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RTI Helpline Wins Award

December 8, 2011

LAUNCHED IN 2006, IT HAS BEEN AIDING THOUSANDS FIGHT FOR THEIR RIGHTS

Ankur Jain | TNN (Times of India Ahmedabad Edition Dated 17.01.2011 Page 2)

Ahmedabad: You might not get a kilo of onions for Rs 54, but this Right To Information (RTI) helpline helps thousands every month to fight for their rights — for only that amount. Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Parishad (MAGP)’s helpline, which was launched in May 2006 and has received more than 60,000 calls till now, is managed by a team of volunteers at a monthly expense of just Rs 54. The helpline has recently won a special award for its contribution to RTI activism from People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL). The helpline has been chosen for this honour by an illustrious jury comprising Naryana Murthy, J M Lyngdoh, and Shekhar Singh. The helpline will be officially conferred the award at a ceremony in Delhi on January 20 by Karnataka Lokayukta Justice Santosh Hedge and activist Anna Hazare. The helpline is run by RTI activists Harinesh Pandya, Pankti Jog, Twinkle Mangaonkar, Mital Patel, Sadhna Panday, and Punit Juneja. They take out time from their jobs to run the helpline. “Many helplines started in India after the RTI Act was announced in 2005 but the MAGP helpline remains the most professionally managed one,” said RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal. “The award jury, in fact, couldn’t find any helpline parallel to it. Interestingly, a good number of callers who contact t h e helpline are public information officers. Also, the group conducts RTI clinics every week.” The helpline gets calls from 12 states on issues ranging from domestic violence to dry water taps to irregularities in various housing schemes. “We have to update ourselves constantly as we can’t afford to sound ignorant on any law, judgment, or government scheme,” says Harinesh, who conceptualised the helpline in 2006. The only ex pense of running the helpline comes from the monthly mobile bill. “We decided to use a cell phone instead of a landline as cellphones don’t bind volunteers and give them freedom to move while attending to calls. Also cellphones allow us to keep a better record of callers,” says Jog, the MAGP coordinator. The volunteers take out two to three hours daily for the helpline and also meet every Saturday to discuss the latest RTI judgments and also new queries they received in the week. “There have been several instances of RTI appli cants being threatened by those who didn’t the information re vealed and we have had to speak to the local police sta tion officials and write to information commis sion to give protec tion to these ap p l i c a n t s, ” says Jog.
POWERING THE HELPLINE These professionals volunteer their service at the RTI helpdesk to tackle citizens’ queries
Harinesh Pandya | 53 The MAGP RTI helpline is his brainchild. A lawyer, Harinesh has been active with RTI movement since 2002. He has designed a low-cost model for the helpline for long-term sustainability of the public-service project. He conducts RTI workshops in many cities and volunteers his service for the helpline. An expert in legal matters, he helps other volunteers keep abreast of latest RTI judgments.
Sadhna Pandya | 51 An electronics engineer, Sadhna has worked with the Indian Space Research Organisation. She joined the RTI helpline in 2006 and despite family commitments, gives three to four hours to the helpline daily. She not only helps callers with questions on RTI but also maintains a complete record of the profile of callers and the nature of their queries. She also conducts workshops on RTI.
PANKTI JOG | 34 She has been associated with the RTI movement since 2001. As a coordinator of the MAGP, she takes care of the complete management of the helpline. An RTI expert, she conducts workshops and delivers lectures on the subject. She interacts with callers and motivates women to fight for their rights.
Punit Juneja | 29 Punit started taking interest in the RTI movement while studying law. He joined the helpline as a volunteer in 2006 while he was an LLM student. A high court lawyer now, he works as a legal expert at the helpline and gives a couple of hours to the effort on days when the courts are not working. He also helps RTI applicants during the RTI clinic which is organised at the helpline’s office every Saturday.
Mital Patel | 29 She joined the RTI helpline as a volunteer while studying for her master’s in journalism at the Gujarat University in 2006. She later took up a job in an NGO and has been working with nomadic tribes in the state. She takes out two to three hours daily from her job to help callers. She also uses her expertise on RTI to help people from nomadic tribes fight for their rights.

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