Protect activists

The Bombay High Court has done well to call on the Maharashtra government to take steps to protect social activists. The order has come in the wake of a spate of attacks on activists over the past week. Last Wednesday, an activist in Pune, who has been using the Right to Information (RTI) Act to draw attention to land scams, irregularities in the public distribution system and so on, was hacked to death.

eatened. All three have been speaking up and exposing irregularities in land deals. Those who attacked the RTI activists aimed to not only eliminate them but also to intimidate and silence others, who are keen to dig up the truth. This is not the first time that RTI activists working in the public interest to draw attention to the land mafia have been targeted, neither is this a problem that is confined to Maharashtra. A year ago, an RTI activist in Bangalore who was campaigning against encroachments by land sharks into government land was killed. There have been umpteen instances of RTI activists in the City receiving threatening calls warning them of physical harm if they did not withdraw applications for information.

RTI activists in Pune have come together to form an RTI council, which will act as a repository for information obtained by activists and put it up on the internet. The logic behind the move is that once the information is in the public domain individuals will not be targeted. This is a welcome move, which activists in other cities might consider replicating.

There is no doubt that citizens have been empowered by the RTI Act. But many are inhibited to use this powerful tool as they fear pressure from vested interests. If the full potential of the RTI should be realised it is important that citizens are provided with an enabling environment to exercise it, an atmosphere free from fear. The Bombay High Court’s intervention will force the Maharashtra government to investigate the Pune killing and to announce steps it is taking to protect activists. But this is not enough.  Activists need to be protected. The Maharashtra government, indeed governments in other states too, should take steps to protect the activists. They need not wait for a rap on the knuckles from the courts to take action.

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