Anna Hazare may continue to stay in the news as the face of the fight against corruption but he is by no means the only one. Meet the other Annas — people who are fighting the system with commitment, except they are doing it away from the limelight.
'I'll bring out illegalities of governments'
S R Hiremath (68)
Takes on environmental issues
Based IN: Karnataka
USP: He has been battling the issue of illegal mining in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh
S R Hiremath has been an activist for more than 30 years. An engineering graduate who worked in the US, he returned in 1979 and founded the India Development Service. Later, he formed the Samaja Parivarthana Samudaya (SPS) in Dharwad. A winner of the Indira Gandhi Paryavaran Puraskar for 2009, he and his friends, Vishnu Kamat and Ravi Kangavi, filed a petition in the Supreme Court against the rampant illegal mining in Karnataka. As a result, the Supreme Court asked the CBI to probe Janardhana Reddy and BS Yeddyurappa. Hiremath has said his fight is also against the illegal mining scams of previous governments in Karnataka.
In 1997, when he brought the timber mafia's harassment of tribal people in Bastar, Chhattisgarh, to the notice of the Supreme Court, he received death threats. The pattern, it seems, has been repeated each time he has taken on the powerful. During the BSY case, he got threatening calls, and when Janardhana Reddy was arrested, the intelligence department suggested he avail of police security.
Still, the Gandhian persists in travelling by bus and trains and won't be intimidated. "I am not against the BJP. When I was in USA in 1975, I protested against the Emergency. I protested about the illegalities of Ramakrishna Hegde's Janata government and I continue to fight. I will bring out the illegalities of the governments of SM Krishna, Dharam Singh and HD Kumaraswamy too," says the activist who has two adult children who live in the US. "We get money from villagers, volunteers and friends settled abroad," he said adding for the benefit of the doubters that account details are submitted annually to the Union Government and the Registrar of Cooperatives.
Hari Chand Arora (60)
Banker turned advocate and RTI activist
Based in: Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh
USP: Takes information received under RTI to their logical end by filing PILs in the high court
A practising advocate at the Punjab and Haryana high court, Hari Chand Arora worked for 20 years with the New Bank of India. His foray into PILs began in 2005 after the enactment of the Right to Information (RTI) Act. He used RTI to get information from the Punjab government about criminal cases against government employees. As a result of the high court's directives following Arora's PILs, 500 convicted public servants were removed during 2007-08 in Punjab and Haryana. This included a number of police officials, doctors, head masters, sub divisional officers, superintending engineers and tehsildars. Arora has succeeded in getting directives from the high court to the Haryana and Punjab governments to frame policies for protecting whistle blowers.
He also contested the infamous Manoj-Babli honour killing case of June 2007 in the Kaithal district of Haryana free of cost. As a result, the high court directed the state government to award Rs 6 lakhs to Chanderpati (Manoj's mother).
His eagerness to fight corruption can be traced to an incident in 1973. "My bank manager took a bribe from a probationary clerk to make him permanent but did not fulfill the promise," he says reminiscing that in the end he was the only one who stood by the clerk. As a result, he was immediately transferred. Arora now believes filing RTIs and PILs are the only way to get justice. "There is no other way to eradicate corruption in society," says Arora funds his crusades himself. His wife and two married daughters appreciate Arora's work but are also scared for his life.
— Sanjeev Verma
Simpreet Singh (32)
RTI activist fighting housing scams
Based in: Mumbai
USP: Has been using RTI to unearth high profile scams
Simpreet Singh worked relentlessly on exposing the Adarsh housing scam since 2006. He filed more than 10 queries under the RTI Act and obtained information from several government offices including the office of the District Collector of Mumbai, Defence, the Urban Development Department, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), and the Department of Environment.
"It took us almost two years to gather all the information. In 2008, we filed complaints to the authorities. On the basis of our complaint, the Department of Environment served a notice to Adarsh CHS but no further action was taken. Therefore, in March 2010, we filed a Public Interest Litigation," said Singh who is a member of the National Alliance of the Peoples Movement (NAPM). Two other members of NAPM, Amit Maru and Santosh Daundkar were also active in unearthing the scam. Simpreet's crusade against corruption hasn't ended with Adarsh. He persistently follows other alleged scams involving public land and environment violations. "We are working on other scams like the Hiranandani-Powai land issue and the one involving a plot reserved for housing project-affected people being allotted to CHS. We are also working on another scam involving a 40-storied allegedly illegal building at Walkeshwar for which a PIL has been filed in the Bombay High Court for the violation of environment laws," said Simpreet who is employed at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS).
