Skip to main content

Murder of 11th Gujarat RTI activist 3 months after NHRC seeks govt protection





By Venkatesh Nayak*
One more RTI activist has paid the price for demanding transparency with his life in Gujarat. On 9th March, 2018, Nanjibhai Sondarva (35) a resident of Manekwada village in Kotada Sangani taluka of Rajkot district was allegedly clubbed to death by six persons. The deceased’s father has claimed that the attack occurred soon after Nanjibhai filed an RTI application demanding transparency about funds spent on the construction of a road in his village. This was not the first time Nanjibhai had been attacked. He and other members of his family were allegedly assaulted one and a half years ago, by the village Sarpanch who was said to be furious at Nanjibhai for using RTI to expose financial irregularities in the developmental works undertaken in the village. Meghabhai, Nanjibhai’s father, is said to have named the Sarpanch in the complaint submitted to the local police, regarding the latest incident.

So far 11 RTI activists have lost their lives for questioning the “Gujarat Model of Development”

With the latest incident, the number of citizens and activists who used RTI to question the “Gujarat Model of Development” has risen to 11. There are at least 16 cases of assault on other RTI activists in Gujarat reported in various media sources since October, 2005 when the RTI Act was operationalised.
With this latest incident, the total number of victims, allegedly murdered for seeking information under RTI, across the country has gone up to 67. Details of these incidents as reported by the media are accessible on the Hall of Shame where we are Mapping Attacks on RTI Users across the country.

The attack occurred 3 months after NHRC directive to the Gujarat Government to protect RTI activists

Readers will remember, in October, 2015, a day before the Central Information Commission organised a National Convention to celebrate 10 years of the RTI Act and which was inaugurated by the Hon’ble Prime Minister, another 30-year old RTI activist- Ratansinh Chaudhary was murdered for exposing financial irregularities through RTI in Banaskantha.
Soon after the RTI fraternity in Gujarat alerted me about this 2015 incident, I filed a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission in New Delhi. The NHRC took cognizance of the complaint and followed up on this case for two years. In December 2017, while closing the case upon being satisfied that the police had acted in accordance with the law by sending the murder case up for trial, the NHRC issued a directive to the Government of Gujarat as follows:
1) that the family of the Late Ratansinh Chaudhary be provided security; and
2) the Government must ensure freedom of expression of RTI activists and HRDs (human rights defenders) and give them necessary protection as per law.
As the letter was addressed only to the District Superintendent of Police, Banaskantha, I alerted the NHRC’s Focal Point for HRDs about the urgent necessity of sending a similar letter to the State Government itself. The DSP, Banskantha would not be able to do much about ensuring security for RTI activists outside his jurisdiction. The HRD Focal Point promised to look into this discrepancy in the final action of the NHRC. Even as I wait for action taken by the NHRC on my further request, another murderous attack has occurred in Gujarat.

Are attacks on RTI activists a violation of the Hon’ble PM’s latest call to “Act Rightly”?

While inaugurating the CIC Bhawan- the newly constructed premises of the Central Information Commission at New Delhi- five days ago (6th March, 2018), the Hon’ble Prime Minister of India highlighted the efforts made by various Central Government Departments and agencies to bring more transparency in the implementation of social development programmes across the country. He underlined the importance of “informing people” in order to “empower them” and ensure their participation in governance.
Towards the end of his speech he also talked about the need to pay attention to “Act Rightly” just as much as RTI was getting widespread attention. He pointed out the need to link “rights”, particularly “fundamental rights” to “fundamental duties” mentioned in Article 51A of the Constitution. While Article 51A is not enforceable in courts, the spirit of 11 clauses that list out a range of duties, link in many ways to the endeavours of RTI users and activists across the country. By demanding transparency and accountability, they are upholding constitutional values, namely, the rule of law, social justice and corruption-free governance and also safeguarding public property by monitoring the use of public funds.
So when such conscientious and well-meaning citizens are attacked for “acting rightly”, is the State Government “acting rightly” by not doing enough to safeguard them? Does the Gujarat Government need an 11th wake-up call after 10 RTI users and activists have already been murdered in the State?
While true blue human rights activists must question this linkage of rights with duties, this is not the first time that such a connection made at the national level has come with links to Gujarat. In 1948 when the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Mahatma Gandhi said:
“I learned from my illiterate mother that all rights to be deserved and preserved from from duty well done. Thus the very right to live accrues to us only when we do the duty of citizenship of the world. From this one fundamental statement, perhaps it is easy enough to define the duties of Man and Woman and correlate every right to some corresponding duty to be first performed. Every other right can be shown to be a usurpation hardly worth fighting for.”
This statement was reported on the front page of several English language dailies published in December 1948. Readers may like to visit the microfilm holdings of the Teen Murti Museum and Library to access these news reports.
Dr. B R Ambedkar’s scathing criticism of the caste system in India which has survived for more than two millennia by linking duties to social and ritual status to the detriment of every person born in the “lowest” castes (published in his celebrated but undelivered speech later published as Annihilation of Caste) adequately demonstrates the dangers of making such connections.
In the 21st century, who determines what is right? For a public official intent on hiding his or her corrupt activities, RTI interventions of citizens to expose them may not be an example of “acting rightly”. Even more dangerous is a majoritarian Government deciding what is “acting rightly”, inside or outside Parliament or through a stony silence, by allowing hardliner groups that run amok to determine and regulate citizen or group behaviour that is neither illegal nor illegitimate.
Is attacking people for eating beef or transporting cattle, attacking inter-faith weddings in the name of “love jihad”, preventing the freedom of expression by claims of hurt to sectarian sentiments and setting a bounty on the heads of artistes and cine actors, murdering members of political parties whose ideologies one opposes, or vandalising statues, or disrupting Parliamentary proceedings day after day, “acting rightly”? The “act rightly” exhortation needs serious debate across the country before it becomes a meme.

*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

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

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

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

Environment governance in small cities: Need for external intervention, capacity building

By IMPRI Team  The debate over environmental degradation has acquired substantial traction in recent years. Governments, civil communities and international organisations are all working to mitigate the environmental costs of economic expansion and growth. These reforms have also brought to light the concept of environmental governance in emerging towns, which refers to political changes aimed at influencing environmental activities and outcomes. It is under this backdrop that the #IMPRI Centre for Habitat, Urban and Regional Studies (CHURS) , IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi hosted a talk on Small Cities and Environmental Governance in Gujarat and West Bengal: Need for External Intervention or Capacity Building? as a part of #WebPolicyTalk series- The State of Cities – #CityConversations on January 28, 2022. The talk was chaired by Dr Soumyadip Chattopadhyay, an Associate Professor, Visva-Bharati, Santiniketan and a Visiting Senior Fellow, IMPRI, New Delhi. The