Skip to main content

Should Haldankar’s pending RTIs abate because he was murdered?


By Venkatesh Nayak*
“Another one bites the dust, another one bites the dust uh.. and another one, and another one”. “Apro dikro” (our Parsi lad), Freddie Mercury’s hit song from the 1980s song, is in real danger of becoming the RTI anthem for India. With the murder of renowned RTI activist Suhas Haldankar in Pimpri-Chinchwad area of Pune district in Maharashtra last Sunday, Maharashtra accounts for 16 instances of murder of RTI activists and information seekers counting Satish Shetty, onwards of 2010. Three of them have occurred since the present State Government assumed power in October 2014. Nation-wide, the death toll has gone up to 65 and the total number of attacks on RTI activists and information seekers is at the threshold of 400. Readers may visit the Hall of Shame where CHRI has documented these attacks on a Google Map.
According to media reports, using RTI as a tool, Suhas had exposed several irregularities in the functioning of the Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation (PCMC). At least one of the accused is said to be a former member of the PCMC and allegedly belongs to the Indian National Congress. Thankfully, the police seemed to have swung into action leading to the arrest of 11 of the accused. How much his activism was valued by the community was indicated by the fact that residents of the Kharalwadi area observed a bandh soon after the murder came to light.

CHRI’s complaint to the NHRC and the Maharashtra State Information Commission

Condemning the incident, CHRI has sent a complaint to the National Human Rights Commission to monitor the police investigation as Suhas was a human rights defender fighting for public causes. CHRI has also urged the Maharashtra State Information Commission to call for all pending RTI applications filed by Suhas and direct proactive disclosure of all information in the public domain in accordance with the provisions of the RTI Act.

Central Government must drop appeals ‘abatement’ and ‘withdrawal’ clauses from the Draft RTI Rules

If the Central Government has its way, all RTI applications and appeals that Suhas may have filed with Central public authorities would abate automatically on his death. The motives of the accused who battered Suhas to death with cement blocks would attain a pyrrhic victory and the national motto ‘satyameva jayate’ (truth alone shall triumph) would take a battering once again. Civil society actors have been demanding that the RTI Rules do not allow for the closure of appeals on the appellant’s death.
The Union Minister for Personnel and Public Grievances- the nodal Ministry for implementing RTI Act, recently pooh-poohed criticism of the Draft Rules arguing that the controversy is because of “lack of understanding of what the entire issue is all about”.
Of course people without formal training in law will not “understand the hair-splitting arguments about RTI Rules, Regulations and Guidelines and what the Supreme Court said to the Government and how the Government replied. What people understand well is- “blood has been spilled on Vasudha (Mother Earth) for the umpteenth time”. This is hardly vasudhaiva kutumbakam (Mother Earth as one family) or sabka saath sabka vikas (with all and development for all) – the pet slogans of the present political dispensation at the Centre and in Maharashtra.
What was the provocation for the murder? Suhas did not ask information about purchase of fighter aircrafts or what India was promising the visiting Prime Ministers of Bangladesh and Australia. He was highlighting the poor state of the civic administration in his area. He was “speaking the truth to power”. First the the powerful tried to buy him out and when they did not succeed they threatened him with dire consequences.
If Suhas had fallen for the candies they offered or given in to their intimidatory tactics, he might have withdrawn his RTI applications and appeals. If Draft RTI Rule 12 proposed by the Central Government becomes law, every such action will get legitimacy. People seeking to expose corruption or maladministration will be threatened into withdrawing their appeals by vested interests. This is why civil society has been demanding that Draft Rule 12 be dropped entirely. Surely, this ‘controversy’ is not rocket science that any citizen, let alone a Minister, would find it difficult to understand.
Draft Rule 12 that seeks to permit the Central Information Commission to allow appeals to abate on the death of the appellant or for their withdrawal must be dropped without any delay.

Strengthen the Whistleblower Protection Law instead of weakening it

Currently, there is no law across India for protecting whistleblowers who are victimsed for exposing corruption. Parliament approved the Whistleblower Protection Act in 2011. Instead of implementing it, the Central Government has pushed regressive amendments that will discourage potential whistleblowers from coming forward. CHRI has already critiqued these amendments. The amendment proposals approved by the Lok Sabha are pending in the Rajya Sabha. Neither the Whistleblower Act as passed by Parliament nor the Government’s amendment proposals are designed to protect RTI users and activists from harm.
The Central Government must withdraw the regressive amendments and bring in a fresh set of proposals to strengthen the whistleblower law to protect people who seek information in public interest or those who seek social justice or defend human rights. This must be done through a widespread consultative process that is credible. This is the need of the hour.