"RTI opens the state government doors which are otherwise closed for the common man, especially the poor who otherwise cannot fight exploitation," said Singh who is also pursuing a Phd on Mumbai's slums.
Akhil Gogoi (36)
RTI activist and peasant leader
USP: He fights for farmers' rights and for indigenous peoples
There's no getting away from Akhil Gogoi in Assam.He has been responsible for embarassing local authorities with RTI revelations, irritating the opposition-less Assam government, confronting the police and annoying PSUs and corporate houses by mobilising the masses against 'anti-farmer' projects. In the six years since he burst onto the scene, the president of the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) has had his share of trouble. At one point, he had to go underground for months after being accused of being backed by anti-India militants. He has also been termed a Maoist. "I am a Marxist, not a Maoist. I believe in social transformation, and the KMSS is trying to mobilise the masses for wresting their rights. But the government has never ceased to implicate me as a Maoist, a tag, apparently, for anyone who disagrees and tries to stall anti-people projects," he said.
Gogoi won the Public Cause Research Foundation's RTI Award for exposing a Rs 1.25crore scam in the Sampoorna Gram Rozgar Yojana and a Rs 60 lakh scam in the Indira Awas Yojana in eastern Assam's Golaghat district. He fights for farmers' rights and the right of indigenous peoples to forest resources. He also took up cudgels on behalf of people evicted from hills across Assam's urban landscape before targeting hydroelectric projects. Much of his energy has been directed at NHPC's 2000MW Lower Subansiri Project that will be India's biggest. Straddling the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border, it is feared that this project could submerge large swathes of northeastern Assam. The project has been stalled for a year because Gogoi and fellow activists have prevented the turbines from reaching the site. "We will not allow this anti-people project to start, even if it means fighting till the last breath," he said.
'My effort led to the dismissal of spurious teachers'
Shiv Prakash Rai (53)
Farmer with 1000 RTI interventions
Based in: Bihar
USP: The leading RTI activist in the state, Rai has had many successes
Clad in his trademark white dhoti-kurta, Shiv Prakash Rai (53), looks every bit the farmer from Buxar district of south-central Bihar. But with over 1,000 cases of public interest to his credit since 2006, he has emerged as the leading RTI activist in Bihar.
One of Rai's stellar successes is the unraveling through the RTI Act of gross corruption in the largely centre-funded 'Million shallow tube wells scheme', especially in his native Buxar.
The scheme, which was meant to provide farmers with funds to sink shallow tube wells for irrigation, was shut down thanks largely to corruption.
Using RTI, Rai sought information from 70 banks in the district on the subsidies given out for the purchase of farm implements under the Prime Minister's Rozgar Yojana (PMRY).
Rai's activism isn't restricted to RTI. In February 17, 2011, Bindeshwari Sah alias Bachcha Sah of Dhansoi village in Buxar was going towards a nearby river when a high voltage wire fell on him and caused his immediate death. Rai's efforts facilitated a compensation of Rs 1 lakh to Sah's next of kin.
Recently, Rai lodged a complaint against 38 block level teachers in the Goh block of Aurangabad district in southwestern Bihar, who had allegedly been appointed on the basis of fake certificates.
Using the RTI act, Rai has also managed to expose the illegal occupation of government quarters in Patna. "Unfortunately action in the matter is still awaited," he said.
—Rai Atul Krishna
Varsha Deshpande (45)
Lawyer and women's rights activist
Based in: Satara and Mumbai
USP: Conducts sting operations to expose doctors performing sex-determination tests
In 1985, when Varsha Deshpande, then a student, participated in Mulgi Jhali Ho (A Girl Is Born), an iconic play about exploitation and discrimination against women, she did not anticipate that it would determine the course of her life. Two decades later, as a driving force behind the fight against the falling child-sex ratio in Maharashtra, she is thankful for the inspiration. Deshpande is currently on the National Monitoring Committee for Implementation of Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex selection) (PCPNDT) Act.
