Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Hum janenge, hum jiyenge
(We will know, we will live)

For the residents of Ashok’s slum, water problems are a thing of the past. They get a regular and timely supply of water. But things were not always this good. Residents of the slum depend on a Delhi Jal Board (DJB) tubewell for their water requirements. Malfunctioning of this tubewell meant the inhabitants going without water for days together. Ashok says, “We had severe water problems. The water supply was irregular and the water that we got was full of dirt. The tubewell which supplies water to the camp was operated by an employee of the Delhi Jal Board (water utility) who either forgot to switch on the pump or used to turn it on and forget to turn it off thus burning the motor. We often had to got for upto four days without any water”, Water crises in the camp forced residents to either trudge long distances to fetch water or buy it at exorbitant rates.

In the summer of 2005, when water problems assumed mammoth proportions and all pleas to the DJB karamchari to oprate the tubewell properly failed to yield any results, Ashok filed an RTI application asking for the duty timings and attendance records of the karmachari supposed to be on duty at the tube well. He also sought information regarding the official responsible for putting dawai (chlorine) in the water, and the stipulated frequency for putting the dawai. In the absence of a reply to this application within the stipulated 30 days, an appeal was made to the appellate authority, the Public Grievance Commission (PGC), which instructed the DJB to furnish the information sought at the earliest.

The information obtained revealed that the appointed karmachari was supposed to be on duty at the tubewell everyday, and was also supposed to put the dawai daily. The attendance records showed the karmachari to be present everyday, while the residents knew that he came only once a week and did not check the functioning of the tube well even then. When these anomalies were brought to the DJB’s notice, immediate action was taken – the tube well was repaired, a new chlorinator was installed and the concerned karmachari was reprimanded following which he started coming regularly. For Ashok and others in the community, this experience validates the fact that use of the right to information is the first step towards tilting the equation of power between the government and people in favour of the latter.

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