*Programme Coordinator, Access to Information Programme, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, New Delhi

Comments

TRENDING

CAG’s audit report creates a case for dismantling of UIDAI, scrapping Aadhaar

By Gopal Krishna  The total estimated budget of the biometric UID/Aadhaar number project and its cost: benefit analysis has not been disclosed till date. Unless the total estimated budget of the project is revealed, all claims of benefits are suspect and untrustworthy. How can one know about total savings unless the total cost is disclosed? Can limited audit of continuing expenditure of Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), an instrumentality of Union of India be deemed a substitute for total estimated budget of the biometric UID/Aadhaar number project of UIDAI? It has been admitted by CAG that the audit of functioning of the UIDAI is partial because of non-transparency. The report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India arising from performance audit of functioning of the UIDAI for the period from 2014-15 to 2018-19 is incomplete because it is based on statistical information “to the extent as furnished by UIDAI” upto March 2021. There is also a need to compa

Women for Water: WICCI resource council for empowering women entrepreneurs, leaders

By Mansee Bal Bhargava*  The Water Resources Council of the Women’s Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry is formed for 2022-24. A National Business Chamber for Women, the Women’s Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry ( WICCI ) is a premier association empowering women entrepreneurs and leaders in all walks of life through advocacy, pro-active representations to government, implementing projects for women via funds allocated by various government agencies and corporates, plus bringing awareness on all issues that concern women. WICCI boosts and builds women’s entrepreneurship and businesses through greater engagement with government, institutions, global trade and networks. WICCI enables fundamental changes in governmental policies, laws, incentives and sanctions through proper channel, with a view to robustly encourage and empower women in business, industry and commerce across all sectors. WICCI is supported by the massive global networks of ALL Ladies League (ALL), Women Eco

75 yrs of water in India: whither decentralised governance to sustain the precious resource?

By Shubhangi Rai, Megha Gupta, Fawzia Tarannum, Mansee Bal Bhargava Looking into the last century, water resources management have come a long way from the living with water in the villages to the nimbyism and capitalism in the cities to coming full cycle with room for water in the villages. With the climate change induced water crisis, the focus on conservation and management of water resources if furthered in both national and local agenda. The Water management 2021 report by NITI Aayog acknowledges that water and sustainability are of immense importance for the sustenance of life on earth. Water is intricately linked to the health, food security and livelihood. With business as usual, India’s water availability will only be enough to meet 50% of its total demand and 40% of the population in India will have no access to drinking water and sanitation by 2030 . Its Composite Water Management Index 2021 states that ‘India is suffering from the worst water crisis in its history and mil

Grassroot innovations in water management: Policy challenges amidst climate change

By Shubhangi Rai[1], Megha Gupta[2], Mansee Bal Bhargava[3] India despite of having a vast traditional water management history continue to struggle with water crisis from disasters like floods and droughts but more with social distress leading to asymmetric access to water goods and services. The rising water crisis in a country that is abundant in water resources and wisdom is worth questioning and resolving. The knowledge that was passed on by our ancestors who used a diverse range of structures that helped harvest rainwater locally besides replenish and recharge the groundwater along the way. Formal and informal rules were locally crafted by the community on who to use the water, how much to use, when to use, how to penalise for misuse, how to resolve conflicts and many more. As a nation, we need to revive our dying wisdom of the traditional water management systems and as water commons, enable the governing mechanisms towards sustainability. In the session on ‘ Grassroot Innovatio

Need to destroy dowry, annihilate greed and toxic patriarchy in India

By IMPRI Team Talking about an evil ever-persistent in our society and highlighting the presence of toxic patriarchy, #IMPRI Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC) , IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi organized a panel discussion on Destroy Dowry: Annihilation of Greed and Toxic Patriarchy in India under the series The State of Gender Equality – #GenderGaps on May 4, 2022. The chair for the event was Prof Vibhuti Patel, Former Professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai and a Visiting Professor, IMPRI. The distinguished panel included – Asha Kulkarni, General Secretary at Anti Dowry Movement, Mumbai ; Kamal Thakar, Sahiyar Stree Sangathan ; Adv Celin Thomas, Advocate at Celin Thomas and Associates, Bengaluru; Shalini Mathur, Honorary Secretary, Suraksha Dahej Maang Virodhi Sanstha Tatha Parivar Paraamarsh Kendra, Lucknow and Secretary, Nav Kalyani Foundation, Gender Resource and Training Centre; and Dr Bharti Sharma, Honorary Secretary, Shakti Shalini

