famous and seasoned RTI activists (and retired government employees) like Veeresh Bellur and Vikram Simha from Mahiti Hakku Adhyan Kendra (MHAK) and Anand S of Anti-Corruption Forum (ACF) continue to inspire us with their knowledge and enthusiasm. And, this may be impossible without the committed efforts of Bangalore based civil society organizations (CSO’s) like South India Cell for Human Rights Education and Monitoring (SICHREM), Urban Research Centre (URC), Centre for Advocacy and Research (CFAR), OpenSpace and others who not only conceived the idea but are also ensuring its smooth progress for 5 consecutive months.
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“RTI Act is a tool to obtain information and not address grievances”, said Bellur. Also, certain documents/details pertinent to commercial, fiduciary/financial, third party transactions (like savings accounts in a nationalized bank), etc., are not under its purview – section 8 of the Act lists all the exemptions.
Bellur and Simha suggested that citizens could file applications and share information serving public interest. Further, they mentioned that one or more persons could focus on obtaining data from specific government departments to understand their budgets, projects, expenditure, et al. For eg., one can file an RTI application to determine if a public infrastructure organization/job is using human resources proportionate to its size, cost, etc.
The RTI activists and organizers agreed that it is necessary to create and spread awareness about the RTI Act and its importance especially among the marginalized sections of society like construction labourers, unorganized sector employees, etc. They reiterated that the government has many schemes and benefits like ESI, pension, etc. for the economically backward which many of them are unaware of or unable to avail due to incorrect/incomplete knowledge of the procedure or the inability to fill up necessary forms. Even if they are able to complete the mandatory process by themselves or with external assistance they may not get the entitled amount due to bureaucratic hurdles (i.e., delays, payoffs, et al). Filing RTI applications would help in reducing such issues like the discovery that Rs. 250 crores allotted for benefits/schemes for the excluded was lying unused in a state department.
“We have been monitoring the Karnataka Information Commission’s (KIC) functioning closely and continuously to ensure that it delivers”, highlighted Simha. Obviously, the RTI Act’s implementation is reasonably successful here. He added that another activist was filing an RTI application to obtain KIC’s monthly data on pending cases (applications, appeals, etc.) until recently, but the department is declaring it suo moto (i.e., voluntarily) now.
Gururaja Budhya of URC who attended a national consultation on the RTI Act in New Delhi in October shared how poor farmers and contract labourers from some of the small villages of Uttar Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Bihar, etc. participated eagerly to learn about the Act. He mentioned how some of them had also used it to obtain information on daily wage payment, etc. He expressed that Bangalore (like other state capitals) scores over other parts of Karnataka in exercising the Right to Information quite successfully. The RTI champions agreed that along with other community based organizations (CBO’s), they should try to replicate their achievements particularly in the remote districts where people barely know/utilize the Act.
After providing our feedback and contact information, we left feeling that we had shared and gained important insights regarding the RTI and relevant Acts, and the application, response and appeal processes.
Sudha K (CFAR, Bangalore) – 94495 firstname.lastname@example.org