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Saturday, December 23, 2006

CAMPAIGNS: For informed action-Public hearings

The right to information has been used in Rajasthan to highlight corruption in government departments. Preeti Sampat, a member of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) which pioneered the right to information campaign in Rajasthan, said: "We held a public meeting in Jawaja on the people's access to the local public health system. We found that though doctors in the local government hospital are supposed to provide treatment completely free for people under the BPL [below poverty line] category, villagers often end up paying money because of entrenched corruption and the lack of information about their entitlements. Whether it is health, the Public Distribution System [PDS] or education, the government must display publicly the services that people are entitled to."
Learning from the Rajasthan experience, groups in Delhi have used Delhi's Right to Information (RTI) Act to organise public hearings on a variety of issues. Anjali Bhardwaj of the Satark Nagrik Sangathan (SNS), a citizen's group involved in this issue, said: "Jan sunwais in urban areas are not done on the same scale as in villages because the dynamics in an urban set-up are different and a lot of our work is with resident welfare associations and middle income groups. We also do work with lower income groups, especially in the slums where those who speak up in a forum like the public hearing are extremely vulnerable to threats of eviction and displacement."
Arvind Kejriwal, from Parivartan, an organisation that works on the right to information campaign in Delhi, said: "Almost 80 per cent of the time the Delhi RTI Act is used to get individual grievances resolved. For example, in an instance where a customer does not get an electricity connection because the official in charge wants a bribe, the customer can use the RTI Act to get information on what happened to his application. People have been able to keep a check on work taking place in their localities, including the construction of roads and the emptying of garbage bins in their areas." The Delhi RTI Act has been used extensively with the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) and the Delhi Jal Board. Anjali Bhardwaj added: "Residents of the Sheikh Sarai area shook up the MCD when they made a simple application under the RTI Act enquiring about the existing system under which sweepers employed by the MCD share 50 per cent of their salaries with the Sanitation Inspector, who in return marks them present even when they do not perform their duties."
Anjali Bhardwaj said: "The Delhi RTI Act is a powerful tool as it has a penalty provision where erring officials can be fined Rs.50 a day up to a maximum of Rs.500, which can be deducted from their salaries. This then goes as a black mark in their records and can affect their chances of being promoted."
For complete story click on the link below:
Frontline, Vol:21 Iss:19 URL:

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