Just returned from a talk by Arvind Kejriwal who is a well known social activist and works towards creating awareness for RTI act and using it to fight corruption. He gave a brief background about the RTI as to how it came about and then went on to recount several stories where they successfully used RTI to fight corruption.
Indeed the fact that an act like RTI can be passed gives me a strong reason to not loose faith. Although govt was already planning on amending the act which would have amounted to almost killing the act, a huge public uproar made it stop. Another interesting thing about RTI act is that this act was written by people themselves, those who were fighting for it and not by some bureaucrat and now government has conceded that whatever amendments will be done to it will be done by taking all the stakeholders in the loop.
Although RTI can be a big tool in the hands of those who are at the receiving end of corruption, I see its role to be much bigger than that. It is a tool that allows users to engage actively with the government and participate if by force, in the governance and its decision making processes when they have a stake in it. So now if you see a bridge being built near your house and you think that it is a bad idea, you have a tool to go ahead and find out if proper studies have been done about it. If you think the contractor who is building the road in front of your house is not doing a good job, you have a way to take account from the concerned govt department. There is now no excuse for just cribbing and going on with your life. In fact without the citizens who are willing to use it actively, RTI is as good as not.
In his talk, Arvind described many obstacles that RTI is facing and may face in future. One that he didn't mention but I think would be very crucial is the kind of image govt offices have in people's minds. In the lower strata of society, it tends towards awe and fear while in the more literate strata, it tends towards disgust. And this has the effect that they want to keep away from govt offices. Those who can, prefer to pay an agent so that they never have to set a foot inside and those who cannot pay, try to carry on as much as possible without interacting. But at the end of the day, it is almost impossible for a citizen to avoid government offices what with the electricity, water supply, PDS, education etc etc. The challenge would be to make people take the first step and engage with the officials instead of seeking the easy way out of agents or bribes. It is not about saving money only, it is about a trust that has deteriorated over so many years. Can RTI prove to be the soothing balm that will heal the wounds?
In the mean while, it would be a good idea and great help to start talking about it in your social circles and let as many people know as you can. Sending a mass mail is not enough neither is leaving orkut scraps. Bring it up when talking to people face to face, bring it up when you are talking in public, in trains for example. When you see some opportunity where RTI can be used for something good, for stopping corruption, for getting things done, step in and suggest it. Learn how to file a RTI application and teach as many people around you as possible, may be hold a small workshop in your office. Let this become deeply ingrained in our citizenship, let this become the beginning of a change !