From Entitlement to Reality: Tribal Communities Use the Right to Information Act to Secure Justice

Rays of Hope: The Power of Information
Photo: Lingaraj Panda/UNDP India

In partnership with the Ministry of Law and Justice, Government of India, the project is helping poor and marginalized communities in Odisha access justice by enhancing legal awareness and supporting national and local justice delivery institutions.

Highlights

  • Right to Information (RTI) Clinics, set up in Kalahandi district in Odisha, have enabled poor and marginalized communities to demand and protect their entitlements
  • These clinics, set up as part of a joint UNDP-Ministry of Law and Justice, Government of India partnership, aim to empower marginalized communities to secure justice
  • Focus has also been to generate awareness among communities about their rights and entitlements
  • Support is also provided, as part of the partnership, to justice delivery systems to be more sensitive to the needs of these communities

In 2011, Duku filed an application under the Right to Information Act (RTI) with the District Rural Development Agency requesting information on why his house did not have an electricity connection. Within days of his application, electricity was provided through solar panels installed in his house and in all the other non-electrified houses in the village. Duku Majhi never thought of himself as a leader, but today in Bhejiguda village in Kalahandi district in the east Indian state of Odisha, his fellow villagers see him as one.

All this was made possible with the help of RTI clinics set up in Junagarh and Thuamul Rampur blocks of Kalahandi district, as part of a project undertaken by UNDP and the Ministry of Law and Justice, Government of India, which has enabled communities like Duku’s to demand and protect their entitlements.
“I am confident that my fifteen-year-old son Jogeswar, who has just entered class ten, will now get better marks in the exams as he can now read at night as well. I am also confident that my twelve-year-old daughter, who had earlier dropped out of school, will be motivated to rejoin it to pursue higher education.” Forty-five-year-old Duku Majhi is a member of a tribal community, and supports his family by collecting minor forest produce from the forest nearby.

Bhejiguda is a small and sleepy village located at the foothills of the majestic Karlapat Wildlife Sanctuary in Odisha. The village’s close proximity to the sanctuary has left it largely isolated from the outside world. Getting an education had always been an uphill battle. Barely 50 percent of households had electricity and children had to walk many miles to reach the nearest classroom.

But the newly-installed solar panels on the roof of Duku Majhi’s house stands testament to the winds of change. Duku learnt about the RTI Act through volunteers working at the Land and RTI clinics, set up as part of the joint UNDP-Ministry of Law and Justice, Government of India project that aims to empower marginalized communities to secure justice. The approach is two pronged – to generate greater awareness amongst poor and marginalized communities on their rights and entitlements and support justice delivery institutions in being more sensitive to the needs of these communities.
The impact of Duku’s application has been felt wider. Forty-one villages in nearby Nakrundi, Kerpai, Karlapat, Kaniguma and Gopalpur Gram Panchayats now have electricity after villagers filed RTI applications. This has benefited more than 1,800 families in the area.

In addition to a more hopeful future for their children, electricity has meant more livelihood opportunities. According to Sarabani Dei, Duku’s wife, “Earlier we were completely dependent on fuel wood for everything, but now things have changed, and we can process food grains and minor forest produce that we have been collecting for years and earn more income.” The continuous supply of electricity through solar panels has brought cheer into the lives of Duku Majhi and his fellow villagers, empowering them to think of a brighter future ahead.