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State RTI activist claims threat to life

Patna, Aug 20: At a time when protest against corruption is making headlines across the country, crusaders for people’s rights are at the receiving end in Bihar.

An RTI activist from Rohtas, Ashok Paswan (49), has allegedly received a threat to his life for seeking information on alleged financial irregularities in disbursement of loans to farmers by a nationalised bank in the district.

“I received a call on my mobile around 5.30pm on Friday. The caller asked me not to take interest in the matter related to disbursement of loan to farmers by Punjab National Bank (PNB). I had sought detailed information under RTI from Bheria branch of the bank on disbursement of loans to the farmers of the area,” Paswan said.

Soon after receiving the call, Paswan sent a text message to Rohtas superintendent of police (SP) Manu Maharaj and station house officer (SHO), Dehri-on-Sone police station, Ramesh Kumar Singh, informing them about the threat.

“As I was about to board a train at Patna Junction for Dehri-on-Sone, I thought it prudent to inform the police officials immediately through SMS,” he said.

The SMS read: “PNB Bheria branch ke manager ke phone se dhamki mili hai. Kripya is sambandh mei puchh-tachh karen (I have received a threat call from the phone of the manager of PNB’s Bheria branch. Please inquire into the matter.”

The text was sent to the Dehri SHO at 6.19pm and to the SP at 6.20pm. “I have saved the text message sent to the police officials,” Paswan said, adding that he reached his house at Shivganj locality late in the night.

He said he would lodge a formal complaint with the police. “Even the DGP has time and again said that complaints can be lodged through SMS or mailed to the police officials concerned. There is no need to visit the police station for the purpose," Paswan added.

Rohtas SP Manu Maharaj, however, claimed he had not received any text message from the RTI activist. “I have not received any such complaint till date,” he said.

Paswan, who has been involved in social activities for long, has invited the wrath of public servants too for seeking information under RTI. He said he had gone to Patna on Friday to submit an affidavit to the Bihar Lokayukt office, seeking action against senior officials of personnel and administrative reforms department (general administration department) for not taking any action against former deputy development commissioner of Rohtas Roy Pramod Kumar and former Dehri block development officer Santosh Kumar.

“It is shocking to learn that departmental proceedings could not be initiated against the erring officials even after the recommendation of the district magistrate who found the irregularities allegations against the two officials (in 2006-07) to be true,” the RTI activist said.

The district magistrate had written to the principal secretary of the department concerned about one-and-a-half years ago.

“Even the principal secretary of the general administration department took little interest in initiating action against the officials, which prompted me to lodge a formal complaint with the Lokayukt,” he added.

According to Paswan, he was earlier threatened by former child development project officer of Dehri (Sadar) Sandhya Kumari when he sought information about alleged misappropriation of funds released for welfare schemes. “I had to appear before Patna High Court to protect myself from further harassment,” he told The Telegraph over phone on Saturday.

Prior to this, an RTI activist from Begusarai, Shashidhar Mishra, was shot dead near his residence at Phulwaria under Barauni-Phulwaria police station by motorcycle-borne assailants in February 2010. Mishra, popularly known as “Khabarilal”, had sought information about the allotment of a public phone booth on the premises of Barauni railway station.

The information had exposed the nexus between the Government Railway Police and the criminals. Mishra had also invited the ire of government officials as well as representatives of non-government organisations for exposing scams in government-run welfare schemes in the area.

RTI activist from Buxar, Shiv Prakash Rai, had to spend about a month in jail for seeking information about Pradhan Mantri Rojgar Yojana in May 2008. Then district magistrate of Buxar Vishnudeo Prasad charged Rai with “entering the DM’s chamber and demanding Rs 25,000 as monthly rangdari (extortion money).

Eventually Rai was jailed for 29 days until the SP found the “bizarre case” to be untrue. “I had to spend almost a month in jail for seeking information under RTI,” he told The Telegraph.

When approached for comments, additional director-general of police (headquarters) Rajvardhan Sharma said instructions had been issued to all superintendents of police to look into the complaints of the RTI activists and take appropriate action against the offenders.

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