Bharatsinh Jhala: contract labourer to RTI hero

Meet the man who nailed the Gujarat government’s lies

danish

Danish Raza | February 22, 2010


Bhatatsinh Jhala
Bhatatsinh Jhala

Bharatsinh Jhala was moved when one of his close relatives committed suicide due to crop failure. Jhala, a resident of Ahmedabad, decided to take up the cause of small and marginal farmers in Gujarat.

According to the Gujarat government’s admission in the state assembly in 2007, 147 farmers had committed suicides. Jhala suspected, however, that the actual figure would be much more. So he filed an RTI application with the home and agriculture departments, and sought to know the number of farmers who had committed suicide across Gujarat between January 01, 2003 and April 30, 2007.

The home department forwarded his application to the director general of police who in turn asked him to file separate applications with the superintendents of police with each district.

In August 2007, Jhala started receiving the data on farmers’ suicides. The last disclosure came on January 01, 2009, by when the numbers totalled 567 – far higher than that stated by the government in the assembly.

“When they can lie in the Vidhan Sabha, then what can you expect outside?” asks Jhala, 47, who had worked with Reliance Industries Ltd as a contract labour for 20 years. He had also been an active member of the trade union, which, he says, led to his dismissal in 2002.

That was also when the state witnessed horrendous communal riots in Godhra. “I got associated with an NGO and worked for the minorities in Naroda Patiya. What I saw during those days was horrible,” recalls Jhala, who also exposed irregularities in relief packages for farmers hit by crop failure.

In March 2006, Jhala filed an RTI application demanding information about the disbursement of a relief package implemented in Surendranagar a year earlier. “There was large scale corruption in the distribution of relief material. There were thousands of those who got affected, but did not get any compensation,” says Jhala.

On the basis of the response, a public interest litigation was filed in Gujarat High Court in February 2009. The court ordered the government to implement the compensation scheme across all affected regions with an immediate effect.

Jhala says filing RTI application has been an eye-opener. “I was surprised to find out that a number of public information officers were clueless about various sections of the Act,” he says.

Jhala wants to motivate farmers in Gujarat to fight for their rights. “But I don’t wish to open an NGO or a fund-raising organisation. I have seen enough of it,” says this RTI hero who has repeatedly used the legislation for the benefit of the oppressed and the marginalised. 

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