Does the BMC want RTI activists attacked?
RTI activists are shot, stabbed and set upon by groups of men with swords, choppers and hammers; but the BMC seems to think they are not being attacked enough. So, it is mulling painting a bull’s eye on their heads.
Reacting to demands by politicians — whose links to the powerful builder lobby is hardly a secret — to act against ‘professional complainants; the civic body is considering putting up the names of complainants and those filing RTI queries, along with the information sought, in all its ward offices.
This has already been implemented in 'D' Ward, which covers Malabar Hill, Tardeo, Nana Chowk and Girgaum.
The plan, announced in newspaper advertisements recently, has activists, including former Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi, up in arms. The activists say that, instead of appreciating the work done by complainants, which keeps corruption in check and often leads to scams being exposed, the BMC is endangering their life.
Gandhi has written to the municipal commissioner and requested that the BMC should focus on providing better services to citizens, rather than intimidating and harassing them.
'Do your job'
“Citizens file complaints with the BMC if it fails to provide services and for stopping activities like illegal construction, encroachment and corruption. In all these cases, citizens are actually giving free service to the BMC, since its staff members are not doing their job,” said Gandhi.
He also warned that the BMC would be responsible if a complainant is assaulted. “The proposal appears to be designed to harass and intimidate those who wish to file a complaint and also expose them to threats, assaults and even murder if they bring illegal activities to light. The practice being followed in D Ward is regressive and if any citizen comes to harm because of this, we will hold the Corporation responsible,” he added.
In his letter to the municipal commissioner, Gandhi has written that while India is moving towards a better democracy, the BMC’s move appears to be aimed at intimidating responsible citizens. While the nation is trying to protect whistleblowers, the D Ward appears to want to muzzle them, he pointed out.
“The Adarsh scam and other illegal activities have come to light because of information sought by RTI activists in the past few years. Corporators and bureaucrats don’t want such information to come out as they are hand-in-glove with people involved in illegal activities,” said Bhaskar Prabhu, conveyer of the Mahiti Adhikar Manch. He added that the names of complainants should not be disclosed as doing so could expose them to harm.
Politicians, however, claim that all they are doing is trying to deter ‘professional complainants’ who either have a vested interest in making complaints, or want to hold up projects through them.
They also say that RTI activists, who seek transparency in governance, need to be transparent in their dealings too and this move is designed to do just that.
The ‘professional complainants’ issue was brought up by Samajwadi Party corporator Yakub Memon in a BMC general body meeting and was supported by several other corporators. The Mayor had called an urgent meeting yesterday to discuss the issue, but it had to be cancelled after two of the four corporators, who had demanded that the meeting be called, were absent.
Samajwadi Party corporator Rais Shaikh, one of those who had insisted that the meeting be called, said, “The RTI Act has been used as a tool to extort money and we are asking the administration to figure out ways to curb this. Transparency is at the heart of the RTI Act, and we are asking for the same. If people want transparency in governance, why shouldn’t it be there in the complaint process? If complainants face threats, the police will protect them.”
Bharatiya Janata Party corporator Dilip Patel however said that there is a need to find a middle path. “Genuine complainants should be protected, but those who misuse the RTI Act should be exposed. Those registering complaints without any vested interest should be able to do so without fear,” said Patel.
Mayor Sunil Prabhu said the final call on whether the proposal should be implemented will be taken by the general body as a whole.
The proposal recommends asking for the name, identity proof, occupation details and residential address of complainants and those filing RTI queries. The name of the complainant and the information sought would be put up on the notice board in ward offices.