शुक्रवार, 31 दिसंबर 2010

Raising Legitimate Questions is not anti-Nationalism

Ram Puniyani

The tragedy of Mumbai 26/11 was one of the worst terror attacks in recent history in more ways than one. Apart from many other aspects of the tragedy one accompanying fact was the death of Hemant Karkare who was investigating into Malegaon bomb blast. His death was preceded by many a threats to his life from various quarters, Maharashtra Government had the reports about these threats. Since then the death of this upright police officer has become a contentious issue. Anybody raising questions about it is outright dubbed anti Hindu, anti-national, pro-Pakistan, a convenient decoy for those trying to hide the mountain of truth behind this tragedy.
That’s precisely what happened when Congress General Secretary Digvijay Singh stated that Karkare was under tremendous pressure from Hindu right wing groups and that Singh had a talk with Karkare on the evening prior to Karkare’s death (December 2010). With this statement of his a hell broke loose and section of media tried to project as if Digvijay Singh’s statement is not true as Karkare was busy in such and such meetings. Now that does not cut much ice in today’s times when people are eared to the mobiles, and few minutes of conversation between meetings or during meetings is not a big deal.
Mr Singh also gave the Bhopal BSNL the number from which he had talked to Karkare but since the conversation took place over two years earlier, the record could not be traced as BSNL does not keep records beyond one year. Mr. Singh also showed the cuttings of papers which had carried this news at some time ago.
But is it the first time that we are coming to know that Karkare was under immense pressure from the people who were being investigated? Apart from Mr. Singh’s statement there had been media reports about leaders of Shiv Sena and BJP raising doubts about his integrity. The Shiv Sena’s Saamana had launched a sort of character assassination of this officer, it went to the extent of saying that they spit on Karkar’s face. Narendra Modi called him deshdrohi. The hypocrisy of both streams became clear after the murder of Karkare. Karkare was called a martyr by these communal parties and Narebdra Modi even offered Rs 1 crore to the widow of the slain Karkare, which she refused to accept.
None other than Lal Krishna Advani went to the Prime Minister to complain about the torture of Pragya Singh Thakur and demanded for investigation of Thakur’s torture. This was a direct insinuation into the work of Karkare, who was so intimidated by this gang that he sought solace and advice from the senior police officer of the stature and integrity of Julio Reibeiro. Reibiero in his obituary (Times of India28th Nov 2010) confirmed that Karkare was being harassed and intimidated by the associates of Advani-Modi. Reibeiro advised the junior colleague to carry on with his work irrespective of the pressures. "He came to me because he was looking for someone to hold his hand," Ribeiro told IANS on phone from Mumbai while stressing that Karkare was not a man to be politically influenced. 

"He… was more bothered about the BJP, which had well-oiled propaganda machinery and was running a concerted campaign against him that he had filed false cases against Pragnya Thakur and others" said Reibeiro. 

