Ila Reddy is a 2nd Year, Political Science student at Hindu College, and is also the Project Coordinator of the Right to Information Branch at The YP Foundation. We caught up with her on the eve of the commencement of workshops on the RTI Act in colleges at DU.
1. Does it bother you sometimes that the youth of this county are completely apathetic towards civil and political issues?
I wouldn’t like to generalize the youth like that. There are some who are apathetic, some who are ignorant, some who just like to complain, while a lot of others who care about such issues but don’t know what they can do about them, or even what they want to do.
2. How does the RTI Branch help in creating awareness about the same?
The Right to Information Branch develops young people’s engagement with legislative research, increased awareness on laws in India and their application to our daily lives. Our most recent initiative, the “What Does Your Vote Want?” campaign is a non political, non partisan project both initiated and run by young people in 2008 that aimed at sensitizing young voters and helping them register for voter ID cards. Last year, the project successfully helped register more than 4000 people in Delhi and Raipur. Post elections 2009, the project launched a platform for young people to explore governance accountability and for direct dialogue between the youth and the public sector to discuss their key issues and concerns and clarify their questions regarding governance mechanisms and accountability. We have picked the RTI Act as our focus for the year. The first open forum in this series was held in July in the form of an interactive discussion, where we were joined by Mr. Wajahat Habibullah, Mr. Salman Khurshid, Mr. Shekhar Singh, Ms. Maja Daruwala and other eminent people from the RTI world. Through this discussion, we aimed at generating awareness around how young people can utilize the act, as well as how it can be made more accessible to young people through incorporating the inputs of key stakeholders, experts, and the youth, aiming to promote the concept of active citizenship and accountability amongst young people and the government.
We now plan to do workshops in colleges to further raise awareness amongst students about the Act, while equipping them with the tools to utilize it as a medium of accountability from public authorities. Our workshop series start from the 11th of December at Hindu College, Delhi University, followed by one at Hansraj College on the 14th of December. Four more workshops are lined up at other colleges in January end.
3. Why did you choose the RTI Act as an area to work on?
The Right to Information Act was passed in 2005 and grants citizens the right to ask for and be provided with information about the work of government-run and supported bodies. The essence of the Act was to provide citizens with a tool to combat corruption and ensure transparency in matters of governance.
However, a recent study by Mr. Shekhar Singh, champion of the RTI and part of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information, revealed that only 33% of the urban population is aware of the RTI Act, out of which only 2% are students.
The Act is a provision made by the government to encourage transparency as well as people’s participation, but the key to the Act’s success lies in the hands of the people for whom it has been enacted.
We all keep criticizing public authorities for being corrupt and not transparent in their functioning, but seldom use a provision like the RTI to actually find out about the work being done/not done.
It’s a tool provided by the government itself, so why not utilize it to keep check on public authorities, instead of just sitting at home and complaining about them, without really knowing the exact details?
4. Can you throw some light on how a student of DU can use the act to his/her benefit?
Whether you want information about the status of the roads outside your house or the criteria of your internal assessment in college. Whether it’s the allocation of money towards different departments by your local MP/MLA that you want to know about, or merely the status of your passport. You have a right to ask the concerned public authority for necessary information.
Information can be in any form, including records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinions, advices, press releases, circulars, orders, logbooks, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, data material held in any electronic form and information relating to any private body which can be accessed by a public authority under any other law and is required to reply expeditiously or within thirty days.
5. You are holding workshops in DU colleges, what are these workshops about? What can one expect in them?
Our workshops would be about the basic provisions under the RTI Act, what issues RTI applications can be filed on, real-life stories of both successes and failures, provision for appeals and complaints, loopholes in its implementation and finally, how to draft an application. This would be done through innovative mediums like facilitative group discussions involving different activities like ‘myths and realities’ and mock-filing of applications.
6. You are a college student. How do you manage with college and The YP, which must take a lot of your time?
It does get taxing at times. Juggling between classes, pending assignments and projects, team trainings, staff meetings, on-ground events and the like. But somewhere down the line I feel its all worth it. I always wanted to DO something but didn’t know what it was. Now that I know what it is, I’m trying to figure out different ways of doing it. There’s so much work involved in running a project like this. Right from training a team of volunteers to failed attempts at fundraising to writing scary partnership proposals. It’s the process that makes it fun and the way you do it. We all work our asses off to make our events work, but we also make sure we’re enjoying whatever it is that we’re doing.
(As told to Rajneil Kamath)