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

It's now official: Developed Gujarat's regular, casual workers earn less than 19 top states

By Rajiv Shah
Though not as low as state chief minister Vijay Rupani claims it to be (0.9%), Gujarat’s unemployment rate, at least as reflected in a recent report released by the Government of India, is 4.8%, lower than the national average, 6%. Yet, ironically, the same report, released soon after the Lok Sabha polls came to an end in May 2019, brings to light an even grimmer reality: Lower wages in "model" and "developed" Gujarat compared to virtually the whole of India, including the so-called Bimaru states.

Amaravati: World Bank refusing to share public grievances on Land Pooling Scheme

By Our Representative
A new report, prepared by the advocacy group Centre for Financial Accountability (CFA), New Delhi, has taken strong exception to the World Bank refusing to share its independent assessment of the Land Pooling Scheme (LPS), floated by the Andhra Pradesh government in order to build the new capital.

Beijing-based infrastructure bank 'funding' India's environmentally risky projects

By Our Representative
A new civil society note has questioned the operations of the Beijing-based Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), a multilateral development bank that aims to support the building of infrastructure in the Asia-Pacific region, seeking to fund projects in India through the Government of India’s National Infrastructure Investment Fund (NIIF), calling it “a risky venture”.

British companies export 'deadly' asbestos to India, other countries from offshore offices

By Rajiv Shah
“The Sunday Times”, which forms part of the powerful British daily, “The Times”, has raised the alarm that though the “deadly” asbestos is banned in Britain, companies registered in United Kingdom, and operating from other countries, “are involved in shipping it to developing nations”, especially India. India, Brazil, Russia and China account for almost 80% of the asbestos consumed globally every year, it adds.

Govt of India 'lying': MGNREGA budget reduced by Rs 1,084 crore in 2019-20

Counterview Desk
NREGA Sangharsh Morcha, a well-known advocacy group for the rural jobs guarantee scheme, under implementation since 2005, has said that the statement by the Rural Development Minister has a made a mockery of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) on the floor of Parliament, revealing the ruling BJP’s “anti-worker and anti-poor bias”.

Include all workers exposed to silica dust in anti-TB programme: Govt of India told

Counterview Desk
In a letter, sponsored by well-known civil rights organization, Occupational & Environmental Health Network of India and signed by more than 60 professionals and activists*, Dr Harsh Vardhan, Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, has been told that Indian policy makers shouldn't just acknowledge higher TB risk to mine and stone crusher workers, but also “other silica-exposed workers”.

Universal healthcare? India lacks provisions to 'fight' non-communicable diseases

By Moin Qazi*
Universal health coverage (UHC) -- ensuring that all people receive proper and adequate health care without suffering financial hardship -- is an integral part of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. It enables countries to make the most of their strongest asset: human capital.

Why crib? 4.5% is far better than pre-1980 'Hindu rate of growth': Subramanian replies

By Rajiv Shah
Even as sticking to his original argument that India's gross domestic product (GDP) since 2011-12 has been overestimated by 2.5%, renowned economist Arvind Subramanian has said in a fresh paper that his estimate of post-2011-12 growth rate at around 4.5% is surely not "implausibly low", as some of his critics have been arguing following his controversial June paper.

RSS, Hindu Mahasabha were 'subservient' to British masters: Nagpur varsity VC told

Counterview Desk
Well-known political scientist Shamsul Islam, associate professor (retired), University of Delhi, in an open letter to the vice-chancellor of the Rashtrasant Tukadoji Maharaj Nagpur University, Dr Siddharthavinayaka P Kane, has taken strong exception to the varsity decision to include RSS’ “role” in nation building in the syllabus of the BA (history) course, citing instances to say that the RSS ever since its birth in 1925 with its Hindutva allies like Hindu Mahasabha led by VD Savarkar worked overtime to “betray the glorious anti-colonial freedom struggle”.

UP's Sonbhadra killing of 10 tribals highlights 'failure' to implement Forest Rights Act

Counterview Desk On July 17, as many as 10 people, including three women, were killed and 28 injured when a village head and his supporters opened fire on a group of tribal farmers in Ubha village of Sonbhadra district in Uttar Pradesh. While the firing took place following a clash between over a land ownership dispute, it reportedly highlights failure of officials enforce Forest Rights Acts (FRA) and Survey Settlement in favour of tribals.