|Barmeshwar Nath. Picture by Sanjay Choudhary Ramashankar
A Rohtas-based Right to Information activist, Barmeshwar Nath, was slapped with a case under sections of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act for exposing the alleged misdeeds of a government official.
Barmeshwar, a resident of Neel Kothi under the jurisdiction of Dehri-on-Sone police station in Rohtas, was made an accused in a case lodged with the SC/ST police station recently. The complainant of the case Krishnadev Paswan charged the RTI activist of hurling abuses and robbing him of Rs 300 in cash.
As the charges against Barmeshwar were serious in nature, he approached the sub-divisional police officer-cum-additional superintendent of police (ASP) Abhay Kumar Lal for justice. He submitted a petition to the police officer on December 2, 2013, but to no avail. Thereafter, he sought the intervention of the superintendent of police Vikas Barman. That, too, proved futile.
“The petitions submitted to the two senior police officers are still gathering dust in their offices. On the contrary, the complainant of the case, Paswan, is pressurising the investigating officer to initiate legal action against me. As I apprehended my arrest, I finally decided to knock the door of the judiciary,” a visibly upset Barmeshwar said.
The RTI activist alleged that Paswan had earlier threatened him to sue him in a false case. “He had also threatened me with dire consequences after accusing me of pestering him for providing information about the execution of development schemes undertaken by the Nagar Parishad,” he added.
Narrating the tale of woes, Barmeshwar said he invited the wrath of Paswan for exposing his misdeeds. Paswan, who was posted as chief assistant accounts officer of the Nagar Parishad at Dehri-on-Sone, also happened to be the information officer-designate to provide information to the applicants under the Right to Information Act, 2005.
Paswan in alleged collusion with the executive officer Rajeshwar Jha siphoned off public funds worth several lakhs of rupees. “What has baffled the people here is that Paswan was designated as the information officer despite the fact that he was arrested on the bribe charges from his office by a vigilance team from Patna a few years ago,” Barmeshwar revealed.
ASP Lal said: “I will certainly look into the grievances of the petitioner and ensure that justice was done to him.” He, however, admitted that a case was lodged against the RTI activist by the said public servant after the former had approached the latter for some information under the RTI Act.
Paswan is not an isolated example of an RTI activist being harassed by the public servants in the state for exposing corruption in the government offices.
A Muzaffarpur-based RTI activist Ram Kumar Thakur had to pay with his life for exposing corruption in the execution of works under Ratnauli panchayat. Thakur, also a lawyer, was killed last year after he lodged a complaint against the mukhiya (panchayat head) Raj Kumar Sahni and five others in the local vigilance court.
Thakur was among the five RTI activists, who have been killed in the state in the past five years. Shiv Prakash Rai, a prominent RTI activist credited with filing over 1,000 applications, said the state information commission has received over 200 complaints of harassment by the police and other government officials since March 2012, when they set up a monitoring cell to look into such complaints.