Unlike other activists who mint money from the RTI Act, Bhagwan Karia, a former businessman, funds his own battle against corruption
Bhagwan Mulji Karia (71) is an ideal example for the country’s Right To Information (RTI) activists. While a majority of RTI activists extort money through RTI replies, Karia spends from his own pocket to fight for the cause of citizens.
Bhagwan Mulji Karia started his activism after he was forced to shut down his family business
“I walk from CST to the Chief Information Commissioner’s office in Nariman Point for appeal hearings, to save Rs 20, which I use for printing one page of my application,” says Karia, a resident of Mulund (West).
Many activists target builders in the city; they find irregularities in their construction projects through RTI requests, and blackmail the builder into paying them money. Else they threaten to stall the project using the information.
How it began
Karia was a businessman, but was forced to shut shop. “I was a supplier of a plastic colours till 10 years ago. After the government introduced heavy taxation, I was forced to shut my family business.”
On his visits to government offices for any work, he observed how people suffered at the mercy of the babus. “Everyone has a price tag, from the peon to the head of department. I shut my business because I couldn’t entertain corrupt officers, nor could I engage in malpractices,” he recalls.
Six years ago, he decided enough was enough. He decided to take the corrupt staff to task and target consumer-related issues that affect people on a daily basis. His first RTI application – relating to weighing machines – was in 2008 (see box). He then took on several issues.
“After me, my brothers took over the company. They now pay me a fixed amount every month, so that I can take care of my wife and mentally ill son. Of this, I spend more than half on filing RTIs,” says Karia.
Karia doesn’t care for threats. “I received death threats twice. I don’t care if I die. When these very people realise I’m honest, they bow down to me,” he says.
No match for him
Karia took on the owners of Wimco, who manufacture matchstick, for cheating consumers. The box claimed there were 50 sticks inside. “When I bought a box and counted the number of sticks in it, at many places I found there were less than 40 matchsticks.
Karia fought against the owners of Wimco for having less matchsticks in their boxes than printed on the box. Pics/Sameer Markande
I filed a complaint in the consumer court. Following appeal after appeal, I spent Rs 10,000 from my pocket to fight against the company. They spent Rs 5.5 lakh to fight the case.” The company stopped mentioning the number of matchsticks on their boxes.
Weight and watch
Karia weighed himself on a weighing machine at Mulund station that showed his weight to be 15 kg more than what it was. "I realised that of the thousands who walk in out of the station every day, hundreds must be cheated when they weigh themselves with this machine.
Karia got the faulty weighing machines at Mulund station removed
I filed my first RTI request and found out that one such machine earns around Rs 4.5 lakh a year. There were ten such machines at Mulund station; the contract was given to one Eastern Scale Company, which has set up machines across the country. I decided to take up the matter. To begin with, I took the stationmaster to task and ensured that all machines were removed," Karia adds.
>> Karia fought against several clinics in Mulund, after he found out that 90 per cent of the facilities lacked proper registration. The clinics went into a tizzy, filing the correct documents, lest they close down for flouting rules
>> Last week, the Central Information Commission, in its reply to Karia's application, promised action against errant railway ticketing clerks who bunked work and used proxies for attendance
Number of RTI applications Karia has filed till date
>> Was a supplier of plastic colours
>> Got fed up of corrupt babus and decided to act against them
>> Filed his first RTI application in 2008