'Harassment' drives RTI activist to suicide | india | Hindustan Times
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'Harassment' drives RTI activist to suicide

india Updated: Oct 02, 2007 01:08 IST
Chitrangada Choudhury

Right to information and right to life, both seem to have been casualties of corruption and abuse of power in Nanded district last week.

The police are investigating the possible role of a health department official in pushing a young right-to-information activist from Mukhed, some 75 km from Nanded, to suicide.

Jaipal Chavan, a government hospital superintendent, was named in the suicide note of Shivam Jankuatar (24) for having brought the activist “social shame by lodging a false criminal complaint against me”. On Wednesday morning Jankuatar handed the note to people at the local taluka office and consumed poison on the premises.

"The note maintains that Chavan had lodged a false case because Jankutuar was attempting to expose corruption by asking the official for copies of expenditure bills under the Right to Information Act,” district Superintendent of Police (SP) Vijay Singhal said.

"On September 22 the local police had booked Jankutuar for extortion after receiving a complaint from Chavan.”

State Information Commissioner Suresh Joshi said a report had been sought on the incident from authorities in Nanded, which is about 650 km from the city. "I don’t have any details on the case yet, but the commission has asked for a report from the district administration," Joshi said.

“If there is evidence of any violation under the Right to Information Act by local officials, or of the person being harassed because of using the act, then we will take up the matter with the government,” he added. The district civil surgeon was unavailable for comment.

SP Singhal said the extreme step of suicide was mysterious, and the police were also inquiring into the kind of information Jankutuar had sought.

“If he had suspected corruption, he could have approached the local police, and they would have lodged a case under the law. It is still not clear why he went to the extent of taking his life," Singhal said.

The state leads the country in putting to use the two-year-old sunshine law, with over 400 right to information applications each day probing hitherto opaque government processes.

But a senior district official, speaking on condition of anonymity for protocol reasons, maintained that attempts to extort officials on the basis of incriminating information extricated under the RTI law were not uncommon, especially in rural offices.

"As an appellate authority in Nanded, I have heard cases where the appellant using the law has arrived at a settlement with the official, and withdrawn his request for information at the hearing," he said.