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Having woven many a success story in cities, the Right to Information Act, which completes two years of coming in the statute books in October is reaching the rural areas too with villages using its provisions to redress their grievances.
Sidhakahna Jot Keshav village in Bahraich district of Uttar Pradesh is one such example. Five inspired residents of the village filed RTI applications and questioned the district administration about the conditions of the village roads and drains. They also raised questions as why there were no allotments under the Indira Awaas Yojna.
The administration immediately acted and the construction of the roads and drains began in the village. Since then, 32 villagers have been allotted the houses under the Indira Awaas Yojna and the administration has displayed a list on the village wall, containing the names of the villagers eligible for the allotments under the scheme.
According to RTI activist and Magsaysay award winner Arvind Kejriwal, RTI is the way to empowering villages.
"The very movement started from the rural Rajasthan. RTI is like a life line to the rural India. The Act has shown a great potential to transform the life of rural society," he said.
He, however, admits that there are some hurdles.
"The true potential of RTI is still to be explored, especially in the rural India where villagers find it very cumbersome to file RTI applications. The procedure should be simplified and made people friendly," Kejriwal observed.
To substantiate his point, Kejriwal cited the example of Bihar.
"Bihar has set a great example by creating a dedicated phone line for RTI. Here RTI can be filed through a phone call. Even an illiterate villager can file his RTI application by a call," he pointed out.
The Act is influencing people to come forward and question the progress on various welfare schemes, creating a positive change in the most backward areas like Eastern UP, Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Assam and in Maharashtra.
According to Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah, "Though villages are less aware about the Act than the cities, yet there are villages where RTI is being used. In the villages of Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra awareness about the Act is quite good and they are using the Act. In fact, slum areas of Mumbai have very high level of awareness regarding the RTI Act."
Asked whether the government was planning anything special to spread awareness about the Act in the rural sectors, he said: "No, there is no specific programme on it right now but the NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) matches the spirit of RTI."
He, however, praised the efforts being done by the media and civic agencies in spreading awareness about the Act.
Maharashtra Information Commissioner Vijay Kuvalekar says: "Villages have recently started using RTI to seek information related to their problems. I have seen some cases where the illiterates come up with RTI application filed by some help from others. The villages are waking up to the power of RTI."
He, however, admits that there is still a lot to be done to create awareness at grassroot level.
Most questions in RTI applications are related to public distribution system, Ration card, BPL card, Indira Awaas Yojna, lands, irrigation, corruption in the welfare schemes and day to day working of local village administration, says Major Sanjay Yadav, Information Commissioner in UP.
In Ghara Katara village of Shankar Garh block in Allahabad, daily wagers had a tough time arranging a proper meal as they were not receiving rations on their cards. On December 19, 2006, some 21 villagers prepared RTI applications and questioned the administration. The very next day all the ration card holders got their rations.
Even the most backward sections of rural societies are seeking information related to Prime Minister's Employment Scheme, Indira Awaas Yojna, ration card, midday meal, uniform distribution in the schools and the conditions of village roads.There are still some problems in the implementation of the Act in villages but these success stories are the examples of change and through proper awareness and guidance the Act can do wonders.
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