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Arvind Kejriwal

Arvind Kejriwal on Right To Information

“Right to Information Act is a bill legislated in 2005 that allows any citizen to get any information from any government ministry/department, at cost of few rupees through questions asked through an application. RTI is being very widely used in the nation. It is estimated that 30 lakh RTI applications are filed annually. Of these 30 lakh applications, 6 lakh RTI applications are filed with Central Government Ministries and Departments and remaining are filed with State Government Ministries and Departments. Information Commissions are corrupt Information Commissions are populated by political appointees. The appellate process is very cumbersome and enervating. Information is often not provided even after Information Commission ordering so. Anti Corruption Machinery is rotten and under control of political masters. Hence corruption is difficult to control despite RTI.” had talked to Arvind Kerjriwal in year 2010. This interview is reproduced here.

Overview of RTI origin and status
India has got the best law in the world i.e. Right to Information 2005. It has spread very well in all parts of the country. No other law other than RTI has been successful in generating interest across the spectrum. Even though the period of five years is very short for evaluating the law, it has created outstanding impact and also played a good role in creating awareness among the people regarding its effective utilization.

Still there are many systemic problems preventing people in getting justice through the instrument of RTI. Bureaucracy is the key factor for its poor implementation across the nation. It also has political barriers. This law has come because of people’s movement and it can sustain as long as people are active and keep demanding.

In the last five years, government has tried to amend and cut down the ways of its implementation, but has failed doing the same due to people’s strong reactions & resistance.

Present Status of RTI implementation
There are no statistics available about number of RTI applications filled across the country. Only few statistics are available for some states. RTI has been widely utilized in both rural as well as urban areas.

Challenges in RTI implementation
Functioning of Information Commission at central and state level is itself an obstacle to RTI implementation. People who have been appointed on these official bodies are not the right kind of people for the job. They lack commitment towards RTI and its implications. And pending RTI applications are reason for the same. Majority of them are loyalist to the present political establishments and are been appointed due their political interest. This is the biggest challenge for RTI.

Changes required in law and institutional practices
No major changes are required after taking overall overview of the law. However if we talk in details, we can come up with some changes that might be required at regional or local level. Strong political will is required to implement the law.

For instance, in Uttar Pradesh Mr. Mulayamsingh Yadav had appointed five Information Commissioner in the state. All of them were his loyalist. Chief Information Commissioner appointed by him was subsequently dismissed by Ms. Mayavati due to charges of corruption. And now, Chief Commissioner appointed by Mayavati has also got legal sentence from the High Court due to corruption charges on him.

Hence, if our political leaders appoint Information Commissioners who have the history of corruption, then no justice we can expect from these people.

RTI has now become only a PR exercise. No any political party and bureaucratic people have deployed the power of information to ordinary citizen of this country. They still want to keep power with themselves. So, in my opinion enactment of RTI Act will not give any information.

Role of Corporates in RTI
Corporate should first adopt practices of transparency and accountability. Before demanding transparency from government, they should first implement the same through their documents and other available ways.

There are many corporates who does implementation of transparency. But the percentage of such corporates should be raised.

Role of NGOs in RTI
Likewise, corporate NGOs also should start assuring transparency in their functioning. Otherwise they will not have an authority to do that. This law is not dependent upon the corporates and NGOs, rather it is dependent upon the strength of individual and citizens of this country.

NGOs should first analyze their strengths before working on RTI. When NGO use RTI, it challenges many wasted interests. NGO need to get involved in the developmental politics. It is non-electoral and non-party politics but this can drive any NGO from very hard core developmental political efforts. NGO should first refer to their capacities whether they can do it and are able to fight with local resistance. So, NGOs can do awareness and RTI literacy campaigns. Since many NGOs have their own limitations, people’s movements will have that capacity to influence the system through effective utilization of RTI.

There are common people who have brought this law and they are one who will keep this law in to proper action.

Role of Media in RTI
Media has played a very good role in RTI advocacy. Initially role of media was limited to reporting about RTI, afterwards it started adopting campaigns on RTI. Media has led a very positive role in local and national level campaigns on RTI.

Many journalists also have started using RTI effectively. RTI has been used by them as an effective tool to get information and doing stories on it. Now, media has actually become a part of the movement.

Appeal for listeners
Do not give up even if you come across many difficulties while utilizing the law.
It’s a beginning of struggle and it has a long way to go. As long as you are there, government will implement this law, the day you loose your grip on the advocacy for proper implementation of law, government will remove this law from the regime.

I would appeal to people to get engaged in politics. Citizen should get engaged in the entire democratic set up without which democracy can not play an active role in socio-developmental picture of India.

