Power of RTI
After its implementation in 2005, the Right to Information Act came to be known as the sunshine act as it empowered the ordinary citizen for the first time. Now, instead of pleading with babus or netas, the citizen simply approaches government offices for information on issues that matter to him. Ashutosh Shukla looks at some cases where the Act has helped the common man
Dharmenddra Pawar, 35, could regain his mental balance only after he saw his answer paper procured through an RTI. For, only then he saw the examiners’ apathy and not the failure of his hard work that led to absolute distress and him repeating the year.
“I could not understand that in the first attempt I scored 27 marks and 0 in the second when I had put in more effort,” said the Girgaum resident, who works as a service engineer.
In 2010, Pawar first appeared for Industrial Training Institute’s ‘artisan to techno craft’ certificate course.
The only earning member in a family of five, Pawar opted for the course for job stability and better salary.
In 2011, he got 0 in one of the three papers he appeared for.
Dejected, he filed an RTI application. “I was waiting for the reevaluation result which never came. I did not appear in 2012 as I was confident that I had scored more,” said Pawar. “When someone said that even after reevaluation I would not pass, I filed an RTI application to know the status of my reevaluation and answer sheet.”
He was helped by Tarun Mitra Mandal, an NGO that runs 10 RTI clinics in the city.
When he got his answer sheet through RTI, he was not surprised to know that he had scored 26 marks and not 0.
“I feel that if someone would have rechecked my paper, I would have passed. The person had not given me the marks I deserved,” said Pawar.
The self-help tool
Pawar is not the only one to have suffered from the system’s irresponsiveness.
Ranjanben Dedhia’s case is another example. Had it not been for the RTI Act, the Dombivili resident would still be struggling to get her Rs7.88 lakh gratuity and Rs14,230 monthly pension from the Kalyan Dombivli Municipal Corporation, where she worked for 37 years.
After retiring as the headmistress of a municipal school, Dedhia wrote to the civic commissioner about not getting her dues. “The PA to the commissioner kept saying that my complaint had been forwarded and that I should pursue with the department concerned,” said Dedhia, 59.
After 20 visits in six months, she was tired of hearing the same excuses. “Sometimes they would say that file has not come or the accountant is new. I knew it was their callous approach because my file had been processed three months before my retirement,” said Dedhia.
That is when someone suggested she file an RTI application with a Rs10-court-fee stamp. This worked. “In 17 days, they delivered the cheque and the pension comes on time,” said Dedhia.
Quick problem fixer
However, for those who live with little savings unlike Dedhia, life is tougher.
Kundan Shah (name changed on request as he is still fighting a case with a government-owned insurance company) had to struggle with his finances when his wife’s medical bill ran up to Rs8 lakh. His wife was suffering from Acute Respiratory Deficiency Syndrome and he thought the treatment would cost Rs 2 lakh.
Grappling with the high treatment cost and an ailing wife, his troubles multiplied when the insurance company claimed that they had not got his originals papers. “They said that the agent I gave my papers to had given me a fake receipt,” said Shah.
When writing to the IRDA grievance redressal forum of the company and ombudsman did not yield any result, he filed an RTI application after approaching Tarun Mitra Mandal. But, this very step pushed the insurance company to act fast.
“First, it said I shouldn’t have filed an RTI application as they had ‘recovered’ my originals indicating that it was me who ‘couriered’ them late,” said Shah.
Shah got Rs8.28 lakh and then Rs9,000 of post-hospital bill.
“They requested me to withdraw my RTI application as they had settled my claim,” said Shah, which he eventually did.
For the people
Officials cannot dare to ignore the Act because of its stringent punishment — fine can go up to Rs 25,000 and they would face disciplinary action.
And this helped octogenarian Kishan Modi get his original property documents after18 years of excruciating wait. In 1994, he gave his documents to the department of registration of stamp.
“I made over 100 rounds till 2004 after which I gave up. Each time I spent hours travelling, sitting in their office only to hear that I should come back,” said Modi.
But the originals were needed when he had to sell his property. A neighbour introduced him to RTI. “In the application, we asked about the status and the officer holding on to the file,” said Modi.
It worked like a magic wand.
The Mumbai office first replied saying they registered it in 2006 and papers were with the Pune office. “The reply implied that they are done with all responsibilities. We did not relent and asked why it had gathered dust from 1994 to 2006. We filed one RTI application at the Pune office too,” said Modi.
Modi got his original property documents in February 2013.
Prafful Kurwa, 65, suffering from vertigo and multiple illnesses too had given up chasing his provident fund money of 1982. “The PF authorities had done away with old documents. I used to run around but gave up. After learning about RTI, I filed an application. The officer first threatened me that he would not reply. But he relented and I got my money,” said Kurwa.
Harnish changed his surname from Shah to Savla and wanted that to reflect in his Kandivli society’s share certificate.
He applied for the same in August 2011 after getting the change of surname gazetted, issuing ads in two newspapers, changing the surname in passport, and ration card. “Despite consulting society lawyer, signing an indemnity bond and re-issuing ads in the news paper as desired by society, the society office-bearers sat pretty. Since my son was preparing to go to Canada and the embassy demanded a letter from the society, we had to speed up,” said Savla. He complained to the registrar’s office, which issued a letter to the society but never followed it up with them.
Savla filed an RTI application, seeking status of his complaint.
“The registrar told us that he was in the dark as his junior did not even put it to him. He sent a letter to the society and within a few days our names were changed in the certificate,” said Savla.