The Law Every Indian Should Know, But Very Few Of Us Do: Right To Information

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A retired railway employee, Ramesh, could not understand why there were deductions in his pension statement. Upon asking around at his old department he did not get a clear answer but was able to figure out that the ministry had levied some ‘mysterious’ tax on many ex-employees.

Angered at this unilateral decision taken by his old employers, he decided to challenge it. But in order to do so, he would need more information on the nature of this tax and his employer’s reason for levying it. He remembered reading about right to information in the newspapers and decided to search for more information on the internet.

Right to Ask for Information

Indian law guarantees freedom of speech and expression. This right is not just to express one’s opinion but also to receive information and a plurality of views, which further lets citizen express informed opinion. This right to receive information has been expressed in the Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act).

Further, in a democratic setup, government offices are agents of the public, conducting public acts. In such cases, the citizens have a right to know about every public act carried out by government bodies and to exercise this democratic facet, the RTI Act plays an important role. It allows citizens to seek information from constitutional authorities, bodies set up by Acts of Parliament or State legislatures, and even non-governmental bodies that are substantially financed by the government. In some cases, even private bodies who receive over 95% infrastructure funds from the government have been considered to come under the ambit of this law.

Apart from asking information, the law even allows citizens to inspect government documents, government works and take samples of materials of any government work.

However, it is pertinent to note that not all information may be covered under this law. Like every right granted under the constitution, even this right comes with certain reasonable restrictions. There might be cases where the authority to whom the application is made may refuse your application because the information you requested falls under the category of ‘exempted information’. Some examples of exempted information include information that would expose whistleblowers or endanger lives, information that would affect the security and economic interests of the government with another country, information that would harm commercial interests, etc.

Who to Ask Information From?

The RTI Act has made provision for a Public Information Officer (PIO) to be set up in every government body who is responsible for receiving and managing applications under this law (also known as RTI Applications). The PIO is also the one who takes a decision on RTI Applications and send replies to them.

In Ramesh’s case, he can make an application to the PIO at the Ministry of Railways specifically requesting information on this new tax. The PIO would reply back with the information within 30 days of receiving the application.

How to Make Right To Information Application

An RTI application can either be made by sending an application by post or filling the form available online. If the application is made by post, it must be accompanied by a Rs. 10/- postal order. If the applicant is below poverty line, then application fees need not be paid. For online applications, there are various methods to pay online.

Reply to the RTI Application

The PIO has to respond to the application within 30 days with the information requested. However, in cases such as Ramesh’s, if one is not satisfied with the reply, or doesn’t get a reply within 30 days, the law allows you to file an appeal to an officer higher in rank to the PIO. If the applicant is not satisfied with the decision of the first appeal, a second appeal can be made either to the State Information Commission or the Central Information Commission.

However, in case the information was refused, the responsibility to prove whether the PIO’s refusal was justified or not lies only on the PIO.

Additional Costs

While assessing the application if the PIO needs to make copies of any documents to send to the applicant, the PIO will ask him to pay the cost of photocopying those documents accordingly. Apart from this, there are no other additional costs. For instance, Ramesh’s application that requested information on the new tax was available in a notification issued by the ministry. The PIO requested Ramesh to pay the cost of photocopying it and nothing more.

RTI – Achieving Access to Justice

At times the process of approaching a government body or an officer to ask questions might be a daunting process. Some might even give in to intimidation and not be able to access what is rightfully theirs. In such cases, to solve this problem and to make access to justice easier the RTI has proven to be a valuable asset for everyone.

In the last 13 years of its existence, the law on right to information has empowered many people with either just a few clicks of buttons or by a simple postal application. Be it a retired railway employee like Ramesh, who accessed information on his pension deductions, or any other person looking for information, records or samples of government work.

It allows citizens to approach their authorities without any fear and without the involvement of any intermediaries in a simple and user-friendly manner, be it online or by post. This not only speeds up the process but also increases transparency in the functioning leading to good governance.

