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Armed only with courage
They have no clout or connections. Yet, many RTI activists across the country have fought tremendous odds to taken on corruption and have often forced the establishment to clean up the mess.
There is Assamese activist Akhil Gogoi who has filed over 1, 000 RTI applications to bring to light the corruption that dogs the massive dam project across Arunachal Pradesh. There were several efforts to thwart him, but his voice and the movement were so strong that the PM and the environment minister were forced to react and call for a re-assessment of the project.
Manoj Kumar Karwasa, 46, is an ordinary school teacher at Skylark International School in Barwala, Hisar. He found that government land in his native Kirdhan village in Fatehbad district had been encroached upon by panchayat members. Unfazed, he filed an RTI application seeking information on four kanals of land which had been meant for a primary health centre. He was denied the information and went on to file an appeal. Within four months the illegal construction was demolished and the land was restored.
In the heart of the country's capital resides one of the most well known and vigorous RTI activists, 60-year-old Subhash Chandra Agrawal, an old Delhi-based cloth trader. He is best-known for his application seeking information on the assets of judges of the apex court and the high courts. This eventually led to apex court judges disclosing their assets on the Supreme Court website.
Mumbai-based Sumaira Abdulali is an RTI activist who has been fighting the illegal sand mining lobby in Alibaug. She has been publicly attacked by the mafia but continues her campaign.
Athar Shamsi, an advocate from Faizabad who took on the beedi industry in his district, received several threats for his gumption. Yet, he chose to march on and thanks to him, thousands of beedi workers got decent wage hikes. His RTI applications had elicited the information that beedi makers were getting far less than the governmentstipulated minimum wage of Rs 60.
Activist Arun Mane had been working in close association with the slain RTI activist Satish Shetty over land scams in Talegaon. He was himself attacked last Sunday for his campaign.
Then there is 37-year-old Kheemaram, father of three, a veteran who has 350-400 RTI applications to his credit. He has been attacked over a dozen times, but this dalit from Sangawaas, Rajasthan, managed to expose the corruption in the cooperative bank in his village, leading to the arrest of the bank's manager. Through the RTI, he exposed the village postman who had been encashing money orders of people long dead. Yet another application led to the district's education officer ensuring that every school in Rajsamand was painted with a chart of RTI regulations, as the law demands.
The only thing that marks these ordinary Indians out is their courage and the power of a singular right they possess.
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