In a major setback to the Gujarat government, the state information commission, official watchdog of the right to information (RTI) Act, has ordered immediate release of the one-person inquiry report on the September 22-23, 2012 Thangarh police firing of Saurashtra region.
Prepared by Sanjay Prasad, IAS, who then served as principal secretary, social justice and empowerment department, the report is said to have indicted senior police officials for ordering the police firing, which led to the death of three Dalit youths during protest rallies on two consecutive days.
The report on the police firing in the industrial town of Thangarh, situated in Surendranagar district, was submitted by Prasad on May 1, 2013, and despite repeated pleas by Dalit rights activists, especially those with the Navsarjan Trust in Ahmedabad, to release it, the state government refused to do it.
Ruling against the refusal to release the report, state information commissioner VS Gadhvi, in his order dated August 22, 2016, insisted that the Gujarat government should take “immediate action” on the release of the report, insisting, “Its copies should be provided to the applicant.”
The RTI plea for releasing the report was made by Kirit Rathod, a senior activist of Navsarjan Trust, last year. The final hearing on refusal to release the report took place in the state information commission on August 5, 2016.
Apprehending that the Gujarat government may not even now release the report, Navsarjan Trust executive director Manjula Pradeep, addressing a media conference, has warned, “If this happens, we will hesitate to knock the doors of the Gujarat High Court.”
Added Rathod, “What 182 MLAs of the Gujarat state assembly failed to do, was made possible on the basis of pursuing a simple RTI plea and its hearings.”
The state government has refused to release the report under Section 8(1) of the RTI Act, which, among other things, exempts the state to disclose any information that would cause a breach of privilege of Parliament or the State Legislature.
The state government has been contending, the Sanjay Prasad report would be first submitted to the state assembly before it is made public. Yet, things have failed to move.
Gadhvi in his order notes, the argument that the report has not been placed in the state assembly “does not stand” as it is “not necessary”, adding, “Release of the report in no way violates the privilege of the state assembly.”
The order to release the report becomes particularly important following the Gujarat government’s recent decision to form a special investigation team (SIT) to reinvestigate the firing incident. While the police had closed its investigation, the decision of the state government has given a new hope to Dalit rights activist that, finally, the truth would be out.
Meanwhile, father of one of the three Dalit youths (Valjibhai Rathiod, father of Mehul Rathod, who died in police in police firing) has said that he would organize a major protest against the state government if it does not release the report within the next 10 days.