Right to Information
RTI activists fighting corruption convicted in a 20-year old false case

A Munsif Magistrate Court at Kishangarh in Rajasthan convicted senior activist Nikhil Dey, Naurtibai, Ram Karan, Babulal and Chotu Lal Malakar, who are fighting corruption using the Right to Information (RTI) Act. All the activists are associated with Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) and were demanding information from the Sarpanch of Harmada panchayat in Rajasthan in May 1998.

In a statement, Aruna Roy from MKSS says, "We are deeply disappointed by the verdict...19 years after the first information report (FIR) was filed, Nikhil, Naurtibai (former Sarpanch of Harmada), Ram Karan, Babulal and Chotu Lal have been convicted in an utterly false case filed by the a corrupt powerful Sarpanch who misused his influence and power and who had himself physically assaulted them for demanding information. This was a case where the activists were fighting for the rights of the poor, through means that were completely within the ambit of the law. The process of this case that has continued for almost two decades, and the final decision, is a body blow to the effort of citizens to fight corruption and stand up for the rights of the citizen. It is a clear case of miscarriage of justice."

The sentence has been suspended pending an appeal to be filed by the four activists in the ADJ Court at Kishangarh in Ajmer district.

MKSS says it will leave no stone unturned to bring out the whole truth of this case, and along with the transparency and accountability movement in the country. "We will not allow vested interests to misuse the law to suppress the voice of people demanding transparency, and demands for justice by the poor," it added.

The decision of the court pertains to an incident, which occurred when the RTI activists made a demand for information from the local Sarpanch in response to large number of complaints of corruption in development works in Harmada Panchayat. MKSS says, "The corruption allegations were against the Sarpanch - Pyarelal - a liquor contractor of the village. These included payments for toilets, Indira Awaas houses, and labour payments for development works, that had not been made to the beneficiaries."

On 6 May 1998, the activists went to ask for information from the Sarpanch of Harmada, carrying with them a letter from the block development officer (BDO). "Since his (Sarpanch's) office was usually closed during working hours, the activists went to his house to deliver the letter from the BDO. It is then that the Sarpanch came out of his house and physically assaulted the activists present."

"Despite this violence, MKSS activists decided not to file an FIR, thinking that Right to Information cannot depend on police cases, and that it had to depend on dialogue with the Sarpanch and the exercise of a legal right under the Panchayati Raj Act. On 6 May 1998, when the activists were assaulted, there was no one apart from the activists and the Sarpanch and his immediate family members present on the spot."

On the same day, Aruna Roy of the MKSS wrote to the Collector noting the incident and asking that the Collector to ensure that information would be given by the Sarpanch.

On the 8 May 1998, the Sarpanch filed an FIR accusing the activists of assaulting him. On the same day, Naurtibai, disturbed by his slurs and violence towards her, had also filed a case against the Sarpanch under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act.

The case filed by the Sarpanch was closed on the 30 June 1998 and for several years, nothing happened. On 5 July 2001, the very same case was revived once again. Since then the case has carried on with the Sarpanch producing false witness, after false witness, it says.

"This case is yet another reminder of the backlash and attack that RTI activists consistently face when challenging entrenched centres of power," MKSS concluded.

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COMMENTS

Silloo Marker

1 week ago

In the present case, the lower courts seem to be under the thumb of the authorities and false cases are filed against activists. We, the general public, who feel strongly about this sort of treatment of people seeking information in accordance with the law, should join hands to protest strongly against the sentence given to the activists in Rajasthan. I call upon activists to call for a countrywide protest, after publicising their side of the story fully. Many people will surely come forward to support them and fight for the Right to Information, a law coming under attack from vested powers who would be only too happy to weaken it by false charges against activists. The aim is to discourage activists in future. That is exactly what is at stake, the right to demand information without fear of misuse or disregard for the rule of law. If someone like Shailesh Gandhi provides a strong text which people can circulate on the social media, there would be enough supporters coming forward to make the authorities think twice before framing false charges against ordinary citizens trying to bring about justice to the downtrodden.

Deepak Jain

2 weeks ago

The road to justice is paved with thorns. Incidents like these shows that the basic Justice seeking platform I.e police is corrupt to the core. As such those seeking justice will have to face all sorts of atrocities . May Justice prevail.

As India ages, over 61% of elderly will have no income security by 2050
India's 860 million-strong working population (15-64 years), the world's largest, is beginning to age. Over the next 33 years, by 2050, 32.4 million Indians, or 20 per cent of the population, will be above 60 years of age.
 
