Skip to main content

Gujarat Information Commission "sitting" on RTI review for three months: Plea on Banaskantha flood relief scam

Banaskantha floods, July 2015
By Pankti Jog*
On one hand, the Gujarat government is selling big dreams of “digital India” through the Digital Saksharat Abhiyaan (DISHA), but, on the other, a Dalit RTI activist from Banaskatha district is waiting for information related to flood relief beneficiaries for the last four months, and is being pressured to withdraw his application by anti-social elements involved in corruption.
Harkhabhai Parmar, filed his RTI on October 12, 2015, when India was celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Act, and the Prime Minister in his address to Chief Information Commission’s (CIC’s) conference appealed for disclosures.
Parmar’s application had sought information regarding the criterion for the selection of beneficiaries, the list of beneficiaries, and the benefits received. He had also sought information on action taken on a complaint filed earlier regarding misappropriation in relief distribution by him and his friend Ratansinh with the taluka development officer (TDO) office as well as the chief minister’s office (CMO).
Banaskantha district is one of the four in Gujarat which received heavy floods in July last year. The Government of India announced a package of Rs 300 crore, which was supposed to be distributed through the state machinery. Villages were surveyed for identifying beneficiaries for different types of relief, like damage to houses and crops, soil erosion, cattle fatalities and cash dole.
Harkhabhai observed that many people, who are eligible for the relief, were not included in the survey, and many received huge relief though their houses hardly suffered any damage. He and his farmer friend Ratansinh brought this to the notice of the village sarpanch, but the TDO who laughed at them. Hence, they decided to go the RTI way.
Within three days of filing the RTI, on October 15, 2015, Ratansinh was fatally attacked by four persons. He was badly injured and died before his son could take him to the hospital. Two was of the accused were arrested, but are out on bail.
The attack took place after a few persons, said to be close to the sarpanch, tried to offer huge bribe to Harkhabhai and Ratansinh. They refused, and vouched that until all the affected persons received justice in this matter, they would not even touch any cheque offered by by the TDO.
Following the incident, Harkhabhai filed a complaint with the Gujarat Informatiion Commission (GIC) and requested for out of turn hearing. Three months have passed, neither the GIC has called for the hearing, nor has it given ex-parte order for disclosure of the list of beneficiaries and the benefits given.
The Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel (MAGP) helpline tried to contact the taluka development officer (TDO) to inquire about the progress in the RTI application process. TDO said, “I was on leave, now I shall look into pending RTIs, there are many on my table.”
A complaint was also field with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), and a notice was issued to the state government. The state government filed a report, which reportedly said “Ratansinh was not RTI an activist” and he was “not murdered”, but died of an accident. This is what the DSP said on telephone. A copy of the reply filed by the state government, however, is yet to be received.
The People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), MAGP, Paryavaran Mitra, Gujarat Lok Samiti and many others, meanwhile, have written to the district collector, Banaskantha, requesting for dislcosure of the list of beneficiaries in the village. However, there is so far no response, even though this information falls under the proactive disclosure category, which needs to be disseminated among people/affected people and needs to be put in public domain.
“Why are they hiding this information? What is the reason, as per your opinion?”, I asked Harkhabhai. His reply was: “This information will prove fatal to corrupt people. Huge corruption has been done by the sarpanch, and a few people who are close to the taluka panchayat president.”
He added, “More than one beneficiary risiding in one house have received relief money in several cases. Hence they do not want to disclose the names of the beneificiaries. They want me withdraw my application.”
“I was offered two houses of Indira Awas and Sardar Awas few days back”, he said, adding, “They are also pressurizing me by sending various people to my house.”
Part of the constituency of Shankar Chaudhary, minister of state for urban housing, health and family welfare and transport, officials of the area are reluctant to disclose information. “Officials directly tell me that I would not get any information at any cost”, Harkhabhai says.
Meanwhile, civil society organizations have decided to go in for a massive RTI drive in Banakantha district, so that more and more people come foreward to raise their voice.
---
*Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel, Ahmedabad

Comments

TRENDING

Allow international human rights observers, media to access Kashmir: US lawmakers

Counterview Desk
In a letter to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, two members of the American Congress, Pramila Jayapal and James McGovern, raising "significant concerns" about what they call "humanitarian and human rights crisis in Jammu & Kashmir”, quoting "credible reports" from journalists and advocates on the ground" have said that "the Indian government has detained thousands of people with no recourse, imposed de facto curfews on residents' and cut off internet and telephone access in the region.”

