Our readers are by now familiar with the activities of New Delhi based Parivartan. The NGO has been popularising the use of Delhi’s Right to Information (RTI) Act amidst citizens. Parivartan continues to show citizens the most innovative ways to foster accountability in government departments using RTI.

A new platform – the Delhi Right to Information ‘manch’ – has been recently formed in an effort to bring those people together who have used Right to Information or are interested in using it. According to Arvind Kejriwal of Parivartan, “the objectives of the manch are threefold - to share experiences on the Right to Information, to collectively address bottlenecks being encountered in the implementation of Right to Information and to spread awareness about this important right.”

Interesting cases of the use of Right to Information surfaced in the two meetings of the manch. Using RTI, Kapil Jain managed to get a polluting factory closed in his neighbourhood. Zaki Ahmad on the other hand, could get a few teachers posted in a government school. Sudesh Shukla could take possession of his flat, which was being denied to him.

The manch meets on the first Sunday of every month and will now be jointly organised with the Delhi University. The meetings will be held at Gandhi Bhavan, University Road, Near the School of Correspondence Courses, Delhi University. The idea of the meeting is that after sharing experiences, one issue be taken up and a small workshop be held on how to draft questions and where to file applications to seek information on that issue.

In the April meeting, for instance, Parivartan plans to distribute a list of works claimed to have been done by MLAs in the last five years (excluding 2003-04) and encourage people to seek official inspection of these works in their respective constituencies, using the RTI process. Parivartan welcomes everyone to join this platform and encourages all readers to spread the word regarding this unique opportunity for all who are interested in the issue of Right to Information in Delhi.

In the meantime, armed with their success in Welcome colony in East Delhi, Parivartan workers went to two more slum clusters in the same region to assess the position of distribution of rations. In each cluster, Parivartan workers collected people at a street corner by singing songs and were shocked to see the ration cards of the people. They have not received even a single grain for the last several years. Ration dealers in both areas have told the residents that the government had stopped sending rations for the poor people. While Parivartan workers corrected this misinformation, the people from Welcome colony who accompanied them explained how they obtained records of ration dealers in their own area and how this led to their getting due rations.

As a result, in one of the clusters, Ravidas camp, about 12 people filed applications under Right to Information on 22nd March demanding copies of records of ration dealers of their area. Mere filing of these applications has had its initial impact. On 27th & 28th March, the ration dealers went to each hut in the slum cluster and apologised for their past mistakes. For the first time, they distributed correct rations to everyone in the area and requested them to withdraw their applications under RTI. However, it has been decided that the residents will obtain the records of these ration dealers but will not complain against them. If at any time in the future, these ration dealers deviate, residents have decided they may use the option of filing a complaint.

The same exercise was conducted with the help of two other NGOs in Rajiv camp, the other cluster. About 15 people from this area came forward to file applications under RTI.

While Parivartan is persistent in showing citizens how to make full use of the RTI, the NGO also points out that RTI application processing could be more citizen-friendly. According to Kejriwal, “the cost of seeking information in Delhi is very high. It is Rs 25 per application and Rs 5 per page of information. These are very poor people, most of them being labourers working on construction works. They earn about Rs 80 per day. They cannot afford access to information at such a high cost. However, the most heartening thing is that the people understand the implications of these records. They are themselves paying for the cost of information, except in very rare cases, where the people were extremely poor and some volunteers pitched in to foot their expenses.”

Encouraged by the results achieved so far on the issue of rations, Parivartan has decided to target different parts of Delhi in the next one month or so, to educate citizens and encourage them to seek records of ration dealers.

Another recent feather in Parivartan’s cap is a follow-up to a 2003 episode on inspection of roads. Very rare in the country and what is a first for Delhi, citizens officially inspected a government work on March 25 – a road repaired by the Public Works Department (PWD) after monsoons last year.

“Often, an inspector comes to your house or business from some government department saying that he has come to inspect such and such thing. Has a common person ever gone to a government department to inspect government works? Now this can happen through the Delhi Right to Information Act. This Act gives a right to every citizen to inspect any government work and take sample of the material used,” offers Kejriwal.

A road was repaired by the Public Works Department (PWD) of Delhi Government in September 2003. Richa, a Parivartan worker, applied under the Delhi Right to Information Act that she would like to inspect the road after the repair was completed and she would also like to take a sample of material. However, she was asked irrelevant questions. She was asked to prove her nationality, to produce certificate of her educational qualification, her experience in road works, where was she employed etc. It is only after the Chairman of Public Grievance Commission and the Secretary (Administrative Reforms) of the Delhi Government intervened that the PWD agreed to allow inspection.

On March 25, the records related to the repair of this road were to be inspected and the entries made in these records were to be compared with the field reality. But because the entire road had been re-laid by the PWD since the last repairs, the patches done during those repairs got covered and could not be verified. The inspection turned out to be a formality, but it was nevertheless important as it established the right of the citizens to inspect government works and also made the process to do so transparent. In a nation where citizenry is generally unable able to assert itself to 'the sarkar', a Delhi citizen has for the first time officially inspected a government work. Incredible, but true.

According to Kejriwal, “it has significant implications and can actually mean a severe blow to corruption. All the corruption takes place in records. For instance, the unscrupulous officials fill up in records that 200 meters of road was made whereas actually only 100 meters is made and the payment is made for 200 meters. If a citizen files an application before the start of any work that he would like to come and inspect the work after it has been completed, the authorities would be scared to fill up wrong measurements as they know that someone is going to come and inspect their records and the work. They would not fill up wrong entries. If every citizen were to start filing such applications for any government work that they see happening in their own areas, this would mean a deadly blow to corruption. We keep cursing bureaucrats and politicians for corruption. Now the ball is in our court. Whenever we see any government construction taking place anywhere in Delhi, we can just file an application to the concerned Department asking for inspection of the work after completion.”

Indeed, the chance to initiate ‘Parivartan’ is now very much in the citizen’s domain. Parivartan is inspecting some roads in April and has planned more inspections in May. Delhi citizens who would like to join these inspections to understand the process, or connect with other Parivartan activities may contact Arvind Kejriwal at +91-9891079275.