Attacks on activists might kill the law

Attacks on activists might kill the law

 Targeted by vested interests, many activists are withdrawing from the struggle to bring corrupt practices under the spotlight. Many concerned people have warned that the RTI Act will be a failed attempt if serious efforts are not made to bring in some changes at the earliest.

Why are RTI activists targeted?

“There is an unholy nexus among a few government officers, private agencies and political leaders. Government officers send goondas to threaten us when we seek information. Others who are affected by our queries to bring out information, hire goondas as they are afraid of being exposed. They hire goondas to silence us.
Sometimes, the government officers even get money for disclosing complainants’ details,” claims S C B Patil, an information activist.

Two case studies

More than 100 RTI activists have been targeted in Bangalore over the last five years. A majority of the attacks are provoked by efforts to reveal rampant corruption in the BBMP engineering section and Revenue Department. Some of the activists have survived the attacks with severe injuries, while others received minor injuries.

“This is the reward we get for our battle against injustice and corruption. None helped us when we were attacked. We have now decided to give up the battle against injustice after such attacks,” said Ravindra (name changed). “I was fortunate as I escaped with injuries when three unidentified persons attacked me near Freedom Park a year ago.
They came on a bike and directed me to stop. They took out a sharp weapon, attacked me and fled. I was fighting two cases then — one pertaining to the BBMP and another to the Revenue Department. I don’t know who the attackers were, but I was convinced they wanted me not to expose anything,” recalled Patil.

Only a handful of RTI activists dare to lodge complaints with the jurisdictional police after the incidents. Police register cases of assault or attempt to murder and take up the investigation. But they have fail to arrest the suspects. Reason: The complaints lack detailed information, and so none of the assault cases has been solved till date.

Threats demystified

Here’s how the arm-twisting unfolds in stages: A section of government officials passes on the complainants’ details, including their contact numbers provided in the RTI application, to parties concerned, such as a contractor or officer. “Using different names, such people make phone calls from different destinations and numbers in order to avoid detection. They wouldn’t divulge anything specific, but would ask for details about certain things and warn the applicants not to go ahead with their queries,” reveals Patil.
The threats are often discrete. “Sometimes, some unidentified persons wander in front of our residences. They even follow us, but they don’t target us. That’s how they collect information about us. They target us only in desolate areas,” discloses Ravindra.

An urgent need

The attacks and threats only highlight the need to modify the RTI Act.  “There should be a provision to immediately suspend the officer who fails to provide complete information.
The problem of undue delay while hearing cases in the RTI commission should be addressed. There should be a set of police officers, a separate investigating agency and hearing authority to arrest those threatening the RTI activists, to complete the investigation process at the earliest and to award punishment after speedy trial,” says an activist.

Currently, there is much disillusionment among the activists. Most of them have voluntarily withdrawn from the fight against corruption due to threats. The RTI Act will be a failed attempt if such issues are not redressed immediately.

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