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“All Citizens are Equal before Law and are Entitled to Equal Protection of Law”-Article 27 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh

Issue No: 27
July 7, 2007

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NRIs in US get access to RTI

Since October 2005 the RTI Act has been extensively used in India to obtain information from Government offices. Now nearly two years on, the Embassy of India in Washington DC has implemented the Right to Information bringing its operations fully under the Act's purview. This means, any Indian citizen with a valid Indian passport can now file an RTI application to the Public Information Officer at the Indian Embassy by paying a fee of 24 cents.

Battling corruption
A software programmer based in Maryland, Arun Gopalan has been in the US for three years now.

However, he still kept abreast of the news in India especially that of the enactment of the Right to Information Act in 2005.

''The RTI act was implemented in India in October 2005 and at that time I was here and I was sort of feeling left out because anti-corruption has been an issue that has always been close to my heart. I have always wanted to do something about it,'' said Arun Gopalan, Member, Association for India's Development.

Thanks to the efforts of RTI activists in the United States, now Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) like Arun who live in America can also exercise the Right to Information (RTI). In April this year, after months of campaigning by RTI activists from India and America, the Central Information Commission issued an order bringing the Indian embassy in Washington DC under the purview of the RTI Act, 2005.

''The RTI act has now been implemented at the embassy of India in Washington. Any Indian national based in the United States, this applies to NRIs too, and who are based here can apply for information under this Act,'' said Rahul Chhabra, Public Information Officer, Indian embassy, Washington DC.

Reaching out
The RTI Act 2005 empowers Indian citizens to question government decisions, and makes it mandatory for the government to disclose all information pertaining to those decisions.

All one needs to file an application in the United States is a plain sheet of paper. You can type or hand-write the questions Mention that you are exercising your right under RTI 2005 Attach personal check for 24 cents, equivalent to Rs 10. Checks should be made in favor of '' Embassy of India, Washington DC''. Attach a copy of the first page of your passport as proof that you are an Indian Citizen.

Send the application and the cheque along with the return address to the Public Information Officer (PIO) at the Embassy of India in Washington DC.

Arun was one of the first NRIs living in America to file an RTI application. Ironically, his application raised questions about what the embassy was doing to make NRIs in America aware of their new rights. ''The RTI Act was implemented by the Indian embassy but what was happening was that this information was not reaching the people it was supposed to. That is basically the NRI population here in the US.

So I filed an application with the embassy asking them when this information was going to be available on the web site, who was responsible for it and whether they had set up a time frame by when it was expected to be up. And boom the next day the information was up on the website,'' said Arun Gopalan, Member, Association for India's Development.

Over a dozen RTI applications have been filed over the last month here at the embassy in Washington DC. RTI activists are now taking inspiration from America's Freedom of Information Act.

In 2005, over 20 million Freedom of Information Act requests were processed here in the US and activists are now hoping to see a similar support for India's Right to Information Act from Indians living here in the United States.

Source: Youth Assembly of Asia--e group.


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