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Murder fuels RTI fears

New Delhi, April 11: Freddie Mercury's song " Another one bites the dust" could soon become the RTI anthem for India, transparency advocates lamented today, as they lost their 65th activist with the murder of Suhas Haldankar in Pune.

Haldankar's murder on April 2 in a way vindicates the fear that RTI activists have been voicing for a week now after the Narendra Modi government resurrected a UPA-vintage proposal to allow closure of appeals on the death of the appellant.

Activists fear that the inclusion of this clause in the proposed RTI Rules, 2017, - up for discussion till this weekend - will further endanger the lives of those using the transparency law to expose corruption.

Haldankar was an avid user of the RTI law to expose corruption in Pune's Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation, which had been an NCP stronghold till the recent local body elections in Maharashtra. The state has accounted for 16 of the 65 RTI activists murdered in the decade that the law has been operational.

After news of Haldankar's murder reached RTI activists in Delhi, the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) wrote to the National Human Rights Commission today, requesting it to monitor the police investigation as such interventions in the past has facilitated a more rigorous probe in similar cases.

In a separate letter to the Maharashtra State Information Commission, the CHRI urged it to call for all pending RTI applications filed by Haldankar and direct proactive disclosure of all information in the public domain in accordance with the RTI Act. Such a move, it is hoped, will nullify the efforts of his killers to keep the information he had sought from public domain.

Another RTI activist, Lokesh Batra, lamented that instead of protecting its citizens, the government was planning to change the RTI rules, putting the lives of transparency campaigners in danger. "This clause for abatement of an appeal on the death of an appellant is the best way to scare citizens from using the RTI Act and, thereby, kill the law itself."

In 2011, when the UPA had tried to introduce the abatement clause, there was a strong backlash from the RTI community. The National Advisory Committee, headed by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, wrote to then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on March 31, 2011, urging the government to drop the provision from what later became the RTI Rules, 2012.


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