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Book on slain RTI activists, murder cases released

At least three accused have been acquitted in the cases of murder of Right to Information (RTI) activists, according to a study undertaken by two journalists, Vinita Deshmukh and Prasanna Keskar
By Shalaka Shinde, Pune
PUBLISHED ON JAN 24, 2021 10:46 PM IST

At least three accused have been acquitted in the cases of murder of Right to Information (RTI) activists, according to a study undertaken by two journalists, Vinita Deshmukh and Prasanna Keskar.

In one particular case, the death was deemed accidental.

The findings were compiled in the form of a book and published through a video conference that was attended by former government officials Wajahat Habibullah and Shailesh Gandhi along with activist and founder of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) Sanjoy Hazarika and convenor of RTI Katta Vijay Kumbhar and Sandeep Shetty, brother of slain RTI activist Satish Shetty.

“These slain RTI activists are martyred soldiers. This is patriotic. We have to become deserving of the freedom that this law provides us and it is not difficult to do so. We have to simply stand up and support those fighting in place of those killed,” said Habibullah, a retired Indian administrative service officer and former chief information commissioner of India.

“The demeaning of RTI activists has been accepted by society without any rebuttal. Instead of right to information, it has become right to history. This needs to change,” said Shailesh Gandhi, also a former CIC and RTI activist.

The history of activists who have suffered in the past decade for their work in the Right to information (RTI) was documented in the form of a book titled ‘Life and Death in the time of RTI: Case Studies from Maharashtra’. The book tracks the aftermath of 13 deaths of activists in Maharashtra.

The two authors of the report and the resultant book stated in their report, “In recent years, Maharashtra has reported processing RTI applications between 7-8 lakh annually, placing it only second to the Central government’s performance in term of averages.”

The 13 cases the two tracked included Satish Bhoja Shetty, killed on January 13, 2010 in Pune; Dattarey Patil killed on May 26, 2010 in Kolhapur; Ramdas-Ubale Gadegaonkar killed on August 28, 2010 in Nanded; Vitthal Gitte killed on April 22, 2013 in Beed; Premnath Jha killed on February 24, 2012 in Thane; Kapurchand Gupta killed on November 12, 2012 in Mumbai; Sunil Loharia killed on February 16, 2013 in Thane; Vasant Patil killed on July 22, 2013 in Mumbai; Abrar Ahmad Ansari killed on December 17, 2013 in Thane; Bhupendra Vire killed on October 15, 2016 in Mumbai; Mohan Waghmare killed on February 24, 2017 in Yavatmal; Suhas Haldankar killed on April 9, 2017 in Pimpri-Chinchwad; Shailesh Nimse killed on April 20, 2018 in Thane.

“The son of Dhedgaonkar had burnt all documents that he had gathered through RTI applications after his death. His body was found by the side of the road and deemed as an accidental death eventually by the local police. In the case of Datta Patil, his family had shut the documents in a godown and did not wish to revisit them. It was too painful for both families to revisit the events,” said Keskar while addressing the conference.

In the course of filing the report, Keskar met with family members of most of the 13 subjects. While some like Sandeep Shetty have been fighting the fight against the government organisation, some have shut the doors on the work their relatives had done.

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A PMC analysis shows that most of those died are above 50 years of age.(HT Photo)
A PMC analysis shows that most of those died are above 50 years of age.(HT Photo)

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