 By now many a skeletons have tumbled out of the secrecy of Sangh Parivar and starting from Pragya Singh Thakur to the top leaders Indresh Kumar and Swami Assemanand’s role in Ajmer, Mecca masjid blast and many other blasts is being investigated. One recalls that the large section of media has been quiet on this issue and starting form Nanded April 2006 blast in the house of a RSS worker Rajkondawar, these news items are either ignored or underplayed. We have seen banner headlines after some blasts proclaiming so called Jehadi groups to be behind the blasts. As the matters turn other barring the 26/11 case where Pakistan based Al Qaeda offshoot is involved, most of the cases which took place were the handiwork of the likes of Thakur, Indresh Kumar and Swami Assemanand, which had roped in a section of military officers like Lt. Colonel Prasad Shrikant Purohit.
Those activists who had been trying to raise these uncomfortable questions were bypassed, ignored or the convenient label of being pro-Pakistan was put on them. Even the Indian National Congress as a whole does not seem to be ready to stand up to the truth and has distanced itself from the statements of Mr. Singh now and earlier with Mr. Antulay in the aftermath of 26/11. Antulay had also pointed out that there may be a terrorism plus something else due to which Karkare got killed.
It seems the common perceptions in society have been so cultivated that to dub a SIMI or some Al Qaeda outfit finds easy acceptance and some scapegoats have been created, around which the social perceptions and police attitude and political opinions are based. There are infinite examples globally and locally where the manufactured perceptions dominate and rule the attitude of the state authorities. The case of Kennedy murder, now the 9/11 2001 and in our case the blasts like Mecca Masjid, Malegaon, Ajmer and even Samjhauta express are there for us to introspect. What is needed is a forthright investigation and punishing the guilty irrespective of their religion. Dubbing those raising the questions as pro-Pakistan, defy all the logic. True there are terror groups based on the soil of Pakistan, terror groups which were the product of US policy of fighting Russian army through the indoctrinated Muslim youth under the leadership of Osama bin Laden, himself a product of US policies. But that does not absolve the likes of Pragya Singh Thakur, Swami Aseemanand and company from their black deeds.
The other major propaganda has been that if you criticize these Hindutva terrorists, you are against Hindus and Hinduism. This is a deliberate projection to create a wall of confusion to hide the real culprits. While criticizing these terrorists nobody is criticizing Hindus or Hinduism. Such formulations have been manufactured to protect the guilty and those creating these formulations need to introspect rather than beating their breasts to hide the truth.  Mr Digvijay Singh is right when he says, “If I point out that Karkare was under threat from Hindu fundamentalist organizations, I am accused of being anti-national and pro-Pakistan. However, if a former Union home minister and the shadow prime minister doubts the integrity of a police officer like Karkare, and demands a judicial probe into the ATS action against Pragya Thakur, he is a nationalist!”    
Issues in Secular Politics
I January 2011
Response only to ram.puniyani@gmail.com

TV journalist Rahul Singh booked for covering Gujarat's mass grave digging

Ahmedabad: In a sinister move to gag the press in Gujarat of Narendra Modi, the Panchmahals (Godhra) district police have booked TV journalist Rahul Singh as co-accused in a case pertaining to digging of the mass graves at Panderwada, near Godhra, in 2005. The police have got a court summon issued to question Rahul who was working with Sahara TV channel here then.
The police have booked five persons including Rais Khan, a former aide of noted civil rights activist Teesta Setalvad. Setalvad’s Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) have been fighting cases of Muslim victims of 2002 Gujarat riots.
A team of Gujarat police on Wednesday descended at the Bhopal residence of Rahul. A convoy of four police vehicles from Godhra surrounded Rahul's house from all sides, creating panic and terror in the locality.
Police told his family members that they wanted to take Rahul to Gujarat for questioning in the mass grave digging case which he had reported for Sahara Samay. As Rahul was not present at his house, his family members were told to accept the summons and produce Rahul to the police but his father N K Singh, resident editor of the Bhopal edition of The Hindustan Times, declined to receive the summons.
The police left Rahul's house when local and national TV journalists reached the spot and questioned them as to why they had come to Rahul's house.
Rahul had joined Times Now in Bhopal and is currently working with Headlines Today in Delhi.
Though it is not known as to what exactly the police want to extract from Rahul, but police sources say that they want to know from Rahul who had informed him about the digging of the mass grave. So, the police want him to reveal his source, which journalists all over the world hold as the most sacred and never divulge even if they have to go to prison.
As the relatives of 27 Muslims killed during riots in Panderwada were locating their bodies, they came to know that they were buried in a mass grave in the bed of Panam river, near Lunavada, in Panchmahals (Godhra) district.
On December 27, 2005, the victims began digging the river bed and found the skeletons. Some of them informed mediapersons as well as CJP as it was extending legal assistance to riot victims.
While media reported the news of Muslim riot victims buried in a mass grave and discovery of their skeletons, police lodged an FIR against CJP coordinator Rais Khan and those involved in the digging on charges of destroying evidence. Rais Khan was in 2008 expelled by Setalvad as the latter suspected him to be working in collusion with the state government.
But police could not arrest Rais Khan and others as CJP got a bail for them from the Gujarat high court. The high court also stayed further proceedings in the case.
Later on, the Supreme Court issued orders for DNA testing of the skeletons and eight of them were identified.
But after Rais Khan quit company with Setalvad, one of the accused in the case withdrew his petition from the high court. The high court on November 24, 2010, vacated the stay in the case. After this Rais Khan and three others surrendered to the Panchmahals police. During interrogation, Rais Khan is reported to have told that he had helped the riot victims at the instance of Setalvad.
Human rights activists believe that the whole exercise to know who ordered digging of the grave and who informed the media is aimed at implicating Setalvad, who has become a headache for the Modi government by extending full support to the riot victims.
Gujarat-based human rights activists have strongly condemned the police bid to question Rahul, saying it amounted to an attack on freedom of expression.
Noted human rights activist J S Bandukwala said that Rahul and other mediapersons, who reported the mass grave digging, deserved to be felicitated as they had exposed how the police buried those killed in the riots without informing their relatives and kept it a secret. He urged media not to buckle to the Gujarat police and give tough fight to uphold freedom of the press.
[Photo by Indiadaily.org]

