Shailesh Gandhi is a widely heard name when you are discussing Right to Information (RTI) issues here.
'How RTI activist Shailesh Gandhi knocked out a rapist cop' or 'A life devoted to RTI' are some of the headlines you come across together with Gandhi's name.
Gandhi, 60, has been working hard to train and cajole more people into using this potent two-year-old law that many across India are waking up to. He feels if tens of thousands start questioning misgovernance in India, the battle against corruption is certainly winnable.
An engineer trained at the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, he says as a student he was 'fairly vocal and active in being critical about society'.
'Some years back, at an alumni get-together, an old professor asked me my opinion about society. I opened my mouth to voice my discomfort about the way society is going. I also closed my mouth just as soon, since the thought occurred to me that, 'I am society, and am responsible for the state of the society',' Gandhi told IANS.
As an entrepreneur, he had created jobs for 500 people directly. But he decided 'it was time to actively move on to make an effort to get the society we desire'.
He learnt about the RTI Act in 2003 - some states had their own legislation before the central 2005 Act - and realised its potential 'to get us the Swaraj (full independence) we had missed'. He sold his business and for the last two years has been working only on RTI issues.
Gandhi has done some fascinating digging-up with the RTI, focusing on how the state privatises public lands, the 'near-insolvency' status of governments like the one in Maharashtra, the plight of under-trials languishing for years in jail, lawlessness among police, the way IAS officers' postings are politicised and more.
'There are some hurdles and pitfalls (in the central RTI Act), but it is still showing the potential of changing the face of governance and empowering citizens to make this into a true participatory democracy from the present elective democracy.
'The culture of citizen empowerment and transparency will take some time to sink in. Information commissions and citizens should use the act as it is. Instead, everyone is eager to make some changes supposedly to improve the act or its working. This could become a Trojan horse,' he argues.
Delays at commissions is the other danger, he feels. State-level information commissions have mostly been tardy in even disposing the cases before them.
He believes there is a lack of any proper data and comparisons in various states, which could become benchmarks and also be used to push those who are laggards.
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