A trained lawyer, she conducts sting operations on doctors suspected of doing sex determination tests. So far, she has done 36 sting operations in the state. 17 of these resulted in convictions, and Deshpande had to be given police protection for six months. "Conducting stings is extremely difficult," she says. "The pregnant women who serve as decoys are invaluable. But ineffective prosecution is a bottleneck," she said.
Most recently, Deshpande helped the petition that led to the banning of portable sonography machines in Mumbai.
"Mumbai has the maximum sonography centres. You may not find a toilet, but you will find a sonography centre! Unfortunately, we cannot conduct any more stings in Mumbai because it costs so much," she said adding that she has a list of 40 doctor suspects in the city.
Dr Anand Rai (35)
He used RTI to stop illegal and unethical drug trials
Based in: Indore
USP: He has angered his fraternity by stopping exploitative drug trials on poor patients
The credit for highlighting Indore's illegal drug trials goes to 35-year-old ophthalmologist Dr Anand Rai. Last month, on the basis of his PIL, the Supreme Court issued notices to the state government, the health ministry, the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation, the Medical Council of India and the MGM medical college. Since 2005, Rai has filed more than 1000 RTI applications including 100 for issues related to drug trials. "So far, I've spent more than Rs 50,000 on seeking documents," he said.
"As a student at MGM Medical College, Indore, I witnessed four such trials on poor patients. It jolted me," he recalled. "I assessed the documents and realised the seriousness of the issue. I started taking snaps and by 2010, I had gathered enough material," he said. "I talked to patients to find out how they were taking their consent. In all the cases, it turned out to be a thumb impression on documents written in English," he added. As per the RTI information, so far, 32 patients have died of drug trials in Indore alone. There is no information about 25 others. Rai's expose has angered other doctors.
"When I applied for the post of senior resident doctor at MGM Hospital, the criteria were changed to keep me away," he reveals. The experience taught him that nothing comes easy. The Jabalpur bench of the Madhya Pradesh High Court ruled in his favour and Dr Rai joined in January 2008 on a three-year term. At the hospital, he continued to seek information on wrongs. "In 2010, my job was terminated on the plea that I provoked junior doctors to strike, even though I was not on strike. Ironically, the junior doctors were terminated for three days only," said Dr Rai, who is now a faculty member at the Regional Health and Family Welfare Training Centre, Indore.
The experience has not discouraged him. "I know I am walking on the edge. My family is afraid but I want to take my fight to the logical end," said Dr Rai, whose gynaecologist wife, Dr Gauri Rai, is expecting their first child.
Bhaiyya Jee (85)
Works in a range of areas from consumer rights to educating destitutes and rehabilitating lepers
Based in: Luckow
USP: The most visible social worker in the city, he is accepted across class and community lines
At 85, Bhaiyya Jee, may seem too weak to stand up properly, but he continues to be enthusiastic about public service. Present at almost every public welfare event in Lucknow, Bhaiyya Jee has been actively helping those in need through individual efforts and by participating in welfare programmes. He is associated with more than 50 nongovernmental organisations working on different sectors in the city.
His journey, as an activist, started five decades ago when he was elected as a corporator of the Narhi ward of the Lucknow Municipal Corporation (LMC). Since then, the Gandhian has devoted himself to public life, getting involved in projects that educate destitute children and rehabilitate leprosy patients. He has often ensured the construction of roads and the installation of hand pumps in city areas by organising the people to put pressure on local corporators.
"It is the duty of every individual to ensure that his neighbours are happy," said the man who is popular across community and religious lines. As a result, Bhaiyya Jee has been made the patron of a range of organisations including the Divisional Railway User's Committee where he has often taken up, with senior officials, issues that constantly trouble train passengers .
Among his successes is the battle he waged against the scam that embroiled the City Cooperative Bank in 1998. As a patron of the Depositors Welfare Association, a body of consumers who were victims of the scam, he battled against the fraud committed by the bank. As a result, the bank was shut down and the culprits arrested. Bhaiyya Jee's dedication was recognised even Mother Theresa, who often visited him in Lucknow.
"I worked with her for many years. She is one of the icons who inspired me to take up social service," says Bhaiyya Jee who believes in religious tolerance. "All faiths lead to one God. So why differentiate?" he wonders.