Bhiwandi-based RTI activist Abrar Shaikh was killed last week for seeking information on illegal constructions. As usual the killers are yet to be caught. This prompted other RTI activists to successfully steer campaign to put documents in public domain on information sought by the slain whistleblower
Another murder of a Right to Information (RTI) activist, this time it is 32 year old Abrar Shaikh from Bhiwandi who died last week after being attacked with sticks in broad daylight. Again, the incident is from Maharashtra, which has gained the dubious distinction for the highest number of such gory crimes. Once more, the killing is revenge against a whistleblower for procuring information about illegal constructions who then registered a complaint with the Bhiwandi-Nizampur Municipal Corporation.
While Pune-based Satish Shetty’s murder which occurred in 2010 is yet unsolved, former central information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi who continues to pursue his RTI activism from Mumbai, after the end of his tenure as CIC, admirably picked up the gauntlet for Shaikh, the slain activist from Bhiwandi.
According to Gandhi, most of the murders occur in order to silence the RTI activist who has crucial information which vested interests do not want it to be out in the open. As CIC, he was a part of the team that had ordered that documents that any activist who has been unfortunately killed, had asked for, be immediately put up in the public domain, which is on the website, of the relevant public authority, so that the culprits’ motive for the murder comes a cropper.
Accordingly, Gandhi shot off a letter to Ratnakar Gaikwad, State Chief Information Commissioner (SCIC) of Maharashtra after Shaikh was killed, requesting him for the following actions:
1) Order Mr Sonavane, Municipal Commissioner, Bhiwandi Nizampur Municipal Corporation, Bhiwandi to immediately disclose on their website the RTI applications filed by Mr Abrar Shaihd and the relevant information demanded by him;
2) Direct Shivraj Patil, the Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) from Bhiwandi to expedite the arrest of the accused that have been charged under Section 302 of the IPC and to disclose the status of the investigations on the notice board of the police establishment and the website;
3) Take any other steps he may deem fit to get some level of protection for RTI users in our State, before they have to claim the status of endangered;
4) Passing a resolution similar to the CIC resolution of 13 September 2011 to warn those who think of attacking RTI users.
Very quickly on 20th December, SCIC Gaikwad directed the municipal commissioner of Bhiwandi-Nizampur Municipal Corporation to put up the relevant information sought by Shaikh immediately. His letter reads: “In order to control and check this dangerous trend of victimising information seekers, you are directed to put the information which Abrar Shaikh had sought in his various applications from your PIOs on website of Bhiwandi-Nizampur Municipal Corporation, Bhiwandi and also give wide publicity to this information. In fact, Section 4(1)(b) mandates that all such relevant information is to be put on website of public authorities suo moto. You are directed to comply with the instructions immediately.”
Credit also goes to Municipal Commissioner of Bhiwandi-Nizampur Municipal Corporation who promptly put up the information on the website http://www.bncmc.gov.in/ the next day on 21st December.
Gandhi also wrote to chief minister Prithviraj Chavan asking him to take personal interest in ensuring that, “police is instructed to ensure quick investigations and arrests and asking them to send a weekly report to you; passing a GR to ensure that if any RTI user is attacked all information sought by him would be displayed on the website; any other steps you may deem fit to protect those who are taking up public on the subject.”
Noted RTI activist from Mumbai and convener of Mahiti Adhikar Manch, Bhaskar Prabhu also took up this campaign. He states, “I have spoken with the ACP of Bhiwandi who said that one of the accused is Samajwadi Party Corporator Hasim Khan and no arrests had been made so far. He however promised to do the needful. We must remember that so far no accused has been arrested in the murder of Satish Shetty who was killed in January 2010. We must demand a weekly report on this case.”
“It would be a good idea to disclose all information sought by a RTI user who is attacked on websites. This would make it unproductive for anyone to attack a RTI user. Mr Sonavane, Municipal Commissioner of Bhiwandi has promised me that he will disclose all the information sought by Abrar Shaikh on their website. We should ensure that this is done soon,” Prabhu said.
Prabhu added, “Illegal construction has become the primary area of focus for criminals. I spoke to Sonavane to persuade him to demolish the illegal building of Hasim Khan. He told me that the Municipal authorities had planned to demolish the building with the help of a police force, but had been stopped by a stay order from a lower court. If the demolition had occurred maybe Abrar Shaikh would not have lost his life.”
Draft Minutes of the Meeting of the Commission held on 13.9.2011
1) The Central Information Commission expresses regret and takes note of the reported killings of and assault on the RTI users across the country. The Commission underlines the need to take urgent steps by the respective Governments for the safety and protection of the RTI users. The Commission strongly believes that it is the duty and responsibility of the respective Governments to safeguard the life and liberty of the RTI users for which purpose they should invoke the relevant penal provisions for the prevention and detection of such heinous crimes.
2) This Commission, therefore, resolves that if it receives a complaint regarding assault or murder of an information seeker, it will examine the pending RTI applications of the victim and order the concerned Department(s) to publish the requested information suo motu on their website as per the provisions of law.
3) This Commission also resolves that it will take proactive steps in ascertaining the status of investigations/prosecutions of the cases involving information seekers and endeavor to have these processes expedited.
(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”.)
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