"Not only did I have to point out the corruption, I had to do the complete investigation and support it with proof. It took me two full years to gather all the documents required to expose the corrupt BBMP engineers," says S R Venkataram, 82, a veteran RTI activist.
Venkataram realised the power of RTI early on, "I started using the powerful RTI tool soon after it was enacted in 2005 which enables any citizen to fight corruption and ensure good governance in Government offices."
Every work order is supposed to have a map of the street/ road with detailed specification of the road length, width, pavement details etc – basically a blueprint of the road earmarked for asphalting or any other related work. Venkataram found out that every work order he got hold of, came with the same ward map of the area, and the roads are barely visible on the maps, proved Venkataram by carefully following up with works in his area by filing RTIs for work orders.
He demanded that detailed maps be drawn fresh for every work instead of replicating standard jurisdictional map for every road work within a ward.
Further RTI investigation to understand the road work measurement details got him an illegible ‘measurement book’ — it was nothing but a bundle of scribbled sheets – the information was useless. It showed the lax manner in which important public works involving tax payers’ money are recorded.
The next step to getting some clarity, Venkataram requested for ‘Estimation details’ of the work. After getting all the three documents, he put it all together and found out that they did not tally at all.
In one instance, a contractor was paid Rs 3,60,650 for a road that was not asphalted. In another case of drain works, an amount of 16.48 lakhs was paid to the contractor whereas the actual work done in accordance with the sanctioned estimate was only Rs 6.55 lakhs.
Venkataram says all measurements (in the Measurement Book) should be recorded in the same manner as the item-wise sanctioned estimates that are approved by the technical and administrative divisions. It should clearly mention the actual quantity of work done against each item. "Keeping multiple documents for budget sanctions and another for estimates of work done is a maintenance overhead and becomes difficult to track." is Venkataram’s suggestion to BBMP officials.
Venkataram raised two complaints to the Lokayukta in 2006 and 2007, with the examples of the road and drain works.
Both cases were taken up by the Lokayukta for action and two years after each complaint was filed, they initiated disciplinary proceedings against the culprits. All the investigation and proof was collected meticulously by Venkataram helped the Lokayukta.
Using RTI needs patience
To understand how to file a powerful RTI takes time, the time it takes to get an RTI response is a long wait too. Venkatram says "As per the RTI act, any information sought from Public Authority, they are supposed to furnish within 30 days and BBMP in my experience take anywhere from 60 to 90 days and I often (have to) go on an appeal to the Chief Information Commissioner to get it which finally takes another three months. In other words it takes about 6 months to get the information from BBMP"
According to the BBMP guide on road construction, engineers have to maintain data on the history of roads. This is a fair checklist of all the investments on a particular road. This is overlooked and never recorded by the engineers according to both Anil Kumar and Venkatram.
This has also been brought to the knowledge of Lokayukta by Venkatram in his written complaint. Venkataram had also shared all information with members of the RWA, Suprajaa that that he was the president of, until 2010 when he moved to J P Nagar. Federation Of Associations of "Suprajaa" consisted of six welfare associations in Basavanagudi that existed between 2005-2010.
Lokayukta sent notices to all BBMP offices instructing them to issue work orders according to procedures that are clean and accessible.
However these procedures remain on paper and no attention has been paid to the Lokayukta notice. Venkataram now plans to collect information where the notice is being disregarded. Venkataram is determined to get it to work the right way. He says, "The need of the hour is that we should have one RTI activist in each road of our city to look after the welfare of his neighbourhood and demand service from the bureaucrats."⊕