Delhi's Right to Information Act (RTI) is increasingly being used by citizens to pressure offiicials into delivering on projects and services. The stories of enlightened self-interest in this article concernm the Delhi Jal Board and the Public Distribution System.

Delhi Jal Board (Water Board)
Sundernagari is a resettlement colony in East Delhi. The sewer system in this area was laid in 1983. But it has not been made operational yet. An application was made under the RTI Act in March 2002 to know the status of the sewer system and by when would it be made operational. The Jal Board officials replied that the system was taken over by Jal Board from the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), who had not handed over any maps to them. There were several missing links in the whole system. Still, the Jal Board had conducted a survey of the area already and tenders had been floated. They mentioned in their response that contracts would soon be awarded and the sewer system was expected to be functional June 2003.

The Delhi RTI act provides for deduction of salary of officials who provide false information.
However, the people have observed that no activity has been taking place for the next one year. Another application was filed by one of the residents in March 2003 to inspect the concerned files of Jal Board. On the designated day, when the people of this area reached Jal Board office to inspect the files, they were told that there were no files connected with this issue. This was strange. The Jal Board officials were asked how was there work in progress when there was no file! After making some excuses for sometime, they admitted that there was no work going on in the area.

This meant that they had provided false information under the RTI Act about a year back.

The RTI act provides for deduction of salary of officials who provide false information. At this, the concerned Executive Engineer pleaded that he would now get a survey done on an emergency basis and if the estimates of the work are less than 50 lakh rupees, he would get the work completed by June 2003 as promised by him in his reply to the RTI application. What is noteworthy is that the survey for building the sewer system has already started since then and the DDA is being contacted to get the necessary maps.

Public Distribution System (PDS)
A number of citizens in several parts of Delhi had applied for ration cards under the Below Poverty Line (BPL) categories about a year and a half back. They had neither received any cards nor any information whether they would be issued such cards or not. Several visits to the ration office have yielded no replies from the concerned authorities. Using the RTI Act, the citizens sought for a list of such beneficiaries in Sundernagari and New Seemapuri. This list showed that there were several people whose cards had been made months back and these cards were in possession of local ration shopkeepers, who were siphoning off the ration entitlements on these cards for all these months.

Since then, with the intervention of the senior most officials of the Food department, these cards have been returned to their respective owners and action has also been initiated against these ration shopkeepers.

The experience of Triveni, another citizen was no different. She ran into a different kind of malaise at the ration shops. Whenever Triveni would go to her ration shopkeeper, he would always say “No stock”. She never got her rice entitlements for several months. She was given only 10 litres of kerosene against her entitlement of 14 litres and she would get only 10-15 Kgs of wheat against her entitlement of 25 Kgs. The wheat was given to her at Rs 5 per Kg, whereas the official price is Rs 2 per Kg.

Triveni applied under the RTI Act and asked for official records of rations issued to her and also copies of cash memos purported to have been issued to her. To her utter surprise, she was told that she had been issued 25 Kgs of wheat @ Rs 2 per Kg, 14 litres of kerosene and 10 Kgs of rice every month for more than a year. The cash memos showed thumb impressions having been made in her name, whereas she always signed her signature. Naturally, the thumb impressions were found to be fakes and this showed that the ration dealer had been drawing her ration by faking her thumb impressions for several months.

Triveni has since filed complaints to higher authorities, and what’s more she has started getting the proper amounts of rations at the right price.