Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Cleaning Delhi, the RTI Way

“Please withdraw the RTI application you have filed, we promise to fix all the sanitation related problems in Sheikh Sarai”, said the exasperated MCD Sanitation Inspector to the volunteers of SNS who had filed an RTI application in the MCD when residents of Sheikh Sarai complained in SNS meetings about the non-performance of duties by MCD sweepers. The application sought the names of the Sanitation Inspector and sweepers responsible for cleaning the area and a copy of the attendance register of the sweepers.

As soon as the application was filed, employees of the sanitation department of the MCD started contacting SNS workers asking them the reason for seeking the information and attempting to persuade them to withdraw the application.

“A simple application has caused panic in the department, clearly the ‘Lahori system’ is prevalent in Sheikh Sarai as well” says a resident of the area. ‘Lahori system’ is a term coined for the process wherein MCD sweepers give 50% of their salaries to the Sanitation Inspector responsible for taking their daily attendance in exchange for the Inspector marking them present (without them having to show up for work). The MCD sweepers then take up other jobs in the private sector and the colonies assigned to them remain un-swept and filthy.

Encouraged by the fact that merely asking for the attendance register of the sweepers is eliciting such a response from the MCD employees who are notorious for not listening to pleas of the people, the residents of Sheikh Sarai have started maintaining a parallel attendance register for the sweepers. They ask for the monthly attendance register maintained by the department and compare the two registers. This has exerted such tremendous pressure on the sweepers that they have started turning up for work regularly and cleaning up the area.

“This experience has established that if citizens exercise their right to information, they can gradually bring about a revolutionary change in their surroundings and localities”, says Vinita, a member of SNS.

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