v

About Me



Far away in a village in Sangli district when I was living a simple life, I had never imagined that a common person could make changes in the society to protect lager public interest simply by following the law and using legal rights. After 25 years of civic activism, now I am convinced that we the people of India can easily challenge the mighty and powerful if we fearlessly use the power given to us as citizens by the Constitution and the laws under it.

My friends admire that I challenged the then chief minister of Maharashtra and Shiv Sena leader Manohar Joshi's decision in the high court and it is said that the legal fight led to his resignation as chief minister in 1999. Joshi had resigned just before the high court had upheld my contention. I was concerned about the decision to change reservation of a plot of land in prime locality in Pune City. Thanks to the decision, it became possible for a company owned by Joshi's son in law to commercially exploit the property by building an apartment on that plot, an enterprise worth crores of rupees. My concern was that the city was denied its public property for a school. Therefore, I challenged the decision by a writ petition. After the high court upheld my contention, the matter was taken to the Supreme Court. The apex court upheld the decision of the high court. It laid an important guideline for protection of public properties in the cities.

During the time of this court case, I received many death threats following which police security was provided to me. Few months later, I refused the security. I have got threats for raising corruption issues in education board of Pune Municipal Corporation in the recent past. I met with an accident when I was pushed while I was driving a scooter. My life was saved, but I lost one tooth in that accident. However I did not bother about such things, it was my conscious and my moral values helped me to keep up the struggle and push for the cause of justice

I took up many issues of public concern by using our legal rights. Forcing the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) to stop distributing its public properties at throwaway price to chosen few politicians and their keens is another such issue. The fight to protect public properties ultimately led to formation of a rational policy for utilization of thousands of these properties. Now, the properties are leased only on the basis of public tenders. Even in this case, the legal system was useful as the high court upheld my contention and ordered for rational policy for use of public properties. Another important facet of this story is that when I had asked under the Right to Information about the properties of the civic body leased out with out tender, it was revealed that a proper database was not maintained by the PMC. It was only after repeated notices that the PMC has started maintaining the same.

My faith in the fact that a common person can ensure some correction in the systemic problems has strengthened again and again when I succeeded in raising issues of larger public interest and taking the matter to logical conclusion. It includes preventing people's representatives in the PMC from doling out taxpayers' money for celebrations by politicians or exposing financial irregularities in the school board of the PMC or ensuring that those who were unlawfully excavating stone from public quarries were fined. During this struggle, there were some interesting developments just as when a Mayor of Pune was forced to deposit back Rs. 15 lakh he had withdrawn from the PMC exchequer by passing the law and rules.

Every time one may not get a success immediately in one's fight against systemic ills, but one should not lose faith. When I asked the civic body of Pune for information about public urinals and toilets, it came to light that there was hardly any facility available for women and this problem was leading to their hardship. This expose brought the Urinal issue on public agenda. In addition, I had asked about the ratio of urinals per 1,000 populace. The answer to this application proved that in the city of Pune, there was just a single urinal per 9,100 people. In response to my notices, the PMC made budgetary allocation of Rs 60 lakhs, for construction of urinals for both men and women. The final touches are being added to this proposal at this moment. Also the PMC has decided to build state of the art urinals, in the city under the Build -Own -Transfer (BOT) scheme.

During my fight against the mighty and powerful, I have found that the Right to Information (RTI) is the most potent tool of a common person. I have used this weapon to dig out facts regarding larger public interest and then to use that information to ensure corrections in the system. This technique was useful even to solve common person's problem like ensuring proper supply of gas cylinders by agencies in a locality. It was a simple application asking for details of gas cylinders supplied and distributed, which took the lid of the unholy nexus between the gas agencies and the hoteliers and vehicle owners who were misusing domestic cylinders for commercial purposes.

The Development Plan of merged villages of Pune City, for the next 20 years, was sent to the Urban Development Department (UDD) duly ratified by the General Body (GB) of the PMC, in the year 2005. Termed as the Green DP, this plan hads the interest of the citizens for a clean and green city as its planning parameter. In the year 2008, the same DP was returned to the city, albeit with major changes which amounted to the whole concept of the Green DP being massacred. Although the law talked of, public notices, to be issued and the DP maps to be made public, the town planning department made no such move to do so. I invoked the Section 4 of Right to Information at the Town Planning Department and got the DP maps in Public Domain. This act of mine, acted as a catalyst for a strong citizen movement to protest against the massacre of the Green DP. Caught in the proverbial foot in the mouth situation, an embarrassed Government had to reissue the notices and increased the period for filing of objections by two more months.

I have enjoyed the power of RTI since the law was passed. Former editor of Indian Express late Prakash Kardaley guided me about use of the RTI. I had joined noted social activists Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejariwal in a fight to make 'file noting's' available to public. I found that campaign as an important step in a fight for transparency in public affairs. I had organized the first national convention of RTI Crusaders .Along with 126 participants from 26 states including Jammu and Kashmir luminaries like Anna Hazare, Aruna Roy, Medha Patkar, Arvind Kejariwal, and Prashant Bhushan also participated in it. Guidance of such great minds helped me develop my understanding of RTI. So later on I could contribute to innovative initiative like First ever of the country open RTI Library in PMC.

I think my initiative for Section 4 of RTI is the most important activity I have undertaken for the propagation of the right under this section. I took first in the country inspection of office under this section. Public authorities are bound to make information about them available to people so that they do not require filing applications for the same. I think it is one of the most important ways of ensuring transparency.

Exposing financial irregularities in the organization of Commonwealth Youth Games (CYG) or forcing authorities to make documents about special townships available to public are some of my recent successes. Now, along with my civic activism, I have written a book on RTI "pailu mahitichya Adhikarache". I have now focused on helping people understand the RTI and how to use it. I give lectures, address seminars and conduct workshops. I believe that in our democratic set up even a single person like me can fight against the system by using our legal rights especially the RTI.

  • Succesfuly organized First National seminar of 148 RTI activists from 28 states including Aruna Roy,Anna Hazare,Arvind Kejariwal,Medha patkar in Pune 
  • Published more than 300 articles related to RTI
  • Presently running column in Maharashtrashtra's Leading Daily Sakal
  • Book on RTI ' Pailu Mathitichyaa Adhikarache ' ( Aspects of RTI Act )
  • Participated in the Nationwide Antibribery Campaign
  • More than 650 Lectures /workshops/ seminars on RTI 

Awards


* Honored with “Pune Hero 2014” by “pune Mirror” of Times of India group
* Navaleen Kumar Award 2013, By Public Concern for Governance Trust for struggle to ensure justice
 * Rotary club of Pune central vocation award 2008 -2009
 * Sajag Nagrik Manch RTI award 2008

Contact


Vijay Kumbhar
A - , Anupama Co Op Hsg , soc,
Body Gate, Aundh ,
Pune -411007.

Email – kvijay14@gmail.com
Website – http://surajya.org