Friends of Shehla Masood take her mission forward: re-file her pending applications, volunteer to become RTI applicants
Besides re-filing 40-odd RTI applications which the late Shehla Masood had filed and the information of which was pending, her friends have recently launched a website ‘getup4change’which encourages citizens to file RTI queries anonymously under the banner of RTI Anonymous (RTIA)
Friends of the late Shehla Masood, the RTI (Right to Information) activist who was brutally assassinated, have formed www.getup4change.org which also encourages citizens to file RTI queries anonymously under the banner RTI Anonymous (RTIA). The ‘getup4change’ team volunteers will perform the role of RTI applicants for citizens who want to remain anonymous.
Noted Bhopal-based RTI activist Shehla Masood had asked for information regarding expenditure of travel and stay in luxury hotels illegally borne by the state government of 12 serving High Court Judges who attended the wedding of the son of Principal Secretary (law) Ashok Kumar in December 2010. At the time of her death, this application was pending.
Shehla’s friend, Ritesh Singh, and one of the founders of www.getup4change.org and RTI Anonymous (RTIA) re-filed the RTI application. While Mr Singh said, “I was threatened by the protocol officer of the Chief Minister’s office for this expose,” the documents procured under RTI have all been uploaded on the website (See link: http://getup4change.org/rti/1398/madhya-pradesh-high-court-judges-given-undue-favours/).
In short, documents uploaded on the website reveal that Rajendra Prasad Mishra, Deputy Secretary, has been convicted in this matter as hospitality was provided to the 12 judges flouting the protocol of the state government’s hospitality rules. Chief Justice of Rajasthan Arun Mishra did not attend the wedding but his wife was the beneficiary of her husband’s official privileges, thus illegally giving her the status of a state guest. Payment to Hotel Noor-Us-Sabah Palace Bhopal from the State Treasury was made in the name of Justice Arun Mishra although he was absent for the wedding; various other hotels and transport agencies were also paid for felicitations and transport of these judges, flouting norms for state guests. The scandal has serious implications as the Chief Minister is personally involved since it was at the behest of his office’s orders that the expenditure was approved.
Ritesh Singh is a third-year B Tech student of IIT-Kharagpur and sat for all the 12 days on fast with Anna Hazare at the Ramlila Grounds. He has so far filed around 100 RTI applications and is a veteran amongst the three founders in RTI activism. He said, “Shehla Masood was brutally murdered on 16th August 2011, as she sat in her car on her way to Boat Club in Bhopal to fast with Anna Hazare for the Jan Lokpal Bill. The bullet pierced her… turning this Tigress, as she was known among her close friends and who was a deadly cocktail for the corrupt, into a harmless corpse.”
Then quickly correcting himself, Ritesh said, “Did I say “harmless”? No. Shehla Masood has made her point most forcefully in her death. A group of her close friends have pledged to not let this victimisation of social reformers continue any further. They have decided to punish the people who killed her, in a novel way. While the investigation has been disappointing so far, this group of her friends has decided to re-file her 40-odd pending RTI applications to trouble exactly those who wanted to silence her because they didn’t want to reply to her pending RTI applications.”
Shehla’s group of friends who are passionate about keeping her memory alive by carrying on her work of exposing the corrupt include people from varied backgrounds. Anand Sharma, Senior Engineer at Seagate Technology in Colorado, US, steers the team enthusiastically from there. He said, “Shehla was Ritesh’s close friend and both used to do RTI activism together. Ritesh and Shehla had envisaged a slightly different service named ‘RTI Leaks’ which was planned to be a one-stop source for all RTI-related exposés throughout India. While the plan was materialising, Shehla attained martyrdom.
“After about one month of activism through our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/JusticeForShehlaMasood and other initiatives, we noticed that people who dared to stand up against corruption were being victimised. We thought RTI Anonymous (RTIA) is one solution that would hopefully reduce this issue to a significant extent. After several brainstorming sessions between three of us that is, Ritesh Singh, Avnish Singh (who is an IT entrepreneur and) I, we decided to launch the website www.getup4change.org through which we would implement the idea of RTIA.”
The RTIA was formed on 15th October and its activities are visible through the website www.getup4change.org. Mr Sharma said, “We have had an overwhelming response from people and it was highly motivating to see that they started believing us and putting their faith in our organisation.” They already have near to 150 RTI requests and the number is growing by the day.
