"The RTI laws that exist today are weak in three areas," says Kejriwal. "There is no penalty for evading reply, there is no appellate authority to go to if an official stone-walls, and there are far too many exclusions under which information may be denied. NCPRI has been campaigning for a new law to replace the old Freedom of Information Act. We have been promised action by the present UPA government headed by Manmohan Singh. After all, it's a promise they have made in their manifesto."
In December, 2004 a law with teeth was a mere glimmer of hope. Parivartan's efforts in the meantime, were angering the racketeers. Applicants got neither prompt nor usable answers. On the other hand inspectors, armed with these complaints, pushed retailers for higher bribes to cover them. The cost of corruption was going up. The team waited for that high cost to make retailers realise it was more profitable to play honest. But something else was waiting to happen.
On December 29, Santosh was on her beat of Sundernagari's streets. An unidentified man materialised, slashed her throat and disappeared in the crowd. People scooped their darling and raced to a hospital. As the tiny girl lay close to death, anger and impatience rose. After several days, Santosh came through, reborn as it were, heralding major changes in the country.
Delhi Chief Minister Ms Sheila Dikshit got pro-active and met Aruna Roy and Arvind Kejriwal to discuss ways to clean up the PDS. They decided to make Sundernagari a laboratory. A new Food Commissioner threw open the stock books for public scrutiny. Penalties up to Rs.5000 were announced. They had won. Kejriwal admits things have changed and people feel in control. Santosh merely smiles, an uncelebrated heroine ignored by the educated classes. A self serving media-house however, put her through the indignity of an unequal race to elect a social hero.
But the labours of little known Indians like Santosh are greater than any of ours in significantly changing India. In early May,2005 the Union Cabinet decided to repeal the old Freedom of Information Act as the first step in inducting a new RTI Bill in its stead. The bill is headed the right way in that appellates will be created and some punishment for non-compliance will be provided for. There is to be a nationwide network of Information Commissioners to ensure flow of responses to citizens' questions.
With advancing technology and rising awareness people will take back governance and fashion it. Because everyone at some time or the other needs information, one day, all of us will have the right to it.
Manish Sisodia runs a newletter that catalogues Indians' experiences with RTI laws in various states. Share yours by writing to him at