By now, many are familiar with Parivartans efforts towards effective implementation of citizens Right to Information in Delhi. The struggle for transparency initiated by the NGO in the Public Distribution System (PDS) ration records in Delhis Food and Civil Supplies Department has lately met with much success.
To remind the readers, Triveni, a very poor resident of East Delhi, inspired over 150 residents to file Right to Information applications. Although Triveni holds the Antyodaya card, she did not know that its holders could buy ration at highly subsidized rates. Her ration shop was selling at prices almost equal to those at the market and thus she stopped buying from the shop. Supported by Parivartan, she filed an application under the Right to Information Act asking for details of her records and discovered that ration had been booked under her name using fake thumb impressions.
Besides this, people were often terrorized when they went to inspect records of ration dealers. In fact, Parivartan workers were beaten up when they went for inspection of records. Soon, Parivartan started getting reports of people in various parts of Delhi being pressurized to withdraw their applications by policemen, ration dealers, and Food Department officials. This is when Parivartan workers stepped in again to approach Delhi Chief Minister (CM) Sheila Dixit with a request for her to intervene. The CM soon asked the Chief Secretary (CS) to investigate the issue. To Parivartans surprise, the CS was immediately transferred, through the former are not sure of the exact reason behind the transfer. The new CS has shown a very positive response and has promised all support. In fact as a result of the CS intervention, Parivartan received the PDS records for four areas in Delhi: Gautampuri, Bhalswa, Kalyanpuri and Welcome Colony.
Residents were reluctant to go to the Food department to see their records for the fear ration dealers causing violence. To prevent such a situation, records were presented at the office of the Food Commissioner at ITO in Delhi. About seventy people got together to review the records; while seeing the records, they witnessed many theatrics. While one card register (list of card holders at every shop) was declared lost, another ration dealer claimed he had lost the records for the month of June.
Subsequently, Parivartan placed the documents at the homes of literate people in the community for the convenience of citizens to visit and verify. The NGO also organised a workshop to teach people how to read their records. According to Arvind Kejriwal of Parivartan, the success of the developments until now has been twofold. Firstly, a tremendous amount of awareness has been created in the community regarding this issue. Residents are no longer indifferent to availability of ration at prices higher than what they are entitled to. They are not only conscious of but are also willing to preserve their rights. Secondly, ration dealers feel threatened and can no longer get away with the exploitation and mal-practices of the past. This was quite evident in the way the dealers apologised to the residents in a public meeting in Welcome Colony. In other areas, ration shops are functioning more regularly and shopkeepers are selling adequate ration supplies. With that, the residents are truly empowered. The ration dealers are no longer answerable to (read scared of) the vigilance officers but to the public. While money was smartly melting the might of vigilance department, the ration dealers will have to deliver to appease the public, offers Kejriwal.
Parivartan wants to wait until the upcoming assembly elections before creating greater awareness in the community and simultaneously verifying each entry in the records. This will further help in quantifying the amount of corruption. In the meanwhile, the NGO is awaiting clearance of stay orders issued by the High Court for transfer of ration records in certain colonies. According to Kejriwal, however, this is just a matter of time as the Supreme Court has already declared the citizens Right to Information.
In a landscape where inadequate implementation of government regulations (in this case those concerning the PDS) prevails, organizations such as Parivartan are serving as a beacon for uninformed public to mobilize them to hold the much criticized system accountable. The organization's initial success in effective enforcement of Delhis Right to Information Act has woken up the establishment to implementation of existing regulations just as much as it has informed citizens about them. Given the difficulties, Parivartans success is a small but conspicuous beginning. A beginning that has certainly dented the Delhiites' ignorance, the Public Distribution Systems opaqueness and a general apathy prevailing among both the citizens and the local government. The antidote to the governments unsatisfactory functioning is perhaps not cynicism or indifference but civic engagement. The message commands replication.