Also Read: India’s First ‘No Caste-No Religion’ Certificate Approved For TN Lawyer Who Always Left ‘Caste’ & ‘Religion’ Columns Blank

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‘Happy Fridge’: The Key To Bridge Food Wastage And Hunger Problem In India

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Rahul Khera and Gautam Jindal, volunteers (aka hunger heroes) at Feeding India, were among the many Delhi NCR residents accustomed to seeing hungry children pick up half-eaten burgers or stale sandwiches from the dustbin and savour those with the brightest smiles. Like many others, they also had the will to promote equitable food distribution but was perplexed about the approach, until they learnt about the community fridge initiative which has gained unprecedented success in Saudi Arabia and few other European countries. Meanwhile, community fridges were already being installed outside restaurants or in public places in a handful of cities like Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Coimbatore and Kochi.

Say Goodbye To Throwing Away Excess Food Because Now You Can Donate The Food To The Needy – Happy Fridge

Thank you for overwhelming response for the Happy Fridge concept. We need more funds from you to install more fridges like this across India. With the limited funds avaialble Feeding India was able to install three fridges only. Kindly donate here http://bit.ly/happyfridge

Posted by The Logical Indian on Saturday, October 27, 2018

Needless to mention, with a shocking 103rd rank in the Global Hunger Index and a food wastage estimate of around Rs 58,000 crore – India was perhaps the best country to implement such an initiative. With Gautam’s help, an enthusiastic Rahul invested his own savings to install a ‘Happy Fridge’ outside his residence at Sun City, Sector 54 in Gurgaon. Set up in 2017 by these Feeding India volunteers, the fridge in Gurgaon has inspired the NGO to scale up the project across India.

No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank

‘Happy Fridge’ fostered many smiles

It didn’t take long for the local residents to learn about this laudable endeavour. They welcomed it, as wastage of excess food was a recurring problem in almost every household. “Intimating the localities was no mammoth task, thanks to social media. However, it was difficult to spread the word among those who actually needed the food,” shares Rahul, who went from auto stands to slums, inviting rickshaw pullers, ragpickers or roadside vendors to avail the community fridge any time they feel hungry. “The security guards of our residential complex played a huge role in explaining how the fridge works to the beneficiaries,” he adds.

The operational and maintenance costs of the ‘ happy fridge ‘ are being maintained diligently by the community members.

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Making memories, sprouting awareness

“I remember one young man who had arrived from a village looking for some menial day job. Somehow he had run out of his paltry savings and had no money to buy one decent meal a day. For about a month, our happy fridge was his solace, till he earned his first salary from a housekeeping job,” shares a jubilant Rahul.

In another incident, a truck driver returning in the wee hours of midnight was starving after a whole day’s hard work. He had run out of cooking fuel at his home, so our fridge was at his rescue.

“The residents keep all sorts of palatable dishes in the happy fridge, ranging from dry snacks, fruits to cooked meals. Sometimes, they even keep raw vegetables, to ensure not a single bit of good food ends up in their trash while other people go hungry to bed,” reveals Rahul.

On an average, each happy fridge supplies around 10-15 meals in a day. The gratitude and pure smiles of the hungry souls after a fulfilling meal are more than enough to continue to motivate Rahul and his neighbours. In fact, inspired by him, many other communities in the Delhi-NCR region set up community fridges in their areas.

Feeding India will set up 500 Happy Fridges

Since the past few years, Feeding India has been a prominent organisation working in the forefront to solve the hunger problem in India. Primarily, they were involved in redistributing leftover food from weddings and parties among the underprivileged people in different cities of India. Their volunteers, better known as “Hunger Heroes of India”, worked actively to bridge the gap between food wastage and food crisis.

“We used to get a lot of calls from individual households to collect their excess food. However, unfortunately, we lacked the manpower and planning to launch our programme on a door to door basis. We were desperately looking for an alternative when we learnt about the community fridges,” shares Srishti Jain, co-founder of Feeding India.

After interacting with Rahul Khera and other campaigners of community fridges, Feeding India decided to amplify this extraordinary project throughout the length and breadth of India. Presently, they have launched the #FightFoodWaste campaign to install 500 community fridges – nicknamed ‘ Happy Fridge ’. So any passer-by – be it a kid going to school without a lunchbox, or a labourer returning home late at night with no promise of a dinner – can now grab a pack of biscuits or a bowl of ‘dal-chawal’ (rice & lentil soup) to satiate their hunger. Click here to contribute for ‘ Happy Fridge ‘ and ensure India never sleeps hungry again.

Feeding India also urges everyone to make a promise to stop wasting food and instead consider donating it to those in need.

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It's not how much we give
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