Using the RTI may be very dangerous to health.
In some cases, it can even be fatal!
Use at your own risk!
All the books, pamphlets, tracts, websites, and offices of organizations promoting the use of Right to Information should be made to carry this warning in a prominent place. Anyone trying to file an application under this act should be made to sign an undertaking that he/ she understands the risks involved. And the Insurance companies may soon refuse to insure anyone who has made more than 3 applications under the RTI act within 1 year.
This is an act just 4½ years old. The activists are shouting themselves hoarse that it is hardly being implemented. No one has heard of any officer loosing his job due to RTI, and hardly anyone has actually paid any fine under this act. Though the government is duty bound to promote and publicise this law, it spends even less than the fine it recovers. Many educated people have heard ‘something about it’, but they still have more faith in their neighbourhood ‘dalal’ than on these hanky panky laws.
Still, the concept of being answerable to the common man is so alien to the system that anyone using this act is automatically labeled a black mailer or a trouble maker. And anyone making more than 2 applications to same authority runs the risk of being labeled ‘serial applicant’ or ‘habitual info-monger’. No, this is not my imagination. The credit goes to an honorable Central Information Commissioner. The system spares no efforts to test the stamina of applicant, right from the inward clerk upto information commissioners and honorable courts.
But some people never learn. They keep on making applications, and inviting trouble. The bad mouthing does not distract them. Their stamina proves sufficient to actually cause trouble for some of the people who run the system. And money can not buy them. They are open to argument but not open to a deal!. In such cases, someone just decides that enough is enough. And the power flows out of the barrel of a gun, or from a hockey stick, or a primitive knife!
Farfetched, do you think? Well, think again. Or better still, just read through some real life stories:
First let us take the latest one – at least at the time of writing this. Mr Arun Sawant, from Badlapur, Dist. Thane, Maharashtra was an eye sore for the powerful people from Maharashtra. He had butted heads with local MLA, challenged his election on basis of false undertaking to election commission, and won upto high court. The supreme court is pending, but might be a foregone conclusion. He was also active in unearthing corruption cases at his local municipal council, as well as nearby Mumbai Corporation. Last week, he had asked for police protection. Yesterday (26 Feb 2010) he filed another bunch of applications at the Badlapur Municipal council. He had not walked 100 meters when 2 unidentified men shot him – he is critical at this time in an hospital in Dombivali, even unable to give a statement to police. (Read here)
Some other example may not be that dramatic, but amply display the risks one runs by exercising this constitutional right.
Mohsin Ansari is a school student in Delhi. He fought a long battle under RTI, and succeeded in getting an order from Information Commission to give him copies of answer books of himself, and some class mates. The school just neglected the order. And one day soon, his PT teacher ‘put some sense into him’ by catching him in school toilet, and beating him. Mohsin had to be hospitalized for a day. The PT teacher even warned the reporters of dire consequences! (Read here)
In a small village in Surendranagar district, a 50 year old farmer, Purushottam Chauhan wanted to know how his panchayat was using the funds in creating the irrigation system for the farms. Probably he had seen a lot of schemes implemented, but his farm was still not getting any water. Against cautions from friends, he made an application to get copies of expenses, minutes of gram sabha, etc. He also informed the distrct collecter (DM) and DSP about the ‘warning’ he had received. But they were a little busy elsewhere. And Purushottambhai was beaten by village goons, and had to spend days in a hospital (Read here)
Sandesh Rathod is also a farmer. He comes from Yavatmal District of Vidarbha, Maharashtra dubbed as farmer suicide capital of the country. All he wanted to know was whether electric pumps were included in the Prime Minister’s package or not. The agricultural department people thought he was too arrogant. Result – he was bitten up, and denied the subsidy! (Read here)
These are people who are still here to share their woes today. But there are some for whom using RTI was like asking for the maximum trouble. The vested interests just wasted them!
48 year old Venkatesh from Hosahalli in Karnataka was using RTI to save government lands from being grabbed by Land sharks. But those who wanted prime properties in Bangalore free of cost, were running risk of being shut out of business. Venkatesh even made the Jnana Bharati Police Station aware of threats he was receiving. He was found mysteriously dead outside Jnana Bharati Campus of Bangalore University. Initially police thought it was a hit and run accident, but post mortem showed he was killed before being run over. Later on, 2 history sheeters were arrested in this connection. But at whose orders the killing was carried out, still remains a matter of speculation. (Read here)
Almost similar is the case of Pune activist, Satish Shetty. He found out irregularities in the land purchased for Mumbai Pune expressway, and a government officer was suspended due to his investigations. Again, he complained that the Municipal Presidents home was way beyond the approved plan – and the man had to forego his post. He had asked for police protection after being beaten up. But he was murdered on the morning of the day when this protection was to start! Again, a couple of contract killers is nabbed, but the people ‘got this done’ still remain at large. (Read here)
Shashidhar Mishra was popularly known as ‘Khabrilal’ in Begusarai district of Bihar, for his knack of exposing scams at local Panchayat and block levels. Two men on motorcycle shot him in the head just outside his home. He died on the spot. (Read here)
Well, these are the cases reported in the media. There must be many more never reported. And there must be many who were fighting alone, and succumbed to pressure tactics before being beaten or worse. Then again, there are cases of employees facing bosses wrath because they used RTI to know more about their employers, of activists who were called black mailers (and where police arrested them on these charges), of activists who were arrested because they insisted on appeal hearing at Information Commission, and many many more.
What does all this signify? What does all this signify? In a nation which claims it gained independence by resorting to ‘zest for truth’ (satyagarha) why is it a crime to seek information? Why are the powerful people reacting so strongly? What is the message we masses are being send?
I believe this is the latest skirmish in the age old power politics. The bureaucrats were powerful because they had information, and they could choose to give it to some and deny it to all others. The big business interests depended upon monopolising information about future plans of the government, and later on bought ‘silence’ over inconvenient information from leaking out. The proverbial common man had no source to ‘undeniable’ information. Those who were governing, thought no need to tell the governed about what they were doing, because they always knew better. The ‘for the people’ democracy was run by keeping the same people in dark. Democracy was working ‘in spite of people’, so to say.
The act is rewriting the rules in the power games. The opposition parties everywhere are not making empty accusations – they are showing documents obtained thru RTI. The reporters are doing the same. And people with grievances have started talking back. This much trouble was always expected and tolerable to the ‘system’. But when someone starts unearthing land grabs, underhand mining deals and ‘fake’ development project, and when someone finds himself suddenly out of job or inside jail, the ‘big’ people close ranks. And when the trouble maker does not listen to arguments, he is presented with an offer that can not be denied.
So what can a single common man (or woman) do? Here are some pointers, to start with. But this is an unexplored territory, and one has to decide the best way for every peculiar situation:
- As suggested by Pune activists forum, upload all your applications and replies received on internet. Make this fact known to many people. That way, if something happens to you, a lot of people can carry on what you left. This may make the idea of troubling you costly and redundant.
- Have good contacts in media
- Never make an uncalled for accusation, deal in documents and hard facts
- If you are hurting interests, don’t also go on hurting egos!
- Try mass-rti. Find friend who will just replicate your query. Try finding far off friends to make inconvenient applications.