ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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High Cost of Information

A basic assurance of protection is essential for wider participation in the right to information.

On the eve of the fifth anniversary of the enactment of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, the numerous violent attacks on activists deploying the law to ferret out instances of wrongdoing within the system reflect attempts to muzzle the power of this legislation. This intimidation, in some instances even ending in murder, is a serious threat to the effective functioning of the RTI Act, although in the past the government itself has tried to weaken the provisions of this law. It is in this context that the provisions of the recently tabled Public Interest Disclosure and Protection to Persons Making the Disclosure Bill, 2010 have come under scrutiny for their ability to check and reverse this tide of intimidation (“Will Truth Prevail?”, EPW, 11 September 2010). In the first seven months of the year, Maharashtra saw four murders, of the RTI activists Satish Shetty, Arun Sawant, Vitthal Gite and Dattatreya Patil. Another activist, Ramdas Ghadegavkar, was found dead under mysterious circumstances in Nanded in late August. While it is the most heinous of these crimes against RTI users that have gathered the most media attention, there have been many violent incidents that have not ended in murder. In Maharashtra again, in the same January-July period, in five incidents, RTI activists were attacked but fortunately escaped with their lives.

It is notable that most of these attacks occurred in Mumbai, where activists have easier access to a range of civic resources and media attention. In more media-remote rural and semi-urban areas, vested interests may be able to keep the causes of the violence and threats suffered by RTI activists shrouded in ambiguity, as has happened with the death of Ghadegavkar, which police were unable to rule as a murder even two days after the incident. It is worth noting that in several instances, activists have faced a long series of escalating threats and violence, which have received little state cognisance. For instance, a nephew of a ruling party MLA has been arrested in connection with the murder of the RTI activist Amit Jethwa, who was killed near the Gujarat High Court in Ahmedabad in July. Jethwa reportedly survived a similar attack by the same MLA three years ago but the family’s appeals to higher authorities for protection went unanswered.

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