Four years on, RTI a powerful weapon for ordinary Indians

    
Haroon, who lives in a slum cluster in northeast Delhi, had been going to Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital for one year to get his stones removed, but in vain as doctors would put him off with one excuse or another.

"He was sent back from the hospital four times - once he had to return home from the operation theatre. With our help he filed an RTI application seeking the details of his case," said Rajeev Sharma of the NGO Pardarshita.  

Exactly four years after it came into force, Haroon is among thousands of people who have used the RTI Act for securing not just information but also getting things done.
While Haroon didn't get a reply to his application, it was enough to fix responsibility.
"A few days later, when he went to the hospital for a checkup, the doctor didn't allow him to return home and did the operation," said Sharma.

For many, RTI has become a weapon with which to fight a system that constantly fails to deliver.

The act will celebrate four years of existence Oct 12. It was passed by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in June 2005 after years of struggle by NGOs and civil society groups.

The act ensures a timely response to citizens' requests for government information, promoting transparency and accountability.

"There are innumerable cases where the common man has used the RTI Act and benefited. People who could not get things such as ration cards, pension and passports even months after applying for them, got these within days of filing the RTI application," said another RTI activist, Bibhav Kumar.

But both activists and information commissioners believe a lot still needs to be done.
"There have been a lot of success stories but it's still a long journey. The process of appointment of information commissioners and how to deal with complaints against them needs to be made transparent and participatory," Magsaysay award winning RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal told IANS.

"The law is still evolving and it will depend on people pressurising the government and how the judiciary responds to it. I think in the last one year it has emerged stronger and become an effective weapon.

"Through RTI, a debate has also started about transparency in the judiciary," Kejriwal said.

The Central Information Commission (CIC), which is the apex body under the RTI Act 2005, has disposed of 33,000 cases in the last four years. But nearly 10,000 cases are still pending with the commission.

CIC chief Wajahat Habibullah himself believes there is room for improvement.
"I am not happy and even after 10 years I will not be happy. There is always room for improvement. It is still budding and I hope it will further bloom in the future," said Habibullah.

"RTI is slowly becoming part of the system. People have also started realising the importance of the act. But still a lot needs to be done," the CIC chief said.
Earlier this year, the government, under pressure from civil society, also ended confusion over whether file notings - which contain what decision or view was taken by an official on a particular matter - can be covered under the RTI Act. The government finally ruled that file notings can be disclosed under it.

Recently, the commission also launched a facility for online submission of second appeals and complaints.

RTI activists have also been demanding more transparency in the judiciary and public declaration of judges'  assets to set an example of transparency in the country.

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