He sought information on govt schemes, ended up in jail

Here is the untold story of an RTI activist in Bihar who was jailed by the DM when he sought information about welfare schemes in Buxar. The whistle-blower was, however, freed after spending 29 days in jail. But this happened when the SP of the district gave it in writing that Rai was implicated by the DM by levelling frivolous charges

Place :

 Lakhisarai dist. in Central Bihar
Date: December 8, 2011.

A whistle-blower Ram Vilas Singh is gunned down in broad daylight for launching a movement to expose the police-criminal nexus in the forest areas of Lakhisarai and adjoining districts.

The Right to Information (RTI) activist had informed the police and the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) that he was facing threat to his life from criminals, local mafia and cops who were to be exposed.
 
Place: Begusarai district in Central Bihar.
Date: February 16, 2010.

Some unidentified criminals on motorcycle gun down Shashidhar Mishra, a local RTI activist, at his residence. Mishra was popularly known as “Khabri Lal” (one who brings in news) in the area for his knack in exposing scams in welfare schemes through RTI at the local and block level.

It sounds ironical that in a State, which received national award for Jankari Call Centre (for propagating and successful implementation of RTI), two RTI activists were killed in broad day-light in the last two years. Those who survived the attack are today either being threatened for their activism, or implicated in false criminal cases. One such case came to fore when Deccan Herald met an RTI activist Shiv Prakash Rai, who was implicated by a
District Magistrate when he (Rai) sought detailed information from the bureaucrat about the million shallow tubewells, tractors, power tillers, crushers and subsidies in several welfare schemes of the government.

After seeking information from the department concerned, Rai was summoned to the office of Buxar District Magistrate, and asked to sign on plain papers. “When I refused, DM Vishnudeo Prasad told me that I should write that I have received all the information sought. Still I refused, and protested his bullying tactics,” Rai said.

Within hours, Rai was taken by the Buxar DSP to an undisclosed location where he had to spend the night. The next thing he knew was that he has been slapped with the charge of demanding Rs 25,000 as extortion from the DM. Within hours, he was being escorted to Buxar Central Jail.

VVIP inmates

“The Buxar jail had several VVIP inmates, which included Kameshwar Baitha (ex-MP from Jharkhand) and Sunil Pandey MLA from Piro representing Nitish’s party Janata Dal-United.

Most of the prisoners, including Baitha and Pandey, were waiting at the entrance gate to see/meet the person who had  “dared” to seek extortion from a DM,” recounted Rai while narrating his tale of woes.

“I told them that I never asked for any extortion. All I had sought was certain information under the RTI. But the DM got me arrested by levelling baseless allegations,” said Rai.

Once inside the jail, the ex-MP and the ruling party MLA told him that they were languishing in jail for a long time even though they had high connections with the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) and the JD (U) respectively. “You too will face a speedy trial… and rest assured to spend minimum eight years in this jail,” they told Rai. After investigation, the then SP of Buxar, Paresh Saxena reported that the DM had levelled false charges against Rai, and as such there was no criminal case against the RTI activist. After spending 29 days behind bars, Rai was eventually set free. To rectify the injustice, the Bihar Government immediately gave marching orders to the DM.

But Rai, who is now president of the Nagrik Adhikar Manch (Citizens’ Rights Forum), has vowed to expose more such officers who, out of fear of RTI, often threaten whistle-blowers and implicate them in false criminal cases.

“The cops could not save the life of RTI activist Ram Vilas Singh, who was killed on December 8 at Lakhisarai just a few metres away from the police station,” said Rai, and added, “It has now become life threatening to raise voice against offenders, particularly if you are exposing police-criminal nexus.”

Rai, in his 50s, has worked in close association with RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal  but is miffed with him and other Team Anna members. “Their crusade against corruption was okay. But the path they chose was objectionable. Kejriwal and four other members of Team Anna do not represent the entire 120 crore people.

On Team Anna

Moreover, these people, who, of late, have become arrogant and stubborn, have shown scant regard for parliamentarians and Parliament, which is supreme,” opined Rai, who has dissociated with Team Anna, as he feels Anna is being used as a pawn by certain “selfish” people. “Earlier, it was decided that Baba Ramdev would lead anti-corruption movement. But ‘certain people’ opted for Anna because he was more pliable and would do as his four-five members from the coterie would ask him to do so,” argued Rai.

Before parting, he had a word of advice for Team Anna: “Corruption can’t end through movements or legislations. It can end only if you try to be honest and ask your children to be honest.”

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