Right to Information
RTI activist Baravkar’s suicide and the hush up by authorities

On 31 January 2011, the postal department stopped under certificate of posting or UCP facility. However, two months after, in March 2011, the  Collector of Pune sent a document to Baravkar through UCP!

Over a month ago, Pune-based Right to Information (RTI) activist Vilas Baravkar committed suicide and left a suicide note in which he named 78 people comprising politicians and police officers, responsible for his death. Read Moneylife story: Pune RTI activist names 78 people in his suicide note

Post his death, Pune-based State Information Commissioner (SIC), ordered the district collector, police and Zilla Parishad (district body) to upload on their respective websites, copies of documents that Baravkar had asked for, under various RTI applications.

In the backdrop of several cases of killings of RTI activists, the Central Information Commission (CIC), post Satish Shetty’s murder in 2010, directed that the respective departments from which the activist had asked for information under RTI, should suo motu put up all the information that the deceased had asked for, on the website.

Despite the order, except for the Pune District Collector, no other public authority has responded. However, RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar, who set the order from State Chief Information Commissioner (SCIC) in motion, by appealing for such transparency, has found that, while the Pune Collector has not put all the required documents, one of them is allegedly fraudulent.

Kumbhar says, “Although the Collector’s office has put up some documents and has partially disclosed information to public, through its website, one document seems suspicious. In March 2011, the Collector’s Office had sent a document to Baravkar through postal department through the facility of under certificate of posting (UCP). However, just two months before that, in January 2011, the Department of Posts and Telegraphs itself had withdrawn UCP  facility. So, it is really strange that a document was sent through a medium which did not exist!’’

Kumbhar has demanded inquiry by the CIC.

“Under Section 18 of the RTI Act, SCIC has ample powers for summoning and enforcing the person who handled this fraud, to be present physically before him and compelling him to give oral or written evidence on oath and asking him to produce the documents or material and requisitioning any any public record or copies from any court or office. Besides, most of the information asked by Baravkar falls under Section 4 of the RTI Act and since this has not been complied by all the three agencies, the relevant PIOs must be penalised,” Kumbhar said.

In the meanwhile, National Campaign for Peoples’ Right To Information (NCPRI), in a letter dated 24 April 2014, has appealed to Ratnakar Gaikwad, State Chief Information Commissioner, asking him to monitor compliance of his order. In the letter, Venkatesh Nayak along with other core members of NCPRI, said, “We are happy to note that as the statutorily mandated champion of transparency, you have already directed the disposal of the pending RTI applications filed by the Late Shri Bavarkar and public disclosure of information sought by him. Although we failed to prevent Shri Bavarkar from succumbing to pressure from vested interests, by disclosing all information sought by him in this manner we can frustrate their designs to keep the information under wraps. We also request you to monitor compliance with your direction and issue a press release when the concerned public authorities have complied with your directions so that people get to know that the information has indeed been made public.”

Upset that the police website does not contain the information ordered by the SCIC, Nayak also appealed for fast track investigation into the suicide and asked for inquiry into cases of corruption by the State’s Lokayukta. In the letter, he says, “We  also urge  you to write to the Director General of Police (DGP), Maharashtra to ensure prompt and fast track investigation of this case to identify all persons guilty of abetting Shri Baravkar’s suicide and to bring them to book. In addition to this, we urge you to write to the Maharashtra Lokayukta  requesting  him  to  inquire  into  all  cases  of  corruption  and mismanagement of public funds exposed by the Late Bavarkar and to order a special audit of all developmental works and governmental decision making processes which he targeted through his RTI interventions.”

Nayak points out that Maharashtra continues to top the list of States where incidentally RTI users and activists demanding greater transparency and accountability in public affairs are targeted in this manner or physically assaulted or simply eliminated through acts of murder. “The Maharashtra Government has a special responsibility towards protecting anti‐corruption crusaders and whistle-blowers like the Late Shri Bavarkar from coming to harm. However, when unscrupulous elements succeed in harming such civic‐minded citizens, it reflects the failure of the State to ensure the practical realisation of the national motto ‘satyameva jayate’,” he added.  

The letter has been jointly signed by Venkatesh Nayak, Nikhil Dey, Anjali Bhardwaj, Bhaskar Prabhu, Rakesh Reddy – Co-Convenors and Kathyayini Chamaraj and Raja Bunch –Members of NCPRI’s Working Committee.

