While the government is going ahead with amendments to the Right to Information (RTI) Act aimed at seriously and adversely affecting the power and dignity of information commissions, which will effectively kill the Act, no less serious is the government’s lack of will to prosecute alleged killers and assaulters on RTI users, thereby emboldening nefarious elements to threaten and kill whistleblowers. Nine murders and eight assaults on RTI activists have been reported so far from all over the country in 2018 alone!
Satish Shetty was the first ever RTI activist to be killed in 2009. The now tainted Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had carried out thorough investigations and had named 13 accused that include a well-known businessman close to senior political leaders. Ironically, the CBI now wants a closure of the case which is dragging on.
While Sandeep, brother of the late Satish, continues to fight tirelessly, he rues that his brother’s life has gone in vain, fighting against corruption, as his murder investigation has turned into a bonanza for the corrupt. “When an agency like the CBI relentlessly lies in a court of law, it is very obvious that an invisible hand is forcing it to act in this manner.”
On 7 September 2018, Kedar Singh Jindan, a Himachal Pradesh activist was ruthlessly killed. As per the press release issued by the National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information (NCPRI) (which has appealed to the chief minister of Himachal Pradesh for a thorough investigation), he was first brutally assaulted and then crushed under an SUV in broad daylight near his house in Shillai, Sirmaur district.
“He had filed numerous applications under the RTI Act to expose fraud and irregularities in the identification of families living below the poverty line (BPL). He had presented these findings at a conference in Shimla on 29 June 2018. He had also put forth proof that he had obtained from six families relating to members of the panchayat that had used fake BPL certificates to secure government jobs. As per media reports, he had also registered a complaint with the Anti-Corruption Bureau. According to information available in the public domain, Jindan had previously been attacked multiple times and had sought police protection, which was denied.’’
Last week, a citizens’ committee, which investigated into the Jindan murder matter, published a 13-page report which provided an insight into the brutality, modus operandi and motive of the murder. His family has appealed for a CBI inquiry.
Should the issues raised and information sought by slain RTI activists get buried after they have passed away? No, says a central information commission (CIC) order. Once again, in June this year, the CIC issued an order that late activists’ appeals/complaints be pursued posthumously. The CIC order states: “Section 24 of the central information commission (management) Regulations, 2007, states that the matter was discussed at the Commission’s meeting held on 13 September 2011 and Commission made the following declaration:
“The Commission, therefore resolves that if it receives a complaint regarding assault or murder of the information seeker, it will examine the pending RTI applications of the victim and order the concerned department(s) to publish the requested information suo motu on their website as per the provision of the law.
“The matter was discussed in the Commission’s meeting held on 5 June 2018. The Commission has decided that in case of death of the appellant/complainant the case would be heard as usual as a second appeal/complaint and the decision would be put up on the website.”
Sadly, the order has remained on paper. The culprits are growing more and more brazen in silencing whistleblowers of RTI, which reflects the failure of the public authorities and the CICs to ensure that the former adhere to the suo motu disclosures under Section 4 of the RTI Act.
And therein lies the most serious complacency!
Killings and Assaults on RTI activists in 2018
(Source: Commonwealth Human Rights CHRI Initiative (CHRI)’s compilation of reports of attacks and killings of RTI activists, in the Hall of Shame map on the CHRI website here: http://attacksonrtiusers.org/
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan.)