How dangerous is Bihar for RTI activists? A look at the figures presents a grim picture. About 20 RTI activists have been killed in the state since 2010. The RTI Act came into force in June 2005. On Friday, September 24, Bipin Agrawal was killed at the entrance of Harsiddhi block office in East Champaran district.
Agarwal was targeted for allegedly exposing encroachment of government lands in the district. Agrawal had filed at least 900 RTI applications asking for details on government land encroachment in the district. His home was attacked by assailants last year as well following which he had sought protection from local police but that was not provided to him.
Shree Prakash Rai, a Buxar-based RTI activist, while five activists were murdered in 2018, two in 2020 and three, including Agarwal, so far this year. He said one RTI activist-cum-former mukhiya, Praveen Jha, died after being run over by an SUV in Banka on September 7. "We came to know that a PDS dealer's relative had run an SUV over him when he was travelling on his bike," Rai said.
Rai added that Jha was instrumental in exposing corruption in the public distribution system. Prior to Jha, another RTI activist was murdered in Motihari earlier this year. Rai himself 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.
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. In February 2020, another RTI activist Shyam Sundar Kumar Sinha was murdered in Begusarai district.
Rai pointed out that district officials first get annoyed with RTI activists as mostly they expose misappropriation of government funds through their applications.
'Things Have Changed'
Rai pointed out that things have changed. He said that 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, he added.
He pointed out that any fear of being implicated in wrongdoing seems to have vanished from the mind of officials nowadays.
The all-India scenario is not bright either. It is estimated that between 2014 and 2021, 54 RTI activists in India have been killed. The number was 36 between 2008 and 2013.