Written By Rohit Kumar([email protected]) | Image Source: Vimeo(representational purpose)
RTI Changed My Life
The Right to Information has not been simply a tool to combat corruption. For me, it proved to be life changing. It helped me face and solve a huge personal problem and helped me reach one step closer to my academic goals. After clearing my higher secondary examination I had started preparing for CLAT (Common Law Admission Test). As the date of form-submission came closer, some of my friends who were already pursuing legal studies conveyed to me, during a course of conversation, that I was ineligible to appear for any law entrance examination of the Country since I had passed my higher secondary examination from ‘National Institute of Open Schooling’ commonly known as N.I.O.S. This information was a complete shock to me. I felt as though all my dreams had been shattered. I had wanted to pursue legal studies from my early days of schooling. I had absolutely no idea how to acquire information that would help confirm the truth of what I had heard. I lived in a small village and didn’t have access to modes of seeking information. I had very limited knowledge of the internet.
I telephoned the Bar Council of India office, New Delhi, hoping that I would get the true and correct information that I needed so desperately, but the response I received was no relief to me at all. It confirmed the Information passed on to me by my friends. In anxiety, I kept telephoning the BCI office and in this way telephoned them more than 20 times with a hope that some other official may pick up the phone and say that I am eligible but it didn’t happen and I failed in my every attempt. Thereafter I contacted NUJS, Kolkata which was conducting CLAT that year and it too confirmed the Information that I am not eligible to sit in this examination. As a last effort, I started contacting Private Universities over phone but all of them disappointed me by confirming that the legal profession had closed its doors to me.
At this time when I had become entirely depressed and hopeless, I read a piece of Information in a Hindi daily about the immense power of this beautiful legislation called the Right To Information. I didn’t know how to write an RTI application and whom to send it to. But I knew I had to try. So, I picked up a plain white paper and drafted an application not in its prescribed format but in the ordinary form of a letter of grievance and sent it to the HRD Ministry, Government of India. A few days later, I received a reply that the subject matter of my Information pertains to the NIOS and the same has been transferred to it. Within a month, I received a detailed reply from NIOS with all relevant documents which opened the blocked door to my legal studies. The barriers I faced were created due to the false, inauthentic and misleading Information passed on to me by several entities. The Information I received through the RTI revealed that I was absolutely competent to sit any law entrance test. Unfortunately, I couldn’t appear for CLAT that year because it had become too late to submit the application. Today, I am successfully pursuing my fourth year of Law from a reputed private university situated in the capital city of Odisha. This happened because of the power of ‘Right to Information’. I sometimes think, that if I had been born in a Pre-RTI era, I wouldn’t have been able to fulfil my dream of pursuing legal studies.
Ordinary Peoples’ Power
After this first taste of the power of Information, I have filed more than 200 RTI applications till date encompassing multiple public issues and including a few personal as well. When I used to live in Varanasi, inflated electricity bills were a huge problem for the entire locality. Common people used to receive electricity bills amounting to Rs.10 lakhs, 20 lakhs, and in one shocking case, 200 crores as well. This happened because the departmental staff did not come to check electricity meters as per their duty. I met several higher officials of the department numerous times with a request to send their staff to our locality but they paid no heed to my pleas. I ultimately filed an RTI application seeking detailed records of meter checking by the concerned electricity department and things changed overnight. The next day concerned S.D.O came and promised to send the staff regularly for meter-checking and solve all the other related grievances of the public then and there.
Recent Past: The Sorry State of Governance
At a time when our strongest anti-corruption and transparency legislations has entered a decade, the attitudes of the States towards the Right to Information Act reflect a sorry state of Governance. My personal experiences in using the RTI in the recent past have become unfortunately bitter experiences. To state a few of these experiences, 5 RTI applications have been stonewalled by PMO, three by Ministry of Home Affairs, two by Ministry of External affairs, one by President Secretariat, one by NHRC and one by UGC.
The Govt. of NCT of Delhi which came to power advocating transparency in the Governance has also refused similar, genuine Information which the PMO and the President Secretariat had refused, citing different unjustified grounds. To me, this showed that almost all the prime democratic Institutions entrusted with the task of strengthening the democratic structure of our nation are defeating the very spirit of democracy by refusing to share Information with the people. I feel that every attempt to conceal Information from the stakeholders of democracy threatens the foundations of that democracy.
The RTI has been a personal journey for me but it has also helped me question issues larger than my own life. It helped me fulfil my dreams and connected me to the fabric of democracy in India. Information and access to information changed my life. I celebrate and salute a decade of the vital, fundamental, life-changing, people’s Right to Information law in India, and hope that it will be used by many others like me in the next ten years. I am convinced it will make transparency and accountability more real for the ordinary citizen, and help build a healthier and more robust democracy.