How to use RTI & be the change you want to see

The Right To Information (RTI) Act has been in force for over two years now. Yet, its use by the ordinary citizenry has been minimal if not erratic, and it is mostly non-governmental organisations and the media who have used the Act to ferret out information, seek accountability, and initiate action.

Marketing and management consultant, quiz master and storyteller PRAKASH SUBBARAO, who recently started wearing the hat of activist by setting up bangaloregiri.com, illustrates four ways in which he has used RTI over the past year to seek redress for everyday civic and personal issues.

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Exhibit A: We have a “bad” neighbour who is very argumentative. She keeps collecting dry leaves from her garden and burning them every ten days or so. When we told her to stop this practice she initially said that she had “taken permission” from the Corporation. Subsequently, she became defiant and told us to “do whatever we wished to”. We did two things. (a) We went to the police station and made a complaint. Contrary to our perception that the police are sluggish, they were at the spot within ten minutes and they counselled her that she should not burn the leaves but dispose of them by giving them to the Corporation workers every morning for removal. And (b) We made an RTI application to the Corporation stating the facts of the matter and asking them whether this was permissible, etc. With 3 days two Corporation people went to see her. They told her not to burn leaves and in addition, took a letter from her stating that she would not burn the leaves in future.

Exhibit B: We have another neighbour who has a noisy dog. The dog barks from 5.30 am till 11.30 pm almost non stop. Though a very good pedigree dog, the neighbours ill treat it by keeping it constantly locked up, forget to feed it food (it starts barking continuously at food time to remind them to feed it) etc. Rather than make a complaint, I decided to make a RTI application to the police. When I went to the police station, the constable on duty at the desk was not even aware about RTI! I waited a few minutes and then saw the sub-inspector and asked him who the public information officer was. Initially he tried to persuade me (a) that his police station was not the place to submit the RTI application but that I should submit it to a senior officer and (b) that instead of an RTI application, I could just submit a complaint. I was firm regarding submitting the RTI aplication and he accepted it, signing the copy and affixing his rubber stamp to it. Within 4 days, a police constable went to the neighbour’s house. I do not know what transpired but I can see a visible improvement in the treatment of the dog. Its barking has also come down substantially.

Exhibit C: The Corporation cleaners who used to remove garbage from our premises stopped doing so and became erratic in their duties. They took the stand that they would only remove household garbage and not remove the leaves that fall from the plants and trees. Within 48 hours of a RTI application being submitted, the local junior engineer met us and apologized for the inconvenience caused to us. From that day on, our whole road’s garbage gets very efficiently cleared.

Exhibit D: I have an account with Indian Overseas Bank. The Jayanagar branch has extremely inefficient people who think that they are doing a big favour by dealing with their own customers. I saw some strange entries in my passbook. One of them read: VID-7301- 8997-0-1 1.00. They had deducted Re 1 from my account. Just imagine what would happen if IOB deducted Re 1 from each of the millions of people who have accounts with them: (a) they would be richer by millions and almost everyone would say “It’s only a rupee, why bother”.

There was another instance where they multiple charged me for a debit card purchase done at a medical store. Whereas I had made one purchase for Rs. 130, they debited me three times and credited me once for the same purchase. Enquiries with the local branch resulted in “make a complaint addressed to our manager; we will check and get back to you”. They never got back to me. I therefore decided to make a RTI complaint to the bank. Since I did not know where to submit the complaint, I sent it by Speedpost to their head office in Madras. Their law department responded within ten days apologizing for the error and reversing the wrong entries. I also find an improvement in the way customers are being serviced by that particular branch.

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Using RTI is very simple.

1. Go to your nearest post office and buy five postal orders of Rs.10 face value. Keep these for making five RTI applications.

2. If you wish to make a complaint, write down your complaint and submit it to the Public Information Officer of the concerned organization. (You must check whether there is a nearby Public Information Officer or whether you should go to their Head Office etc.)

3. Make sure that you have a photocopy of your complaint so that you can take an acknowledgement from the office. They will normally sign and affix a seal and a date stamp.

The fact of the matter is that you do not need anyone’s help in this matter. You can get immediate results by using RTI. Why not use RTI to get an immediate and long lasting solution?

Once you have made the RTI application, email me the results that you obtained: prakash.subbarao@gmail.com

If you are interested in talking to me, my contact number is 94481 37203, and you could call me any time in the evening (6 pm-midnight).