गुरुवार, 18 सितंबर 2008

RTI 'grads' at your service

by Kartikeya
Democracy, as embodied in the average citizen's Right toInformation, is striding ahead confidently. A group of Mumbaikars from various fields, armed with a certificate course in RTI, is ready tocut the masters of red tape to size, to jolt the sultans of sloth and bring the rajas of babudom down to earth.
The 24 men and women who comprise this group have completed acertificate course from a south Mumbai college on how to use RTI professionally—they include businessmen, college professors, retired bankers and chartered accountants. All of them have now mastered the art of framing queries under the RTI Act to goad the civic authorities into action. With time, they hope to become advisors and consultants to the wider citizenry.
"The act is no longer a mystery for us. We now know the process andhow to use it," said Priyavadan Nanavati (73), a chartered accountant.That, according to most participants in the course, has been their biggest gain. Activists like Shailesh Gandhi have taught them thatthey are not ''beggars'' or supplicants for information. They areapplicants for their rights.
"For 14 years, the road outside my factory in Vithalwadi was lying unrepaired. While doing the course I filed a simple RTI query askingthe concerned department about the status of the road and within notime, the repair work started," said Pradeep Raisinghani (39), a businessman. "We now know that getting the required information depends on framing the right questions," said Pervez Homi Lentin (61),a retired professor of physics. Participants realized that vague and abstract questions could easily be turned down by government departments and they have learnt to hone their skills in framin gqueries which will elicit the best response.
"For instance, we now know it's better never to ask the BMC 'when' aparticular piece of work will be completed. Rather, we demandinformation on the funds allocated for it, the officer utilising themand the progress reports submitted by him to his ward office," said Leann Almeida, a law student. Similarly, while seeking information about a file reported as lost, these experts will ask which officer reported it as lost and whether a police complaint was lodged or not."These small things ensure that the officers cannot shirk their responsibility," Almeida added.
Neelima Chandiramani, principal of the K C College of Law whichconducted the course, said that in the long run she expected those whohad done the course to play a larger role in society as specialists onRTI. ''Pleas filed by those who did the course will never be vague orbadly drafted. Moreover, most of them have been professionals in theirown field and know how the system works. They will be able to advise others on how to go about their own queries,'' Chandiramani added.
In preparing for real-life difficulties in getting information from government departments which often try to block it, two of the participants conducted role-play exercises in which they acted as an applicant seeking information and an information officer denying it,while a third participant played out the role of the appellate authority.
They thus re-created situations such as those they would have to face when they filed appeals before an information commissioner. ''Thanks to all this training we now know that we cannot be denied information on frivolous grounds,'' said Khorshed Nayak, a retired bank officer.''A beginning has been made and I will use my knowledge to help others who are made to run from pillar to post because they don't know how tocorner the officials,'' said Najimuddin Chunawala (59), a Dongri-based businessman.

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