Vidya Subrahmaniam

Study belies propaganda it is used by select social activists

Applicants closed down polluting factories, fought corruption

Villagers see information as key to solving problems

New Delhi: An interim assessment of the Right to Information Act, 2005, undertaken independently, has concluded that more and more people are now using it in previously unknown ways, disproving the propaganda that RTI is an instrument concentrated in the hands of select social activists.

The first of its kind, the comprehensive study, conducted jointly by the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) and the Right to Information Assessment and Analysis Group (RaaG), has been billed as a people’s initiative to assess who is using the Act and to what purpose. The study covered 10 States, besides Delhi.

In their report, “The People’s RTI Assessment 2008,” the NCPRI and RaaG pointed out that so far all information on RTI was either anecdotal or derived primarily from government data. Nor was there any evaluation of how the Act impacted societal actors such as the media, courts, the corporate sector and non-governmental organisations.

The NCPRI and RaaG conducted separate rural and urban surveys and also collected about 5,000 case studies from across the country, culled from the Hindi and English print media and downloaded from websites and blogs. A perusal of the cases showed that more and more people were invoking the Act, and for a variety of reasons.

In many cases, the applicants went beyond securing answers to their questions. They closed down polluting factories, fought corruption, and formed themselves into a larger group to support one another. Internet users formed their own online support groups, and helped applicants fill applications.

Specific examples of enlarging RTI: People in rural Karnataka combined campaigns for the Right to Information and the Right to Food to fight hunger. An 86-year-old Dalit farmer in Maharashtra used the RTI data to prevent his strawberry fields from drying up.

In Uttar Pradesh, over 14,000 residents in a cluster of eight villages, 60 km from Banda, used RTI to fight for their right to have roads, bridges and electricity.

Solution to problems

The surveys showed that an overwhelming majority of rural residents saw information as the key to solving village problems.

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