He says: “I would love to give it all up, if only someone were to assure me of a means of living because Parivartan is not a source for making money. I have to think of something before I bow out of service but I know for sure that I cannot juggle like this forever”. And: “I firmly believe that there is a way out without having to bribe”. And: “I refuse to turn it into an NGO because I want to be accountable to the people, not to the donors”. And “We changed the modus operandi because we began to see ourselves as touts who do not charge. Now we help people do the paperwork and seek their rights”. And: “We helped Ashok Gupta get a new electricity connection that was refused to him for the last three years because he refused to pay a bribe of Rs 5000. Armed with the Right to Information Act, we got the connection in 10 days”. And: “We are living in a society of extortionists where the common man is not allowed to live honestly”. (See all on this site of The Tribune).
Arvind Kejriwal – India
RTE Activist, Kejriwal wins Magsaysay Award. Powai, 13 August 06 – Arvind Kejriwal, head of the NGO Parivartan, has been chosen for this year’s Ramon Magsaysay Award for Emergent Leadership.
Kejriwal was selected for the honour for leading the Right to Information movement in India. The movement created awareness on fighting corruption and making the government more accountable. Kejriwal organised and led a special RTI campaign from July 1-15, which involved 700 civil society organisations. As part of the campaign, 1500 volunteers were trained to handle RTI centres in 55 cities, who helped people file applications under the RTI Act. NDTV was a media partner in the campaign, which saw over 20,000 RTI applications being filed in the 15 days – more than those filed in the eight months since the RTI Act came in force. Kejriwal will be presented the award, along with five other Asians, in Manila on August 31. Arvind was with the Income Tax department and recently resigned from the government service. He has been a Right to Information campaigner for over four years with Parivartan, an organisation that he heads. Parivartan has been working towards rooting out corruption in government and working towards getting citizens their rights.
One of his earliest successes was exposing the ration shop racket in the slum resettlement of Sundarnagri where the poorest sections of society were not getting their due ration because of the ration shop mafia. Parivartan was also in the forefront of blocking the Delhi Jal Board’s privatisation of water in the capital by exposing the bizarre nature of the scheme. Arvind passed out from IIT Kharagpur after which he joined the government. He was with the Income Tax department for seven years before opting to work against corruption in governance and bureaucracy by forming Parivartan. (See more on PLANET POWAI).
Just as Indians were beginning to enjoy the power granted to them by the landmark Right to Information Act to expose corrupt officials it looks as though the babu — a contemptuous Hindi word for a bureaucrat — may be fighting back. Powerful bureaucrats appear to be behind the government’s plan to amend the Right to Information Act, passed a year ago, so drastically that it will be watered down to virtually nothing. The act allows people the right to walk into a government office and see official files, and if they have a query, the relevant official is obliged to give an answer. In a country where corruption has seeped into every facet of daily life, it gives ordinary people a powerful tool to hold officials accountable. The proposed amendment, however, denies the public the right to see the notes jotted down on the files by civil servants which usually outline the rationale for a particular decision. Without this, Indians can see what decision was reached, but not how it was reached. “It is only from file notings that one can know how a decision was taken. It also reveals if there has been any hanky panky in taking the decision. Without this, the whole aim of bringing transparency into the bureaucracy is defeated,” said social activist Aruna Roy, who campaigned for years to get the act passed. In Rajasthan, Ms Roy discovered years ago the power of access to information to curb corruption. A contractor was paying his daily labourers, who were building a road, 45 rupees (HK$4.65) a day. After Ms Roy took legal action (before the act was passed) to see the files for the road project, she saw the labourers were meant to be paid 90 rupees a day. Armed with this information, she was able to threaten the contractor with legal action. It was this case of wages not being paid to impoverished workers that triggered a nationwide campaign for Indians to have the right to scrutinise official records. Many people have already experienced the powers bequeathed by the act. When authorities in the capital told bank clerk Ashutosh Dev in February that it would take them four months to reimburse a 45,000 rupee deposit he had made for booking a community hall for his daughter’s wedding, he filed a Right to Information application to see the files. Scared officials returned his deposit within a week. Mr Dev opposes the amendment. “People right now can approach the authorities and expect genuine help. With the amendment, there is no sting left at all,” he said. Another activist, Arvind Kejriwal, said the government’s explanation – that making file notes available would hinder officials from making honest assessments of a matter — was absurd. (Read on AsiaMedia, August 15, 2006).
NEW DELHI: “It is critical to save democracy and for that we need the RTI Act.” This sentiment reverberated among thousands of people who launched an agitation against government’s move to amend the recently enacted Right to Information Act. Demanding a total rollback on the government’s decision to amend the RTI Act, Sandeep Pandey, an activist and Magsaysay winner, launched indefinite hunger strike at Jantar Mantar in the Capital seven days ago. Intensifying the protest, dharna camps are being organised all across the country and people from different states like Rajasthan, Orissa, UP are poring in to join the movement, said Arvind Kejriwal, an activist in the RTI movement: “Political leaders like Brinda Karat, D Raja and V P Singh have also joined the protest. People from all walks of life, students, RWA’s, NGO’s, old age homes, children rehabilitation centres and slums have joined hands and are moving all across the country to collect votes against the amendment.” (Read more of this page of The Times of India).