In this case, Baravkar was given police protection since two years. However, the point is, why is it that information is so opaque despite nine years of RTI? We are discussing this topic in the seminar being held in Pune on  2nd and 3rd May 2014. The Media Information and Communication Center of India; Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES), India and RTI Forum for Instant Information (RFII), Pune will jointly organise a two-day seminar on “Nine Years of RTI Act: Role of Civil Society in enhancing transparency” in Pune on these two days.

(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)




2 years ago

The games our tyrants play! We need a memorial for the genuine martyrs of India i.e. Those who have died fighting for the people of India and their freedom and rights rather than for the likes of Nehru-Gandhis and other Neta-Babus.

Shashibhushan Gokhale

2 years ago

Good that SCIC has ordered all information requested by Shri. Baravkar to be posted on websites. Hope SCIC closely monitors implementation of its order as requested by NCPRI as orders without implementation amount to nothing.

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Give Wings to your idea

Young Innovators Foundation (YIF) encourages innovation. Hitisha Jain checks out if they are making a difference

In 2008, a group of youngsters set up an organisation that succinctly spelt out their intention—it was called My India Empowered. The Charity Commissioner’s office was probably their first reality check! ‘India’ had to be dropped from the name; it became Young Innovators Foundation (YIF) and was finally registered in August 2011. The trigger to start YIF, says co-founder Ritika Arya, was a story that she heard about a boy her age (around age 18 then). He was doing inspiring work in his community through football. It set her thinking: ‘if he can, then why can’t I be an agent of change?’ Thus, unknowingly, she embarked on the path of changing the lives for people—irreversibly, for good.

Ritika Arya, 24, who co-founded YIF, is a commerce graduate who dropped out of chartered accountancy studies to start YIF. The co-founders include Priyam Datta, a social media expert, who has worked with Social Seety and shaadi.com, and her sister Srishti Arya, former content head of Social Kinnect, who is the creative expert at YIF.

With ‘Explore, Create and Innovate’ as its motto, YIF works at developing a creative environment for kids from economically backward communities. The resource persons guide every member, be it a child or a volunteer, to explore one’s own self through diverse art forms, learning about new cultures and experimenting with different interests with friends. The idea is to build beautiful shared memories. For instance, volunteers, children and the community, together, built bamboo school buildings in the forest at the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP), Bombay, in which YIF’s classes are conducted. The flagship education programme is run at this location with about 100 children between the age of three and 16 years, from nearby villages and slums. Children of each village are encouraged to develop their own interests—for instance, those from Tale Pada are trying to master football, while children from Tumni Pada love cinema. Their teaching is through conventional and unconventional methods and movie shows on Sundays.

‘Unleash’, one of YIF’s major initiatives, works on getting rid of fears that stop people from achieving their goals. This is an independent programme, started a year ago, to help through problem-solving and to nurture entrepreneurial and communication skills irrespective of economic background of students. “Unleash is meant to develop entrepreneurial mind, to be connected with the nature and develop the attitude to serve people,” says Ms Arya. Unleash involves forest trips, running your own venture, playing learning games and participating in activities to develop multiple perspectives on issues.

The idea of Unleash is ever evolving and growing. Currently, it is experimenting with the idea of ‘learn and earn’. Starting this programme has been a big challenge. Each module had to be prepared in Marathi and Hindi to be understood by the target groups. “It was our first time with crowd funding; so we struggled to exploit that platform. Moreover, the children would often be late because they had to walk long distances to get to our Centre or have some household chores to finish,” added Ms Arya. The programme has a network of 60 volunteers, of whom 20 are involved with facilitating activities on the field with the children. The other 40 are just a call away.

YIF started its journey with only Rs5,000 donated by Ashoka’s Youth  Venture Program and now receives contributions from friends, family and, sometimes, the community it reaches. It welcomes contributions in funds and through volunteering. It has applied for registration under Section 80G of the Income-Tax Act.

Young Innovators Foundation (YIF)
1D, Tower B, Viceroy Park,
Thakur Village, Kandivli (East),
Mumbai - 400101.
Tel: +91-773-838-9080
Email: [email protected]
Web: http://yoinfo.org/default.aspx


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