May 30th, 2016
The Maharashtra Home Department led by the Chief Minister Devendra Fadanvis has now paid ₹ 10 lakh to RTI activist, Arun Sawant, as interim compensation for failure to provide adequate protection from an attack. For a democracy to function well, above all, we need a proactive electorate, that is not just aware of its rights and duties, but also willingly bears responsibility. The Right To Information Act enables voters to demand unbiased unadulterated and complete information regarding the issue of concern. In addition, a request for police protection by any citizen, if found to be on reasonable grounds is to be efficiently fulfilled.
Arun Sawant, now 64, is one such concerned responsible citizen, who had filed for specific information regarding a few politicians and public servants. Following this, Sawant was apprehensive of his safety and predicted an attack. In February 2010, Sawant lodged a request at the Thane police station for protection, citing threat to his life as the reason. Unfortunately, he was not provided with the same.
Police failed to provide protection
On February 26, 2010, about two weeks after his appeal, he was shot at. The shooters were two motorcyclists who remained unidentified. The attack occurred in Badlapur, while Sawant was on his way to file an RTI application at the Badlapur Municipal Corporation.
The bullet hit his back and severely injured his spinal cord. This led to paralysis of both his lower limbs, leaving him unable to walk or even stand. Sawant then filed a case against the Thane police for negligence and failure to provide protection against violence. The hearing was conducted by the State Human Rights Commission headed by former Chief Justice S R Bannurmath. The hearing too was an ordeal for this man. The Thane police claimed that Sawant was not a social worker, but a troublemaker misusing the RTI Act. They stated this as the reason for denying him police protection. However, the supposedly poor track record the police official claimed could not be substantiated with any evidence, and was, therefore, nullified.
How police first didn’t provide protection and then tried to misled the investigating team
“In the absence of documentary evidence, the commission finds that the entire story of alleged inquiry or approach to Sawant on various dates is self-serving after thought story put up by police in its defense… after going through the entire records and arguments addressed by both sides, the commission finds that there is utter negligence and apathy on the part of the police in not providing timely protection to Sawant,” Justice Bannurmath observed. He continued to state that the apathy and insensitivity of the police officers towards Sawant appeared to be rooted in prejudice due to his RTI activities against the influential. Finally, after 5 years, the ruling came down in favor of Arun Sawant with the SHRC stating that negligence regarding protection when validly sought is a violation of human rights.
A cheque of ₹ 10 lakh was handed over to Sawant by a senior official of the Thane Police last week. In addition, the commission made recommendations to the Home Department to issue directions to senior officials to respond to valid requests for police protections with speed and efficacy. After 5 long years, Arun Sawant has finally received justice. Despite the prolonged hearing, Sawant has no complaints and is happy with the order passed. He feels the recommendation will further encourage others to step forward.
The Logical Indian appreciates the order passed by the SHRC, and would like to extend felicitations to Arun Sawant. At the same time, we thank Mr. Sawant and the countless RTI activists who undergo great inconvenience to play their role as responsible citizens and help ameliorate the status of our democracy.