Monday, August 21, 2006

The road to victory

Retired rear admiral JDM Sodhi has been no stranger to battle, but few victories have tasted sweeter than the one he’s had over the Municipal Corporation of Delhi. As President of the Residents Welfare Association (RWA) of Sheikh Sarai Phase I, he, along with other residents had long campaigned in vain for the repair of his colony roads which were in a shameful state of disrepair for the past eight years or so. Finally he resorted to using the RTI Act to seek information from the MCD about these roads.

“I’d never imagined that my filing an RTI application would have the consequences it did,” he smiles. “Ever since I moved here in 1993, the colony roads hadn’t been repaired or relaid, When we heard in 2002 that the roads were finally going to be relaid, we were elated. But this was short-lived, as the work was suspended two days after it began” says Sodhi. They pursued the matter with the MCD but without much success. Mr Sodhi then took the help of SNS in November 2003 to file an application under the Delhi Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2001, seeking information about the colony roads -- when they’d been last repaired, at what cost, and by whom.

The information he received was staggering -- over Rs 1 crore (10 million) had been sanctioned to carry out dense carpeting of the roads in Sheikh Sarai in October 2002. The reply also stated that the road had to be laid by May 2003 but work had been stalled because of some `mishappening’ with the contractor, and would resume within a month’s time.

In December 2004, in the absence of any sign of resumption of work, Sodhi and his RWA team were afraid that if they didn’t pursue the issue, their potholed roads might just remain that way, one of MCD’s many `ghost works’ – public works projects that existed only on paper. They then sought a certified photocopy of the contract signed between the MCD and the contractor.

But exactly three days before the MCD had to give the RWA this information, a strange thing happened. The residents woke up in the morning to find that road construction had started in full swing in their colony. The roads were re-laid within three days! “Basically, the MCD officials realized that armed with the certified copy of the contract, we could pressurize the government to take action against those responsible for pilfering funds. This spurred them into action and they got the road constructed.” says Sodhi. It was a proud victory for the old admiral, who’s now become such an enthusiastic user of the RTI act that he’s already submitted applications for information about several other public works in his locality. “Having used it so effectively, I can say that the RTI Act is a great tool!”

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