Rights panel focus on RTI chinks

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By NALIN VERMA in Patna
  • Published 7.11.09
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Patna, Nov. 7: The resident of Pir Maker village in Saran district, Birendra Kumar Sah, 40, can neither walk straight nor can he use his hands to fire a revolver.

But, the man was forced to go into hiding when police set out to arrest him for a case involving murder and arms loot. Birendra’s sin was that he sought information about a proposed appointment of 50 teachers from officials concerned under the Right to Information Act.

Birendra and several others like him today gathered at the people’s court, organised by the Hum Log Trust and Bihar Right to Information Forum, bodies fighting for the cause of information seekers under the RTI. The people’s court brought to the fore as many as 49 cases of harassment of citizens all across the state for seeking information under the RTI.

Most of the harassed information seekers reeled off tales of woes in presence of Parveen Amanullah, the joint convenor of Hum Log Trust and Bihar Right to Information Forum.

The congregation also included Magsaysay award winner and activist Arbind Kezriwal, lawyer and civil rights activist Prashant Bhushan and chairman of the state human rights commission S.N. Jha.

“I had submitted a formal application seeking information about the appointment of 50 teachers in my block on July 10, 2007. Instead of providing the information, the panchayat head lodged a murder case against me in August of 2008,” Birender said. The hapless man was then forced to flee the village and so into hiding. It was then on the intervention of Hum Log Trust, that the Saran district magistrate stayed the case on him.

Kanchan Sahani, a man belonging to extremely backward class and BPL card-holder, spent 26 days in prison after seeking information about the construction of a house for his family under the Indira Awas Yojna. Sahni, a resident of Panapur village in north Bihar’s Muzaffarpur, sought information about his house on November 6, 2006.

On August 6, 2007, he was arrested and put behind bars for “attempt to murder”. “I was released on bail later after 26 days for an offence I had not committed.”

Bihar was one of the first states to implement the Right to Information Act. But, of late the state has witnessed a plethora of cases of officials framing information seekers in false cases.

“Bihar earned the laurels for implementing the RTI ahead of others. It was a good thing to happen to the state. It is unfortunate that information seekers are being harassed in the state which became a pioneer in arming the people with the right to information”, said Arbind Kezriwal.

S.N. Jha, the chairman of the State Human Rights Commission, said that the commission had asked the chief secretary to take action against the erring officials and submit a report within four weeks. Prashant Bhushan pointed out that the dominance of the bureaucracy in the state information commission has played a negative role in the act implementation.