ACTIVISTS,who seek information under Right to Information Act and face threats from anti-socials in the process,will get immediate police protection on demand. A committee after verifying the request from the applicant will then decide whether to continue the security cover or not.
An order to this effect,recently issued by the state Home Ministry,has not however gone down well with the RTI activists in general,who want the authenticity of the complaint verified meticulously before providing security to the applicant. This,they fear,would open a floodgate of protection-seekers.
Officials said the state government had issued a similar order last year,but that pertained to only providing police protection on demand. This time,the Home Ministry has also decided to set up committees at different levels.
The governments step follows a PIL filed in the High Court,after city activist Satish Shetty was murdered at Talegaon Dabhade on January 13,2010.
The court had then instructed the government to make necessary arrangements to provide security to RTI activists. The government had responded by filing an affidavit in this connection.
In the latest order,the Home Ministry had appealed to RTI activists to file an application before the designated committee to seek police protection if they anticipate any threat to their lives.
After receiving the application,police are required to immediately provide security to RTI activists. After this,the committee will look into the matter as to whether the RTI activists really needs the protection. If the committee rejects the application,the police protection will be withdrawn. While giving the nod to provide protection to RTI activists,the committee is expected to set the term for which the security is to be provided. Besides,the committee is expected to spell out the kind of security to be provided.
The security provided will be free of cost. The threats to RTI activists will be probed by officers not below the rank of assistant police commissioner or deputy superintendent of police. However,RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar said,It is likely that this facility will be misused. What if a goon makes an RTI application and then
seeks protection? he asked pointing out the dangers that this arrangement can pose to even the law enforcement agencies.
Kumbhar said the police should first verify the request thoroughly. Otherwise,they would be the sufferers. Police must look into the request from all angles. Only if they are absolutely sure that the life of an applicant may be in danger,should they provide security. Otherwise,the police who are already facing manpower shortage would have a tough time…
Maruti Bhapkar of the Aam Admi Party echoed the sentiment,when he said. The gravity of threats have to be looked into thoroughly. There will be genuine cases,but I dont think there would be many who actually require police protection.
Kumbhar said that he does not remember an RTI activist in the city who has been provided security. There may be isolated cases like that,but none that are in public knowledge.
When contacted,Deputy Commissioner of Police Shahaji Umap (Zone III) said,A similar order had come in last year. After that,we did not get any such request. But yes,the new order will lead to a spate of requests. We will verify each case thoroughly…We are awaiting a copy of the order.