Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Right to Information Act, 2005

One of the most far reaching legislations passed in India in recent memory is the 'Right to Information Act, 2005'. It has certainly changed a lot of things in India. Stuff that was literally behind an 'iron curtain' is now available for public viewing (except if covered under the Official Secrets Act and certain other areas, like assets of the members of the judiciary).

Certainly, the RTI is a powerful tool in the hands of ordinary citizens of India like you and I. Earlier, it was impossible to get any sort of information on government expenditure. Yes, that's the money that's spent by the government; money collected in the form of taxes from you and I. Now, as per this law, every government department is required to furnish the information when demanded by an Indian citizen. Not just revenue expenditure, but even simple matters of action taken (more likely inaction) on a particular application made to the government can also be questioned in the form of an RTI petition. It also extends to public institutions in India; like say the State Bank of India. Your account opening form has been pending with your SBI branch for a month? Petition them and demand to know what action was taken!

One of the best websites in India (alas, it lacks in form what it has in content - more on that later) for RTI and related activities is RTI India Organization. This website is tacky in appearance and often succumbs to cliched  comments from members, but it is a goldmine of information. Which means you've got to dig deep, but you'll find loads of useful stuff. The official website from the Government is here. This is no less tacky as well. I do highly recommend visiting both of the websites to know the exact process for obtaining information from any government concern and also help on stuff like addresses, formats, etc..

My personal experience with leveraging the power of RTI has been very good so far. My employee provident fund transfer from the Hyderabad office to the Bangalore office was pending for over 2 years. Then, in last April I chanced upon some forums discussing how one could use the power, or even the mere threat, of RTI to get the funds transfered. Accordingly, I made an application to the PF office in Hyderabad to know what had happened of my PF transfer request. The letter was written in such a fashion as to leave no doubt that an RTI application would soon follow. And lo and behold, within a month or so my PF was transfered. I've currently submitted an actual RTI application to the 'Telecom Regulatory Authority of India' to know how effective the 'National Do Not Call Registry' has been. Am still awaiting a response.


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