November 2008 – ‘Imaandari chhor do (stop being honest)’ were the first words PCS civil servant, Rinku Singh Rahi, heard when he uncovered serious discrepancies in the allocation of funds over the last five years by the social welfare department at Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh. Following which he filed an RTI application but never received a reply within the mandatory 30-day period.
A subsequent complaint with the Central Information Commission (CIC) compelled the Public Information Officer (PIO) to provide an explanation for the delay in reply and present Rahi with all information requested in the RTI.
On 2 February 2009 – more than a year post the initial complaint – the PIO replied to CIC, rejecting 3 of the 5 queries of Rahi, claiming they did not fall within the purview of “Information” as defined in the RTI Act.
Who is Rinku Singh?
Rinku Singh Rahi hails from a modest lower-middle-class family, with his father running a small-scale flour mill in Aligarh. He is a PCS civil servant who was posted in Muzaffarnagar as a social service officer in 2008.
Barely four months into the job, Rahi unravelled serious discrepancies in the siphoning of funds of the public service schemes his department handled. What began as a fight against corruption, led to threats and physical assault, later compelling him to fight for his life on the fateful morning of 26 March 2009.
Rahi was shot six times – one bullet got him on the back of his skull which exited through his eye, two were shot on his face, and one brushed past his chest. After struggling in the hospital with excruciating pain, Rahi survived the attack but was left an artificial eye and a damaged jaw.
After the shooting, an inquiry committee was set up to verify his claims against the social welfare department. The committee corroborated with Rahi’s allegations.
Since then, Rinku Singh Rahi has dedicated his life to expose government corruption.
Muzaffarnagar corruption scam
Under various State-run welfare schemes, the Muzaffarnagar social welfare department distributes over Rs 40 crore annually to beneficiaries. Rinku Singh Rahi demanded an inquiry into the allocation of funds over the last five years as he found many discrepancies.
In marriage/illness scheme, it is mandatory to hold a meeting consisting of M.L.A/M.P. of the district under the chairmanship of district magistrate as per government order, but in Muzaffarnagar, no such meeting was held after June 2008 for session 2008-09.
Benefits were wrongfully given to non-BPL families, families without daughters and non-SC candidates were given benefit under SC category. Furthermore, many people obtained benefits without submitting forms and some submitted forms after receiving the benefit. There were various individuals who received the benefit under illness scheme though the application was made under marriage scheme.
Under family benefit scheme, the benefit was given to non-BPL families. Rinku Singh discovered a case where the beneficiary was receiving widow pension since 5-6 years, but the application form sanctioned by the Sub-divisional Magistrate showed the death of her husband within the last ten months. He also found that a few names which were absent from the list approved by the District Magistrate, appeared after names were added in the sanctioned list by the accountant. Thus, other more deserving candidates were replaced. Benefits were also given to non-residents of the State of Uttar Pradesh.
The scholarship scheme was the one that turned the tide against him. He uncovered that wrong account numbers of numerous candidates were provided, so the money disbursed by banks was returned to the government. An audit was done only checking payments made to banks, and no enquiry was done by the audit team on whether the money had been transferred to beneficiary accounts or other accounts. Rahi’s probe into the scheme revealed Rs 30-40 crore being siphoned off.
Furthermore, when the data feeding responsibility was with the district social welfare office, undergraduate students not living in the hostel were put under the list of professional students staying in the hostel, so as to increase the amount of scholarship by mere changing of groups.
Fee reimbursement was sent to colleges/institutes more than they demanded. The money returned was taken for personal gain. Hence, there was no record of the money returned under the fee reimbursement scheme.
The Indira Gandhi national old age pension scheme requires beneficiaries to belong to BPL family as per the BPL list-2002. But several non-BPL families had been benefitted illegally. Money was drawn for 62,447 pensioners, but the actual number of pensioners was 47,707. As per direction of Central Government, when verification of beneficiaries was demanded, a list of only 52,116 pensioners was provided for verification, which included recently sanctioned pensioners who were first-time recipients. Additionally, there was no record of money returned by banks because of the wrong account number, death of the beneficiary, etc.
Rinku Singh Rahi’s life after exposing corruption of government officials
Due to filing several complaints with the Government, Rinku Singh Rahi was shot six times on 26 March 2009 by armed miscreants allegedly linked to the social welfare department which caused him permanent physical injury.
However, this did not stop him to continue his fight against corruption. On 25th March 2012, Rahi joined Anna Hazare’s fast unto death in front of Vidhan Sabha, Lucknow, from where he was taken to psych ward. Later, he announced to have discovered another corruption scandal in the Muzaffarnagar social welfare department and filed an RTI. He found evidence supporting that from the Rs 6-7 crore allocated to Muzaffarnagar’s Social welfare department in 2008–09, a large amount remained unused.
Rinku Singh Rahi’s quest for the truth had angered a lot of people who wanted him to stop inquiring and looking into their books. He was forcibly put in the psych ward of a medical college in Lucknow and later transferred to his hometown Aligarh. However, his protests continued from home.
Rinku Singh Rahi believes that it is his duty to serve those who have suffered from such incidents. Even though they are not his family members, but like him, they are all citizens of India. He believes that maintaining his silence against corruption would make him equally responsible and guilty to the crime. Rahi’s fight against corruption puts his life at risk at each step that he takes.
Such is the life of this Indian whistle-blower – full of hardships, but an innate determination to do what is right.