Today is the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi ji, father of our nation. Mahatma, the great soul. Today is also the birth anniversary of Lal Bahadur Shastri ji, India’s 2nd Prime Minister. We remember them every year with a lot of respect and are indebted to them for leading our country into an independent nation. We are today the world’s largest and most vibrant democracy.
As citizens, we are dutybound to build our nation. No nation is perfect. It is a continuous journey towards perfection and citizens play a pivotal role. There are many ways to do this. Most important ways are to keep our Governments –
- Demand transparency
- Enforce accountability
- Ensure development
Doing this is not as difficult as it sounds. To our rescue is Right To Information (RTI) Act. RTI is a fantastic tool that helps citizens participate in governance and make things better for ourselves and our neighborhood.
Here are some important clarifications on RTI. Please read them. As citizens, it is our responsibility to build this country. We fail, our country fails. We fail, our next generation suffers. Remember, we are already suffering due to mistakes from our previous generation. Do we want to pass on this unwanted to legacy to our children? I bet no.
Q1 – How difficult is it to file a RTI application on Central Government? – Not difficult at all. If you are filing RTI on a ministry or department handled by Central Government, it is extremely easy. Just go to https://rtionline.gov.in/ and file an RTI online in just 5 minutes. You have to pay a fees of Rs. 10. That is it! Once you file the application online, you can track the status also. Response from the concerned official will be sent to you via email and also a printed copy will be sent by regular post.
Q2 – What about filing RTI on a state government department? Well, this is easy but costs online fees. Problem is most State Governments do not have a online website for RTI applications. Even the so called IT savvy Governments like Telangana is unwilling to launch RTI online portal. State governments in general are afraid of transparency and accountability towards their own people. But fret not. There are non-Government websites that you can use to file RTI requests in 5 minutes. You can check https://onlinerti.com/ or https://yourti.in/. Some applications are done free while others charge around Rs 250.
Q3 – Is it safe to file RTI? Will I get killed or some false police case filed on me? There is a common misconception that RTI is a tool for social activists or political people. This is totally untrue. RTI is a tool that you can use to get information on a number of issues that you are facing in your own neighborhood. I personally have filed 20+ RTIs in past couple of years and have received the information I had asked for. I stay away from controversial topics or those that are not impacting me / my neighborhood directly. So do not blink an eye – go for it. RTI is your right. It is your duty. 99.99% RTI applications are straightforward and get answered properly by the concerned departments.
Q4 – Will anything get solved if I file a RTI? There are 3 possible outcomes of a RTI that you file – concerned official does not respond, you get a response, the issue is resolved. In cases when you get a response, you get lot of useful details about the question you asked.
- For example, there is road expansion project in going in front of my apartment in Nallagandla, Hyderabad. To a RTI reply, concerned department replied to me that the cost of 9 KMs project is Rs 45 Crores. Which is Rs 5 crores per kilometer! It helps us in follow up conversations with the engineers on ground when there is delay in project or poor quality of work. There will be cases where your issue gets resolved.
- Another example is related to transfer of my PF account balance from PF office in Mumbai to Bangalore. As my new company account was in Bangalore PF office, I had to start the amount transfer from Bangalore office. Even after 3 months of filing the transfer application, nothing happened. I filed complaints using EPFO website and both Bangalore and Mumbai offices were giving vague responses. They were not interested in resolving the issue. After 6 months, I decided to file RTI. First RTI to Bangalore office asking for evidence, photocopies that they actually sent my request to Mumbai office. Within 7 days I got the Speedpost photocopies. So Mumbai office did receive my application 9 months back itself. Filed another application on Mumbai office attaching the Speedpost evidence and asked them to name the official who did not process the transfer application yet, reason for not transferring, what is the time within which transfer should have happened and why the official is not penalized till now. And within 7 days, forget about response to the RTI, my PF amount got transferred to Bangalore account. Imagine, 9 months of follow ups, nothing happened. 2 RTI applications and things were done in 2 weeks. That is the power of RTI.
Q5. Is there a format to RTI application? No. There is no format. And that is the real strength of RTI Act. You can simply ask the questions you have or request for information. But be mindful that the Government officials will generally find ways to minimize their time on replying to your application. So, you have to be very specific in what you ask.
- For example, you want status on a road project. Ask questions like what was the date on which the project was approved, what is the planned duration of the project, what are the milestones completed so far, which parts of the project are delayed, who is responsible for those delays, share the inspection reports, what is the penalty imposed on contractor for delays, what is the amount spent on maintaining alternate roads while the project is happening, share details of where that amount is spent etc etc. Hope you got essence. You cannot leave any room for the Government official to avoid answering your question by giving some vague response. Ask for dates, numbers, amounts and so on.
- Another example, you want local traffic police to give details of action taken on violations. Ask for the type of traffic challans issued in each month for the past 12 months, what is count of those challans, what is the amount each month, how much of the amount was collected in each month etc etc.
Our duty to our country does not stop at simply framing opinions and talking about them in our social circles. We can bring changes, provided we start with our immediate neighborhood. There are a 100 things which are wrong in 5 KMs radius of where you live. Focus on those and get those resolved. Your concerns about things happening 500 KMs away from where you live have some credibility only when you are active in fixing things in your own neighborhood.
Gandhiji and many other freedom fighters did what they could for this country. We do not have the privilege of serving our motherland in that way. But we do have the opportunities to improve our country.
Please feel free to share your comments here or Tweet me at @VijayIvaturi . I would love to have conversations on this topic and also help you in any way possible.