Needless to say, Right to Information Act (RTI) activists who are now in the forefront of Human rights defenders (HRDs) have become most vulnerable to all manners of threats, attacks and murder by vested interests in India.
Unlike other HRDs, a majority of the RTI activists are still not a part of any collective forum or organisation; they often act alone, moved by anger at corruption and other illegal activities.
Though the RTI applicants and activists serve as self-inspired whistleblowers to cleanse the existing system of governance of its manifold malaises including corruption and maladministration, the Right to Information Act, 2005 provides as such no inbuilt mechanism for their protection in the face of physical attacks or malafide litigations hurled against them. In the past many RTI applicants owingto their relentless efforts to 'promote transparency and accountability' in the working of the public authorities have been subject to a variety of persecutions including murder, merely for their lawful act of seeking information. Many of them face threats and assaults of various kinds on a regular basis. Even common people seeking information from their Gram Panchayat or the local administration are made to suffer gruelling humiliation and harassment by the vested interests, quite often in connivance with the Govt. officials. There are some instances in the recent past where the RTI applicants who sought for information elated to bungling of MG-NREGA money were killed. Further, quite many instances of threats and attacks go unreported in the media and therefore un-redressed too.
On 28.12.14, Sri Ganesh Chandra Panda of Rangeilunda Block of Ganjam district was murdered by vested groups, as he tried to unearth huge corruption in FDR and NREGA work through RTI. Similarly, one month has not passed, another RTI Activist Sri Krupasindhu Sahu of Niali Block of Cuttack district was killed by Supari killer because of his attempt to expose corruption and misappropriation of fund in BGREI fund ( Bringing 2nd Green Revolution in Eastern India). Apart from that, attack on RTI Activists is reported in every alternate day in mass media. The list has no end. The growing attack and murder has raised concern about security and protection of RTI Activists in the state. On the other hand, the police administration are seen hand in glove with vested groups and criminals who are masterminding murder and derailed the enquiry without giving any justice to the victims or the family of victims.
Keeping it in view, a state-level Convention of RTI Activists and Human Rights Defenders in protest against murder of RTI Activists was held at Lohia Academy, Bhubaneswar on 5.2.15 at 11am. More than hundred RTI Activists, Human Rights Defenders, advocates and social activists from Ganjam, Puri, Balasore, Bhadrak, Bolagir, Kalahandi, Jajpur, Jagatsingh Pur, Kendrapara had participated i the meeting. The meeting was organised under joint auspices of Human Rights Front, Odisha Soochana Adhikar Abhijan and Civil Society Forum on Human Rights. The meeting started with Sri Rabi Das, senior journalist presiding over the meeting. On request from chair, Sri Manoj Jena conducted one minute Silence Prayer in memory of Sri Ganesh Prasad Panda and Sri Krupasindhu Sahu, two RTI Martyrs. Sri Manoj Jena, Chairperson, Human Rights Front At the outset, Sri Pradip Pradhan, State Convener, Odisha Soochana Adhikar Abhijan delivered welcome address and introductory remarks about objectives of the meeting. He presented chronologically the incidence of attack, threats on RTI Activists in Odisha. Around 30 RTI Activists have been victim of brutal attack, threats, institution of false cases by corrupt influential people, political people and state administration. But recent murder of RTI two activists has set an alarming bell for us to stand united and work together to fight out the issues relating to corruption ad irregularities in development work. The fourteen years of misrule of Naveen Patnaik regime has not only perpetuated corruption in all fields but helped increasing crime against activists and common people in the state. It is call for all activists to work together to fight out the issues affecting the interest of the state. He made appeal all the participants to speak on this issue and suggest for future course of action. All the activists one by one expressed their concerns and presented a number of proposals strengthening RTI movement in Odisha and to work unitedly to build up a corruption-free state. The prominent activists who spoke in the convention were Sri Sambhu Panigrahi , advocate, Berhampur, Sri Jayant Das, Puri, Sri Sudarsha Das, Agami Odisha, Bhubaneswar, Sri Jayant Bhoi, Dalit Activist, Shri Abdul Wali,Ms Anuradhan Subudhi, member of State Forum of Chit Fund affected persons, Sri Sudhir Mohanty, advocate, Sri Saroj Padhi, advocate and Human Rights Law Network, Sri Akhand, Human Rights Defenders, Sri Biswa Mohan Mohanty, RTI Activist, Bhadrak, Sri Ashok Das, Samajik Nyaya Andolan, Sushree Babuni, ZP member, Sri Ashok Mallik, State President, NACDOR, Odisha Chapter, Sri Bijay Pradhan, Ekta Parishad, Sri Bijay Parida, Odisha Jana Adhikar Parishad, Sri Sudarshan Chhotaray, People’s Media Initiative, Sri Lalit Mishra, Puri, Sri Dibakar Nayak, RTI Activists, Sri Tapan Mishra, Activists,Angull, Sri Akshaya Jena, Jajpur Ekta Manch, Sri Ashok Nanda, Lok Samukhya, Sushree Bijaylaxmi Routray,Society for Fast Justice,, Sri Niranjan Biswal, Prof. Jantrana Parikhit,Odisha Nagarik Samaj, Sri Sanatan Mallik, RTI Activist, Jajpur, Sri Himashu Tripathy, Journalist, Kalahandi, Sri Pradipta Nayak, Human Rights Defenders, Sri Dhirendra Panda,CSFHR etc.
Decision of the Convention
1. Every participant expressed grave concerns over gruesome murder and attack on RTI Activists in Odisha and agreed to work unitedly to fight out corruption and irregularities in State administration and cooperate and support each other at the time of any type of attack on RTI Activists in the state.
2. The convention unequivocally condemned the murder of Krupasindhu Sahu and decided to take all measures to give justice to the family of the victims.
3. To carry out united action for protection of RTI Activists and to fight out corruption, Sri Rabi Das suggested developing a common platform of all Activists called Unity for Protection of Activists of Odisha which was endorsed by all the participants in the convention. Sri Pradip Pradhan and Sri Manoj Jena were selected as conveners of the Forum.
4. Legal and Meta Legal support to be provided to the HRDs against false and fabricated cases.
5. Advocacy for safeguard of Human Rights Defenders
6. A Public meeting in protest against attack on RTI Activist Sri Krupasindhu Sahu will be organised at Niali, on 10.2.15 at 4.30 PM. Sri Jayant Bhoi, Sri Ashok Mallik and Sushree Babuni were given responsibility to organise the programme.
7. Mass demonstration will be organised in front of assembly, Odisha on 13.2.15. 10,000 activists will gather and hold demonstration. National level RTI Activists like Smt. Aruna Roy, Sri Nikhil Dey will be invited to address the rally.
8. An RTI Cell will be set up to monitor the activities of RTI Activists and threats to their life.
. A Martyr tomb will be set up in Bhubaneswar. A 5-member committee consisting of Sri Manoj Jena, Sri Ashok Nanda, Sri Akhand, Sri Jayant Das and Sri Pratap sahu will look after.
Sri Manoj Jena offered vote of thanks.
Report prepared by Pradip Pradhan, M-9937843482