When RTI Makes Life Miserable

In the age of information revolution, the Right to Information Act 2005, widely known as RTI, can be counted as one of the milestones of India. The UPA (I) propagated it as one of its achievements and bagged all the credits for it. There are also many successful stories of the RTI across the country, where people got justice only because of the RTI. But the other side of the story is also pathetic. There are cases of people being threatened of excommunication, harassed by the government officers, false cases filed against them, asked to pay fee more than their annual income and slaughtered only because they dared to seek the information regarding misappropriation of the public money and campaigned against rampant corruption in development and welfare schemes. The latest stories of Dhanbad and Bokaro districts of Jharkhand suggests that how the people have internalized ‘corruption’ as part of their culture.   

The villagers of Baranawatar comes under Govindpur block in Dhanbad district of Jharkhand threatened to the Social Activist, Kudus Ansari of excommunicating his family from the village, contractors filed a false case against him and the BDO of Govindpur also gave a false report to the Police Station, when he intervened on the issue of corruption in MGNREGA scheme. A scheme of Rs 23 lakh was sanctioned under MGNREGA for excavation of a pond in Baranawatar village in financial year 2009-10. A ‘Beneficiary Committee’ consisting of 12 members was constituted for implementation of the scheme. The work started. But unfortunately, the excavation is carried out in the night by JCB Machines (against the prime objective of MGNREGA) instead of manual labourers. The contractors seized 72 job cards from the labourers and filled up the cards and prepared the master rolls in their names.. 

When Kudus Ansari came to know about it, he mobilized the villagers to raise the issues and they agreed for it. He informed to the BDO (Smita Kumari) of Govindpur about the matter thereafter she visited to the site for verification. She talked to the Rojgar Sevak and villagers. She also observed the site and found that the complaint was true. Irony is, she merely reshuffled the ‘Beneficiary Committee” and let work go on. After couple of days, Kudus again went to the BDO and asked her about the action on the matter. She said that she cannot do anything because she can be also caught in the case therefore he is free to do anything. As next step, Kudus filed an RTI petition in the block office asking to provide master roll and detail about the scheme. He also sent a complaint to the Deputy Commissioner of Dhanbad.

Meanwhile, the contractors came to know about Kudos’ action and they called a meeting of the villagers, where they bribed Rs.30000 (villagers accept the allegation) to the villagers for keeping quiet on the matter. Now the tide turned against Kudus. Another meeting was organized by the villagers, where Kudus was threatened of excommunication from the village for his deeds. “If you want to live in the village, you have to follow our instructions,” said the village head Abedin Ansari. He was also asked to give them a written application for withdrawal of RTI petition and he followed them. But despite giving them a written assurance Kudus continued his fight against the corruption hence the villagers called another meeting and asked him to pay Rs.3100 as penalty for not following their instructions. 

However, the search was also started about his work. The contractors found his association with the Literacy Mission and an NGO. They asked to the head of NGO for his dismissal and also filed a false case against him alleging of holding three BPL cards despite coming from a well off family, working as middle men in the village and selling the materials of the Total Literacy Programme (Kudus was in-charge of ten education centers under Literacy Mission in 1994 to 2006). The phone calls started coming from the Literacy Mission for investigation on the matter. He questions, “If I was wrong why they were silent for 3 years?” “I’ll fight as much as I can but I’m worried because my family gets regular threat,” he adds. Interestingly, the machines are carrying out regular excavation of pond and now all attempts are focused to teach a lesson to Kudus Ansari so that no one would dare to fight against corruption in future. 

In another case, 18 years old college going youth Sujit Kumar of Kashmar village of Bokaro district was threatened by the BDO (Kamleshwar Narayan) of Kashmar Block, for seeking information regarding Birsa Awas Yojna (housing scheme for poor) and list of the people living below poverty line (BPL). “If you create problem for me, I’ll ask the police to file false case against you and you’ll be thrown behind the bars,” He threatened. Young Sujit had got inspiration for raising his voice against injustice from a Youth Camp organized by the ‘Campaign for Right to Education in Jharkhand’ (CREJ) but now he is depressed. He says, “There are rampant corruptions in cycle distribution in schools, Welfare schemes and NREGA programes but what can we do if we are threatened by the officers just for seeking information.” “We don’t even get support from the people”, he adds with hopeless voice. 

Similarly in another interesting case, Jeevan Jagarnath of CREJ carries a campaign on the issues of child rights, education and defunct government institutions in Bokaro district facing severe problems. Recently, he had filed couple of petitions under the RTI seeking information (soft copy in CD) about the public distribution system (PDS) - list of APL/BPL cardholders and list of shop owners with contact details. He was shocked when he got two separate letters from the Information Officer of Bermo Sub-division asking him to pay Rs.1,63,000 for two petitions (1,27,000 and 36,000 respectively), which is equivalent to his annual income of two years. Now he has stopped filing the RTI petitions. He says, “How can one afford to have such costly information. If things remain like this, we will never be able to bring transparency and accountability in the government institutions”.. 

The Indian government had brought the RTI to ensure transparency and accountability in the governance system so that corruption can be contained. But the fact is most of the politicians, bureaucrats and government officials indulge in one or other forms of corruption. Therefore, there is a thrust need to pressurize the government for bringing a stringent law against corruption with the provisions of severe punishment as imprisonment, recovery of grabbed money with ten times penalty and withdrawal of all kinds of government support to the corrupt one. There also should be a special court, which can deal with the matters in time bound manner. Ironically, there is so much of hue and cry on Naxalism by the government, media and so-called intellectuals but why they are silent on ongoing rampant corruption (except in the case of Madhu Kora and co) in the development projects and welfare schemes? 

However, we should not be in delusion that the RTI will address the deeply rooted corruption because the bureaucracy will not let it to happen. Since, the people, who stand against corruption are threatened, booked under the false cases and brutally murdered. Therefore, it is advisable to the government of India, who is unable to bring a stringent legislation against corruption, at least bring a law, which can make ‘corruption’ as ‘mandatory’ in the democracy and the people, who raise their voices against it can be legally thrown behind the bars for the life time imprisonment and the civil society will initiate one more campaign for implementation of Corruption Act 20… as corruption has become integral part of the so-called civilized society, where the so-called educated people are against of denouncing it.

Gladson Dungdung is a Human Rights Activist and Writer from Jharkhand. He can be reached atgladsonhractivist@gmail.com


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