July 08, 2006

Your Powerful tool - RTI Act

Should we be bothered about the fact that Rs.43.65 lakhs is budgeted for relaying streets in four colonies in Adyar?
Or should we leave it entirely to the city Corporation, its engineers and the civic contractors to carry out such big-budget contracts?

With me, are sheaves of papers listing all the civil works that are to be carried out in Zone 10 ( covers Mylapore and Adyar and parts of Velachery) now.
These projects were made public at a recent meeting of the zone’s councillors.
Because our newspapers keenly follow such meetings, we keep a tab on them.

We could do more. But as a community newspaper, we have severe limitations.
Yet, the need to keep a tab is important.
For Jeevaratnam Nagar’s 1st and 2nd Cross Streets, Rs.6 lakhs will be spent.
About Rs.2.5 lakhs for Parameswari Nagar’s 3rd Street and Rs.2.3 lakhs for Indira Nagar’s 1st Cross Street. And about Rs.28 lakhs will be spent for relaying some streets and main roads in Sastri Nagar.

Is it important for the community to keep a tab on these projects for which so much of public money is spent?
If we want the best out of the system we pay to run, we must.
And if you think it’s a thankless job, think again.
You have a powerful tool at your disposal.
The Right to Information Act.
Passed by Parliament in June 2005, it came into effect in October 2005, and has been hailed as a substantial step forward in terms of accessibility and distribution of information, key tenets of a responsible democracy.

The Right to Information Act 2005 is a tool that checks corruption and holds the various bodies, agencies and departments of the government accountable to the public. It is aimed at preventing arbitrary state action and for the first time, Indians have a powerful tool to exercise their constitutionally guaranteed fundamental right to information.

I am quoting from a backgrounder that members of the Citizen consumer and civic Action Group (CAG) based in Adyar provided me.
One year since the passing of this Act, the implementation in Tamil Nadu, like various other states in the country, leaves much to be desired by the citizens and civil society at large. Procedural uncertainties, lack of knowledge of the Act amongst the Public Information Officers (PIOs) and inadequate infrastructure has caused unnecessary delays and frustration amongst citizens. In fact, these reasons have deterred many citizens from using this powerful tool in order to address their day-to-day difficulties and organisations from accessing public documents lying with the government.

Now, a few civil society groups in Tamil Nadu have come together to form the Tamil Nadu Right to Information Campaign.
From obtaining an electricity connection for your house to details of expenditure at your ward level, the RTI Act is a potent instrument that citizens must use.
The Tamil Nadu Right to Information Campaign is organising intensive camps between the 10th and 25th of July 2006 all over Tamilnadu covering 19 districts with more than 40 organisations as partners.

In Chennai, the camp will begin on the 12th of July at the Bharathiar Memorial Hall, 83, T.P.Koil Street, Triplicane- 600005. Phone - 28442227.
The camp will provide training on all aspects of the RTI Act for citizens and the media, assist citizens in filing requests/appeals, providing details of the PIO’s of various departments, etc.

Citizens can contact the Tamil Nadu Right to Information Campaign helpline: 9884231382 for more information. The other contacts are Sriharini Narayanan 24914358/24460387 Corporate Accountability Desk: Nityanand Jayraman/Dharmesh Shah: 9444416546 Human Rights Research and Advocacy Foundation: Ossie Fernandes: 22353503/22355905 Chennai RTI: Guru Subbaraman: 9840765030

Now, will you please get up and stretch your arms?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I congratulate you on this article. May I suggest that you can start a Citizens Audit Committe, composed of civil engineers, auditors and service minded citizens to keep a watch on expenditure that really comes from taxes that we pay. I also suggest that you conduct workshops for college students to train them to take up such responsibilities. We need to know when money earmarked for development is embezzled giving us poor quality roads and other services.