Monday, September 26, 2011

Delhi High Court blast severely injures RTI activist but he will carry on his crusade

My article in MoneyLife
Delhi High Court blast severely injures RTI activist but he will carry on his crusade
September 21, 2011 01:04 PM Bookmark and Share
Vinita Deshmukh
delhi blast

This victim of the Delhi High Court Blast has his leg amputated below the knee but the RTI activism in him will never be crippled

Harish Kumar (41) is a tenacious RTI (Right to Information) activist based in Delhi who has invoked the RTI 1,500 times with nearly 150 second appeals at the Central Information Commissions' offices. That fateful day on 7th September, he was at Gate No 5 of the Delhi High Court to pursue his PIL (public interest litigation) against illegal encroachments and was one of the many seriously injured.

But Mr Kumar is determined to continue his RTI activism, despite having his leg amputated below the knee. He is still recuperating at a hospital in Delhi.
Mr Kumar has been a regular visitor to the Municipal Corporation ofDelhi (MCD) as an RTI activist, taking up various issues relating to illegal encroachments and other civic issues, reflecting sloppy or non-governance by the municipal corporation. His professional background of a plastic entrepreneur is overshadowed by his RTI crusade considering that since the last six years, he has filed 1,500 RTI applications mostly with the MCD and some with the Delhi government, and has made nearly 150 second appeals with the Central Information Commissioners.

Now he is nursing his severe injuries at the Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital in Delhi, after he was injured in the Delhi High Court blast of 7th September. "I had gone for my PIL case on illegal encroachments, which I had filed in the Delhi High Court. I don't know what happened as I had become unconscious. The next thing I knew was that I was in the hospital.''

His injuries are severe—his right foot is fractured, he suffered injuries on his back & hand -and worse, doctors were compelled to amputate his left leg last week, from below the knee. For many it would seem that his life has come to a standstill. However, Mr Kumar speaks with such enthusiasm and a positive attitude that it overwhelms you. When asked whether he would continue to pursue his RTI crusade, he quipped instantly, "Jyada teji se (with more fire)." A few more days to go backhome he says, and he would like to forget his pains and continue to serve society through RTI.

Every week, this column takes up variegated issues and crusades relating to RTI but this week, the indomitable spirit of Harish Kumar compelled this writer to tell his brave story, some RTI issues he had taken up and his attitude of moving forward in life despite an unexpected physical disability that could have been the cause of a permanent setback in life, physically as well as emotionally.

Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi to whose office Harish Kumar has appealed 123 times, visited him at the hospital and spent an hour with him. Mr Gandhi said, "What I saw and experienced will remain etched in my memory for my entire life. I was with him for nearly an hour, and Harish Kumar was smiling and happy! Not once did he complain about anything. Most of the time, he was describing the corruption which he is trying to curb in the Municipal Corporation ofDelhi. He was telling me that he is sure he will be back at the hearings before me within some weeks. His younger brother and wife were also infected by Harish's enthusiasm. Mr Kumar said, "Sir, the nation is taking good care of me; what more can I expect?"'

Mr Gandhi further states with admiration for this 41-year-old activist whom he terms as an 'RTI yogi', "There was not the slightest complaint about having lost a limb, or about the terrorists. Not a whine about government apathy, lack of security or the hospital services. He was really radiating happiness and satisfaction about everything. Mr Kumar spends a lot of time using RTI to obtain better governance, and that day he gave me a lesson on being positive in life. I came away feeling I had witnessed a true RTI yogi."  

One of the issues taken up by Mr Kumar is licenses issued to the temporary vendor (hawker) stalls in different zones of Delhi. What prompted Mr Kumar to seek information is because he observed several of these temporary stalls becoming permanent by conversion into shops and others encroaching beyond the permitted boundary of 6ft x 4ft. Mr Kumar said, "I had filed an RTI application asking for information on the number of temporary stalls of 6ft x 4 ft in the city zone and Sadar Pahadganj Zone; details of violation of norms and action taken in case of violations. The PIO gave an unsatisfactory reply and stated that out of the 12,500 files pertaining to these allocations, 5,588 files were missing. I realised there was large-scale corruption as indiscriminate permissions were being given leading to illegal encroachments and shops. I appealed at the Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi's office who has given a stern order to the department to file an FIR against the 'missing' files as they amount to loss of government property." Mr Kumar is still following up the case.

In another instance, Kumar filed an RTI application demanding copies of the 'Construction Watch Register' (CWR) in order to monitor the construction of quality buildings in Delhi. The CWR is a register inwhich sanctioned building plans and inspections are recorded when the building is being built. There is an office order issued by the Additional Commissioner (Engineering) on 20 August 2001, based on which MCD can record and register that it is monitoring construction of buildings in which building plans have been sanctioned. This is expected to ensure that the buildings follow the plans which have been sanctioned and also ensure that the buildings are structurally sound and safe for human habitation.

Mr Kumar did not get any information from the PIO and so he filed his first appeal with the First Appellate Authority. Even then he did not the get the required information, so he filed a second appeal with Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi.

