Right to Information Act – Aam Aadmi’s Weapon

I vividly remember the chaos around 8 years back when the new electric meters got installed in my house. Soon, we realized that it was running with herculean speed. Experiments at home showed that even by cutting all the consumption of electricity the meter kept on moving and increasing units by leaps and bounds. Something was wrong for sure. My father gave an application to the concerned department explaining the problems faced. Aware as we were that nothing would happen in one visit, my father made frequent visits to the electricity department asking them to address this problem.

For a month nothing happened, he had quiet expected that. Another month passed bearing no results. We kept on paying the exorbitant electricity bill that was never probable. It was only after 3 months that my father realized that nothing would happen this way when he approached his friend working in the electricity department. It was then that the problem got fixed. I am sure we faced this problem around 8 years back because there was no Right to Information (RTI) Act.

The Right to Information Act that came in force from October 12, 2005 gives the common man the right to question the government, inspect its work, and seek accountability of how taxes that he pays are being utilized. The Right to Information Act applies to all states except Jammu and Kashmir which has its separate act.

One can fill an RTI demanding to know why garbage outside one’s colony is not getting picked up, why the street light in your lane is not getting repaired or why perhaps the road potholes are not being covered.  One just needs to write an application to the Public Information Officer (PIO) with an Application Fee of Rs.10 (if you belong to Above Poverty Line category). The PIO has a mandate to furnish an answer within 30 days.  One can even ask for documents related to the issue you are filing an RTI for. A number of CWG scams have been brought to the light through the RTI Act.

The RTI Act is truly a weapon in the hands of the Aam Aadmi as it brings transparency in the inner working of the government. It forces the government system to start maintaining records properly as they can be asked for anytime. It improves the functioning of the government agencies as it reduces corruption, increase efficiency, discipline and accountability. Now each official knows that he can be called to account for anything that he has done any day.

The RTI Act gives us an opportunity to help our society to see whether our hard earned money paid as taxes is being used judiciously, effectively and efficiently. But it is sad that most of our fellow mates are not aware of RTI at all. According to some reports only 13% of the rural population and 33% urbanites in India have some knowledge about this Act. This leads to people still not getting their pension started on time, still millions waiting for months and years in receiving their duplicate Ration Cards and in short still so many people are not able to get their work done and are oblivious to what they can do to help reduce such lackadaisical functioning of the government departments.

The RTI Act has in it the capacity and capability to rectify the functioning of the government for which it has always faced criticism and due to which ‘aam aadmi’ has been forced to undergo tremendous problems. It has in itself the command to almost transform the society wherein the common man is confident that the taxes he pays are being utilized for his good. But the awareness campaigns to make people learn about this powerful tool and its impact are the need of the hour; otherwise it shall bear no fruits, in spite of huge resources being spent on it by the government.

Juhi Gupta

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