New Delhi: Grassroots beneficiaries and activists from across India Sunday gathered here for the national convention on Right to Information (RTI) on the eve of the 4th anniversary of the central act to share their experiences and discuss how it can ensure proper implementation and delivery of public services.
The daylong convention was organised by NGOs such as Social Watch India, Kabir, Wada Na Todo, and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) at India Islamic Cultural centre here.
"Initially it was thought that only government officials are using RTI Act but now it has been well established that people using the act most are uneducated," central Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah said in his address at the gathering.
Habibullah said that on central government level, quite a lot has been done to make people aware about the RTI Act but not much has been done by states.
"I hope the civil society continues its struggle for the proper implementation of RTI Act," he added.
Activists working at the grassroots level and several RTI users hailing from rural area also shared their experience at the convention.
One such person is 30-year-old daily wage labourer Sadashiv from Banda district of Uttar Pradesh who secured grocery entitlement due to him on his ration card not only for himself but his fellow villagers after using the RTI tool to question the system.
In the initial days after he submitted the application, the proprietor of the local ration shop sent hired toughs who beat him mercilessly, but his attempt to stand up against corruption paid off.
"Finally, I was given information that pointed to fraud. The ration dealer was suspended and we started getting our entitlement on a regular basis without hassles. For my rights, I will continue to fight without fear," Sadashiv said with pride.
"These are poor villagers who have been deprived so far from all socio-economic development and political empowerment but now they are using RTI to question the system," said Manish Sisodia of Kabir.
Another such example is of a group of women in Chitrakoot in Uttar Pradesh who ensured that their children get the free school uniform and books under the central government`s education programme.
"I came to know about RTI during an RTI camp by an NGO in our village. After that I, alongwith 26 other women, who are also illiterate, filed an RTI application seeking details of free uniform and books provided to our children," said Panni.
"Within one month of filing of application, not only Bharthaul but students in all government primary schools in Chitrakoot area got their uniforms and books," she added.
The group later came to know that the free books and uniforms distributed among them in Chitrakoot area after their RTI application were worth nearly Rs.22 million.
"In metropolitan area, the awareness level is still better and the condition of the government departments is still better. But these examples of poor and uneducated villagers using RTI Act are commendable," Sisodia said.
"Such instances highlight the real power of the RTI act," he added.