During the hearing, the PIO stated that the total number of new buildings' plans sanctioned was not more than 200 (in a particular locality of Delhi) in the last five years. He also stated that the number of unauthorised buildings booked in the last one year in Missalband (name of a locality) register is over 400. Thus, observed the Commission, "It is evident that illegal buildings are far more than the legal buildings. In that case the Commission cannot understand how it has been so difficult to give copies of the Construction Watching Register to the Appellant. The Commission sees this as a completecollective failure of all the staff supposed to record and monitor these registers. If Municipal Officers neglect doing their duties in such a systematic manner the lives of people in this city even where building plans have been sanctioned by MCD may be at grave risk.''

The Commission observed during the hearing that "The Commission would like to record that this requires a JE (Junior Engineer) to make an entry about his observations/findings each time he inspects the property under construction. The order states that it is mandatory on the part of (the) JE to carry out inspection to such buildings every fortnight and to record his observation in such (a) register against any deviation."

Mr Gandhi had asked NK Gupta, PIO & SE, to find out who was responsible for not providing information. Mr Gupta, during a subsequent hearing, stated that he had identified Rajesh Kumar, JE, as the person responsible for the delay in providing the information. He states that the order of the FAA was sent to Rajesh Kumar, JE, on 7 June 2010 and Mr Kumar took no action on the order of the FAA to provide information to the appellant.

Mr Gandhi ordered heavy financial penalty on Rajesh Kumar. The order read thus: "As per the provisions of Section 20 (1) of the RTI Act 2005, the Commission finds this a fit case for levying penalty on Mr Rajesh Kumar, JE & Deemed PIO. Since the delay in providing the correct information has been over 100 days, the Commission is passing an order penalising Mr Rajesh Kumar Rs25,000 which is the maximum penalty under the Act. The Commissioner, Municipal Corporation of Delhi, is directed to recover the amount of Rs25,000 from the salary of Mr Rajesh Kumar and remit the same by a demand draft or a Banker's Cheque in the name of the Pay & Accounts Officer, CAT, payable at New Delhi and send the same to Shri Pankaj KP Shreyaskar, Joint Registrar and Deputy Secretary of the Central Information Commission, 2nd Floor, August Kranti Bhawan, New Delhi-110066. The amount may be deducted at the rate of Rs5,000 per month every month from the salary of Mr Rajesh Kumar and remitted by the 10th of every month starting from February 2011. The total amount of Rs25,000 will be remitted by 10th of June, 2011. This decision is announced in open chamber.'' Subsequently, Rajesh Kumar had apologised for the delay and requested exemption from paying penalty. Harish Kumar procured part information—copies of Construction Watch Registers of some localities which showed violation of norms and in some cases meddling with details by applying 'whitener' (correction fluid on typed copy).

In yet another instance, Harish Kumar had filed an RTI Application with East Central Railways demanding copies of minutes of meetings of Tender Committees. He was denied information because of which he was compelled to file a second appeal in Central Information Commissioner MM Ansari's office.  Mr Ansari ruled that "The minutes of the tender committee should ideally be put in (the) public domain, so as to enable the citizens to observe and scrutinise the decision-making process in the matter of award of tenders," but left it to the government to take a call on it. This had disappointed Harish Kumar and Mr Ansari had come for heavy criticism by RTI activists.

No one can break the heart and passion of an RTI activist and Harish Kumar is a sterling example. Not even a serious injury from a bomb blast can undo his commitment. Mr Kumar will soon continue to make the corrupt officers of the MCD uncomfortable and bring about good governance, steadily but surely. We wish Mr Kumar all the best in his relentless endeavour. Like they say, "little drops of water, little grains of sand, make a mighty ocean and a pleasant land."

 (Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife. She is also an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She can be reached at vinitapune@gmail.com).

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4 Comments
Sudhir Khera 21 hours ago
A true hero in every sense. I bow to his positive attitude n wish him speedy recovery. May the tribe of such fearless fighters grow n help the aam admi in his fight against corruption.
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Vincent 2 days ago
Could you let me know if there any seminars such as the one for selecting right Mutual fund being organised in Mumbai in the near future, as I would like to attend the same. Appreciate your help on this!!

Regards, Vincent.
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Nitin Kirtane 4 days ago
What an unbeleivable article by Mrs Deshmukh to write about an unsung hero Mr Harish Kumar , here is a man who is so badly hurt , but still is a fighter , we need activists like Harish , keep it up , also Mrs Deshmukh keep up your good work , you write excellent articles ,
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Nagesh Kini FCA 5 days ago
Hats. or should be topis off to the indomitable Harish Kumar.
Thanks Vinita for the report.
It's only because of individuals like Harish that we are a sane society. The neta-babu nexus can't take the aam admi for granted any more.
Jay Ho Harishbhai, Jiyo Hazaro saal! I pray for your very Speedy recovery to enable you to carry on your crusade.