Conviction of Activsts Fighting Corruption with RTI is Miscarriage of Justice: Aruna Roy, MKSS

The conviction of five activists of the MKSS–Nikhil Dey, Maruti, Ram Karan, Babulal and Chotu Lal Malakar– has been received with shock and dismay. The judgment of the Munsif Magistrate Court, Kishengarh, Ajmer convicting senior activists has been stayed allowing them to appeal. The conviction is  of trespass and simple hurt under sections 323 and 451 of the IPC. The judgment comes on June 13, 2017 in an incident which took place on 6th of May 1998.

The decision of the court pertains to an incident which occurred when the RTI activists made a demand for information from the local Sarpanch in response to large number of complaints of corruption in development works in Harmara Panchayat. The corruption allegations were against Sarpanch – Pyarelal – a liquour contractor of the village. These included payments for toilets, Indira Awaas houses, and labour payments for development works, that had not been made to the beneficiaries.

This case is yet another reminder of the backlash and attack that RTI activists consistently face when challenging entrenched centers of power.

On May 6. 1998, the activists went to ask for information from the Sarpanch of Harmara, carrying with them a letter from the BDO. Since his office was usually closed during working hours, the activists went to his house to deliver the letter from the BDO. It is then that the Sarpanch came out of his house and physically assaulted the activists present.

Despite this violence, the MKSS activists decided not to file an FIR, thinking that Right to Information cannot depend on police cases, and that it had to depend on dialogue with the Sarpanch and the exercise of a legal right under the Panchayati Raj Act.  However, on the same day, Aruna Roy of the MKSS wrote to the Collector noting the incident and asking that the Collector to ensure that information would be given by the Sarpanch. (The letter is attached).

On the  May 8, the Sarpanch filed an FIR accusing the activists of assaulting him. On the same day Naurti, disturbed by his slurs and violence towards her, had also filed a case against him under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act. 

The case filed by the Sarpanch was closed on the June 30, 1998 and for several years, nothing happened. On July 5  2001, the very same case was revived once again. Since then the case has carried on with the Sarpanch producing false witness, after false witness.
On the May 6, 1998 when the activists were assaulted for asking the Sarpanch for information, there was no one there apart from them and the Sarpanch and his immediate family members. The FIR lodged by his brother Om Prakash, claims he was not present.
On June 13, 19 years after the FIR was filed, Nikhil, Naurti, Ram Karan. Babulal and Chotu Lal have been convicted in an utterly false case filed by the a corrupt powerful Sarpanch who misused his influence and power and who had himself physically assaulted them for demanding information in a case where the activists were fighting  for the rights of the poor, through means that were completely within the ambit of the law. The process of this case that has continued for almost two decades, and the final decision, is a body blow to the effort of citizens to fight corruption and stand up for the rights of the citizen. It is a clear case of miscarriage of justice.

The MKSS though doyen Aruna Roy has said that they are deeply disappointed by the verdict.

The sentence has been suspended pending an appeal to be filed by the four activists in the ADJ Court of Kishengarh. The MKSS will leave no stone unturned to bring out the whole truth of this case, and along with the transparency and accountability movement in the country, will not allow vested interests to misuse the law to suppress the voice of people demanding transparency, and demands for justice by the poor.



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