With Maharashtra topping the chart when it comes to attack on whistleblowers and activists, the recent decision of the Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation (PCMC) general body to divulge details of complaints filed through the SARATHI helpline has come under fire as it “violates” the Whistleblowers Protection Act, 2014.
Former central information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi and senior RTI activist Venkatesh Nayak said the resolution passed by the PCMC general body was in contravention of the recently passed Whistleblowers Protection Act 2014. Sections 4 and 5 of the Act prohibit disclosure of the names of complainants and also talk about penal action against people doing so.
Earlier this month, the PCMC general body passed a resolution according to which details of complaints and suggestions filed through the online SARATHI helpline would have to be shared via voice SMS or text with the local corporators.
A brainchild of former municipal commissioner Shrikar Pardeshi, the SARATHI (acronym for System of Assisting Residents and Tourists Through Helpline Information) portal is an integrated system to register complaints or suggestions. Complaints filed by residents directly reach the officials concerned and failure to address the complaints in the stipulated time brings the official concerned under scanner.
SARATHI had allowed direct linkage between the officials and the residents, negating the need for mediation in the process by local corporators. SARATHI had won both Pardeshi and the PCMC many laurels, but ruffled the feathers of the corporators. Even as the web portal continues to receive over 150 calls and more than 360 hits per day, the elected representatives were unhappy as they thought the system had reduced their relevance.
Repeated attempts were made even during Pardeshi’s tenure to get corporators on board the system, but they were not successful. After Pardeshi’s transfer, these activities gained momentum and on July 5 the corporators finally succeeded in unanimously passing the resolution in their favour.
The resolution, uploaded on the website of the PCMC, says as the corporators are the “custodian” of the areas, they should also get details of the complaints/suggestions filed. Pimpri-Chinchwad is located a few kilometres away from Talegaon, where Right to Information (RTI) activist Satish Shetty was murdered four years ago. Shetty was murdered allegedly because he had unearthed many cases of corruption and nepotism in land deals.
According to his brother Sandeep, Shetty faced threats every time he filed an RTI application. “Unofficially, the political leaders do come to know immediately about the complaints lodged. But after the resolution passed by the GB, they would now officially come to know about it. This surely would be a threat to the whistleblowers,” he said.
Shailesh Gandhi pointed out that a similar proposal by the civic body had to be canned in Mumbai because of protests by the people. “Citizens should come out on the streets to protest against this resolution, which is dangerous and undemocratic,” he said, adding that this was indeed “a dangerous trend” at a time when attacks on activists were increasing.
Nayak said the logic behind approving the resolution should be made public. “Also, in case of any attack on any complainant, the local corporator should be held responsible,” he said. He said till date cases of more than 230 attacks on activists — at least 10 of them were murdered — had been registered. “With Maharashtra leading in such cases, this resolution will surely push up the numbers,” he said.
Corporator Seema Salve said the corporators should be in charge of their area. “They should be confident about their work and not try to sniff out detractors,” she said.