[Assam] Right to Information in Assam

Sanjib Baruah baruah at bard.edu
Mon May 21 05:28:14 PDT 2007



RTI FINDINGS LEAD TO VIOLENT THREATS IN ASSAM


Guwahati, May 20, 2007:  Akhil Gogoi of Golaghat town in Assam has been a 
beleaguered man for more than a year now. His life under threat, he has 
been practically forced to go underground following multiple applications 
under the RTI Act that would bring to light massive corruption by local 
officials. He is not alone.  Namita Subedi,  Sanjit Tanti and many others 
in Assam have also faced violent threats after they questioned the 
implementation of various schemes through RTI.



As the Secretary of the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), an activist 
group, Akhil Gogoi filed a number of RTI applications on March 2, 2006, 
seeking information on the implementation of schemes such as Indira Awas 
Yojana (IAY), Individual Beneficiary Scheme (IBS) and Sampoorna Gramin 
Rozgar Yojana (SGRY) from the concerned departments in Golaghat district. 
Thereupon, he was targeted by the authorities as a "troublemaker" and 
beaten up on several occasions. On December 9, 2006, KMSS workers on a 
cycle rally against the corrupt practices of the local authorities were 
assaulted, allegedly by Congress goons. Rumours were spread that KMSS was 
an illegal group and police complaints were filed against Akhil Gogoi and 
other KMSS members, which led to the arrest of two KMSS members, Mr. Horen 
Payeng and Mr. Jiten Doley, who were kept in custody for about 3 months.



According to Akhil Gogoi, the concerned departments at first refused to 
divulge any information under various pretexts. It was only after he 
approached the state's Chief Information Commissioner in November 2006 
that some action was taken, with the Golaghat DRDA divulging the requested 
information.



Akhil Gogoi's group had conducted a thorough survey to crosscheck the 
implementation of the schemes by the panchayats, and visited all 
households in the Gomariguri Block of Golaghat district listed as IAY, IBS 
and SGRY beneficiaries. Not surprisingly, several irregularities came to 
light, including forged names listed as beneficiaries of IAY, half 
completed houses for some, and so on. Beneficiaries under the IBS scheme 
had not received most of the commodities. In the case of SGRY, road 
repair, digging of ponds and construction of houses had been done only on 
paper. The Cheque Release Register (CRR) for IAY, which the DRDA had to 
release under RTI, revealed malpractices to the tune of Rs. 35 lakhs. On 
August 7, 2006, cheques worth this amount were released through 12 
panchayats for the construction of 140 IAY houses, for which there was no 
beneficiary list whatsoever. Following local media coverage of a press 
meet by KMSS in the first week of May this year, a staff person of the 
DRDA,  Tarun Bora was dismissed on May 15, and the construction of 140 
houses was finally begun.



The CRR for SGRY also unveiled a Rs 25 lakh scam, whereby stationery 
material worth that amount was shown to have been bought on August 12, 
2006, from a non-existent agency. According to the guidelines, stationery 
cannot be bought under SGRY. The purported stationery was also nowhere to 
be found in the SGRY storehouse.



A women's organization, North East Network, (NEN), inspired by RTI 
crusaders such as Aruna Roy (MKSS), and the CHRI has taken the lead in 
training people from different organizations in Assam to use the Act since 
2004. Based on information provided by NEN on the RTI process, Akhil Gogoi 
had appealed to the Information Commission of Assam. NEN has also compiled 
other instances of and has compiled many instances of such attempts.



Ms. Namita Subedi of Teliagaon Mahila Samiti of Sonitpur district of 
Assam, filed an application regarding the appalling condition of a road in 
her area. She discovered that an amount of Rs. 30 lakh had been sanctioned 
for its repair. She went to the PWD office to complain about the lack of 
repairs, taking some photographs of the road as proof. Namita's 
'inquisitiveness' incensed the contractor responsible for the repair, as 
well the area's MLA who is responsible  of road construction under the MLA 
Fund.  Ms. Subedi now has to be constantly vigilant in case of any 
attacks.



In another instance, Sanjit Tanti of the Sodou Assam Adivashi Chatra 
Santha received information of massive misappropriation of funds under IAY 
in Udalguri district a few months back. The IAY officials offered Sanjit 
Tanti a bribe to not disclose the information. Two members of Sanjit 
Tanti's group, who went to the BDO on May 17, 2007 to follow up, were 
attacked by five men with kukris (machetes) while on their way back from 
the BDO's office, as reported in local papers of May 18, 2007.



  A veritable Pandora's box of such corruption has come tumbling out in 
Assam with the use of the RTI Act. Threats and violence such as those 
perpetrated against Akhil Gogoi have followed in their wake, with the 
guilty scrambling for cover and using any means to stifle the RTI 
applicants. Such threats reveal the pervasiveness and depth of corruption 
in almost all the public offices, and the complete non-accountability of 
the officials with regard to public funds. These incidents should not 
deter the democratic right of the citizen to question government 
officials; in fact it should strengthen citizens in large numbers to 
promote public monitoring, and signal that these corrupt practices are no 
longer acceptable.





Report by North East Network

J.N. Borooah Lane, Jorpukhuri

Guwahati 781001
Assam, INDIA
Telephone:(91-361) 2603833, Telefax:(91-361) 2631582
Website: www.northeastnetwork.org





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