When An Information Commissioner Seeks Information from Police About RTI Activists Who Extort & Blackmail, Time to Take Note
Government officers often term right to information (RTI) activists as blackmailers but neither put information on their website to support their allegations nor lodge a police complaint against those who they allege is a blackmailers. This silence is seen as an attempt by them to cause disrepute to the RTI Act for which they sometimes get support from the judiciary.
However, when an information commissioner decides to write to the police commissioner requesting information on complaints received or first information report (FIR) filed against the “self-declared RTI activists or social worker allegedly involved in extortion or blackmail,” it is time to take notice of some individuals, who are indeed blackening the face of this transparency law.
In a rare and admirable action, Rahul Pande, former city editor of The Hitwada newspaper and recently appointed state information commissioner of Nagpur, with an additional charge of Aurangabad, has sought information from Nagpur’s commissioner of police and superintendent of police (rural), which includes Wardha, Chandrapur, Gadchiroli, Bhandara and Gondia towns, on complaints lodged against such blackmailers.
Qualifying the reason why he had to take this action, he says it is because “there are several instances reported by media indicating misuse of a noble and benevolent legislation like RTI by a handful of undesirable elements masquerading as RTI activists and/ or social workers. In many cases reported by the media, such elements have indulged in extortion and blackmail by threatening to file RTI applications and to defame or prosecute such officials or private individuals/businessmen.”
Elaborating on the reasons for piling second appeals, Mr Pande told Moneylife, “The main reason for Maharashtra showing the most pendencies is because a handful of activists file countless RTI applications on the same subject. You will be shocked to know that in my jurisdiction alone, the top 10 applicants have filed around 8,000 RTI applications, mostly proforma applications and gone in for a second appeal. One of them, for example, has filed an RTI application to every gram panchayat of Maharashtra seeking the same information, amounting to 5,000 of them. When he did not receive the information, he filed a second appeal. Recently, I disposed of close to 1,000 of his second appeals in one go. Many officials, including the village sarpanch and officials from the forest and public works department (PWD) officers, have privately complained about such serial applicants, who use RTI as a tool for extortion.”
Aggrieved that this is causing strain on the disposal of genuine second appeal cases that come to him, Mr Pande says, “This is completely unacceptable and it defeats the very spirit of RTI Act, which is enacted to bridge the information asymmetry between citizens and the administration. Such abuse and misuse of RTI act and using it as a weapon to extract money is a matter of great concern and needs to be tackled with an iron hand within four corners of the law.”
In his letter to the police commissioner, he states, “It has also come to our notice that at several police stations and, going by media reports, at least in Chandrapur and in Gondia districts, two FIRs have been filed against such self-declared and so-called RTI activists and/ or social workers. It will be in the fitness of things if a compilation of such complaints and/ or FIRs registered at police stations under your jurisdiction is sent forthwith to the state information commission, indicating the present status of the complaint and whether the chargesheet is filed before the court of competent jurisdiction. We expect the response at the earliest, looking at the gravity of the matter.”
In one of his columns on TheFederal.com, Prof Shridhar Acharyulu, former central information commissioner, wrote, "If an RTI activist agrees to keep the information under wraps if the demanded money is shelled out, then the activist is a blackmailer for sure. Then the official could complain in the police station against the blackmailer. They never do it, but they try to escape by bribing the extortionist.”
Mr Pande has sought prompt cooperation from the law-enforcing authorities to help maintain the purity of the RTI regime. He rues that, “RTI Act 2005 is a noble legislation enacted to empower citizens and is being widely used to bring transparency in the administration and check on unbridled powers of the officials—so there should be a control on a handful of RTI users who are damaging this powerful, citizen-friendly law."
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting, which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)
6 months ago
Every other day we hear one or the other official lecturing against the RTI Act 2005. The action of the learned Commissioner is to correct two wrongs with a single stick: those who seek information under the act, and do not make the things public for transparency, and thus misuse the act , and those who deny information under the excuse of misuse of the Act will learn to behave well. This will accord due weight to the provisions of the act bringing transparency to the system. But, the question is those afraid of the act, and misuse of the act, why not disclose the information lying in the official drawers concealed since the inception of the RTI Act 2005. The act demands revealing of such information without any hindrance, without any application and without any so called MISUSE.
And, I am also to share it that against a complaint moved against ransacking of the greenbelt at Sirsa, the vested interests gathered in a temple, and cursed RTI Act 2005, video-graphed it, and requested others to share it without confirming whether it was an RTI application or a direct complaint against SP and DC Sirsa for their negligence in saving the greenbelt from the trustees of a temple. My submission is, generally, people do not know what the matter is and start curing RTI Act 2005.
Kartar Singh 9416645166
Replied to kartar4u comment 6 months ago
Please see this link in continuation of the above. Thanks
6 months ago
Well, on the face of it, the action of the SIC, Nagpur Bench may look good. But, mere registration of an FIR will be the be all and end all of it? How many FIRs will end in conviction? What's the guarantee that the Public Authorities (PAs) won't misuse that provision so as to deter the genuine cases also? What's the action prescribed and who'll take that action against a PA if he doesn't carry out his duty as per Section 4 of the RTI Act, 2005 (Pro-active disclosure of information in the public domain)? The PAs can deny information without any let or hindrance if the information falls within the ambit of Section 8 of the RTI Act, 2005. (Most of the PAs have been denying information by misusing and misquoting the clauses and sub-clauses of the Sec.8 also!) Instead of using such restrictive provisions against any undue (or inconvenient/ embarrassing?)RTI queries and ensuring the implementation of the RTI Act, 2005 in toto, simply lodging an FIR against the RTI applicants will amount to putting the cart before the horse.
6 months ago
So proud of Shri Rahul Pandey ji, this is an exemplary step. Entire system including businessmen are harrassed by many such RTI activists working on personal interest. Unfortunately, at times even the Officers are hand in glove with such activists with the intention of making & sharing interest gathered. In residential buildings it's very common that a flat owner or tenant doesn't pay his monthly maintenance and when repeatedly asked for, they start filing complaints against the building/apartment society. This is just done, so that the society doesn't ask for maintenance due in fear of harrasments. Keep it up Rahul Pandey, more strength to you. Thanks a lot
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