Thursday, September 14, 2006

Spreading awareness about the act

Apart from my own attempts at asking questions through RTI, I am planning to spread awareness about this act among the slums of Chennai. The success of this act lies not in just one person asking questions, but in a large number of people asking questions. So, I was planning to visit a slum and try to find out the problems that they have with the government and probably help a couple of people file their applications. In that process I will make sure that all the people in the slum know that such a thing is happening. If they see that this is working, everybody who has a problem with the government might want to sort it out through RTI. At that point I might conduct an awareness camp in the whole of the slum.

As a part of this I visited a slum near my office, the day before (13-Sep-2006). Just when I was wondering whom to approach in the slum, I saw a lady throwing garbage at a corner and she was complaining to herself abt something, that I couldnt properly hear. So I immediately went up to her and asked her what the problem was. She told me that since there was no garbage bin, the garbage just keeps flying away here and there thereby causing a lot of convenience to their slum. She also told me that there used to be a garbage bin here but was removed when the road was being laid last year. So I thought this might be a nice place to start off the RTI campaign in this slum. I explained to her that I am from an NGO and can help solve problems with the government. I told her that there is a new act through which you can get info from the government. I am not sure if she understood the part about Information, but I told her that in effect she needs to file an application with a government official and asked her if she was ready. She said yes, I told her that I will come back in two days with the applicaiton.

The next day I went and took a snap of the place which is being used as a garbage dump. There is also a water pump very close to it. Somebody kept a cycle rickshaw (See picture below) near the dumping place to make sure that garbage doesnt fly in that particular direction. I am planning to file an application asking them the rules abt Garbage bins in the city, why this garbage bin was removed and how they are going to solve the problem.

My first RTI Application - Received Info

This is a long overdue update on my blog. Anyway here it is.

I got a reply from the Town panchayat for the RTI application that I filed well before the expiry of the 30 day deadline. I got the reply in the end of august, and the reply was dated 21-Aug. That was impressive. It seems that according to the rules, the roads need to be relaid every three years. I had asked for the details of the work done in the last one year, and the reply was that no work was done in the last one year. Though for the question as to when the work will be done now, they have replied saying that the tender date has been fixed for 28-Aug, and that the road will be completely repaired in three months. Let me see what happens.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

My first RTI application - Update

I filed my RTI application on 28th July. On 8th August I received a copy of the letter dated 2nd August from MA&WS dept (to which I submitted my application) to the PIO of the Porur Town Panchayat asking the Town Panchayat office to reply to my queries. There was another letter addressed to me, to contact the town panchayat herafter in case of any questions, with a copy sent to the Town panchayat.

One interesting thing is that in the letter from the Secretariat to the Town panchayat office, there is no mention of the date on which I filed my original application. This is important since only then the PIO of the Porur Panchayat will know that the queries have to be replied to within 30 days from that date. Now, In all probablity, this PIO will count 30 days starting from 8th August (the date he received the letter). But for now, I might not make a fuss about it. I would be surprised even if I get my replies by 8th septembet. But I am planning to go and meet the Porur Panchayat PIO on Aug 27th and ask him to give me the replies saying it has been one month since I filed my application. Atleast then, he will know that I am serious about this and try to get me answers before Sep 8th.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

My first RTI application

Atlast I filed my first RTI application. This is about a road near my house. Rather, this is about a road that is not there near my house. It is in such a horrible condition. So I asked for the details of the works done on the road in the last one year. Also, why the road is in such a sorry state today, and when it will be repaired.

This road is in Porur. I went to the secretariat on 26th July. I thought this request must be filed with the Public works department. But when I went there to the PIO of PWD, I was asked to go to the highways department. BTW, both the PIO and the appellate authority of PWD listed on the government website have retired. I fought a little with one of the lower officials saying that any PIO can take any application and then forward that request to the department concerned. But nobody was willing to take an RTI application.

I then went to the highways department. There I met the appellate authority directly (without knowing he was the appellate authority). He was pretty helpful and checked with a few of his staff whether this request pertains to their department. There they were not sure if this road comes under Highways or Rural development dept since Porur is a Panchayat. They asked me if buses ply on that road, I said no. So they asked me to go to RD(Rural Development) department. This is where I was made to run around for a lot of time. Forget receiving the application, nobody was ready to even tell me who the PIO of this department is. I fought with a lot of people there, then one official told me that people are generally wary of taking RTI applications. But finally I was told who the PIO was. I went to him and showed him my form. Then he told me about some G.O that was recently passed which moved Town panchayats to MA & WS (Municipal Administration and Water supply) department. So he asked me if Porur was a town or village panchayat. By this time I was irritated. I told him, that he has to take the application irrespective of which the dept this request has to go to. And I cited him the rules of the RTI act. He said he cant do it, and asked me to come later since he was discussing something important. I thanked him for being so courteous and left the place. Then I checked whether Porur was a town panchayat and on confirmation I went to MA & WS department. There the PIO was pretty helpful and encouraging and was telling me that people should be aware of their rights and only if we ask questions, staff in the govt will work. He said he was ready to take the application and asked me to pay the fees of 50 rupees. By this time, banks were not issuing DDs and the lady there in the department said that so far they had not collected cash and hence didnt know how to deal in cash.

By this time, I had spent around 3 hours in the secretariat and I had to get back to my office . So I went back with the satisfaction that atleast I found the right PIO and he was ready to take the application. I went back on 28th July, paid the 50 rupees by DD and filed my first RTI application. Now I am waiting for a reply to my questions.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

I have started

I was a software enginner. Now, I am into social work. This blog is meant to be a place where my friends can keep track of what I am doing in social work. I work with an NGO called AID (Association for India's development) It has been almost a month, since I joined AID.

I am working on a project called "Padippum Inikkum" (which is Tamil for "Learning will also be enjoyable". This project was thought of when the results of a survey showed that about 50% of children in govt primary schools in Tamil Nadu in classes 3-5 are not able to read Tamil. Tamil being the medium of instruction and the language in which they read other subjects like science, maths, history etc, this affects their schooling badly. So AID has developed a training module along with a kit, which if implemented daily for one hour for four months, will greatly improve the kids' reading skills. This program will be implemented in 30 districts in Tamil Nadu. The first phase will be in 5 districts (Thiruvallur, Kanchipuram, Vellore, Krishnagiri and Thiruvannamalai). The second phase will cover 10 districts and the third phase will be in 15 districts. The first phase will cover around 6500 schools. I am part of the coordination team based in Chennai. Such a large scale is possible because Tamil Nadu government is taking this up and implementing it. AID will act as resource group. In this project other NGOs like TNSF are also involved.

In this NGO, along with the project that I am in, I can also work on something I personally am very passionate about and so I have been asked to think of something and come up with a plan. I would like to work on RTI (Right to Information act) and slowly try to form a knowledge bank, which will help people know whom they should approach in the government if a they have a particular problem, or want to find some particular info in a department, or to find out how the councillor allocated projects and to whom etc. Since this might be confrontational, I am also considerning the option of working on solar power based cookers in rural areas, thereby reducing their usage of firewood. This prevents pollution that happens due to burning firewood, prevents cutting down of trees and helps people avoid walking long distances to collect firewood. Growing bio-fuel trees like Pongamia, which provides us fuel and helps enviroment since trees are grown, can also be done simultaneously. So far people have been cutting down trees for fuel, but now on they will grow trees for fuel. If that happens, it will be a wonderful change. Let me see how this works out.