Two Right To Information (RTI) and Public Information Litigation (PIL) activists in Hyderabad, Satish Kumar and Sheelu Raj are working for the people of Telangana. The young lawyers and activists are challenging many illicit businesses that cause common people daily distress like “illegal car parking”, “charging a price higher than MRP” among others. “We can’t go against the government, so we decided to use legal tools (RTI and PIL) to fight against them,” says 29-year-old Satish, while talking to The Logical Indian.
These two petitioners, Satish and Sheelu are part of the social help group, Youth for Better India. The organisation is led by Hyderabad based Jayaprakash Narayan. The forum seeks to address citizen concerns by filing Public Interest Litigations and Right To Information applications.
Satish, who was previously working with NGOs became part of Youth For Better India in 2013. Sheelu also joined the organisation at the same time, and both of them started as policy researchers for the organisation.
“Sheelu and I finished our law degree together. In 2012 when Anna Hazare (Lokpal) movement was spearing in the country, both of us started a group to support Anna Hazare in Hyderabad. That moment for the country made us realise that we want to work for the people and soon from citizens, we became citizen activists”, said Satish, who also teaches IAS aspirants.
Packaged water can’t be charged more than MRP
Satish told us that in 2015, one night, both of them were having their dinner at a fancy restaurant. The bill came a little more than they expected. When Satish checked the bill, he realised that the packaged water bottle that is of 20 Rs Maximum Retail Price (MRP) is being charged for Rs 50. The owner told them that the packaged bottle costs more in a restaurant. Both the lawyers knew that how this is illegal and after some arguments the two were successful in paying the amount mentioned on the MRP.
“That day we thought that if we had to go through this, then a lot of other people must be facing the same issue. Hence we decided to file a PIL in the Hyderabad High Court on bottled water,” he said.
In India, the selling and distribution of packaged drinking water is regulated by the Legal Metrology Act, 2009 and Legal Metrology (Packaged Commodities) Rules, 2011. According to the act, it is mandatory for the manufacturer, retailer, dealer, packers, sellers and distributors to sell packaged drinking water at the maximum retail price (MRP) or less than MRP.
Despite the laws already in place, the consumers are being charged above the MRP for the same quality and quantity of packaged water in many multiplexes, cinema halls, hotels and restaurants, airports and bus stations.
“We filed the petition citing that these malpractices breach Sections 18, 29 and 36 of the Legal Metrology Act, 2009. As per the rule 6 in the provision whoever is selling the commodity on increased price than MRP will be penalised. The petition also cited ‘Rule 2 (m) of the Legal Metrology (Packaged) Commodities 2011,’ which states that a pre-packaged commodity (in this case bottled water) is to be sold to a consumer at MRP that is printed on the commodity,” said the 29-year-old Satish.
When we asked Satish about the restaurants, who have an increased MRP printed on the bottle, he says, “the problem in our country is that water, which is the basis of our living is included under commercial commodity and not under essential commodity, and that is why there is no cap on its price.”
The judgment on the PIL is pending. The petitioners have urged the Court to issue strict regulations to restaurants and food joints. They have also asked the Court to include water in the Essential Commodities Act. Meanwhile, the Telangana government has amended the rules on dual MRP of packaged bottles which will come into effect from August 1, 2018. The two are optimistic about the regulation of the law.
The illegal parking fees
This is not the only cause that the duo is legally fighting for. Recently, they filed a PIL, which was successful in making Hyderabad the second city after Pune to make parking at malls and multiplexes free for the first 30 minutes. The writ petition was filed by Satish and Sheelu, along with another citizen activist Vijay Gopal. The PIL was filed against the illegal money that is being collected by the malls, multiplexes and other commercial places.
The petitioners attributed Multi-Storeyed Building Rules 1981 and zoning regulation number 423, in which it is mandatory for owners of commercial complexes to provide regular parking facilities to visitors at free of cost.
“It is mentioned in Hyderabad Municipal Corporation Act 1955 that parking places in malls, commercial complexes are Public Places and no one can charge money for parking,” told Sheelu while speaking to The Logical Indian.
The Telangana government order, released by Municipal Administration and Urban Development Department, came as a victory for the young citizen activists. It stated that parking should be unconditionally free for the first half hour. The order further noted that there is no parking fee for an hour if the customer produces a bill for items bought from that commercial complex/multiplex. In fact, in case if your bill for the purchase is higher than the parking fee than the customer is not entitled to pay any further parking cess.
In 2016, another PIL was filed on the Library cess not being utilised for the libraries. The matter is still pending in the court. “We file at least one RTI in two days and based on the gathered information we decide what PIL to be filed next. For now, we are collecting the data on the number of breastfeeding public rooms available in Hyderabad for women,” said Satish.
Satish added, “Our aim is to make the people aware about the policies and their rights and motivate them to question our government.”