Visit Rangpar village in Rajkot district of Gujarat and you will be amazed by a smooth, winding road that leads to an otherwise quaint settlement. The fact that this road was made possible by a blind resident further feeds the wonderment. However, after meeting 32-year-old Ratna Ala you are left with no doubt that the real revolution in India will not come from the jantar mantar crowd but from determined people like him who refuse to get pushed to a corner.
It was in 2006 that Ala got curious about the poor condition of road connecting his village to the national highway. The road was full of potholes and overgrown babool shrubs alongside made it difficult to walk. Ala had listened about the right to information law on a radio programme a few days back and decided to use it. A Class X pass out, the 32-year-old also holds a diploma in Braille. However, when he went to submit the application to the panchayat office, the sarpanch and his supporters mocked him. “They laughed and said how does it matter to a blind man whether the road is good or not. This insult strengthened my desire to get the information because I have the same rights as any other citizen of India,” Ala recalls. He posted the application to the village patwari but it was only after he filed a first appeal with the taluka development officer that the information was provided. On paper, the approach road to the village had been made twice in last two years. Armed with this proof, Ala complained to the higher authorities and also released the irregularity to the regional media and Doordarshan which generated a positive impact ensuring a proper road to the villagers.
For his efforts, Ala was awarded the first Rahul Mangaonkar Award, instituted by Times Of India, Ahmedabad, for best use of RTI for common cause in 2009. However, this was just a starting for Ala, who went on to take several other causes with the help of RTI in and around Rangpar. When the 281 acre gauchar (pastoral) land in his village was approved for sale to a watch manufacturing company , he decided to challenge that. In response to his queries under the RTI Act, he was given only verbal information about the approval and started receiving anonymous threat calls warning him against pursuing the matter further. Undeterred by the threats, he raised the issue during a gram sabha meeting which decided to put the sale on hold.
Last year, the 32-year-old gathered a bunch of people to file RTI applications and brought to light bogus voters in the area. Of 671 listed voters, 154 were found to be bogus. The list had names of seven persons who were dead; there were no photographs against 10 names, and 137 of them were missing from the village. Over the next 10 months, these names were cancelled from the list. Due to his consistent efforts to ensure good governance, the villagers elected him to the post of deputy sarpanch early this year. “The post is only helping me support the welfare work which I was already doing as an activist,” Ala says. Who says you need eyes to have a vision?