//Cleaning up public life with Right to Information Act

Cleaning up public life with Right to Information Act

 "For the first time, India has a law, which casts a direct accountability on an officer for non-performance"
Unwillingness to provide information, wrong information can invite penalty
Public asked to stop paying bribes, get grievances redressed through RTI Act
Campaign to cover 43 cities across 15 States, NGOs to help people file applications

CHENNAI: The mission is to clean up public life. And the tool is the Right To Information (RTI) Act. Already recognised as a Fundamental Right, the RTI Act does not confer any new right on citizens. It only underscores their right to know how the governments, meant to serve them, are functioning. It lays down the process of how and where to apply for information and how much fees need to be paid.

"There have been many good laws in this country, but they did not work to the satisfaction of people in need. The RTI is working well. For the first time, India has a law, which casts a direct accountability on an officer for non-performance. If an officer does not provide information in time, a penalty of Rs. 250 per day of delay can be imposed by the Information Commissioner. If the information provided is false, up to Rs. 25,000 can be levied as penalty. Incomplete information or rejection of an application for mala fide reasons too can invite penalty. The fine is deducted from the officer's salary," say activists who have organised a "Drive against Bribe" campaign. Though a large number of people have already used RTI to get their work done in the Government, the incidence is still insignificant. The reason: There is little awareness of it among people, activists feel.

During the campaign — which goes on till July 15 — people will be exhorted to desist from paying bribes. Rather they should use Right to Information, which is very effective in getting grievances redressed, they say. Several media houses, including The Hindu , NDTV, Hindustan Times, Deshonnati, Prabhat Khabar, Doritri, Andhra Jyoti, Raj Express and Loksatta , will help to spread awareness.

Initially, the campaign covers 43 cities spread across 15 States. Volunteers from hundreds of non-governmental organisations will help people file RTI applications. At present, more than 1,200 volunteers are being trained to man assistance counters in these cities.

The RTI applications can be filed for matters such as issue of passport, any type of licence, marriage certificate, death certificate, birth certificate, SC/ST certificate, OBC certificate; inclusion of names in the voters' list, issue of the voter ID card; correction of water, electricity, telephone bills; any legitimate problem with a department such as change of faulty meter, providing new water or electricity connection, filing of the first information report, claiming refunds or payments or any other pending work or grievance in a government department, they note.

Once an application is filed, the designated information officer is supposed to provide the details within 30 days. If either no information is given or it is not satisfactory, an appeal could be preferred.

A reply is expected in 30 days. A second appeal would lie in the next 30 days. If the claim is bona fide, the Information Commission has powers to impose penalties on officials. If an officer violates the RTI Act provisions repeatedly, a disciplinary enquiry could be ordered. It could even lead to his dismissal.

As part of the campaign, a national telephone helpline (09250492504) has been started. People can even SMS "rti (city name)" at 6388 to get the address of the assistance camp in their city.

A web site —www.righttoinformation.org — has also been created. People can also write to the RTI, Post Bag No. 9201, Delhi-92.