Wednesday, December 18, 2013

RTI on Wheels: Rural folk, urban poor come forward to ask simple questions to indifferent officials

By Our Representative
The RTI on Wheels, a state-wide campaign launched by Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel (MAGP) for making right to information (RTI) Act as an important took to gather information from government circles on issues of public concern, has claimed huge popular support in the two districts of Gujarat it has visited so far – Bahaskantha and Sabarkantha. Already, the RTI awareness campaign has gone around 110 villages, where over one lakh pamphlets are said to have been distributed, with people coming forward to get help from activists on RTI on Wheel on drafting RTI applications.
Panti Jog, who heads the campaign, says, at Hadad village in Banaskantha district, when RTI on Wheels was on a “routine outreach programme” near the bus stand, and two volunteers were busy distributing pamphlets to those who approach the van, an aged person approached her with a request to come to his village. “I was making announcements, that the RTI on Wheels would be there for half an hour – and whoever wanted to seek guidance from experts may contact the van," Jog said.
“Within five minutes the RTI on Wheels was surrounded by more than 200 people. Everyone wanted to say something, share problems. Some wanted to purchase RTI books, while others wanted help in drafting RTI application for an issue of ration card, or non-payment of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, or quantity of ration in public distribution system, pension etc”, she said, adding, “I always keep looking for people who are old aged, and are left behind. Kaka what do you want? I asked the person using my microphone”.
Everyone's attention was on an old fellow with towel around his neck raising his hand. Does this law applies to his village, Lambadiya? He wondered. His next question, according to Jog, was, would the van come to his village? “Sorry kaka, I replied. Our programme is scheduled till 5 pm next time. You can take some pamphlets and distribute in your village, I told him”. In another village, a similar query was asked from among the crowd. I spotted, he was the same kaka. “Keep your van at this location”, he suggested, wondering, again, would the van come to his village? 
In the third village, again, the kaka was there, asking the same question. “This made us finally reach his village, Lambadiya. At 4:45 pm we reached the village, and were there for two hours. He had already become our volunteer, distributing our pamphlets. He was talking about RTI.. He invited women who were living in extreme poverty to join in. He helped many RTI applicants and complainants to draft RTI applications. His name is Hirabhai, a simple-looking man, who, interestingly, never discussed any problem that he might be facing”, Jog said.
The awareness campaign showed some good results, with even illiterate people seeking to file applications on what happened to their pleas to government officials, and how much time would they take in replying to them or taking action. In Tharad town in Banaskantha district, Gujarat chief minister Narenda Modi had inaugurated a group of 200 houses for one of the socially backward communities of Gujarat, a nomadic tribe, under the Pandit Deendalayal project. A group of persons had written an application in early August this year asking the chief officer, Tharad municipality, requesting him to solve their problems of water, street lights and gutter for their society, Shiv colony.
They failed to receive any reply, and continued to suffer. The monsoon was particularly bad for them, as the entire colony was full of dirt, and it was impossible to walk. Municipal workers would not reach the colony to clean it up. “When the RTI on Wheels reached the colony, one of the applicants, decided to file an RTI application seeking to know status their application to the Tharad chief officer”, said Jog. They asked four questions:
* What action had been taken on their application, to whom it has been forwarded and when, and why no action has been taken so far.
* Details of action taken, if any, on the application.
* What are the rules under which the application is being dealt with.
* And date on which the solution, if any, has been found on the application.

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