Recently, a 19 year old boy Rajesh Raju Sondharva, a resident of Manekwada village in Rajkot district of Gujarat was murdered for “fighting for justice in a criminal case involving the murder of his father, the Late Nanjibhai Meghabhai Sondharva.”
Right To Information (RTI) activist, Nanjibhai Sondarva (35) was allegedly clubbed to death by six persons in March, 2018.
His only crime being that he had filed an RTI application demanding transparency about funds spent on the construction of a road in his village. Just an year before his murder, his family was allegedly assaulted by the village sarpanch who was said to be furious at Nanjibhai for using RTI to expose financial irregularities in the developmental works undertaken in the village.
National Commission for Human Rights (NHRC) has recently registered a complaint filed by Venkatesh Nayak, RTI research scholar and coordinator of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) pressing for a thorough inquiry into the murder of Rajesh Sondharva
Nayak noted, “Although Rajesh was not an RTI activist himself, this is the 14th instance of murder in Gujarat with an RTI connection. Since October 2005, media reports have linked at least 13 murders to citizens’ RTI interventions aimed at exposing corruption and wrong doing in the administration- the second highest after Maharashtra (17 alleged murders, so far). The country-wide tally now stands at 83 reported cases of alleged murder and at least 165 cases of assault, 180 cases of harassment or threats- all targeting RTI users and activists. At least six cases of death by suicide have also been linked to RTI-activism of the victims.” CHRI maintains The Hall of Shame where they map and document instances of attacks on RTI users.
As Nanjibhai’s case was admitted in the trial court, the local police didn’t do enough to monitor it. This included an absence of reporting on the violation of bail conditions by the accused. Rajesh was trying to highlight the violation of bail conditions by the accused.
In the note that Nayak shared with human rights groups, he expressed concern if the Whistleblowers Act ever see the light if the day.
Parliament enacted the Whistleblowers Protection Act (WBP Act) more than five years ago, in February 2014. The Act has not seen the light of day. Instead the Government pushed through the 16th Lok Sabha, a series of retrograde amendments that would have effectively discouraged any potential whistleblower from exposing corruption and wrong doing. The proposed amendments barred inquiry into complaints if they were covered by any of the exemptions listed in Section 8(1) of The Right to Information Act, 2005 – imported lock stock and barrel into the WBP Act.
The Bill has lapsed with the constitution of the 17th Lok Sabha.
The note highlighted that the Rajkot police has refused to publicise a copy of the FIR relating to the alleged murder of Rajesh Sondharva. Uploading FIRs on the Police’s websites is a mandatory requirement as per the directions of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in the matter of Youth Bar Association of India vs Union of India & Ors.,[Writ Petition (Crl.) No. 68 of 2016, order dated 07 September, 2016].
The Rajkot Police has refused to put a copy of this FIR on the website claiming that it is a sensitive matter. In the Youth Bar Asson. case the Hon’ble Supreme Court made an exception to the rule of proactive disclosure only for FIRs relating to sexual offences, offences under POCSO Act or those relating to terrorism or insurgency. The murder case of Rajesh Sondharva does not fit into any of these categories.