मंगलवार, 28 दिसंबर 2010

Dying for data: the Indian activist killed for asking too many questions

Shashidhar Mishra uncovered official wrongdoing using India's Right To Information law. Now he's become an RTI martyr

Mahdidar Mishra holds a photograph of his brother, murdered RTI activist, Shashidhar Mishra
Mahdidar Mishra holds a photograph of his brother Shashidhar, a murdered RTI activist, at their home in Baroni, Bihar. Photograph: Jason Burke for the Guardian

Shashidhar Mishra was always a curious man. Neighbours in the scruffy industrial town of Baroni, in the northern Indian state of Bihar, called him "kabri lal" or "the news man" because he was always so well informed.
Late every evening, the 35-year-old street hawker would sit down with his files and scribble notes. In February, the father of four was killed outside his home after a day's work selling pens, sweets and snacks in Baroni's bazaar.
The killing was swift and professional. The street lights went out, two men on motorbikes drew up and there were muffled shots. Mishra, an enthusiastic RTI activist, as those who systematically use India's right to information law to uncover wrongdoing and official incompetence are known, became the latest in the country's growing list of RTI martyrs.
The RTI law, introduced by the Congress party-led government in 2005, was a radical piece of legislation giving private citizens the right to demand written answers from India's always opaque and often corrupt bureaucracy and state institutions such as the police and army.
"It was a total paradigm shift from a regime of secrecy to one of transparency," the law minister, Veerappa Moily, said in an interview in Delhi. "It has changed the entire culture of governance."
In many ways, the law has been an astonishing success, prompting requests from tens of thousands of often poor, sometimes almost illiterate, always highly motivated citizens. In Bihar, more than 100,000 demands were made last year, 20 times as many as five years ago, said AK Choudry, the chief information commissioner for the state. In India as a whole at least a million RTI requests have now been filed.
"This act is for the common man of India. Without paying a bribe a poor man can get answers. We have the right to know what is happening in this country," said Afroz Alam Sahil, a student from Bihar who has registered hundreds of requests.
Yet, with the rule of law weak in much of the country, exercising new rights can mean danger. At least 10 activists have been killed so far this year. All found themselves up against powerful individuals, often in league with local authorities. One uncovered a series of corrupt land deals and thefts of social benefits by officials and was subsequently hacked to death near his home near the city of Pune, Maharashtra state.
A 55-year-old stallholder was killed after investigating electricity supplies and gambling dens in his home town of Surat in the western state of Gujarat. Two activists investigating fraud in government labour schemes for the poor were killed in the lawless eastern state of Jharkand, while others - including a 47-year-old sugar cane farmer in the central state of Maharashtra and an activist near the southern city of Bengaluru - were killed after investigating land acquisitions by big businessmen.
In July, Amit Jethava, a pharmacist in Gujarat who had hounded officials about mining endangering Asian lions, spotted deer and wild boar near his village was shot dead. There has since been a lull in the killings, but beatings, intimidations and threats continue.
Amitabh Thakur, who heads an RTI network in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, and is writing a book on the RTI martyrs said that "cases of murder, persecution, prosecution and harassment" are legion. "When you are digging for information there are people who try to hide it from you," he said. "They will do what it takes to keep it hidden."
The true number of activists killed could be much higher. Frequently, campaigners say, the authorities deny a link between the RTI requests and violence, dismissing incidents as everyday crime.
Choudry said that no killing linked to RTI had taken place in Bihar and that Mishra's death in February was "not linked to any RTI application". Local police denied Mishra was an activist and said they no longer had possession of the investigation file opened on his death. It contained, his family said, most of the answers he had received to his various RTI requests.
The dead man had hidden a box of papers at home that suggest the hawker's activism was indeed the reason for his murder. The documents, seen by the Guardian, included receipts for hundreds of different applications for information about local officials, businessmen and even the police themselves.
Mishra, described by his sister as a "sharp and smart guy", had started demanding information two years before his death. His first target was a local government-run dairy, a big employer, where he suspected animals were being mistreated. His next campaign focused on unlicensed stalls run on public land outside the local railway station. These were eventually demolished.
Encouraged by his success, Mishra asked for records of land purchases and sales by members of the local council over the last 20 years. In June last year, he began investigating the local market, largely built by local businessmen on government land. A month later, he asked why there was no electricity in the local health clinic. By the end of the year, he had established that many of the contracts awarded to resurface a road through the town were suspect. He spoke darkly to his family of death threats.
In December and January, Mishra filed a flurry of further information requests, asking for details of the postings of certain policemen and the whereabouts of vehicles the police had recently impounded.
On 9 February , he requested a list of those contracted to carry out construction of a road in the market. He also demanded the local council's 2009 accounts. The answer — which showed that at least £80,000 had been paid to contractors for work that had never been carried out — arrived in May, three months after his death.
His killers had used silenced handguns, the mark of professionals. That a power cut plunged the street into darkness for the few minutes they needed to work indicates the involvement of officials, campaigners claim.
Now his brother Mahdidar is trying to look after four extra children on a family income that has been halved. He told the Guardian he was "desperate".
"I want justice for my brother, but what can I do? There are many corrupt and powerful. I am just one man."
Cases of intimidation and violence are "isolated", Moily, the law minister, insisted. "Wherever protection is needed the government provides it."

