For about two years, Suvarana Bhagyawant made rounds of the panchayat office to get her grandfather's death certificate. Every time, the official there would tell her to come later or pay a bribe of Rs 500 to get the work done.
Suvarana, a resident of the Ambhegaon village, needed the certificate so that her grandmother could apply for the widow pension scheme. Finally, Suvarana filed a query under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. She got the certificate within eight days.
"This piece of paper is like a weapon for the powerless to fight against corrupt establishment,'' says Suvarana, pointing to an RTI application. For the villagers of Ambhegaon, the RTI Act has come as long-awaited rain in a drought-prone area.
Today, we tell the officials that if they do not look at our problems, we will file an RTI query,'' says Archana Bhagyawant. She was forced to file an RTI query after the officer demanded a bribe of Rs 150 for the issuance of a new ration card. "I waited for a year and finally when I filed an RTI query, I got it within three weeks. The sarpanch personally delivered it at my home,'' said Archana.
Suvarana and Archana are part of a unique initiative begun by the Public Concern for Governance Trust (PCGT)-in partnership with the Bahujan Hitay Trust-that aims to improve the quality of lives in villages in Kalyan by using RTI.
UP jails are overcrowded. Jails in the state lodge prisoners far more in number than they can accommodate comfortably. What makes it a case of human rights violation is that more than half of the prisoners in the different jails of the state are under trials. Out of 81,027 prisoners lodged in various jails of the state, 55,460 (more than 60%) are under trials. Many of them have been behind bars for much more number of years than what the punishment for their offence would have allowed.
The response to an RTI query by national working committee member, NCPRI, Raja John Bunch, by IG (prisons) showed that the total number of prisoners lodged in state jails is more than the maximum population of prisoners that each of the jail can support. In March 2013, the Supreme Court (SC) issued a notice to the Centre and all states giving them five weeks' time to respond to a PIL which said that 64.7% of the total prison population of the country comprises of under trials. There are about 2.41 lakh under trials in Indian prisons. SC issued the notice to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) as well and 'urged it to intervene and direct government to frame a policy to grant bail to prisoners facing trial for offences in which punishment ranges between three and seven years.'
The agriculture department official told Banabai Kumre that nothing would come of her complaint of corruption, because he had already paid hush money to the district collector and the chief minister. So the septuagenarian did what she thought was best: she went to Mumbai and asked the Maharashtra’s chief minister if he had received a cut on the check dam on her land.
Banabai hails from village Kharula in Maharashtra’s Yavatmal district. Banabai’s family of six barely managed to make ends meet. Though her extended family of more than 20 owned a farm as big as 10 hectares, only parts of it were cultivable where they grew jowar, pulses and paddy. But their routine was upset in early June this year when a check dam flooded after a spell of heavy rains. The rushing waters destroyed the seedlings on Banabai’s land. The dam was not very old. It was constructed barely a year ago. Banabai decided to report the matter to the agriculture department’s office at Yavatmal tehsil. After all Rs 3 lakh was spent under the prime minister’s relief package for constructing the dam.
An inspection team of the department visited the site on June 16,2008. It confirmed Banabai’s allegations that inferior quality material was used to construct the dam. Fearing consequences, the supervisor with the agriculture department, who was involved with the construction of the dam, went to Banabai’s house and unleashed a volley of threats. He accused her of breaking the dam and told her that he had “fixed” all higher ups. Unfazed, Banabai filed a second complaint with the district collector, mentioning the supervisor's threats and demanded that the official be suspended. She alleged that only Rs 1 lakh had been spent on the dam, instead of the officially sanctioned Rs 3 lakh. She also alleged that instead of black soil, murum (a local variety of thick gravel) was used to construct the dam. But there was no action. So Banabai went back to the collector’s office on July 1, and asked him directly, “ Tumhi paise khalle ka (did you take a bribe)?” The collector was initially speechless. But within moments his team was in a hustle. An inspection team was dispatched immediately to the check dam site.The memory of that day is precious to Banabai. “The inspection team and I had to travel by the collector’s own lal divyachi gadi’ (official vehicle with a red lamp), because there was no other vehicle at the collectorate at that time,” she says with a smile.
