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Ram Vilas, 32, a small-time shopkeeper in a village in Bihar, now knows the power of the Right To Information (RTI) Act after he used it successfully to get the provident fund money of his ailing retired father, an ex-civic employee.

A school drop out, Ram Vilas sought help from one of his former classmates, who is working in a bank, to get an RTI application filed. The information he received helped him go ahead with getting his father’s provident fund money.

“Now, some of my neighbours and friends in the village also file RTI pleas whenever they face hurdles in getting something done by government officials,” says Ram Vilas.

The benefits of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, which completes five years Tuesday, have not seeped fully into the core of society in many parts in India. Yet it is increasingly being used by the common man – from an elementary school teacher to college students – nowadays.

Citizens now file RTI pleas on issues ranging from poor sanitation, bumpy roads, lack of teachers in government schools, low voltage – issues they used to just crib about earlier.

The RTI Act, came into force Oct 12, 2005.

A crucial law for the promotion of transparency and accountability, the act allows citizens to demand information – in the form of records, documents, samples and orders – from the government regarding any of its departments or office.

The provision of a penalty clause also reduces the chances of denial of granting information or giving incomplete information on the part of government officials.

As far as Delhi is concerned, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) replies to around 200 RTI applications every week on various civic problems and also the lackadaisical approach by its officials.

Besides MCD, the Delhi Police also replies to a huge number of RTI pleas.

The RTI pleas are by and large not just from RTI activists or social activists, but the common man too keeps government officials on their toes by seeking RTI help.

Anita Jain, 30, a widow, had to file an RTI query to know the status of her husband’s death certificate. Though local body MCD should issue a death certificate within a week after receiving an application, it was delayed for months, and Jain had to visit the civic body’s office many times.

“The RTI has made a revolution as even the common man can now put pressure on public authorities and make them answerable. But of 10 applicants, around six complain that government officials either sideline RTI pleas citing various lame excuses or they give inadequate information. Applicants need to make repeated attempts to get information,” Jain said.

Neeraj Kumar Singh, an environmentalist running an NGO, was worried by the high number of trees being felled in Delhi. He posted an RTI query on the issue to several departments and got startling facts – on tree felling and on the diminishing green cover. A group of college students as part of road awareness programme used the RTI Act to know the number of accidents taking place in the national capital.

RTI activist Subhash Chandra Agarwal said: “The RTI Act is far more empowering. It gives voice to the common man and brings corruption and other shadow areas of government authorities into light. But there are certain loopholes like denial of information, less penalty etc. These should be checked. The Act needs more teeth so that many can take it up as a tool to curb malpractices in the system.”

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