Jan Sunvai in Bihar: Activists demand Judicial Commission to investigate murders of 20 RTI activists in Bihar
Families remembering their loved ones asked for accountability and justice from the government
On July 12, 2022, in India, the first Jun Sunvai of its kind for deaths of RTIs activist was organised in Patna, Bihar. The Jan Sunvai was chaired by a jury consisting of eminent activist Aruna Roy (MKSS), Vinita Deshmukh (Journalist) and Amitabh Kumar Das (Former IPS). The public hearing was organsed jointly by National Campaign of People’s Right to Information (NCPRI), SAFAR, Jan Jagran Shakti Sangathan, Right to Food Campaign, Bihar and National Alliance of people’s movements (NAPM).
The murders of more than 20 RTI activists over the past ten years is a very disturbing trend in Bihar. The people who have been murdered were fighting for public causes and were pursuing transparency in the functioning of PDS, NREGA, Anganwadi Centers, Illegally operating clinics etc. Most of the RTIs were aimed at exposing the irregularities and corruption. The intimidation and harassment of RTI Activists should stop immediately, was the demand raised during the Jan Sunvai.
Families remembering their loved ones also raised a serious question of accountability of the government to serve justice. The death of RTI activists has exposed the lawlessness in Bihar with the highest RTI whistleblowers getting killed for asking questions to the state.
Family members also shared that police are helping the criminals in investigation and making all efforts to weaken the case. Often they bully the family members and witnesses to change their statements and give serious life threats. In such a situation family members of RTI whistleblowers are still living with fear.
Most of the RTI whistleblowers did not stop pursuing the information and exposing corruption even after facing many death threats by criminals, revealed family members. They said that, it is a deliberate attempt to kill RTI act as people in fear will automatically stop asking for information due to these killings.
Lawyers were also present in Jan Sunvai and assured of providing free legal aid to all the family members of victim.
Leader of different political parties namely Sham Rajak (RJD), Shakil Ahmed Khan (INC), Ganesh singh -CPI(M), Sandeep saurabh CPI(ML), Arun Singh- SUCI, Manoj Jha (RJD), were part of political party session
Information commissioner Tripurari sharan also attended the hearing and presented point of view of the commission.
Demand raised by family members of RTI whistleblowers, Jury and human rights workers are:
RTI activists who have lost their lives should be given the status of human rights defenders
A Judicial Commission of Enquiry must be constituted to ensure that investigations on these cases takes place in a fair and objective manner.
State Government must direct law enforcement agencies to complete investigations on all these cases within months.
The State Government must adopt a mechanism for protecting those exposing corruption. This could take the form of a state level Whistleblower Protection Law. The Parliament passed such a law in 2014, however, till date the government of India has failed to implement the law.
In all cases of threats, attacks or killings of RTI users, the State Information Commission must immediately direct the relevant public authorities to disclose and give wide publicity to all the RTIs and replies to those RTIs. Giving wide publicity to the information being pursued by people who are being threatened or attacked, potentially acts as a deterrent against such attacks in the future, as perpetrators get the message that rather than covering up the matter, any attack would invite even greater public scrutiny.
Much of the information being sought by people who were killed was such that it should have in any case been proactively provided under section 4 of the RTI Act. Bihar SIC should undertake periodic monitoring and audits of proactive disclosures by public authorities.
Government of Bihar must develop a single window portal for disclosure of information in order to implement Section 4 of the RTI Act on the lines of Jan Soochna Portal developed by the Government of Rajasthan and the Mahiti Kanaja built by the Government of Karnataka
In all cases of attacks or killings of RTI activists, the departments from which they were seeking information must be made to undergo special audit of all schemes & financial matters which were being pursued. This must be monitored by the state Social Audit unit.
More than one hundred activists including Nikhil Dey, Anjali Bhardwaj, Ashish Ranjan, Mahendra Yadav, Rakshita Swami, Anindita Adhikari, Shiv Prakash Rai, Rupesh, Amrita Johri, Kapil Agarwal, Ghalib, Jitendra Paswan, attended the public hearing and talked about the status of RTI implementation in the state.
Published: 13 Jul 2022, 10:07 AM