Who drafts the anonymous RTI applications?
So, if a citizen wants to file an RTI application anonymously, who drafts and files the actual RTI application to the relevant office? The answer is fascinating. Mr Sharma said, “We now have a team of about 15 IIT Kharagpur students, working through the night, learning and drafting RTIs. We have a few retired government officials, who are not only experts in legal matters/labour laws and state laws, but have also been Public Information Officers for a few years, before retiring. They now do a final review of all RTI applications. For example, Ramakrishna Manja of Bengaluru is a 65-year-old retired Registrar and had been a Public Information Officer in the Institute of Mathematical Sciences. In addition, we have about 10 experienced RTI activists from different parts of India, who are helping us too.
What is the process of request for filing an RTI application?
Obviously, you have to go the website www.getup4change.org. Then says Mr Sharma, “On RTI Anonymous, a user can simply click on ‘Submit RTI’ on the homepage to file an RTI Application. They can also send their request directly to us through email (by creating a dummy email address).
“He/she has an option to give his email address if he/she wants to be notified about the status/progress of his RTI Application through his email. Otherwise he/she can very well file it through a dummy username. Once the user submits his/her RTI Application on RTI Anonymous, we extensively edit it to make it stronger and less ambiguous.
“And then we file it through random volunteers, based in different parts of India completely bypassing possibility of any victimisation. So this means a volunteer in Delhi with a proper Delhi residential address will file an RTI for an issue with, say, BBMP-Bangalore.”
Here’s a sterling example of the conversion from a raw query to the final draft
How the team members convert a RTI query into a proper Application Form, thanks to their hard work. However, I think applicants should be conscientious enough to write the application as closely to the official requirement as possible so that the team does not waste too much time on every RTI application. They have been getting a great response:
The raw RTI query filed by an anonymous citizen is as follows:
What has been done to bring noise levels to the mandated 45-65 db (decibels)?
Posted on October 18, 2011
The Environmental Protection Act and Supreme Court orders in WP #20050718 mandating 45-65 db levels and no honking or noises between 10pm to 6 am, to protect public health, wellbeing, and environment are one decade old.
The EPA enforcement authorities—Karnataka State Pollution Control Board, the police, the transport department, etc., have failed to effectively implement the orders against offenders like vehicles fitted with air-horns, musical horns, altered silencers etc and especially against the manufacturers and dealers of these torture instruments.
Every noise per second affects 8,000 uninvolved innocent public in a densely populated city like Bangalore (24,000/sq km).
Repeated complaints (and) petitions over the years to the authorities have not resulted in any concrete stringent steps to tackle the problem. They need is to do it on a war footing otherwise they should be liable for contempt of court proceedings and consequences on an ongoing basis until the orders are complied with.
One can see that the quality of life will dramatically improve with enforced silence taking us up immediately to the civilized society level from a barbaric age.
The drafted letter by members of RTIA below:
Public Information Officer,
Transport Department, Karnataka State government
5th Floor, MS Building,
Dr Ambedkar Road, Bangalore-560 001
Sub: Request for information under RTI Act.
I would like to have the following information under RTI Act.
1) What specific steps have you and the mandated enforcement authorities have jointly taken to implement Environment Protection Act and Supreme Court orders in WP#20050718 of 2005, to avoid attracting contempt of court proceedings?
2) Number of registered cases where the vehicles are fitted with illegal horns and/or modified illegal silencers. Please provide year-wise list from 2006 till date.
3) In how many number of cases (specified in reply to point 1) has the action been taken against the owners (offenders) under the Environment Protection Act?
4) List of the repeated offenders and the details of action taken against them.
5) Please provide the list of manufacturers and dealers of illegal horns and illegal silencers in the state of Karnataka. Also, give the details of action taken against such entities during the years 2006 to till date.
I request you to send the above information by post as required under the RTI Act. I am attaching the Indian Postal Order towards the RTI application fee (IPO no._________ of Rs 10) and the postal charges (IPO no._________ of Rs______).
According to the trio, the biggest challenges facing the RTI movement in India is “a deliberate attempt to create red-tape by making the whole process of filing RTIs extremely complicated; lack of a strong Whistleblower Protection Act and the government trying to dilute the Act, now and then.”
On 5th November, RTIA is conducting a training programme for NRIs through a Skype conference call. Around 15 NRIs from different parts of the US have enrolled so far.
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife. She is also an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org).
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