Monday, February 11, 2008

RTI Project Updates - 10

Awareness sessions


This week the first awareness session in village was held in Thiruppachetti village in Sivagangai district (The village is about 25 kms from Madurai city). Raj Sundar who was part of TN RTI campaign in 2006, came with me to conduct the awareness session. This was organised by Ms.Sevi a ward member in the village panchayat. She is the sister of a colleague, Jyoti, in AID India. The moment Ms.Selvi was told that I can come and conduct the session, she was very enthusiastic. She said she can get together ladies from different SHGs. When I talked to her over phone, I asked her how many people would turn up for the session, and she said around 50 people could come. At that moment, I thought this was slightly over optimistic. Obviously, the memories of my first awareness session were fresh in my memory :-). But Raj Sundar and I went to the village on 5th. We arrived 5th morning. The venue was the village SHG building, where usually SHG members meet. We reached the place and saw that there were about 10 members and that more were coming. We waited for about half an hour. People slowly came in. To my surprise, at about 11.30, we had about 40 women. When the session started some more people walked in, and there were close to 50 people for the session. It was heartening to see the group. They seemed pretty interested. Some ladies told us, that a considerable number of women had been away on some work, else there could have been more members. I realised that I was wrong when I thought Ms.Selvi was being over optimistic over the phone. She more than kept her word.

So I started off enthusiastically. Raj Sundar and I had decided before hand that I would handle the history of the act, importance of information and how it can solve problems. Then he would discuss the procedure of getting information under RTI act. I started off with a kadi joke (PJ) just to enliven the proceedings. Then I told them a story. The story of how some villages in Rajasthan had demanded copies of muster rolls for a job scheme. How information becomes power. How RTI brings power to the people. A few instances where RTI has been successful were discussed. I told them what all kinds of information they could possible get, and what all they could do with the information acquired. The group was pretty responsive. The ladies were very vocal and it made the session all the more interesting. Rajsundar then came and explained the procedure of getting information. It was 1.30 when we finished. We distributed pamphlets. Then we told them that those interested in filing applications can do it and we will help them. Ms.Selvi and another lady wanted to get the information on a list of government lands lying unused (poramboke lands). Their idea was that, a hospital was due to them but was kept in abeyance since land could not be found which met the requirements for a hospital. There were other such needs to which needed land. So they decided to file an RTI application to get that info. There were two other appplications that we filed.

After the session was over, we had lunch at Ms.Selvi's house and then left for Madurai to board a train from there. Looking back at the session, it was almost the perfect session. 50 people arrived. They were all pretty interested. The session went off without any goofups from my side. Wish every session were like this.

SRM college
Nity and Rupesh (from CAD), were invited to talk about RTI at SRM college. Rupesh asked me if I could also join them. So we went there. This was on 6th Feb. There were about 200 students there. Nity gave a history of the act and why it was important. Then I gave an overview of important sections like, definition of information, barred info, voluntary disclosure requirements etc. Then Rupesh explained the procedure of filing an RTI applicaiton. Then we ended with a Q&A session.


This week after about 40 days, we started work on analysing their decisions. Raj Sundar and I went to their office on Thursday. We were told that Mr.Dhandapani was on leave, and that the files containing the decisions were in a locked bureau, and that only he had the keys. So we returned. Somehow, the whole comission (which has only a staff of about 10 -12 people) knew that we were going to analyse the decisions. We went back on friday. Then we were given the decisions starting October 25th. On Friday afternoon, we started at about 3.00 and went on till 5.30 and we were able to look at about 30 decisions.

Some immediate problems were, that in a few decisions, the actual information sought is not known. The decisions seemed to be ok so far, in that for most cases where there was a fault with the PA, a Show cause notice asking why penalty should not be imposed was issued. But there is no info in the decisions file whether penalty has been indeed imposed or not. For this the individual case files have to be explored. This week, I intend to focus on this. Previously I had the idea that, once I have all the decisions as soft copies (or as hard copies which could be later scanned), I can upload it to the internet and get it analysed by a lot of volunteers. But now since I have to personally sit in their office and analyse their decisions, I am considering whether I should prepare a report based on just their last 3 months' decisions and going forward analyse all their decisions as and when they are given.

When I met the commissioner before starting the analysing work, he asked me if I had seen an enquiry. When I said no, he suggested that I have a look at one such session, which is scheduled on 13th. That will give me a better understanding of how enquiries are held.

1 comment:

IdeasOnFire said...

Great work Madhav! The RTI can be the most crucial tool for bringing change and awareness. Its a great thing to work on.