Ever since we have come across the term RTI the only thing which comes to our mind is corruption or the never answered question "What does the government do with the tax that I pay?" Some of us might widen our mind a bit more and might think about filing an RTI about the roads or the garbage being piled up on the corners of the streets. But, are we as the citizens really using RTI - the right which has been provided by the statute to bring about the change in the way our system is running? There are so many issues which we read in the newspapers and say, what is the Government doing for all these and forget as soon as we close the papers.
However, when I read about the death of three elephants by a speeding train in West Bengal, I wanted to know what was the Government doing to protect these animals which are being killed by our technologically driven world. These animals are being killed without any reason and surely due to no fault of theirs; and not even by poachers, but by our speeding callous trains.
The incident made me think about what I can do about such incidents. I was not a person with some high reaching contacts that I could use to question the Government and would be duly answered, nor was I a part of any active group to protect and safeguard these animals. The only thing that made me think was that I cared for the environment that I live in and wanted it to stay the same way or make it a better place for my next generation to live in. The only answer that came to me at that time that I could effectively resort to, was RTI - The Right to Information Act, that was enacted for the benefit of the citizens of India to know and participate in the governance and real situation and progress of the nation.
Armed with the knowledge of RTI, I decided to leverage the power of RTI to the hilt as much as I could from the simple yet passionate position that I was in. And I decided to ask my questions to the concerned Government body with regard to these powerless elephants.
I filed my RTI application to know about the scenario of the elephants in the whole of India and not just West Bengal. I wanted to know the numbers of the death of the elephants caused by our mindless train accidents in whole of India and the amount of money spent by the central government to safeguard the animals. I filed an application to the Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change of the Government of India. In the application I had sought for
- The number of elephant deaths caused due to train accidents from the year 2009 to date, to be provided on a state-wise basis,
- The funds released for the protection of our elephants broken down by purpose, and
- The details of the activities conducted by the Government in order to safeguard and protect elephants in particular and other animals in general from accidents caused by man.
I was pleasantly surprised when in about a week's time, I got a letter from the Government of India, Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change (Project Elephant Division) asking for a Rs 4/- for photocopying the details of the information needed by me. I promptly sent this out to them, before they change their mind, along with my letter expressing my gratitude and an IPO for the Rs. 4/- they has asked me for.
In or about a fortnight from sending my letter and the additional Rs 4/-, I received a reply along with two attachments with information I had sought organized in proper columns.
- Annexure-1 was a chart showing a list of States with year-wise data, and
- Annexure-II showed the State-wise funds released under central sponsored scheme (CSS) of Project elephant for the last three years.
The reply also had the activities carried out by the Government for the protection and conservation of elephants. My reply stated the various activities and the initiatives taken by the Government by giving a joint advisory by the Ministry of Environment and Forests and the Ministry of Railways to safeguard in the future.
I was thrilled, elated, and quite satisfied that with no governmental connections I was promptly able to reach to the right offcials in the appropriate government department, just by thoughfully using an RTI. I was satisfied with the government response I received. And my concerns for the helpless elephants was duly put to rest, now knowing the efforts put out and the steps being taken by our Government to protect and safeguard the wildlife of our country. Also, it was a reassuring feeling to know that the monies paid by way of our Taxes was being thoughtfully and properly utilised and put to good use. In this case, our tax monies were being duly used for the safety and protection of our helpless elephants from our mindless trains criss crossing and racing through the forests of our country.
Thank you! Ministry of Environment and Forests, and Ministry of Railways.
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Soumya Krishnan, Senior RTI Legal Associate, BA LL.B
Born and brought up in the City of Joy, Kolkata, I like meeting new people and discussing and debating issues. This has led me to take up Law; having done my BA, LLB at the Calcutta University. To a great extent, my passion for Law has resulted in my practice as an Advocate at the High Court in Calcutta. Worked at the Rotaract Club of Kalighat in Calcutta, starting as a member and went on to become the President of the club in short order.
I am almost always ready with my backpack to travel, to discover the various exciting snow-capped mountains, lush jungles, and serene sandy deserts. Reading has been a part of my life ever since childhood. I am a bookworm of sorts. This bookworm reads all kinds of books from fiction, nonfiction, travelogues, and even cook books covering all sorts of cuisines. My other hobbies include music, movies, and watching regular Television series.