An senior official of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) filed a police case against staff of Delhi's Parivartan campaign recently for seeking information under the Delhi Right to Information Act. Parivartan had demanded a sample of construction material of a lane made recently in Sundernagari, a resettlement colony in Delhi. Under the Delhi Right to Information Act, one can legally obtain sample material from any work for public inspection. The sample has not been provided yet, and Parivartan instead has had to deal with a police case. Sample material in this scenario is usually a slab of cement-concrete that been used to build the lane.

Earlier this year, Parivartan had organised a public hearing on developmental works carried out by MCD in Sunderanagri and Seemapuri in the last two years. The hearing exposed large scale corruption in public works. After the hearing, Sundernagari people did not allow any civil work to take place in Sundernagari till the details of that contract were made public. In every such case, the officials had to come on the spot and read out the contract. Only then would the people allow the work to take place under their own supervision.

In one instance, the Slum & Jhuggi Jhopdi department of MCD was laying a street in the jhuggi area of Sundernagari in late February. Citizens observed that ordinary sand was being used rather than red sand and they suspected also that cement was not being used in the correct ratio. They stopped the work and informed Parivartan as well as the MCD's Junior Engineer. The latter admitted the deficiencies and offered to rectify them. But the people insisted they would not budge till action was taken against the responsible MCD officials.

Agitated, about 30 people from the area and Parivartan staff went to the office of the Executive Engineer (EXEN) for the region and demanded that the Junior Engineer be suspended. At this point the Junior Engineer started crying and pleaded for mercy. The Executive Engineer then offered to transfer the Junior Engineer, replace the material and get the lane done again. In the next few days, again after some resistance, the Executive Engineer carried out all the above three promises.

If large numbers of people sought samples of material under Delhi's Right to Information Act, it will in effect become a deterrent to corrupt practices.
After the lane was made afresh, Parivartan sought sample of material of the freshly made lane under the Right to Information Law. The intent here was to verify that this time, the engineering department had followed the specifications. Parivartan's plan was (and still is) to send the sample material for examination to a industrial laboratory, with charges typically running to Rs.3000 per sample. (In one instance, a lab has charged less than their usual fees for a public interest inspection case). Examination is done to ascertain the ratio of cement, red sand and stone aggregates in the mixture. A ratio of 1:2:4 is known to be proper. Parivartan has found ratios as diluted as 1:8:16 in the past.

The Department however refused to provide a sample saying that the sample had been taken and checked by the Department and that the results were satisfactory. Parivartan preferred to follow the avenues open to citizens and filed an appeal before Public Grievance Commission (PGC). In the second week of June, the PGC ordered that sample material from the Sundernagarai lane in question should be provided to Parivartan within 10 days of the order.

After receiving the order, Parivartan again contacted the Executive Engineer (EXEN). The EXEN instead replied that Parivartan could collect the sample on its own. Parivartan refused to do that because digging public property was a criminal offence. Parivartan also cautioned the EXEN that he was committing a crime by encouraging Parivartan to collect the material on its own. Parivartan also insisted that the sample should be collected in the presence of Parivartan workers and it should be certified by the EXEN to be a true sample of that street.

A few days went by and Parivartan received a letter from the EXEN that we should intimate him the date and time when we would like to come to collect the sample. Parivartan intimated the date and time on phone and in writing. When Parivartan reached his office on the designated date, the engineer started shouting and abusing Parivartan workers and threatened to file police cases against Parivartan workers. He simply refused to provide the sample.

Left with no choice, Parivartan wrote to the Additional Commissioner and the Commissioner of MCD for intervention in early July. The additional commissioner replied that the sample can be collected from the EXEN within 7 days. When contacted on the phone, the EXEN asked Parivartan to come on July 17 at 10.00am, a day that both activists were going to be out of town.

In the meanwhile, the EXEN filed a case against Rajiv Sharma, the Parivartan staff member who filed the original Right to Information request for sample construction material. In the engineer's complaint he alleged that Parivartan staff have tried to stop the MCD's work at the site several times in the past and caused harassment. He also alleged that Parivartan staff were placing obstacles in the performance of his duties. On July 16th, a police officer came to the house of Rajiv, and asked him to come to the police station at 10.00 am the next day. This time clashed directly with the appointment that was given by the EXEN to Rajiv to collect the sample. Going by this, Parivartan suspects that there was intent to prevent Rajiv from going to the office of the EXEN next day to collect the sample.

The EXEN also tried to pressurise other Parivartan workers including the author. Tracking down this author's friends and the workplace of the author's wife, the EXEN's staff asked them to persuade Parivartan to drop the request for the sample.

Parivartan has since filed its reply with the police and does not foresee problems. What is worrying though is that this sends very dangerous signals to the people. That if one dares to use the Right to Information Law to obtain samples of public works, one could land up fighting false cases with the police.

In the meantime the EXEN has not given the petitioners a sample of the material. Parivartan is appealing to the people of Delhi to start seeking samples of various works that have been done anywhere in Delhi in the last few days, in large numbers. Institutionalising the implementation of this clause in the Right to Information Act is important, and if large numbers of people sought samples of material, it will in effect become a deterrent to corrupt practices.