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Beware, empowered citizens bare corruption
Nistula Hebbar in New Delhi | November 01, 2005 03:50 IST
In a brief period, the Right to Information Act has brought to light what everyone always knew but was afraid to say: that where the government is the sole custodian of information, there is corruption.
More significantly, wherever corruption has been exposed leveraging information and the RTI Act, it has ended.
In Rajasthan, the Mazdoor Kisan Sangharsh Samiti, a non-government organisation headed by former bureaucrat Aruna Roy, exposed the muster roll scam. In this case, on paper, people were paid and shown as full-time working entities. But on the ground, they simply did not exist.
Using the RTI Act, the MKSS made contractors to provide data on labourers employed by them and cross-checked that at the site where they were supposed to be working. This ended the muster roll scam.
A similar scam was unearthed by NGOs in Maharashtra in the road projects. Contractors were made to provide details of materials they had used in the construction. This was matched with a piece of asphalt road, dug up by NGOs and analysed in a laboratory. Discrepancies exposed why roads kept being built and getting eroded.
In the national capital, the Act was used to close gaping holes in the public distribution system. Ration shop owners used to siphon off grain, sugar and kerosene, made available at subsidised rates for distribution among the poor, to the open market.
Such was the level of corruption that most grain and sugar used to be routed to the open market from the government godown itself. Everyone knew about this but no one could prove it.
But because of the RTI Act, NGOs got the exact amount of ration that was supposed to come to the shop on a certain day. They checked its availability at the ration shops and reported the matter to the government.
When the scam came to light, Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit made it mandatory for ration shops to display on a board exact availability of PDS items each day.
Last heard, ration shop owners were chasing customers to come and collect their ration-because, according to the rules, freight for not purchased rations (that have to be returned to the government godowns) had to be borne by the ration shop owner.
An important element of the RTI Act is information on custodial deaths.
This information was expected to have been sought by people in states like Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast. So far, it has not been sought, possibly because citizens do not know how to deal with information.
But once the RTI Act really takes off, military and paramilitary forces will have to be more careful about civil rights than they are today.