If pension continues to cover only 35 per cent of senior citizens as it does today, 20 million, or 61.7 per cent of India's elderly population, will be without any income security by 2050.
 
The Centre pays Rs 200 per month under the Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme (IGNOAPS) to every Indian over the age of 60 and living under the poverty line (the ability to spend Rs 33 per day in urban and Rs 27 per day in rural areas as per the Tendulkar committee on poverty line). The states are encouraged to add to this sum and are free to expand the coverage. Currently, states pay anything between Rs 200 and Rs 2,000 as public pensions.
 
Should public pensions be universal or targeted? What should be the minimum offered by a public, non-contributory pension? From which age should it be granted? To find answers to these questions through opinions of older people, a study was conducted in Gujarat and Rajasthan by the Centre for Equity Studies (CES), New Delhi, in August-November 2016.
 
The study, yet unpublished, collected opinions and experiences of 1,505 people above the age of 55 years across 14 locations. The states were chosen because they represent two ends of the spectrum in the universalisation debate: Gujarat, 10th richest state in per capita GDP ranking, offers a targeted pension of Rs 400 only to the poor at the time the study was conducted (since then the amount has been revised to Rs 500), and Rajasthan, 23rd in the per capita GDP list, extends Rs 500 to (nearly) all senior citizens.
 
The study found a wide and conclusive gap between pension policy and public opinion. Opinion across both states was unanimous that public pension should be extended to all elderly and should be initiated earlier than at age 60 years. The popular view was that Rs 2,000 was an adequate pension sum, which is four to six times higher than their present entitlement.
 
Gujarat pursues a narrowly targeted scheme whereby only the poorest senior citizens are entitled to public pensions. Rajasthan has near-universalised pension entitlements whereby women above 55 and men above 58 receive pensions as long as they are not entitled to pensions from any other source or are not taxpayers.
 
Arguments against universalisation suggest that the cost of universalisation is generally lowering the entitlement for those who need it the most. Targeting allows for public funds to be utilised for those who need them the most. On the other end of the spectrum are arguments which propose that universalisation strengthens the moral-politico claim and the delivery of the public good or service in question -- in this case, pensions.
 
The results of the survey showed that public opinion is functioning independent of the policy on the issue of universalisation. Majority (83 per cent) of respondents from Gujarat were in agreement with those from Rajasthan (81 per cent). The public opinion is unequivocally skewed in support of universalisation.
 
Older people living with families supported universalisation of pensions as much as those living alone. This is an important finding because till about 2007, the National Old Age Pension Scheme, as it was then called, considered destitution both a reason and a condition for being entitled to non-contributory, public pensions. In Gujarat, destitution continues to be used as a criteria-senior citizens who have sons above the age of 21 years are not considered eligible for public pensions.
 
Support for universalisation was observed in similar proportion across gender. The support was also consistent across scheduled tribes, other backward classes and other castes.
 
Pensions are an assurance of continuation of consumption levels required for dignified living in the face of reduction in income due to physiological atrophy and comparatively restricted income-generating opportunities.
 
Beneficiaries above the age of 75 years were entitled to Rs 750 a month. These pensions did not allow elderly Indians working in the unorganised sector, who need public pensions the most, to retire. These entitlements don't support lowest official poverty line consumption levels of Rs 27 in rural and Rs 33 in urban per day.
 
People across Rajasthan and Gujarat voiced concerns about the amount of entitlement. Less than three per cent in Rajasthan and 13 per cent in Gujarat stated a figure equivalent to or less than Rs 750 a month was sufficient. Less than one-third mentioned a figure less than Rs 1,000 per month.
 
How much did people think it took to ensure a dignified living? The average monthly "sufficient" pension amount in Rajasthan was Rs 1,875 whereas in Gujarat it was Rs 2,494, the study found. 
 
This amount is equivalent to half the minimum wage presently assured. The civil society group Pension Parishad has been making similar demands regarding amount of entitlement.
 
Family/social support and the amount of pension desired by a beneficiary share a counter-intuitive relationship. Elderly respondents singly taking care of themselves consistently quoted a smaller amount than the ones being taken care of by family. This fits in with field observations -- many older citizens expressed a desire to buy petty essentials such as notebooks or a fruit for a grandchild or to pay for the medical expenses of an ailing family member. They thought of their inability to pay for these small expenses as a personal failing.
 
IGNOAPS initiates pensions at the age of 60 like many industrially advanced nations. But the average life expectancy here -- 68 years -- is much lower. Majority of people felt that pensions should be initiated at an earlier age.
 
Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article.

 

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COMMENTS

Ramesh Poapt

2 weeks ago

very good one!

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