गुरुवार, 1 अक्तूबर 2015

Plight of a physically handicapped RTI Activist

Plight of a physically handicapped RTI Activist of Odisha who was mercilessly brutalised and is now under hospitalization in Orthopedic Ward of SCB Hospital at Cuttack - A Report

The RTI Act was enacted in 2005 with a mandate to contain corruption and enforce transparency and accountability in the administration of the country. Since beginning, it has been proved as the biggest ever weapon in the hands of RTI Activists and RTI Users to fight out corruption and irregularities in functioning of Government and to bring about transparency and accountability in the implementation of its schemes and programmes. Due to their relentless bravery in such fight against corruption, the RTI Activists have also been targeted by the vested interest groups in nexus with corrupt officials. There have been umpteen instances where they have been mercilessly attacked, implicated in false cases, physically beaten up and even murdered. 

Within 10 years implementation of the RTI Act in Odisha, two RTI  Activists  Ganesh Prasad Panda of Berhampur  in Ganjam district  and Krupasindhu Sahu  of  Niali in Cuttack  district were murdered in December 2014 and January 2015 respectively. Besides, a good number  of RTI Activists  ( more than 30 )  were physically attacked, tortured, manhandled  and beaten up at the instance of the vested interest  groups using the anti-social elements supari goons, alone  in Odisha. Moreover, quite many cases go unreported due to indigent condition of the victims, unresponsiveness of the police-administration and apathy of media persons. In absence of any police action and genuine investigation into such cases of victimization and   also in absence of any robust mechanism  for protection of  RTI Activists, attack on anti-corruption RTI Activists in Odisha is rising  day by day. Despite all this it is also true that more and more activists are coming forward spontaneously to fight against corruption by using the RTI tool. 

The latest attack has been perpetrated against a committed anti-corruption RTI activist Sri  Keshab Mahakud, a middle-aged, physically handicapped man (one limb is lost) belonging to Kashikiari  village in Nayagarh district of Odisha. He fell a victim  of  conspiracy by a nexus of unscrupulous politicians, corrupt officials of police and administration at district level and anti-social elements, for his  constant  endeavour to use RTI to expose their  illegal and ant-people activities. On 22.9.15, on his way to Bus stand, a gang of 6 hooligans  (Baru Parida, Kahnei Nayak, Nibasi Parida, Nalu Parida, Bharat Nayak, Ashok Nayak ) attacked  him and mercilessly  hit  him with lethal weapons including an iron rod damaging  his two legs and one hand permanently. All the crucial documents such as  his voter ID card and BPL Card were snatched  away by the miscreants. As a result of multiple bruises and profuse bleeding caused by this sudden but pre-meditated attack, Sri Mahakud fell unconscious and the goons abandoned him on the spot. However, after getting telephone call from some unknown source , the police staff  of Mahipur Police Outpost rescued him and sent him to Nayagarh   Hospital for treatment, where from he was again transferred  to the Capital Hospital, Bhubaneswar, and finally from there to the S.C.B. Medical College and Hospital, Cuttack where he is now struggling for normalcy in Bed No. 315 of Orthopedic Ward, with his wife at his bedside.

Being briefed from media sources, a team of social  activists Sri Pradip Pradhan, Sri Rohan Mohanty, Sri Soumya Ranjan Pradhan and Sri Pratap Sahu visited  the SCB Hospital Cuttack on 29th  Sept. 2015   to meet the victim Sri Mahakud. They expressed their solidarity with his noble cause  and assured to  take up the  issue of attack on him  with  different authorities at Central and State levels, so as to provide him justice. 

It is worth mentioning here that though Sri Mahakud was ceaselessly engaged in fight against corruption at district level using the RTI as a tool over the years, he was little known to the RTI activist groups operating at State level. As such the members of the visiting team were unaware about his activities. But, on a rapid enquiry into media reports along with information from local sources, the team members got to know the train of facts and circumstances leading to the latest attack on him coupled with various episodes of the past in which he was subject to attack by the goons employed by vested interest groups in connivance of the police and administration and also to false cases instituted by the police resulting in his arrest and imprisonment.    

The excerpts from the interview with victim Sri Kesab Mahakud on harassment, torture, false cases by  the police against him-

1.On 14.12.14, Sri Mahakud  had filed RTI Application to the PIO, office of DFO, Wildlife, Nayagarh seeking   information about total number of deer in Kuanria Deer Park, Dasapalla and total expenditure made for maintenance of the Park etc. On 1.1.2015, on the occasion of observation  of New Year Day,  a feast with deer meat  was organised  at Forest Bungalow near  Kuanria Dam  in  Dasapalla  in the presence of Sri Arun sahu, Minister  of State  for Law, Govt. of Odisha, Sri L.N. Behera DFO  Wildlife,  Sri P.K. Mandhata ACF, Sri  Rabi Kar Ranger  and some others.  The Deer used for the feast was brought t from the nearest Kuanria Deer Park.  Sri Keshab Mahakund was called by the Ranger to that Forest Bugalow for a discussion about the  information to be supplied  to him. After reaching there, he noticed two forest guards preparing the deer meat   to be served to the invitees. He took a photograph of it and ran away. However, a forest guard had noticed it. He informed to the Ranger about it. Sri Rabi Kar, Ranger immediately rushed to capture Sri Keshab Mahakud and nabbed him at Sariganda village. He took away the mobile phone of Keshab and severely beat him  up. As he is a physically handicapped person, he could not resist him.   However, on the same day, Keshab  sought to file an FIR in Dasapalla Police Station. As the police did not register his FIR, he sent a complaint petition to the Chief Minister and as well to the Governor, Odisha seeking justice.