For example, when UPA Government was about to fall and there was a no-confidence motion against them in the parliament. We saw that MPs were openly sold out and purchased for the support. Our media showcased the same to entire India, leaving our country men shocked. Tomorrow US also can try to purchase our MPs. So, in this difficult time, democracy comes in question and they do not belong to parliament.

People of this country did not undertake any protest against this business of MPs. There was not a single activity against it in any part of the country.

So, people in this country should not sleep. They should play an active role in keeping the balance in democratic practices which subsequently goes to put an impact on our socio-developmental portrait.

Profile of Arvind Kejriwal in Business Today
In February 2002, Parivartan started a campaign against large-scale theft of foodgrains in ration shops; using the RTI applications, it found that more than 90 per cent of foodgrains in about 25 shops it examined was being siphoned off by licensed dealers. The campaign, which resulted in violent attacks on Kejriwal and his team (including one in which dealers slit the throat of Santosh, a young female activist; she survived the attack) compelled the Delhi government to allow public scrutiny of ration records. Parivartan also got the courts to require private schools, which had received public land at concessionary prices, to admit more than 700 poor kids without fee.
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Magsaysay : CITATION for Arvind Kejriwal
Ramon Magsaysay Award Presentation Ceremonies
31 August 2006, Manila, Philippines

The brazen corruption of the high and the mighty may grab headlines, but for ordinary people it is the ubiquity of everyday corruption that weighs heaviest. And that demoralizes. Arvind Kejriwal, founder of India’s Parivartan, understands this, which is why his campaign for change begins with the small things.

As a tax officer with the Indian Revenue Service, Arvind Kejriwal became aware of the many powers that tax officials held over private citizens and how easily these powers could be abused. Indeed, at the tax department, one expected to pay bribes as a matter of course. With a few kindred spirits, Kejriwal began to strategize about how to bring an end to this. In 2000, he founded Parivartan, meaning "change." Parivartan appealed to the tax commissioner to make the tax department more transparent and less capricious. When this failed, it filed Public Interest Litigation directing the department to implement a five-point transparency plan. Eventually, Parivartan held a nonviolent protest, or satyagraha, outside the chief commissioner’s office. Threat of another protest with the press on hand convinced the tax chief to implement the reforms.

Meanwhile, on leave from his job, Kejriwal stationed himself with other Parivartan members outside the electricity department. There they exhorted visitors not to pay bribes and offered to facilitate their dealings with the department for free. Since then, Parivartan has settled 2,500 grievances with the electricity department on behalf of individuals. Some seven hundred more have benefited from the group’s "Don’t pay bribes!" campaign at the tax department.

Under the Delhi Right to Information Act of 2001, every citizen possesses the right to inspect government documents. Kejriwal put the new law to use in Sundernagari, a New Delhi slum where Parivartan was working among the poor. First, the group obtained official reports on all recent public-works projects in the area. Next, it led residents in a "social audit" of sixty-eight projects, stirring the community to action with neighborhood meetings and street plays. Then, in a large public hearing, the residents presented their findings and exposed misappropriations in sixty-four of the projects?embezzlement to the tune of seven million rupees! Today, in Sundernagari, local committees monitor public-works projects block by block, and no project may begin until the details of the contract have been made public.

The Indian government provides subsidized rations of wheat and rice to poor people through neighborhood ration shops. Records acquired by Kejriwal for Sundernagari revealed high levels of theft in the system. In one area, over 90 percent of the grain ration was being skimmed off by shopkeepers in collusion with certain food department officials. When Parivartan investigated this, one of its team members was savagely attacked. In protest, more than five thousand residents of the community held a monthlong "rations fast." This and a mass rally riveted public attention, and foot-dragging officials finally moved to clean up the system.

Now in its seventh year, Parivartan has only ten full-time members. Although Kejriwal sometimes takes on larger issues?such as the successful 2005 campaign challenging a water-privatization plan for New Delhi?he has no plans to expand. He prefers to coordinate Parivartan’s efforts with other like-minded NGOs across India.

Thirty-eight-year-old Kejriwal reminds Indians that the boons of collective action, such as the honest delivery of services, have already been paid for through taxes. Citizens are entitled to them. The spirit of his movement was aptly captured by the women of Sundernagari as they rallied to protest cheating in neighborhood ration shops: "We are not begging from anyone!" they chanted. "We are demanding our rights."

In electing Arvind Kejriwal to receive the 2006 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Emergent Leadership, the board of trustees recognizes his activating India’s right-to-information movement at the grassroots, empowering New Delhi’s poorest citizens to fight corruption by holding government answerable to the people.