Sunday, December 23, 2007

RTI Project updates - 3

RTI Awareness session in Saidapet slum

A lot of this week was spent on preparing for this RTI awareness session in a Saidapet slum that happened on Saturday (22nd Dec 2007). This slum was chosen because AID was already running an area learning centre there, and hence we had a contact person there called, Koteeswari.

Preparations for the awareness session included, preparing handouts, talking to a street play troupe (a group of students who were inteterested in doing a kit or a street play for RTI), getting some posters used by TN RTI campaign in 2006, getting a few display charts ready to be used for the session. We (ChennaiRTI & I) had also prepared templates could be used while drafting RTI applications in the slum. We got this ready in Tamil so that we can copy from it while drafting applications. And we had prepared a list of PIOs and AAs for issues that we thought are the most likely to arise in a slum.

The day before the session, the street play troupe backed out saying their members have left for their native places for Christmas holidays. I didn’t expect this. I knew that the street play troupe was very important for the success of the session, since it is very difficult to gather people together otherwise. I had this experience before while doing awareness sessions in villages. But I couldn’t do much if they say they cannot come. But I decided to go ahead with the session anyway. I had taken printouts of posters, handouts, display charts etc. In the evening around 6, Prabha and I went to the slum. There along with Koteeswari, we distributed handouts about the session the following day. I had 75 handouts ready and we distributed almost all of them. We would have informed about a hundred families. This took about an hour. There were a couple of people who said that drainage was the biggest problem they had. They did not have a drainage connection for the slum. I said all these issues can be handled using RTI and hence asked them to come to the session tomorrow. One lady in particular was very excited and said that she will definitely come tomorrow to discuss the drainage issue. But she was the only one who gave such a positive response. Otherwise there was not much response. So I was not expecting a lot of people the next morning. But I had thought that at least 20 people will be there. Little did I know the shock that was in store.

The next day (Saturday) morning, I reached the place at 9 along with Varath. Prabha and Bharathi, a full timer with AID TN, were already there with the stationery and all the other stuff I had left in the office the previous day. And there was not a single soul at the place we had announced. Though this in itself was not surprising, when I went around telling all the people to whom I had distributed handouts etc, and everybody was like “Yeah, we are coming. You go on and we will follow you”. This went on for about 20 mins. But after all the effort, there was just one lady who had come. This was a bit frustrating. Almost 1 week of effort for the session, all for just one lady?? I was asking myself this. By then, a few other ladies turned up. Lokesh had also joined us by then. There was a small hotel nearby where some young people were having their breakfast. We tried to call them. A couple of them came. We somehow managed a group of 10 people. Supported by others who were with me, I started off the session. I knew that the group had very little attention span, and so I didn’t go into any of the details. I just told them that a new act had been passed, wherein applications had to be replied in 30 days and if not, the officer could be fined up to Rs. 25,000. I tried also to explain that the new act is about “Information”. But I felt that none of this went across well. I missed the street play troupe. I spoke only for about 10 minutes. While I was talking some more people had gathered. We had around 20 people mid way through the talking. And after 10 mins I stopped. I told them that we would help them in filing RTI applications if they had any issues with any department of the government. I could see the whole session winding up in another half an hour. This time again, I was proved wrong. But this time I was happy I was wrong.

Once we started addressing individual issues, one lady there came to us saying she had applied for a ration card about a year back, but nothing had happened since then. We took this up and Prabha started drafting an RTI application for her. Soon, another lady came up to us saying that she had not got her father’s job after he passed away. Varath handled this case. Then a couple of others came. Soon all of us were busy. And to our utter surprise there were people waiting for us to handle each of their cases. And many of them were people who were people who were not part of that initial 20 who heard my 10 minutes talk. I knew what word of mouth publicity meant. After a few applications, Prabha and Bharathi left. Varath, Lokesh and I were drafting applications for sometime. After some time Lokesh left. Varath and I were still there. Soon it was hot outside on the road and hence we moved to the temple. There we sat down and continued drafting applications. When Varath and I ended this at 1, we had drafted 16 RTI applications by then. Not a bad number considering that we started with only one woman who was ready to listen to us.In the end the awareness session was more an application filing drive and less an awareness session. In the future, I intend to talk to NGOs who work in slums and use their base to do the awareness sessions. I should also use SHG network which is very widespread in Tamil Nadu to take forward this awareness. While we were distributing handouts on a door to door basis, Prabha was surprised to find an AIDWA member who recognized her. We should be using more such contacts so that we actually do awareness sessions in the future.

After the volunteer training last week, I had hoped one of them would take up responsibility of follow-up work for this awareness session. But nothing of that sort happened. None of the volunteers attended the session. Hence follow-up work for this slum, rests on my shoulders. I must think of ways to find volunteers who can do this.

Email and phone helplines:

Also, this week saw the start of email and phone helplines for RTI. The number is 9789819014. The email ID is For now am planning to spread the word about these helplines through email forwarding. We also distribute this number to people in the slums where we conduct awareness sessions.

Working with the commission

Nothing much happened this week with respect to the state information commission. We had wanted to meet the Chief Information Commissioner this week to discuss how we can get copies of their decisions. Hence I went to the SIC to get an appointment with the Chief Information Commissioner. He said he can give me time on next Wednesday (26th December). So I said ok.

So we will meet him the coming week to place before him our demands.

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