An RTI activist from Dehu Road is on the run after conducting a “raid” on a trader in Konkan. Even as a search operation has been launched for the activist, the police are wondering how he managed to procure information about the trader and the alleged illegal fuel stock in his possession.
Police said the suspect must have used his status as an RTI activist to procure information from certain sources.
The RTI activist was allegedly provided armed police protection after he had complained about a threat to his life. His friends from Pimpri-Chinchwad said he claimed to have been working towards “exposing” some builders and police officers in Dehu Road.
“He was provided with police protection. It is possible that some officials, out of fear, shared sensitive information with him,” said an activist from Pimpri.
Local activists argued that, over the past few years, the number of people misusing the information received under the RTI Act has significantly increased. “These people seek written information from the authorities under the RTI Act and use it to blackmail others. If they don’t get written information, they masquerade as RTI activists to get oral information from authorities, by threatening officials with filing RTI applications… Some officials, fearing that they may also get caught, share the information,” said Maruti Bhapkar, an RTI activist.
Another activist, Vijay Kumbhar, the pioneer of RTI Katta, or RTI platform, in Pune, said some “blackmailers” have been misusing the law to their advantage. Kumbhar said at least five-six “fake RTI activists” have been caught in the past few years. “They include two advocates, a builder, a corporator and a person identifying himself as an education activist. They all misused the Act,” he said.
The RTI Act, he added, should not be faulted. “The Act is complete one…,” he said.
Bhapkar said, “All efforts to weaken the Act should be thwarted. There is no need to bring any amendments to rein in blackmailers…For the sake of the RTI Act, the Anti-Corruption Bureau should play a proactive role,” he said.
To end this menace, Kumbhar said, civic and government offices should immediately upload the information that has been provided to an individual under the Act on their website, as part of the proactive disclosure of information, which is mandatory under the RTI Act.
“It means the information no longer remains between government offices and the applicant. It will immediately land into the public domain. Therefore, any individual who seeks information will not be in a position to blackmail the third party,” he said.
Neelkanth Poman, in charge of the RTI Information Department, the Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation (PCMC), confirmed that certain individuals were repeatedly seeking sensitive information that raised suspicion about their intention.
“As per my information, the Thane Municipal Corporation has put a ban on such individuals,” he said.
Asked whether the PCMC uploads the information sought by individuals on its website, Poman said they have not started that yet. “We plan to start it soon,” he said.
Additional Municipal Commissioner, Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC), Sheeta Ugale, also said the civic body does not upload the information sought under the Act on its website. “As part of the pro-active disclosures, we do put notifications and government directives on the website, but have not thought about putting information sought by individuals on the website,” she said.
Both Bhapkar and Kumbhar said civic authorities should lead the way.