सोमवार, 27 दिसंबर 2010

काश के वो बिनायक सेन न होता !

काश के वो बिनायक सेन न होता !

काश के वो सिखों का हत्यारा होता
या गुजरात के नरसंघार में शामिल होता 
काश के वो प्राइवेट अस्पताल के लुटेरे डाक्टरों में से एक होता 
काश के वो किसी मल्टीनेशनल कंपनी का दलाल होता 
काश के वो राष्ट्रीय धरोहर को बेचने वाला बनिया होता 
काश के वो हिंसा प्रेरित करने वाले सलवा-जुडूम का सदस्य होता 
काश के वो भाषा, धर्म, मस्जिद,मंदिर के नाम पर रथ यात्रा निकाल पता
काश के वो घूसखोर पुलिस का अफसर होता
काश के वो किसान की मेहनत से उपजे अनाज को सड़ाने वाला कृषि मंत्री होता 
काश के वो त्रिशूल बाँटने वाला धार्मिक गुरु होता 
काश के वो टीवी चेन्नलों पर नफरत फैलाने वाला कठमुल्ला होता
काश के वो जंगलों को उजाड़ कर खदान बनाने वाला मंत्री होता 
काश के वो पुलिस और सेना के अत्याचार पर गर्व करने वाला राष्ट्रवादी होता 
काश के वो अहम् की खातिर इंसानियत की बलि चढ़ाने वाले वक्तव्य देता 
काश के उसके हृदय में करुना और दया नाम की कोई चीज़ न होती 
काश के वो अपने सारे सुख और चैन तो त्याग कर गाँव की सेवा में ना जाता 
काश के वो भी हम आप जैसे सोये हुए नागरिकों में से एक होता 
काश के वो भी अपने परिवार और व्यापार में व्यस्त और मस्त होता 
काश के वो महात्मा गाँधी के आदर्शों का मज़ाक़ उड़ा पता 
काश के वो डाक्टरों द्वारा ली गयी शपथ का पालन नहीं करता 
काश के वो भ्रष्ट अन्यायपालिका और दबंगों के आगे घुटने टेक देता 
काश के वो घूस लेकर आतंक को भारत में प्रवेश देने वाला सुरक्षा कर्मी होता 
काश के वो देश को गरीबों और किसानो की समस्या से बहकाने वाली न्यूज़ सुनाता
काश के वो नोबेल शांति पुरूस्कार के विजेता ओबामा साहब के साथ नाचता गाता 
काश के उसका दिल मानवाधिकार के लिए नहीं धड़कता 
तो आज बिनायक देश का खलनायक नहीं कहलाता 
न कोई कार्यवाही होती, न ही देशद्रोही का इलज़ाम गढ़ा जाता 
उम्र क़ैद की जंजीरों से दूर वो भी सम्मानीय और स्वतंत्र होता 
काश, काश, काश !!! 

