New Delhi: To highlight how instead of keeping its promise of fighting corruption, the BJP government at the Centre has only tried to dilute anti-corruption laws over the last four years and done nothing to ensure the protection of whistleblowers, the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information took out a public rally from Patel Chowk to the Constitution Club here on the first day of the monsoon session of parliament.
The aim of the rally and the subsequent Jan Manch meeting organised at the Constitution Club was to urge the members of parliament to force the Narendra Modi government to implement the Lokpal Act, the Whistleblowers Protection Act in its original form, to oppose the introduction of electoral bonds for funding of political parties and to oppose the proposed amendments to the Right to Information Act, 2005, through a bill that seeks to bring the tenure and salaries of all information commissioners in the central and state commissions directly under the Centre.
Whistleblower law passed four years ago not implemented yet
Talking to The Wire, co-convener of NCPRI Anjali Bharadwaj said while the original Whistleblowers Protection Act was passed four years ago, instead of implementing it, the Modi government brought in amendments to dilute it and got these passed in Lok Sabha. She said similarly attempts are being made to dilute the RTI Act through amendments which are being introduced in the monsoon session of parliament as a control over the salaries and tenure of the information commissioners would provide the government a handle to check delivery of inconvenient orders against it.
Since a large number of RTI activists have been killed in all parts of the country by people who opposed their idea of seeking information pertaining to corruption in government departments – three incidents have been reported from Bihar alone in the last three months – NCPRI invited the relatives of some of the victims to New Delhi for the protest.
The relatives of the deceased, as well as some of RTI activists who sustained injuries in various attacks, demanded that the original Whistleblowers Act be implemented to provide them protection. They also claimed that the amendments to this Act were an attempt to dilute the law as they provided for the punishment of RTI users under the Official Secrets Act.
Police did not provide protection to whistleblower
Rajesh Ranjan, whose father-in-law Rajendra Singh was killed in East Champaran district of Bihar on June 19 this year, said Singh had paid with his life for exposing the illegal appointment of teachers, misuse of seized material by police officials, illegal possession of government land, embezzlement of rations through fake cards, forgery in voter list and corruption in mid-day meals served at anganwadi centres.
Singh, who had been using RTI to expose corruption over the last ten years, had been attacked thrice in the past, once with a knife, another time with an axe and once when an unknown vehicle had tried to mow him down. However, on June 19, he was shot dead by bike-borne assailants. A former village headman and ten others have been named as the accused for the murder.
Incidentally, Singh was killed despite his having sought police protection as he had been repeatedly getting threats, Ranjan said. Instead, a number of fake cases were filed against him to harass him.
Beaten with rods, shot and then smashed with stones
The story of Valmiki Yadav, another RTI activist, who was killed in Jamui district of Bihar on July 1 this year is more or less similar. His cousin, Vipin, told The Wire that Valmiki had filed several complaints about improper implementation of many panchayat-level programmes in his area through the Bihar Right to Public Grievance Redressal Act, 2015 and had used RTIs to know the status of these complaints. He had also sought information on the implementation of the MNREGA scheme in 2017-18.
Vipin said Valmiki Yadav was returning with his friend Dharmendra Yadav on July 1 evening when they were stopped by the headman of Bicchwe village and others. They were then hit with rods and shot dead. Their bodies were later crushed with stones. While an FIR was registered against nine people, including village headman Krishna Dev Ravidas and his two sons, Vipin said the police did not act with alacrity in the matter. Most of the accused stayed in the village overnight but were not held, which showed the clout they wielded.
Beaten in presence of police; cops used to mount surveillance on activist instead
Two RTI activists who survived multiple attempts on their lives also narrated their tales.
This included Ashish Kumar Chaturvedi, who had extensively used the RTI to expose the huge Vyapam scam of Madhya Pradesh in which corrupt officers of the Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board had taken money to compromise the examination and recruitment for several professional courses mainly related to MBBS.
Ashish said he was attacked several times and though he had registered FIRs after each attack or threat, no action was taken by the police. “I was even beaten and threatened in the presence of police personnel and police was used for keeping surveillance on my activities instead,” he said.
Stating that 52 people associated with the scam in one way or the other have lost their lives, he said it was strange that thus far arrests have been made in any of these cases.
Chaturvedi said implementation of the Whistleblowers Protection Act was very important as under the bill, the competent authority is required to take action to protect people who face victimisation as a result of filing a complaint.
‘BJD workers diverted Phailin cyclone compensation money’
Another ‘survivor’ RTI activist, Babi Jena of Odisha accused the Biju Janata Dal government in the state of not only indulging in large scale corruption running into hundreds of crore by diverting compensation money announced for the victims of Phailin cyclone which had struck the state in 2015.
Jena said he and a friend of his were brutally attacked by BJD activists for filing RTI applications in the officer of Hantuka Primary Cooperativve Society in Puri Sadar Block to know about the amount of funds sanctioned as compensation for the residents. He charged that a lot of money was misappropriated by the party workers who had prepared false documents in the name of farmers.
The activist also broke into tears as he recalled how he was expelled from his village since he had taken up the issue of corruption. He said following the assaults on him too the police instead of acting on the accused made him sign compromise petitions. However, he had filed complaints with the Odisha Human Rights Commission.
Video inputs by Aditi Ahuja.