Right to Information – Master key to good governance

Empowered by information

Posted by rtiact2005 on August 2, 2006

Empowered by information
Ginnie Mahajan

Tuesday, August 01, 2006  23:09 IST

Magsaysay award winner on what it takes to start a people’s movement.

Arvind Kejriwal, who won the Magsaysay award on Monday for his contribution to the right-to-information movement, is the man behind Parivartan, which he specifies is not an NGO but a people’s movement for reinforcement of democratic values.

So, was it a single defining moment that made him start a movement? “Not really, I was happy working with the income tax department, but there was always a lurking feel of sadness with the extent of corruption. It irked me that there was no option for the common man to live an honest life as bribes had to be paid for day-to-day work.”

But was it so easy to leave a plum government post and start a citizen’s forum? “When I started Parivartan in 2002, I was not sure about my decision. So I took leave from the government. But after two-three years I knew this was my destiny and put in my papers.”

But did the government never retaliate? “Well, at a basic level they had no choice. The government is committed to both fighting corruption and spreading awareness of the RTI Act. But even though officials would not dare to say anything to us directly, our workers would be harassed. When we started our campaign against the public distribution system in ration shops, there were violent attacks by shopkeepers on our volunteers, including an incident where a lady volunteer’s throat was slit. This could not have been possible without the collusion of government servants. Living within a system and fighting it is not easy.”

Was it easy to convince the common man to fight his own battles? “No, it was one of the toughest things we faced. We began by asking people that they should not pay bribes to the IT or Delhi electricity board officials and that we would get their work done for them. We got a huge response and started submitting applications in bulk to these two departments. However, slowly we realised that Parivartan had simply replaced the touts. It was a parasitic relationship, and we were confused and unhappy. That was when we got our first RTI case. Then we simply started helping people in drafting applications for the right to information. They would then go and submit them themselves and our role became limited.”

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