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More and more students are using the RTI Act to address civic concerns

Written by EXPRESS FEATURES SERVICE | Pune | Published:July 2, 2013 2:05 am

While MBA student Vaishali Kasture from Nagpur recently filed an RTI application to know about the sewage and sanitation work done for the polluted Nag river that passes through her hometown,post-graduate student Nayan Das used RTI to get details about the construction of a superhighway passing through Jagiroad in Morigaon district (Assam). If under-graduate student Bushra Shaikh was keen to find an answer for the rise in the number of mosquitoes and pests in Rasta Peth in Pune; Rochita Chowdhury,a student of economics,used RTI to seek details of the budget allocated for repairs of footbridge No.4 connecting Lake Town to Salt Lake in her hometown Kolkata.

The varying subjects apart,there is one common factor in all these applications — they have been filed by students of Symbiosis International University (SIU),an umbrella organisation which handles Symbiosis Institute of Media and Communication (SIMC) Lavale,SIMC Viman Nagar,Symbiosis Law School and Symbiosis School of Economics.

Contradicting the common belief that RTI is meant only for social activists and whistleblowers,as many as 260 students from SIU,Lavale,used it to seek answers pertaining to various civic issues. Interestingly,their queries were not just confined to Pune but 42 cities across the country. Out of the total RTI applications,maximum were from Pune (125),followed by Mumbai (26),Kolkata (15),Delhi (14),Bangalore (7) and Chennai (6). Other cities and towns covered under RTI included Ahmedabad,Ajmer,Aurangabad,Bhuj,Goa,Gwalior,Indore,Mysore and Nashik.

After scrutinising the applications,22 students were guided to file their respective RTIs with the Public Information Officer (PIO) in Pune in January this year. The remaining applications were returned to the students to file with the PIOs in their respective hometowns. “Around 60 per cent students received a reply for their RTI applications,” said Abhay Vaidya,adjunct faculty,R K Laxman Chair Initiatives at SIU. He added that SIMC is among the first media schools in the country to introduce training in RTI for journalism students.

The RTI exercise was introduced in July last year and was part of the two RTI seminars and workshop conducted in March 2012 under R K Laxman Chair Programme initiated by Dileep Padgaonkar,the RK Laxman chair professor. While the first seminar witnessed a keynote address by Wajahat Habibullah,India’s former Chief Information Commissioner,the second was addressed by social and political activist and RTI crusader Aruna Roy.

“Right from understanding Roy’s perspective about RTI Act to physically going and filing applications with the PIOs,it was a good experience for the students who participated in this exercise,” said Vaidya.

Charulata Biswas filed two applications seeking information related to budget allocation for rehabilitation of slum dwellers of Sanjay Park and Viman Nagar under Rajiv Gandhi Awas Yojana. “After filing it,I felt a sense of satisfaction as an aspiring journalist. RTI is a tool to empower common man and should be used to solve day-to-day issues,” she said.

Gautami Srivastava,who filed her first RTI in January this year,said,“I know my work will not end with filing the RTI application; it begins here. We all crib about so many things but do nothing. True democracy cannot exist unless all citizens participate in the affairs of the polity.” Her RTI application was addressed to Zilla Parishad Office inquiring about number of people Below Poverty Line (BPL) cards,budget allocated for BPL schemes,list of beneficiaries and PWDs falling under BPL category.

The second RTI seminar and workshop is scheduled on September 20 and will witness participation of Subhash Agarwal,country’s leading RTI activist.

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