-Punit B. Juneja, Advocate.
On 29th of June 2006, from my college notice board I got to know of the RTI campaign to be organized in Ahmedabad from 1st July 2006 to 15th July 2006. On 1st of July, Saturday, as I was not having any work in the court, I reached at the Kochrab Ashram, Paldi Ahmedabad at 11:15 AM sharp and there I was introduced to the volunteers and members of Janpath who along with 73 plus, other organizations took this initiative of RTI campaign under the banner of “Mahiti Adhikaar Gujarat Pahel”. I had a fair knowledge of the Right to Information Act, 2005 and therefore, for first one hour, I observed, what the campaign actually aims at? I got to know that this is not another “Talk” on the Rights, but was a practical solution to the problems that citizens face. The citizens who visited the camp were actually given counseling, their problems were heard, and they were actually helped to draft the application.
Later after getting fair idea, I started by giving my assistance to the volunteers and as the problems, that people came with were not related to the Right to Information Act, 2005 only, but were having other intricacies also. This is where I thought that my skills as an advocate will be able to serve the society. I therefore decided that I will, whenever possible come to the camp so as to see that I can do my bit for this noble cause.
The volunteers whom I met on the day one were actually nodal-preraks; I asked them what it actually meant? I was then told that they are actually working in night schools, for adult educations. This was something new for me. I never knew that in reality there are any night schools, which impart education to the illiterate adult citizens of our state.
Then I started coming across people of all groups and walks of life. Many wanted “solutions” and some wanted “just answers”. The RTI that I read in book of law was actually being implemented.
“RTIzens” who came there, all wanted to know about Right to Information Act, 2005 first, and then they would ask if they can use the same in their problem to get results, they were almost surprised when they got to know that, they can actually get the work done without paying bribe!!! “GHOOS KO GHOOSA” being our motto, we tried educating more and more people about their Rights in Right to Information Act, 2005 and also that how to make application and ask questions and for information.
Some of the cases that I went through during these 15 days, if to be written about will take a whole book to write, but if summarized the same would be able to throw some light on how the campaign was a success.
One Lady came to the camp asking about the women’s pension scheme, and on getting some able assistance from the volunteer she asked, if she can know how her son died? All the volunteers, present there, were shocked to know that her son died in the year 1990 and till date she has no papers to show, how that incident occurred. She was advised to make an application under the Right to Information Act, 2005 to the Commissioner of Police and ask about the actual facts that came out in investigations of the unnatural death of her son.
One fine day a Gentleman came to me, and started asking the questions relating to Act. I was surprised to know that he was asking questions as to how a Public Information officer can defend himself, if he is not able to give information on time? I asked him if he is a PIO, he answered in the affirmative. I guided him that he should not delay the information and should ask for all the able assistance from his office people so as to give information on time. He then asked me that, can he ask for the information from his department. Now, this was some what tricky, I said that why not? Are you not the citizen of the country?
There were varied experiences like the person who wanted to ask the Traffic Police Department, that under which law he should give the license in the hand of the Police officer? Is it not enough to show the license without physically giving it in the hands of the officer?
One gentleman came and informed us that he had asked the collector that why his P.A. is not transferred for over 17 years and who is responsible for that? He informed us that he has not received any reply and therefore we asked him to file first appeal. He filed the first appeal and though he was belonging to the BPL family he was charged Rs. 50 for the Appeal, which even otherwise cannot be charged. Then he came to us after few days with the news paper cutting that the Collectors P.A. has been transferred.
There were some Sweet and some Bitter experiences, we felt proud of our FREEDOM one moment and on the other moment felt disgusted of our BABUDOM. There were incidents where we worked like a team of counselors at one moment and the other moment we had some minor disputes because of difference in the viewpoint.
We discussed that how can we make the BABUS understand their duties and also that how the People can be made to understand that this is not a weak law.
Yes, most of people came there with “IS DESH KAA KUCH NAHI HONE WALA” attitude. It was sometimes tough to explain them that they should not loose hope and as this is a new law they should make all efforts to develop this.
On 13th of the July 2006, Smt. Anita Karwal, Secretary ARTD and also Shri R.N Das (IAS), Chief Information Commissioner for the Sate Of Gujarat, had a visit to the Camp. They also handled some of the queries and tried to understand that what people actually face. Shri Das also received some complaints there only and the same were promised to be resolved.
Overall it was a nice experience and there we are.. “IS DESH KAA SAB KUCH HOGA” was the last statement of the person who previously said otherwise.