Fighting for better roads – through information act

By Frederick Noronha


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Pune : It's a battle for the roads, it's being led by young people, and the tool to fight it is India's two-year-old Right to Information Act.

YTF, or the Youth Task Force, describes itself as a "youth movement committed to fighting against corruption and ensure transparency and accountability in the system". For a start, its target is to clean up corruption in road projects.

"Roads are used by everyone. Even a homeless person has to use the roads daily. We are talking about building India's infrastructure, but what is the state of our roads?" said Saurab Sharma, 28, one of those spearheading the campaign.

Building on youth power in a country where two-thirds of the population is young, this campaign is taking the help of students of the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Delhi and other engineering colleges.

"In spite of having such a youthful population, India's youth is nowhere in the decision-making process," says Sharma. So their endeavour is to change things.

Their goal is to dig-up any possibilities of graft and corruption in road-building projects, so that this vital infrastructure improves.

"Our students have filed 48 applications till now. These, in all, cover Rs.4.3 billion worth of projects. The response has been very nice," Sharma told IANS against the backdrop of a national Right to Information conference here.

YTF, an initiative of the NGO called Josh, argues: "To start with, our roads are being focussed on. As of today, Rs.6.1 billion have been sanctioned for Delhi's roads. But why are our roads still in such a state? It's time to ask some questions."

"We are asking for samples (where road works are being undertaken), and then taking these to labs, having it studied, and comparing the unofficial reports with the official claims," said Sharma.

They have started their campaigns with the Public Works Department (PWD) of Delhi, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), and the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC). This has been ongoing for the last nine months.

"We are focussing the attention of youth on two campaigns – the roads issue, and also asking for access to evaluated answer sheets in the Delhi University. Some 400 applications have been filed so far in the latter campaign," Sharma told IANS here.

On the matter of roads, their goal is to dig into "estimates, measurement books, road sketches, job mix formulas" and also inspect the roads and sample the material used.

"We want to expose corruption that plagues the system, to inform people about the Right to Information, to mobilise people, and to establish a transparent and accountable system," adds the YTF, which works out of Delhi's Mayur Vihar Pocket II.

They've been inspired by the campaigns of other youthful officials like Arvind Kejriwal, the 38-year-old IITian-turned-tax officer who quit government service to campaign for transparency in officialdom, and won the Magsaysay award.