The beginning of the 21st century is marked with the developments made in the field of information and technology. The primary role of the information is to equip the citizens to make informed choices. Information is life blood that sustains political, social and business decisions. It may pertain to quality, quantity, standard, and prices of products or services that are needed to make an informed decision. This is particularly true in a country where government and its numerous administrative agencies have expanded in a bewildering manner.
The Right to Information Act, passed by the Indian Parliament in the year 2005 has proved to be a landmark for good governance and in helping common people, especially the poor and underprivileged, get their dues from the government. The act has emerged as the most potent tool to empower ordinary citizens to combat state corruption and to play an important and active role in participatory democracy. Drafted by civil society itself, the law is unique in the sense that it has been the result of years of struggle by civil society, NGOs and media.
Ashish’s grandmother had entered into an agreement with M/s Smart Builders for constructing the Gauri Apartments on their Hilton Road land near the Meera Bai Marg.
Everything was fine till the builder had violated the agreement. Gauri Apartments was to be a seven-storey building but the promoters had made it into a nine-storey mansion.
“We were aghast,” said Ashish. “This would have landed us in big trouble as we had signed documents for seven floors. We found that be it the map, compounding, application or affidavits – all had been forged and submitted to the LDA. So we approached LDA to show and give us original documents. But they refused.” But Ashish was desperate to take the battle to its logical end.
He had quits in the US and in Mumbai to be by his grandma’s side and fight the case.
From January 2005 till October 2005 Ashish had made umpteen rounds of the LDA office. For obvious reasons, LDA officers did not let him have a look at the documents. “From the chief engineer to the LDA secretary and the V-C, we approached all but none helped,” Ashish said.
By then the RTIA had been announced. Ashish was bracing up for another round of battle, this time armed with the newborn Act. Even before the RTIA came into force, Ashish procured a copy of the Act. He studied it well, did his homework and launched the battle afresh.
“On October 12, 2005 the RTIA came into force and on that very day I filed an application demanding various documents and information. Ours was the first application under RTI. In fact, all the first 16 applications under RTI were ours.
When the 30-day period elapsed after the first application was filed, I reminded LDA of it. That did the trick. The LDA did their best to delay things but eventually gave in bit by bit. Towards the end of November 2005 they had to show me some files,” Ashish told the people who had come to the RTI camp at the Ambedkar Mahasabha office on Vidhan Sabha Marg on Friday.
Speaking on the importance of studying the Act properly he said, “Had I not read the RTIA properly they would have fooled me. I would have been happy that they showed me the files. But instead, I asked them to give me copies of the documents. They asked me to pay Rs 3,000. I did. But again they dithered.
Finally, they gave me unsigned and unstamped photocopies. But I demanded certified documents. And then finally in first week of December they gave me a lot of documents that I had demanded. On the basis of it, I filed an FIR against the builder.”
The increase in the number of floors was not the only anomaly that the builders had managed, they violated other things too, Ashish said.
He said when all this was going on, the builder had started giving possession of the flats to the owners. “They did it even when the Fire Department was yet to give its NOC to the building. In fact, the Fire Department had raised objections regarding fire safety standards adopted,” he added.
After the duo won their war, a citizen filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) against the LDA, while Ashish Dixit moved the High Court.
Though the story tells what the RTI can do, Ashish could not but resist a comment, “Believe me. RTI is very powerful and an effective tool in our hands.”
So, go ahead and use it.