Impact of climate change on Gujarat pastoralists' traditional livelihood

By Varsha Bhagat-Ganguly, Karen Pinerio* We are sharing a study[1] based learning on climate resilience and adaptation strategies of pastoralists of Kachchh district, Gujarat. There are two objectives of the study: (i) to examine the impact of climate on traditional livelihood of pastoralists of Gujarat state; and (ii) to explore and document the adaptation strategies of pastoralists in mitigating climate adversities, with a focus on the role of women in it. In order to meet these objectives, the research inquiries focused on how pastoralists perceive climate change, how climate change has impacted their traditional livelihood, i.e., pastoralism in drylands (Krätli 2015), and how these pastoral families have evolved adaptation strategies that address climate change (CC)/ variabilities, i.e., traditional livelihood of pastoralists of Kachchh district, Gujarat state. Pastoralism is more than 5,000 years old land-use strategy in India; it is practised by nomadic (their entire livelihood r

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: Implications for India and emerging geopolitics

By IMPRI Team In the backdrop of the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, #IMPRI Center for International Relations and Strategic Studies (CIRSS) , IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi hosted a panel discussion on Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine: Implications for India and Emerging Geopolitics. The event was chaired by Ambassador Anil Trigunayat (IFS Retd.), Former Ambassador to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Libya, and Malta; Former Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of India, Moscow. The panelists of the event were Prof Waheguru Pal Singh Sidhu, Clinical Professor, Center for Global Affairs, New York University; H.E. Freddy Svane, Ambassador, Royal Danish Embassy, New Delhi; Maj. Gen. (Dr) P. K. Chakravorty, Strategic Thinker on Security Issues; and T. K. Arun, Senior Journalist, and Columnist. Ambassador Anil Trigunayat commenced the discussion by stating the fact that wars are evil. He opines that no war has ever brought peace and prosperity to any country and

Making Indian cities disaster, climate resilient: Towards actionable urban planning

By IMPRI Team  Three-Day Online Certificate Training Programme on “Making Indian Cities Disaster and Climate Change Resilient: Towards Responsive and Actionable Urban Planning, Policy and Development”: Day 1 A three day Online Certificate Training Programme on the theme “Making Indian Cities Disaster and Climate Change Resilient: Towards Responsive and Actionable Urban Planning, Policy and Development”, a joint initiative of the National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM) , Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, was held at the Centre for Habitat, Urban and Regional Studies at IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi. Inaugurating the session Ms. Karnika Arun, Researcher at IMPRI, welcomed the speakers and participants to the program with an introduction to the eminent panellists. Day 1 of the program included Prof Anil K Gupta, Head ECDRM, NIDM, New Delhi and Mr Tikender Singh Panwar, Former Deputy Mayor, Shimla; Visiting Senior Fellow, IMPRI as conveners, an

Gender gap: Women face disproportionate barriers in accessing finance

By IMPRI Team Women worldwide disproportionately face barriers to financial access that prevents them from participating in the economy and improving their lives. Providing access to finance for women is crucial for financial inclusion and, consequently, inclusive growth. To deliberate and encourage dialogue and discussion for growth, the Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC) of IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi, organized a web policy talk by Mr S. S. Bhat, Chief Executive Officer Friends of Women’s World Banking India, Ahmedabad on ‘Access to Finance for Women’ as a part of its series The State of Gender Equality – #GenderGaps. The session was started by the moderator, Chavi Jain, by introducing the speaker and the discussants and inviting Prof. Vibhuti Patel to start the deliberation. Importance of access to finance for women Prof. Vibhuti Patel, Visiting Professor, IMPRI, New Delhi; Former Professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai, began by expre

Hindutva patriotism: State-sponsored effort to construct religion-based national identity

By Harasankar Adhikari Rabindranath Tagore (1908) said, "Patriotism can’t be our final spiritual shelter. "I will not buy glass for a diamond, and I will never let patriotism triumph over humanity as long as I live." Tagore’s view stands in sharp contrast to what we are witnessing today, when patriotism means religious differences between the majority (Hindu) and minority (Muslim). Our secular nation is gradually disobeying its secular nature and it is being patronised by political leaders and their narrow politics. India’s unique character of ‘unity in diversity’ is trying to be saffronised. Hindu extremism (Hindutvavadis) generates a culture of religious intolerance. Democratic India is based upon the ideology of equality of all. This nation is based upon different foundations than most of those which went before it. Its legitimacy lies in its being able to satisfy its various component communities that their interests will be safeguarded by the Indian state