‘They can’t convict Kalmadi, Vadra, Lalit Modi, Mallya; but will convict transparency advocates’
I am reminded of what my teacher had told me in school: “When a society wishes to blatantly show how unjust it can be, it will crucify the best.” On June 13 when I heard about the conviction of four of the nation’s transparency champions who have given their entire lives to promoting transparency and empowering the poorest, I felt a great sadness within me. I quote from Aruna Roy’s description of the events:
“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 a large number of complaints of corruption in development works in Harmara panchayat. The corruption allegations were against the sarpanch – Pyarelal – a liquour contractor of the village. These included payments for toilets, Indira Awas houses, and labour payments for development works, that had not been made to the beneficiaries.
“This case is yet another reminder of the backlash and attack that RTI activists consistently face when challenging entrenched centers of power.
“On the 6th of May 1998, the activists went to ask for information from the sarpanch of Harmara, carrying with them a letter from the BDO. Since his 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, the 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. However, 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 8th May the sarpanch filed an FIR accusing the activists of assaulting him. On the same day Naurti, disturbed by his slurs and violence towards her, had also filed a case against him under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act.
“The case filed by the Sarpanch was closed on the 30th of June 1998 and for several years, nothing happened. On 5th 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.”
This is gross abuse of the law and a sign of something going wrong very seriously with our institutions. If a court can be convinced that Nikhil Dey, Naurti, Ram Karan, Babulal and Chotu Lal Malakar deserve to be in prison for four months for criminal actions, the nation will get a signal that those promote and propagate transparency risk inviting punishment and prison. The law will be bent and evidence falsified to the extent of it becoming a joke. I am sure the higher courts will reverse this decision, but is the state machinery being used to crucify some of the best in our nation? We will make a laughing stock of ourselves in the world. Citizens and all the institutions of democracy must take note and stop such gross injustice.
Apart from threatening, assaulting and killing RTI activists this sets a new trend to intimidate and silence those seeking transparency by invoking their fundamental Right To Information. They cannot convict Kalmadi, Vadra, Lalit Modi, Mallya; but will convict transparency advocates who work for empowering the citizens and getting better accountability. Citizens must voice their protest against such acts.
Gandhi is a former information commissioner with the Central Information Commission.