Chuck Facebook, file RTI queries: Teenager sets an example by making a difference

How many times did former prime minister Manmohan Singh address the public during his 10-year tenure? The answer is 1,300 times.

That’s what the reply to an RTI query by Himadrish Suwan from the Prime Minister’s office said.

Suwan. Firstpost

17-year-old Suwan is a RTI warrior. Firstpost

"The reply was quite amusing. From 24 June, 2004 to 31 May, 2013, the then prime minister spoke 1,300 times on different issues. Interestingly, the PMO even included Singh’s one-line replies to media queries in the list of speeches,” he told Firstpost.

The query of the 17-year-old almost made the prime minister’s office accept that the former prime minister speaking even two sentences was a like delivering a speech!

Meet Suwan, the RTI warrior, who has just been honoured with the Young Achiever’s Award by the International Association of Educators for World Peace (IAEWP). The award for information activism came on the recommendation of the Confederation of Indian Universities on the World Teachers' Day.

Suwan, who is pursuing a bachelor's degree in political science from Shaheed Bhagat Singh College of Delhi University, has so far filed 100 RTIs "in the larger interest of people". He thinks RTI is a formidable tool to fight corruption. It can bring in transparency and accountability. It will also build pressure on authorities, the teenager added.

"I file an RTI query whenever I face problems in getting something done by the government officials. It puts pressure on public authorities and makes them answerable," he said.

When Suwan was 15, he sought a reply from the railway ministry on the pathetic condition of the New Delhi-Ranchi Rajdhani Express. He used to take the train often to go to Ranchi to meet his grandparents during vacations.

The Indian Railways swung into action once the RTI was filed and changed 16 ICF coaches with LHB (Linke Hofmann Busch) coaches, which are ideal for high-speed trains. The LHB coaches are anti-telescopic and in situation of derailment or collision it prevents the bogies from turning turtle.

"I wrote to the Railway Ministry in April 2012 asking it why the 20-year-old ICF coaches of New Delhi-Ranchi Rajdhani had not been changed with better equipped LHB coaches. Who will be responsible if any accident occurs? I also brought the pathetic condition of toilets and interiors of the old coaches into the notice of the ministry. The then Railway Board Chairman Vinay Mittal assured me that the coaches would soon be changed and when it was done, I was informed by the ministry,” he said.

The worst traffic jam at IGNOU Road near Saket, where he stays, forced him to file a query with the Delhi Police. "The reason for the traffic jam was absence of a divider and lack of traffic police on the busy road. How can an ambulance with a critically ill patient pass through the area? I asked the police," he said adding, “Few days later, I saw the impact. Two policemen were permanently deployed there to control the traffic and a makeshift barricade was erected”.

When asked who inspired him to file RTI queries, he said he learnt the procedure from one of his friends who is also involved in RTI activism. "Instead of wasting time on Facebook, it is better to devote time to such constructive work which is in the larger interest of the society," Suwan said.

Does this not come in the way of his studies? The boy, with a good academic performance so far, said, "I draft RTIs in my free time. If you have your question ready, it takes few minutes to file an RTI. Everything is online. You need to type your questions and furnish other details in the given format on RTI website —"

Although Suwan is disappointed with the decline in the number of RTIs filed every year.

“Of 10 applicants, only four applicants get satisfactory replies. Government officials either sideline the rest six RTI applications citing various lame excuses or they give inadequate information. Applicants need to make repeated attempts to get information," he added.

“The benefits of the RTI Act, which completed five years on Tuesday, have not seeped fully into the core of society in many parts in India. Yet, it is increasingly being used by the common man — from an elementary school teacher to college students," he said.

Suwan’s mother is a teacher in a private school here and father is a businessman. Once done with studies Suwan wants to become a judge.

Updated Date: Oct 22, 2014 07:10 AM

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