रविवार, 26 दिसंबर 2010

RTI rules amendment: Use this draft to email your objections to DOPT today

Dear fellow-activists,

Today, my colleagues and I emailed our letter to Mr R K Girdhar, Under Secretary, DOPT at USRTI-DOPT @NIC.IN

Only 24 hours remain for filing your objections, so please do so urgently. To present your thoughts, you may suitably alter our draft, which you can download here: http://tinyurl.com/DOPTletter2
The content of this letter is also copy-pasted below for your convenience.

Knowing the views of other activists will be useful. You will find a few in this folder http://tinyurl.com/RTIopinions1

Shri R K Girdhar
Under Secretary
Department of Personnel & Training (DOPT)
New Delhi

Sub: Our objections to proposed amendments to RTI Rules, and desired changes


We refer to your OM dated 10th December 2010, soliciting comments for the proposed rules. Our comments are as under:

First and foremost, we are alarmed that the proposed amendments dilute the powers given to citizens by RTI Act 2005, and arbitrarily impose dos-and-don’ts on citizens. Why has DOPT not made any rules to ensure compliance with RTI Act Section 4 (suo moto disclosure norms), despite five years of dismal compliance? Why has DOPT not proposed any rules to enforce public authorities’ compliance with Information Commission’s orders? Such a bias shows the Union government in a bad light. It appears to us that stung by disclosures of its misdoings due to the efforts of RTI activists, the government is trying to curb their powers.

Our objections to specific Rules are as below:

1.       RULE 3: Appointment of Secretary to the Commission. “The Government shall appoint an officer not below the rank of Additional Secretary to the Government of India as Secretary to the Commission who shall be the Chief Executive Officer and Registrar General of the Commission.”

a)      Undefined powers. The powers of “Secretary”, “Registrar-General” and “Chief Executive Officer” are defined neither in the RTI Act nor the proposed Rules, and are therefore open to interpretation. The term Chief Executive Officer suggests that he would have sweeping powers in the affairs of the Central Information Commission.

b)      Conflict of interest. The person being placed in this position with sweeping powers would belong to the IAS cadre, and he would continue to be part of the cadre. This signals a conflict of interest, as the Commission is intended to act as a watchdog over the Union Govt. and administration in respect of RTI Act.

c)      A parallel authority to Chief Information Commissioner. Nowhere is it said that he will work under the directions of the Chief Information Commissioner. The Secretary / Registrar General / Chief Executive Officer appointed by the government would (for reasons detailed above) potentially have undue control over the documents and affairs of the Commission, and constitute a parallel authority – a challenge to the authority of the Chief Information Commissioner. This has all the makings of an unwholesome situation.

OUR DEMAND: Frame rules specifying that…
(i)                 Chief Information Commissioner will appoint Secretary or Registrar-General, who will work under his directions and supervision.

(ii)               The Secretary or Registrar General should have worked for some years as registrar or sub-registrar in the judiciary.

