The beaming face of Laxmi Devi says it all. The 80-year-old has finally got her pension after she'd almost given up hope, thanks to the Right To Information Act.
Laxmi Devi lives with her daughter, who works as a domestic help, in Khirki village. In May 2005, she applied for an old-age pension to MCD. But despite numerous visits to the office, there was no sign of a pension.
Finally, she approached an RTI camp organised by Satark Nagarik Sanghathan, an NGO. She was told her application was missing and she would have to apply again. She did. And promptly got approval for a monthly pension of Rs 350 in December. She will receive a cheque of Rs 1,750 (for five months) this month.
Laxmi Devi is not alone. Ordinary people are now using RTI to get basic amenities, install road signage, repair roads and even get admission in schools.
Sangeeta and Sultana of Begumpur didn't get their ration entitlements for over two years as their ration cards weren't being renewed by the Food and Civil Supplies Department. Though touts offered to help them for a 'fee', they decided to take the RTI route. By November 2006, both had got their ration cards
Many still not aware of RTI
People are now taking the RTI route in a big way to get what is rightfully theirs. Take, for example, Radhey Shyam, a construction worker. He wanted to go to the Gulf for work, and applied for a passport in May 2006. He didn't get it till October. Fed up, he filed an RTI application in the regional passport office. Sure enough, he got his passport by December.
"Like Radhey Shyam, Sultana and Laxmi Devi, there are many who have got their passports, pensions, ration cards and IT refunds through RTI," says Anjali Bhardwaj, founder member, SNS. "The poor especially find it difficult to access their entitlements because of lack of information about their rights. SNS is trying to help them by using the RTI Act."
It has come in handy even for school admissions. "A Delhi High Court order makes it mandatory for public schools to keep 20% seats for students from the economically-weaker sections of society. But this isn't happening," says Bhardwaj. Kanhaiyah Lal, a resident of Chirag Delhi, applied for admission of his grand-daughter, Riya, in a public school in April 2006. He didn't succeed. When he finally applied through RTI, Ruhi was granted admission in August.
Though it's been more than a year since the Act has been in use, not many are aware of it. "So we are organising a series of awareness campaigns in different parts of the country," she claims.