Consider this depressing scenario of threats/ killings of RTI activists reported in 2016:
13th January: N A Shah Ansari, Puri, Odisha
16th January: 12 MKSS RTI activists assaulted in Jhalawar, Rajasthan
2nd February: Romel Sutharia, assaulted in Tapi, Gujarat
16th March: Tukaram Chavan, death by suicide, Pune, Maharashtra
21st March: Vinayak Baliga, killed in Dakshina Karnataka
31st March: Vijay Kumbhar, threatened
17th April: Dattatray Patil, assaulted in Kolhapur, Maharashtra
15th May: Suyam Raut, assaulted in Kendrapada, Odisha
7th June: J Parasmal, killed, Chennai
24th June: D K Sone, threatened, Surguja, Chhattisgarh
29th June: P Suresh, threatened, Ranga Reddy, Telangana
16th August: Yashovardhan Verma, threatened, Rajasthan
15th October: Bhupendra Vira, killed, Mumbai, Maharashtra
25th October: Surjeet Singh, assaulted, East Delhi
Whistleblowers, who unearth large-scale corruption, illegal activities and financial irregularities of public servants and politicians, are very vulnerable to attacks and murders. The investigations and convictions in these cases is pathetic as the police and the court drag the matter so much that the criminals who attack RTI activists feel emboldened to continue with such assaults.
RTI activists have been advocating that once any sensitive information is unearthed under RTI, it must be put in public domain so that the culprits know that information has gone beyond just that one person who has procured certified documents that expose them. Of course, seeking police protection is another way, in case the activist is threatened, but the casual attitude of the police, despite court orders and state government directives, is well known.
In a laudable effort, the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiatives (CHRI) has recently launched an interesting web portal called `Hall of Shame.’ RTI users who have been threatened can report on this portal and the CHRI will take it forward to the police authorities and the national human rights commission (NHRC) and the national campaign for people’s right to information (NCPRI). You can fill up the details here
The portal also has detailed information on attack on RTI activists since 2005 through the facilitation of the Google Maps. CHRI has developed Hall of Shame portal to plot these cases geographically using Google Maps. Readers can access more than 300 media reports of such attacks on RTI users at the click of a button. CHRI has also created a facility on this web platform for readers and activists to report instances of attacks on RTI users that we may have missed because they are published in regional languages. Additionally, readers can access practical tips for preventing attacks in future. The web platform also contains guidance on how to approach the police and the National Human Rights Commission for an investigation or an inquiry into incidents of attacks on RTI users.
States Venkatesh Nayak, research scholar and coordinator of CHRI, “Since 2005, when The Right to Information Act became fully operational, at least 51 citizens have allegedly been killed, 127 assaulted, 119 harassed or threatened and five driven to commit suicide because they sought information to expose corruption and wrong doing in government.
“According to our latest estimates, between 5-5.6 million RTI applications are received every year, wanting to know the reasons behind government decisions. Many want public authorities to take prompt action on grievances about stoppage of pensions or scholarships, or poor quality of services in government hospitals, schools and colleges. Others use RTI to expose corrupt practices in building roads with taxpayers’ money, or how welfare programmes for the underprivileged are implemented.’’
Stating that all RTI users who are attacked for seeking information in the public interest are human right defenders and therefore need to be supported and defended, Nayak encourages citizens to provide information on such attacks by writing to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
or Sneha Chandna, email@example.com
CHRI provides the following safety tips for RTI activist on its web portal
1. Often, there is strength and solidarity in numbers. Nothing in The Right to Information Act, 2005 says citizens cannot request information jointly. Recognising the increasing number of cases of attacks on RTI users, the Punjab and Haryana High Court ruled in 2012 that citizens may file joint RTI applications on any subject. So an individual may send an RTI application in her/his name and those of friends or relatives. All applicants should put their names and signatures at the bottom of the RTI form. However, applicants need to remember to indicate which of them will be responsible for paying the copying fees for the records requested from the public authority. (Similarly, nothing in the RTI Act prevents several citizens seeking the same information from the same public authority through several RTI applications.)
2. The Calcutta High Court also showed its concern for citizens who are attacked for asking information from public authorities. In 2013 the High Court ruled that a citizen should not be compelled to give personal contact details in the RTI application. If the information can be delivered to any Post Box number provided by the RTI applicant, the public authority must send it there. So an applicant may ask for information to be delivered to her/his Post Box to prevent vested interests from knowing where she/he lives. However, if the information sought is bulky, or if applicants want the information delivered by Registered Post or Speed Post, they will have to disclose personal contact details. Recorded mail cannot be delivered to a Post Box number because the applicant has to sign a receipt on delivery.
3. The RTI Act recognises citizens’ right to seek information electronically. An applicant may file an RTI application through email also. If the information is held by the public authority in electronic form, she/he may ask for it to be sent through email. In such cases it may not be necessary to reveal her/his postal address to the public authority.
4. If an applicant thinks that her/his RTI application may result in an attack on her/him, play it safe. Talk to a journalist or a social activist or a civil society organisation.
What should you do after an attack?
If an applicant is attacked or learns about any RTI user who is attacked, threatened or harassed, she/he should not delay seeking or arranging for medical assistance. Immediately contact the local police station directly or through a relative or friend to get an FIR registered about the incident.
If the local police refuse to lodge an FIR, send the complete details of the incident naming the attackers (if they have been recognised) by Registered Post or Speed Post to the head of the District Police (Superintendent of Police or Senior Superintendent of Police) and demand an investigation. Do not forget to mention the name and rank of the police officer(s) who refused to file the FIR, so that action may be taken against them also. Send a copy of the complaint to the NHRC. The NHRC has a point person for Human Rights Defenders
whose duty is to take action on such complaints without delay.
or NCPRI with complete details of the incident and the legal action that you have initiated. CHRI will forward the case details to the NHRC and the Director General of Police of the concerned State urging immediate action. CHRI and NCPRI will also write to the concerned Information Commission demanding that all information sought by the person who suffered the attack should be proactively disclosed in accordance with the provisions of the RTI Act. By disclosing the information sought, the motive of the attackers to prevent it from becoming public will be defeated.
Tips for Navigation
The primary navigation bar on the Home Page of this web platform is self-explanatory. On the left hand panel you may "Search" for incidents by the type of attack on RTI users on the basis of the name of the State or for a period starting 12 October, 2005. On the Google Maps, you may click on a pointer to access the name of the person attacked, date and location as well as a contemporaneous media report of the incident. All 307 cases documented on this platform are not displayed in the form of pointers on the Google Maps because it will slow down the web platform considerably, even with a high speed Internet connection. We are working to overcome this glitch. The ticker above the map is designed to update automatically with every additional entry in the database we make at the back end. All 307 reports of such attacks may be accessed using the "Search" Facility or the "Attacks on RTI Users" link on the left hand panels.