Vinesh Phogat, a triple Commonwealth Games gold medallist, along with other Olympians and nationally-acclaimed wrestlers, has gone public with charges of sexual harassment by a member of Parliament (MP) from Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and coaches, by sitting in a dharna at Jantar Mantar in Delhi.
While it is laudable that finally, an entire fraternity of sportspersons of a sport has come out courageously to fight against injustice, it is, indeed a shame that they, instead of concentrating on their training, fitness, and game, have to fight it out on the streets to protest against alleged sexual misconduct by BJP MP Brijbhushan and chief of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI); lack of funds and scholarships denied to them and mental harassment by national coaches.
Sportspersons across several sports have similar stories to narrate. While the central information commission (CIC), as well as the law commission, has ordered that all sports federations in the country come under the ambit of the RTI Act, there is little transparency.
Sometimes, public information officers (PIOs) of sports bodies also decline information to RTI applicants. In one case, a full bench decision of the CIC also turned down the applicant’s request, for what was suo motu information, under Section 4 of the RTI Act.
Section 4 disclosures as per the RTI Act, if implemented with full force, will mitigate the issues of denial of funds, scholarships, selection of players, names of national coaches with information on them to ensure they are credible, funds provided to foreign coaches for special training and so on.
Of course, sexual overtures would require the victim to come out in the open for filing a complaint against the perpetrator but the victim can access the action-taken copies on her official complaint under the RTI Act. However, due to opacity in the functioning of the sports bodies in connivance with the political leaders and administration bosses, it is the sportspersons – our national pride – who have to suffer grave injustice.
Take the simple example of an RTI applicant Mayuresh Agrawal from Dhule district of Maharashtra who sought information from the sports and youth affairs ministry on whether hockey is declared the national game of India. The PIO has replied that “the government has not declared any sport/game as the National Game of the country, as the objective of the government is to encourage/promote all popular sports disciplines.”
In sharp contrast, way back in 2010, the ministry of youth affairs and sports declared all national sports federations as public authorities under the RTI Act as they were receiving grants of over Rs10 lakh from the government. It has ordered all of them to appoint CPIOs and first appellate authorities (FAA) within a certain time frame. The present protest, which is an embarrassment to the central government, shows that even if they have been appointed, the dissemination of information is pathetic.
Strangely, a particular full-bench decision of the CIC regarding the issue of whether the Delhi Lawn Tennis Association (DLTA) is a public authority is still pending for three years. In this case, the RTI applicant argued that the DLTA’s land is government land and that the latter has spent substantially towards the former’s upgradation.
The full bench, however, passed the order stating that “…it is important to take note of the fact that the decisions of the Central and State Information Commissions, declaring certain entities as public authorities under Section 2 (h) of the RTI Act, primarily on the basis of allotment of land by the appropriate government at highly concessional rates, have been either stayed or in one case set aside by High Courts.
“In the light of the foregoing and in order to avoid multiple litigations, we would refrain from passing an order at this stage. The matter is adjourned sine die. It would, however, be open to the parties to agitate the matter before the Commission again after the superior courts have pronounced their decision,” it concluded.
So, there you go. The powers-that-be create utter confusion and it is our hard-working, immensely talented sportspersons who are paying the heavy price. How can India compete in international sports if the players are treated so shabbily? Despite a national protest in the national capital, it is in slow motion as far as action against the political leader who is the alleged perpetrator is concerned. It is disgusting.
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife. She is also the 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”.)