A growing network of RTI users

Have you or someone you know filed an RTI application in public interest or are eager to do so? Or do you want to learn about applying the RTI Act for the greater common good? If yes, you could approach the Karnataka RTI Federation, a recently formed network of seasoned and emerging RTI users from all over the state. "It is a forum for RTI users from Karnataka who want to get organized and strengthen their association", said Vikram Simha, an experienced RTI user and campaigner based in Bangalore. He is one of the persons who conceptualized the Karnataka RTI Federation.

Launched in the city in July 2011, the members of the Karnataka RTI Federation have been meeting regularly in Bengaluru and other parts of the state. During its inauguration, a 9 point agenda was created for the federation. Among the primary objectives of the network is to to strengthen suo moto, i.e., voluntary declarations which are stipulated in section 4 1(b) of the RTI Act, 2005. This is expected to reduce the need to file RTI applications and increase effectiveness and transparency in the functioning of the government. In fact, all departments must declare basic information such as their structure, staff, responsibilities, assets, etc. on their own.

Simha shared, "Users of the RTI Act and long term activists are being threatened by those government officers whose work is questioned or corruption is exposed. One of the reasons for starting the Karnataka RTI Federation is to back and fight for people who utilize the RTI Act for the benefit of others. As on date, the body has around 50 members from Bangalore and 50 from other places in the state including Gulbarga, Bellary, et al. The members also consist of a few non-profit organizations and some youth.

The Karnataka RTI Federation also aims to ensure that the RTI Act is not diluted, that RTI users and activists are protected by law and relevant penalties are collected from PIO’s. It is also recommending that there is a designated and trained PIO in every department to deal only with the RTI unlike at present. Actually, in the experience of many RTI applicants, several government officers are not aware of the basics of the RTI Act. The federation has also proposed conducting of social audits of schemes meant for people who are below the poverty line and others who have special entitlements, in accordance with RTI. This is to ascertain that the marginalized receive their fundamental benefits.

"In Gujarat and Rajasthan, every Gram Panchayat (GP) building has suo moto declarations written on its walls, apparently. But in a village in Karnataka, the GP member seems to have advised people to refer the corresponding website. This is unrealistic as most village residents do not have reliable Internet connectivity or electricity", revealed Simha. He suggested that people focus on acting on information secured by filing an RTI application rather than merely trying to obtain more details. Further, they should share information publicly.

"It would be encouraging if more youngsters like students or recent graduates join our efforts. We are here for a public cause", Simha summed up.

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