India’s transparency law — Right To Information (RTI)— completed six years this October. It has had its share of success and criticism. But, the law gave India a new genre of citizen activists, who forced the government to lift its veil of secrecy. HT presents a profile of few of them.
Subhash Aggarwal, 61: He filed his first RTI application in a family dispute to know the status of his petition in the Delhi HC. It stirred the judiciary five years ago. Since then Aggarwal has witnessed how RTI can push the government towards transparency. His two year fight to know assets of Supreme Court judges bore result when the SC decided to put the asset records of all the judges on the court’s website in 2010. His similar RTI applications with the government meant posting of asset details of union cabinet ministers and the President on government websites. “RTI can bring in lot of positive change,” he said.
Vivek Garg, 41: His RTI application in the Prime Minister’s office led to Finance Ministry’s note on 2G spectrum case pushing the government into a corner. Garg, who heads the BJP’s RTI cell, said the note he received was among the 1,000 pages of correspondence between the PMO and the Finance Ministry. “When I examined the 1,000 pages I was given, I saw this note,” he said. He claims he filed the RTI on behalf of resident welfare associations in Delhi.
Yogacharya Anand, 45: His series of RTI applications helped in blowing the lid off the Adarsh Housing scam in up-market Colaba in Mumbai. In 2006, while pursuing a case, he learnt that a housing society meant for defence personnel had been usurped by influential people. His filed an RTI application with defence ministry, which refused to provide information saying defence organizations are not under the ambit of the transparency law. In the next two years he filed 14 RTI applications with different Maharashtra government departments and finally got hold of 300 pages exposing the scam. “An army person told me about it and I filed RTI applications. By accident I stumbled upon Adarsh scam,” he said.
Vihar Druve, 52: His RTI fight of three years against the bureaucracy had an impact when the Maharashtra government decided to provide him details of asset declared by officers working with the state government in 2010. A year later, the Central government while responding to his RTI application declared that it will place asset details of all Central government officials in public domain by June 2011. “My interest in RTI started in Pune when I experienced that the government officials feared the transparency law. It was then I filed my first application seeking details of assets of bureaucrats in Maharashtra,” he said.
Akhil Gogoi, 35: Used RTI to expose scams in delivery of the Central government schemes —Sampoorna Gram Rozgar Yojna (SGRY) and Indira Awas Yojana (IAY) in Assam in 2010. Another set of his RTI applications on the impact of the dams proposed in Arunachal Pradesh and Assam galvanized people against the hydro projects. RTI turned him into people’s hero but he had to face government’s fury, which described him as a Maoist in a recent report. “A person seeking social transformation using RTI cannot be a Maoist. Let the government prove its charge,” he said.
RTI crusaders who came under attack
Shehla Masood, 36: She had questioned the Madhya Pradesh government’s policy of favouring certain individuals. She had irked a top police and a forest department official with her RTIs. She was shot dead in front of her house in Bhopal on August 16, 2011. The accused are yet to be arrested.
Amit Jetwa, 36: Had used RTI to expose illegal mining and encroachment near the world famous Gir forest reserve and was shot dead in July 2010. Nephew of a local BJP leader, Dinu Solanki, was arrested on the charge of killing him for allegedly exposing Solanki’s illegal mining racket.
Satish Shetty, 38: A whistleblower, credited with exposing major land scams in Talegaon and Lonavala regions, was killed in January 2010. He shot to fame after exposing certain corrupt land deals in and around the country’s first expressway, the Mumbai—Pune expressway.