A young social activist realised that villagers are deprived of the benefits of RTI Act and so set up ‘office’ at a highway tea stall
Shivering while holding a glass of hot, syrupy tea with both hands, as a way of fighting the bitter winter cold of a village morn, Asutosh Kumar, a young man with a Class 8 student as his child, wants to know from KM Bhai how he can procure the vital information he needs about school education scholarships. And Bhai gives him – and others free counsel.
Asutosh is at what can be called a local institution of taking a movement to benefit people at the grassroots level. He is at what has now become famous as the ‘RTI Tea Stall’, just outside Kanpur city.
It is a daily routine. People from Kanpur Dehat and adjoining districts make a beeline to the RTI Tea Stall to discuss how they can fight being harassed or cheated by local authorities. Police inaction, cheating by public distribution shop owners, delay in getting ration cards and contractors pocketing the village development funds without doing any work, all these are issues that have become a daily talking point in KM Bhai’s mission.
Even after 11 years of its existence, the benefits of the Right to Information Act, 2005, are yet to reach the rural populace. While the government has spent several hundred crores to educate people about their rights under the RTI Act, a young social activist has come out with a unique idea to provide complete information on RTI free of cost through a tea vendor in Kanpur.
Situated at Chaubepur block in Tatiaganj Gram Panchayat, about 35 kms from the Kanpur district headquarters, Moolchand Baba’stea stall is now famous as “RTI Tea Stall”. Since morning, RTI information seekers throng the tea stall to find solutions to their grievances over a cuppa for Rs 5.
This experiment was started by the 27-year-old social activist KM Bhaifrom Kanpur city with the help of few others in 2010. “When I saw that people in the city were more aware than those living in rural areas, I chose this tea stall, which is on the main road and catches the attention of rural people,” says Bhai.
Moolchand Baba(55) is illiterate. So Bhai has put all pamphlets, forms and his mobile number on a small poster in the shop for those who need RTI-related help and guidance at Baba’s tea stall. In fact, Moolchand Baba himself had devised he name ‘RTI Tea Stall’.
“I feel elated when people discuss RTI-related issues with Bhai, who spends hours to help them write RTI applications and guide them to file it at with the appropriate authorities without charging a penny from them,” says Baba.
Bhai educates them in groups,saying that under the RTI Act, they have all the rights to seek information from the concerned authorities on how their own money – paid in taxes was being spent in different development projects in their villages. They also have a right to know the quota of PDS shops and whether or not the rations are being actually distributed to genuine card holders.
An application of Ram Prasad of Bithoor to get a duplicate copy of his land papers was gathering dust from more than a year. Bhai helped Bithoor procure these within 30 days through the RTI application. Like him, there are hundreds of other villagers from as far as Jhansi, Auraiyya, Hamirpur, Jalaun, Kannauj and Badayun who have RTI success stories to share.
The young social activist points out that the main problem in RTI penetration into rural areas is illiteracy. Even if people are aware about their rights, it is difficult for them to write an application in the prescribed format as per the RTI Act guidelines, and file them with appropriate authorities with the fees.
“We are forming groups in each village, involving educated youth to spend their spare time in educating people as well as helping and guiding them,”
He has also written to the state RTI Commissioner, district magistrates and SSPs to come forward and hold ‘RTI Week’ or ‘RTI Fortnight’ in each tehsil and organise RTI camps once in a month in every village to reach the benefits of RTI to the rural masses. They face plethora of problems due to lack of education and awareness and the government should empower them first than concentrating only in towns and cities, he appeals.
Encouraged by the success, KM Bhai has identified more such tea stalls at strategic locations between Kanpur to Jhansi to open more RTI Tea Stalls. “The aim is to educate and empower rural masses on RTI benefits, so that they fight for their rights on their own,” says he.
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