Rescind Gates Foundation award to Modi, demand three Nobel Peace laureates

Counterview Desk
In a major boost to those opposing the award to the Gates Foundation’s proposed to be awarded to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his Swacch Bharat Abhiyan, three Nobel Peace Prize laureates, Mairead Maguire (1976), Tawakkol Abdel-Salam Karman (2011) and Shirin Ebadi (2003), have in an open letter called upon Milinda and Bill Gates to withdraw their decision, stating Modi is allegedly involved in human rights violations.

US Kashmiri diaspora body: World leaders, UN 'not acting', India enjoys total impunity

Counterview Desk
Ahead of the United Nations General Assembly session, to begin on September 17 in New York, Dr Ghulam Nabi Fai, secretary-general of the World Kashmir Awareness Forum, a non-profit organization based in Ohio, US, claiming to focus on providing information on Kashmir, has regretted that despite "violent" behaviour of Indian authorities in Kashmir, they enjoy "total impunity" across the world.

TN woman's No Caste, No Religion struggle 'follows' ideals of Marx, Ambedkar, Periyar

By Sheshu Babu*
In these days of rising communal tensions, a courageous woman from Tamil Nadu achieved her dream of obtaining 'No Caste, No Religion' certificate through persistent struggle. This is quite a significant achievement. It comes alongside some colleges in West Bengal introducing 'humanity', 'agnostic' , 'secular' or 'non-religious' in the application forms for online submission for students who are unwilling to disclose their faith.

Jharkhand riverine terminal: 485 families 'displaced', lose land, livelihood in Sahibgunj

Counterview Desk
Even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi proposes to inaugurate on Thursday India’s second riverine Multi-Modal terminal (MMT) at Sahibganj in Jharkhand, built at a cost of Rs 290 crore reportedly in a record time of about two years, several civil rights organizations* have said that the government has failed to address the high-profile terminal’s social and environmental concerns.

Now clampdown on rally, arrest of pro-freedom activists in Pak-occupied Kashmir

Counterview Desk
In a fresh evidence, international human rights organizations are not just confining their attention on the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), whose special status was taken away by the Government of India in early August, leading to an unprecedented clampdown on the region. They have simultaneously begun focusing on the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), where the situation is said to be worsening.
Thus, the International Human Rights Council ((IHRC) Hong Kong (HK), a top human rights organisation, said to be working towards to the promotion peace, equality, fundamental rights and social justice “as enunciated in the UN Human Rights Charter and other instruments of human rights”, has noted now a new wave of independence movement has struck PoK.  With offices in US, UK, Switzerland and Hong Kong, and having Kirity Roy and Lenin Raghuvanshi as IHRC office bearers from India, in a statement, it has claimed that on September 7 one of the biggest pro-Independenc…

Govt of India 'moves' to hold Assam-type foreigners' tribunals across India, warns report

Counterview Desk
A People’s Tribunal on the National Register of Citizens (NRC) has warned in its interim jury report that two recent notifications of the Government of India may lay down the groundwork for triggering an NRC process in different parts of the country, pointing towards recent moves towards this.

New sample suggests high pollution off Vadodara effluent channel, 'requires' action

Counterview Desk 
Gujarat’s top environmental group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti (PSS) has sharply criticized the Gujarat Pollution Control Board’s (GPCB’s) “on-serious, casual letter” dated September 5, which allegedly suggests that the top state state agency does not favour taking any action Central Gujarat’s effluent treatment plant, Vadodara Enviro Channel Ltd (VECL).

Modi used to 'run errands' during Emergency, his role was that much: Top JP associate

By Rajiv Shah
In a sharp exposure, well-known Gujarati critic, journalist and activist Prakash N Shah, who had been among the main contact persons of Jay Prakash Narayan (JP) in Gujarat, has recalled that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was “merely running errands” during the Emergency (1975-77) period, adding the PM’s stature has been “sought to be unnecessarily inflated”, though adding, he is not saying this to “belittle him.”

South Gujarat wastewater carrying pipeline damaged, 'harming' farmlands

The pipeline carrying industrial wastewater to the Gulf of Khambhat from Jhagadia industrial estate in Bharuch district has been found to have damaged for the eighth time over the last one and a half months. The crack, says a local environmental organisation, has occurred at Hansot, endangering agricultural farms.