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RTI activist's murder: Odisha CM urged to pressure Centre, effect Whistleblowers Act

Naveen Patnaik
Counterview Desk
The National Campaign for Peoples Right to Information (NCPRI), in a letter to Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik, has sought "a thorough, timely and effective investigation" into the murder of Right to Information (RTI) activist Abhimanyu Panda, who was shot outside his house in Kandhamal on December 10, 2019 at 7:30am by two unidentified assailants.
Pointing out that Panda had "exposed multiple cases of corruption and misappropriation of funds via information obtained under the RTI Act", NCPRI, which is the apex body of several civil society organizations fighting for RTI, said, the state government should "immediately direct the concerned public authorities to disclose all the information sought by Panda and give it wide publicity, which could act as a deterrent against such attacks in the future.
Signed, among others, by Anjali Bhardwaj, Pankti Jog, Nikhil Dey, Venkatesh Nayak, Rakesh Dubbudu, Pradip Pradhan and Dr Ghulam Rasool Shaikh, a copy of the letter has been sent to the State Chief Information Commissioner of the Odisha Information Commission and the Odisha director general of police.

Text:

The National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information (NCPRI) is gravely concerned about the reported murder of RTI activist and leader of an anti-liquor movement, Abhimanyu Panda, in Kandhamal, Odisha. As per media reports  and a fact finding  conducted by the Odisha Soochna Adhikar Abhiyan, Panda, was shot outside his house in Patra Sahi, Kandhamal at 7:30am by two unidentified assailants on December 10, 2019.
Panda, a former sarpanch of Bataguda gram panchayat, was a well know activist in Kandhamal district and had filed numerous RTI applications on a wide variety of issues. According to the fact finding conducted by Odisha Soochna Adhikar Abhiyan, Panda had exposed multiple cases of corruption and misappropriation of funds via information obtained under the RTI Act.
Some of the RTI applications filed by Panda had helped expose corruption, including a construction scam in Sarangagada college and misappropriation of funds in the construction of roads. He had also recently filed RTI applications to several gram panchayats in Kandhamal district to unearth corruption in the distribution of rice under the public distribution system (PDS).
Panda had frequently received threats due to his work as an RTI activist and for using the RTI Act
According to media reports, Panda had frequently received threats due to his work as an RTI activist and for using the RTI Act to obtain information from, and expose corruption in, various government departments.
NCPRI strongly condemns this horrific murder and demands that the Odisha government conduct a thorough, timely and effective investigation into the death of Abhimanyu Panda. NCPRI also urges the state government to immediately direct the concerned public authorities to disclose all information sought by him suo motu, in accordance with the provisions of the RTI Act. This will ensure that all information sought by Panda is widely publicized and would act as a deterrent against such attacks in the future.
Furthermore, given the alarming increase in the number of attacks and instances of death of RTI activists across the country, it is critical that the state government push for effective implementation of the Whistleblowers’ Protection Act by the Central government. The law provides important safeguards against victimization and protection to whistleblowers who expose corruption and wrongdoing.

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