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Capital's hero: The RTI Act

Ginnie Mahajan
Thursday, September 28, 2006  22:48 IST
The Right to Information Act is revolutionising governance

NEW DELHI: September 28 is celebrated as the Right to Know Day across the
world. And the day has special significance for the Capital, as it's been
five years since the Right to Information (RTI) Act came into being here.
10,200 cases have been registered in the past five years and Delhi has
proved to be a model to follow for the country.
So what have Delhiites achieved through that Act since it came into effect
in 2001? Quite a lot, say activists working in this field. In South Delhi
and East of Kailash, roads full of potholes were repaired. Streetlights
started working miraculously and all simply after submitting an application.
Across Delhi a lot of ghost projects (projects only on paper) actually
started being implemented after RWAs demanded their status report.
According to Shekhar Singh, an activist involved with the RTI Act, one of
the most corrupt departments in Delhi is the passport department. He says
more than 2,000 cases were found pending in the passport office. He
remembers a case wherein an 80-year-old widow, whose only son lived abroad,
was unable to get her passport even after repeated complaints.
"I asked her to file an application under the RTI Act to find out the status
of her passport. The officials at the passport office simply saw her
application and without accepting it, immediately gave her the passport.
That's the power of the RTI act."
The income tax department is another office which has received a large
number of applications. "People wanted to know about delays in their
refunds, arbitrary assessments and harassment by I-T officials. It has
reached such a stage that senior officials are actually ready to make
structural changes in the rules to avoid daily embarrassment," says Manish
Sisodia who works for Kabir, an NGO.
Another area wherein the act actually brought transparency is the public
distribution system. Rations have become extremely regularised in most
colonies and ration shops now maintain transparency by opening their books
every second Saturday.
However, some flaws still remain. "We have forced the government to become
more transparent, but it seems to be impossible to get the police to get
cases lodged against government departments. Also the number of people who
are seeking information through this act is also a little less than we would
like it to be," said Venkatesh Naik from the Commonwealth Human Rights
Publication : DNA; Section : India; Pg: 12; Date: 29/9/06



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