RTI activists in Bihar say they are intimidated and threatened by the people they seek to expose,with five of them murdered since 2009. They have mounted pressure on the government to ensure their safety.
Ram Kumar Thakur of Ratnauli,an RTI activist,a lawyer and the main witness in a vigilance case,was shot dead last week,the latest of the five murders. The FIR names Ratnauli mukhiya Rajkumar Sahni (accused in the vigilance case) and five others,three of them his sons and the other two his nephews. No one has been arrested yet but DGP Abhayanand assured action when a group of RTI activists met him this week.
The DGP has advised us to file an economic offences case against the mukhiya. We have set April 4 as the deadline for Muzaffarpur police to arrest all the accused,failing which RTI and social activists will start a protest march from April 6, said Ashish Ranjan,a social activist.
Shiv Prakash Rai,an activist who has filed over 1,000 RTI applications in seven years,said the Bihar State Information Commission has received 201 complaints of harassment of RTI activists by police and government officials since March 2012,when the government set up a monitoring cell to supervise such cases. The government order asks the DGP or home department principal secretary to supervise these cases.
The most common harassment complaints are against government officials about whom information is sought; they allegedly threaten RTI applicants that they would frame them in false cases. Activists say several complainants have already been slapped cases of trying to prevent public servants from doing their duty.
Among examples cited by RTI activists,one is of Hemant Kumar. The Muzaffarpur activist had sought information on transfers and vacancies in Uttar Bihar Gramin Bank. Last December,he was charged in a rape case lodged at Mithanpura police station. Kumar,28,was arrested and paraded in public. He was soon granted bail by a local court,which noted that the complainants statement did not mention rape,but only harassment with frequent calls. The local police were issued a show-cause notice. The police station in-charge apologised in court in January.
Another example is that of Samarjit Singh of Sonepur in Chhapra. He exposed an MNREGA job card scam in Jehangir panchayat,leading to nine officials getting booked. Later,he approached the information commission alleging he was facing a false case. He also accused a mukhiya of harassing him for having filed the RTI application.
The information commission has forwarded most of the complaints to district superintendents of police and district magistrates. It has not,however,put in place a system to monitor what action has been taken. Chief Information Commissioner R J M Pillai said the commissions job was to forward the cases to districts concerned. Asked about action taken,he said it is up to district police to revert to the panel.
DGP Abhayanand said: We coordinate with the information commission. District police have instructions to respond promptly to the info panels questions.
Buxar-based activist S P Rai says booking them under the SC/ST Act is the most dangerous ploy by government officials. The DGP said it was difficult to drop an SC/ST Act case once lodged. There is a commission to take a final call on such cases. Police cannot drop such cases on their own, he said. He did not rule out the chances of false cases being filed.