The team’s findings confirmed Banabai’s allegations. With media support, Yavatmal district’s panchayat Samiti resolution supporting Banabai’s demand and intervention of the Chief Minister, action was taken against the supervisor.
Bagepalli is a small town 100kms north of Bangalore with tree lined, tarmac roads. That was until one day, the government officials thought Bagepalli would be better off with double roads & street lights. Road works began in March 2005. Markings were done unprofessionally; dividers were built even before the roads were made making traffic movement haphazard, causing many accidents and deaths. Thankfully for Bagepalli in November, Sakshi Trust presented an RTI workshop that Toufeeq a staffer from ADATS (An NGO), had attended. Towfeeq then used RTI to find out the real story of Bagepalli’s roads. He says, “nearly Rs 1.32 crores were sanctioned for the road but no work was done. Of this 1.32 crores, 1.15 crores was shown as spent in response to my RTI application. WE finally went and confronted the JE with the information he had and he apologized and promised to fix the road. Thanks to RTI the road work is finally being completed.” Toufeeq is now a RTI trainer and conducts RTI training is vernacular languages like Kannada and Telugu.
In the second incident of penalising an erring officer under the Right to Information Act in Madhya Pradesh, Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) T N Shrivastava fined Morena District Woman and Child Development Officer (DWCDO) Sajan Aluna for failing to provide information sought under the Act within the time limit and not abiding by the appellate officer's order. The CIC imposed the fine of Rs 18,000 after not being satisfied with the explanation given by Mrs Aluna, who was earlier given show cause notice on the second appeal by Mr Balwant Singh Haihayavanshi, who had sought certain information from the department on December 31,2005. The Act came into force on October 12,2005.
The DWCDO rejected the application on the ground that the applicant had been suspended after preliminary inquiry. On an appeal, the Morena District Collector directed the DWCDO to provide copies of the document on payment as the applicant had not sought any confidential document. After dillydallying on one pretext or the other, the DWCDO allowed the applicant to deposit Rs 1200 to provide copies of the documents. The second appeal was made as the required documents were not supplied.
The Chief Information Commissioner found Mrs Aluna's conduct as ''unfortunate'' and directed to provide the required documents within seven days. A fortnight ago, Tahsildar R S Chouhan of Gyaraspur in Vidisha district was fined Rs 25,000 for refusing to provide copies of land transfer deed to an applicant under the Right to Information Act.
Besides losing dealership, the ration shopkeeper was also forced to pay poor families in the village over Rs Four lakh, the cash equivalent of the grains he had sold illegally. Revat Ram and his friends used the Act to get all records of their ration shop in Himmatsar village and by exposing how grains meant for the poor were being black-marketed at a ration shop in Bikaner district.
After the move the villagers got the dealer removed. ‘’Earlier we used to be afraid that if we speak against the Sarpanch, he will not give us jobs under drought relief. But now we feel bolder and think that through the new law we can put an end to his frauds,” said a local resident. And now it seems people across Rajasthan are keen to use their information rights. Bunglings have led to 15 sarpanches being removed and a dozen officials suspended.
People in Rural Karnataka have combined the campaigns for the Right to Information and the Right to Food to fight hunger. Poor villagers have successfully participated in social audits and public hearings to demand that the rations due to them are allotted to them at the correct prices.
"They were not giving us our monthly rations. We complained, and the officials invited us for a meeting. Now we get rice at Rs 3 wheat at Rs 2 a kg," says Chandramma, a member of the self help group in the Chennagiri Village. "There are nine programmes of food security, but people did not know about them. We staged street theatres and conducted public hearings to spread awareness," says K B Roopa Naik, Channagiri Taluka, Davangere.
Positive fallout of the public hearing has been the marked improvement in the quality of food grains which is now being supplied in the villages."After a week of public hearing the people got ration cards and new ration shops were opened," says N M Muthappa, Right to Food Campaign, Karnataka."For the first time women were confident enough to ask why they were not being given rice and wheat at the correct price. This movement must spread to every village and every taluka," says Seetamma, President of the self-help group in Davangere. It can now be hoped that the new tools of empowerment will enable the people to ask tough questions and demand answers as well as action.
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