Bihar has proved to be hostile terrain for Right to Information (RTI) activists, with as many as 20 having been killed since 2010.
The RTI Act came into force in June 2005.
Sashidhar Mishra from Begusarai district was the first RTI activist killed in 2010 and just last week, Bipin Agrawal was killed , allegedly for exposing encroachment of government lands in East Champaran district.
“Bihar has always been unfriendly for RTI activists with as many as 20 of them having been killed in different districts for raising their voice against corruption in government system,” veteran RTI activist Shiv Prakash Rai told The Hindu . Mr. Rai in fact had to face a jail term for 29 days in 2008 for exposing malfeasance in providing solar lights. A case of extortion was lodged against him by a top district official and he was sent to jail. He was later released as the case was proved false.
“District officials first get annoyed with RTI activists as mostly we expose misappropriation of government funds through our applications,” Mr. Rai said.
A coordinator of the Nagrik Adhikar Manch (Citizens Rights Forum), Mr. Rai has been travelling 200 kms everyday from Buxar to Patna by local train to follow up on his RTI petitions for the last 15 years.
“Earlier the government officials used to reply to RTI applications on time. But these days things have changed for worse. The officials do not take RTI applications seriously and sometime it takes months and sometimes years to get replies from their departments,” said the sexagenarian RTI activist. Any fear of being implicated in wrongdoing seems to have vanished from the mind of officials nowadays, he added.
Just last week on September 23, an RTI activist of East Champaran district Bipin Agrawal, 46, was shot dead by bike-borne criminals in broad day light outside the Harsiddhi block office. Mr Agrawal had filed at least 900 RTI applications seeking details on government land encroachment in the district. His home was attacked by assailants in 2020 as well. Following the incident he had sought protection from local police but that was not provided to him.
“Had the police protection been provided to him, he would have been alive today,” his father Vijay Kumar Agrawal said.
“The State government must ensure speedy trial in all the cases related with the murder of RTI activists in the State, with their family members and witnesses getting security,” said Mr. Rai who has compiled a list of all 20 RTI activists killed in the State.
“Due to regular threat and murder of RTI activists in the State, we feel insecure and threatened sometime in seeking details of corruption in government offices. The delay in getting information is another demoralising impact on us,” said another RTI activist Iqbal Ansari of Darbhanga.
In 2018 alone as many as six RTI activists — Jayant Kumar (Vaishali), Rahul Jha (Saharsha), Rajendra Prasad Singh (Motihari, East Champaran), Valmiki Yadav and Dharmendra Yadav (Jamui) and Bhola Shah (Banka) — were killed for seeking information of corruption from government offices.
Another RTI activist Pravin Jha was killed after being run over by an SUV in Banka district earlier this month on September 7, said Mr. Rai. “Praveen Jha was exposing corruption in the Public Distribution System (PDS) and we came to know that a PDS dealer’s relative had run an SUV over him when he was travelling on his bike,” Mr. Rai added.
Similarly, in 2020, RTI activist Pankaj Kumar who had launched a campaign against illegal sand mining in the State was killed in Bikram of Patna district. Later, two IPS officers and several Dy SPs and Police Inspectors along with other officials were suspended in Disproportionate Assets (DA) case related with sand mining from Bhojpur, Aurnagabad and Bikram areas.
Also in February 2020, another RTI activist Shyam Sundar Kumar Sinha was murdered in Begusarai district.