2.       RULE 4: Request for Information. … “Provided that the request for information shall relate only to one subject matter and shall be limited to two hundred and fifty words, excluding the address of the Central Public Information Officer and the address of the applicant.”

a)      ‘Subject matter’ is undefined and vague. “Subject matter” is not defined in the Act or in the Rules, and is therefore open to interpretation and endless debate. Disputes regarding whether an RTI application concerns one subject matter or two would not only lead to delay and denial of information, it would also cause increase in the number of appeals and complaints. E.g., If RTI applicant asks for statistics of births and deaths from a municipal hospital, PIO can argue that ‘birth’ and ‘death’ are two different subject matters.

b)      “Two hundred and fifty words” is vague. “Words” is an undefined term that can raise several debates, such as: Is “edible-oils-depot” to be counted as one, two or three words for the purpose of this calculation? Is “Rs 1,500” one word or two words? Is “Managing Director” to be counted as two words? Will used short forms such as “i.e.”, “e.g.”, “viz.”, “etc.” be counted or not counted as one word? Will serial numbers of questions be counted as words?

c)      The limit of 250 words is apparently arbitrary. On what basis was 250 words taken as a cut-off point? Did DOPT conduct a survey for the purpose of determining a word-limit? Did it receive complaints, suggestions or recommendations concerning the word-count? If so, it should take the community of RTI users into confidence.

OUR DEMAND: Delete this rule.

3.        RULE 5 (g): Fees for providing information. “Fee for providing information … shall be charged at the following rates: the actual amount spent by public authority on hiring a machine or any other equipment, if any, to supply information.”


a)      Several terms are vague and undefined. If the PIO of a district panchayat has to engage an auto-rickshaw to go to the nearest Xerox centre, will the rickshaw be counted as “machine” or “equipment”, and the charge be imposed on the RTI appellant? If, in a far-away village with only one Xerox shop, the copying charges are Rs 5 per page, will that be the amount charged to an RTI applicant? If that is so, then why must an RTI applicant in Mumbai pay Rs 2 per page, although the market rate varies between 75 paise and Re 1? Such rules can only lead to debates and endless appeals.

OUR DEMAND: Delete this rule.

4.       SEC 14: Personal presence of the appellant before the Commission as against “Personal presence of the appellant or complainant” in Rule 7 of existing RTI rules.


Repeatedly omitting the term “or complainant” from proposed Rule 14 (Rule 7 of existing rules) effectively changes the interpretation of the Act. When read with Rule 11 (detailed below in point no. 5), omission of this term from all sub-Rules of Rule 14, which corresponds to Rule 7 in the existing Rules, seems like a deliberate and mala fide attempt to cut off the RTI applicants’ recourse to the unique remedies offered under Rule 18 of the RTI Act.

OUR DEMAND: Insert the term “or complainant” after the term “appellant”, wherever the latter term is used.


(a)   IF HE HAD FILED AN APPEAL BEFORE THE FIRST APPELLATE AUTHORITY and the First Appellate Authority or any other person competent to pass order on such appeal had made a final order on the appeal; or

(b)   where no final order has been made by the First Appellate Authority with regard to the appeal preferred, and a period of 45 days from the date on which such appeal was preferred has expired.

The proposed amendment amounts to cancelling the citizen’s discretionary power (conferred by the RTI Act) to bypass the first appellate authority and file a complaint directly before the commission under RTI Act Sec 18. Furthermore, the amendment would nullify RTI Act Sec 18 by compelling frustrated RTI appellants to file a first appeal, and then requiring them to label even complaints as “Second Appeal u/s 19(3)”.

OUR DEMAND: Delete this rule.


1)      For the purpose of compliance with RTI Act Section 4 -- suo moto disclosure norms – the head of the concerned public authority will be considered as the PIO, and action u/s 20 will be recommended by the Information Commission as they think fit. 

2)      For the purpose of compliance with Information Commission’s orders, make a rule that public authority must send compliance report to the Commission within a month after deducting penalty, initiating disciplinary action, giving information etc.

Sir, your proposed rules have some good features (on which we have not commented here), but these are outweighed by the above objectionable features. The overall effect of the proposed rules is to weaken the implementation of the RTI Act, and reduce the power of civil society to combat unaccountability and corruption. We urge Govt. of India to desist from notifying this draft of RTI rules, until the above-mentioned changes have been carried out.

With Best Wishes,

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