CHENNAI; Bashir, a Kashmir resident, was excited when the then Chief Minister Omar Abdullah visited his village. He was hoping that the visit would also bring roads to his village, lacking proper road connectivity. But to his dismay, Abdullah took an helicopter for the visit.
Soon, Bashir filed an RTI petition on why the CM took the chopper and how much it cost. Apparently embarrassed to explain that the village has no accessible roads, the state administration soon laid roads. Bashir is now a local legend.
This is one of the success stories that social activist Aruna Roy, instrumental in framing the Right to Information Act, shared among enthusiastic students of the IIT Madras on Saturday on the inaugural of the NSS batch this year.
The situation has not been successful for all. So far 52 people have died trying to just find information. One of them was shot right outside Gujarat High Court. Roy asks, “if forty people asked the same question, which one person the criminals kill?
Bashir and his contemporaries realised that asking simple questions could get a lot of work done. This is what Aruna Roy calls as the power of RTI, a single question that leads to a collective one.
This power of the Act has made corrupt bureaucrats squirm. Manmohan Singh, when in power said that this law has been designed to destroy the iron railing and framework of India. Roy however said, “RTI will help reveal that all we have is a weak wooden frame eaten by white ants from the inside.”
One such expose happened in Rajasthan. Several villagers stopped receiving their pensions as they were marked dead by official records. By demanding the ‘dead list’ through RTI, Roy revealed that in the district of Kushalpura, out of the 40 declared dead, 29 were alive. Seven lakh people were legally resurrected overnight all over the state!
National security is another tool that is used to curb the utility of RTI Act. In 1997, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, the then Chief Minister of Rajastan said what an RTI revealed on the poor status of a worn out bridge in the border district of Balmer, was a threat to national security as the Pakistanis would exploit it.
Roy says national security is being used as a red herring to hide scams in several cases. She added, “In a true democracy one should know that while we have the courage to talk, to listen and agree that everyone has the right to dissent and yet not loose track of the fact that we must be scientific and rational.”