2. Finding no justice from any quarters, he    sat on Dharana in front of Odisha Legislative Assembly on 12.2.15 demanding action against the police and enquiry into the deer feast.  Sri Tapan Patnaik, ACP, Capital Police Station persuaded him to go to the police station to sort out his grievance. However, on reaching there  he was locked up in the police station and handed over to Sri Abhimanyu Nayak Sub-Divisional Police Officer (SDPO) Nayagarh and to the Inspector In-Charge, Itamati Police Station (90 kms from Bhubaneswar)   who were   specially called for it.  Sri Nayak carried him to the Itamati   Police Station, framed false charges against him and sent him to jail on the next day.  He spent 6 days each in Nayagarh Jail and Choudwar jail and got free after the lower court granted him bail. He was released from jail on 28.2.15.

3. After being released  from the jail,  he wrote a letter to  Crime Branch, Odisha  seeking  enquiry  into  the  police atrocity perpetrated against  him  demanding action  against  SDPO, Nayagarh, SDPO,  Sharanakula, and Sri Manoranjan  Mohanty,  Superintendent of Police, Nayagarh.

4.  Besides Sri Mahakud   was also engaged in exposing the corruption and malpractice of the police and their nexus with the criminals by way of using RTI.  On 8.5.15,     a gang of dacoits along with  driver  murdered  the owner  of the vehicle carrying  liquor loaded  Truck inside Panchupandab  Forest and sold the liquor to  liquor shop owners. On 22.5.15, Sri Abhimanyu Nayak, SDPO, Nayagarh along with police staff arrested the dacoits and the driver   and seized liquor from the shop owners.  But the police did not take any step against the liquor shop owners taking huge bribe from the latter and released them from the police station itself. On 20.6.15, Sri Abhimanyu Nayak, SDPO, Nayagarh and Inspector-In-Charge, Nuagaon seized 25 kg of Ganja each from Bipra Parida and Manu Nayak of Sikrida village and later on released them by taking huge bribe from them. Similarly, the same team of SDPO and the IIC seized a Pick-up Van carrying 6 quintals of Ganja on 14.8.15 and later on released the dacoits without taking any action. Sri Mahakud made query and filed a complaint against the SDPO and IIC, Nayagarh before  the Superintendent of Police, Nayagarh who however remained silent. Keshab  also submitted an RTI application seeking information about the details of quantity of Ganja seized and action taken by the police and status on the  arrest of the criminals involved.

5.  In his  fight  to expose  the nexus of the police with the  criminal gangs, Keshab  gave a notice  to sit on Dharana  in front of  Odisha Assembly  on 25.8.15 demanding  enquiry  and action against the  police officers of Nayagarh district.   On 22.8.15, Sri Abhimayu Nayak, SDPO, Nayagarh called him at 9 PM to his residence and offered him Rs. 40,000/-   for withdrawal of the proposed Dharana. Keshab refused to receive it and left the place.  When he was on his way to Bhubaneswar, the SDPO, Nayagarh sent five hooligans who obstructed him and by showing revolver asked him to sign a plain paper.  When he refused, they beat him black and blue. When he shouted, the people gathered and the armed goons left the place. He immediately filed an FIR in Bolagarh Police Station. The police registered his case   (Case No. 136/2015) under Sections 341/323/506/34 of IPC and Section 25 of Arms Act.  On 23.8.15, he received a Copy of FIR from Bolagarh police station and prepared himself to travel to Bhubaneswar in connexion with the proposed Dharana on 25.8.15. On the same day the same SDPO showed an allegation of atrocity case filed against him and arrested him on the way. He kept his two-wheeler vehicle in Bolagada Police Station. He was produced in the court and sent to Jail on 23.8.2015 itself. He was released on 3.9.15 and went to Bolagada police station to bring back his vehicle. Reaching there, he came to know that the vehicle  had been taken away by the SDPO, Nayagarh. He then went to the SDPO, Nayagarh  to get  back the vehicle. Whe he reached there, the SDPO again beat him  up and took his mobile.  After returning from the police station, he went to meet the SP, Nayagarh on 7.9.15 to file a complaint against the SDPO, Nayagarh.    On his way, he was again kidnapped   by a group of hooligans (Ashok Nayak, Baru Parida, Kanhei Nayak and Bhimasen Nayak) to Manibandh Cashew Jungle  and  beaten up there severely. As he shouted, the boys watching the cows came to his rescue. The hooligans left the place and the police staffs of Begunia Police Station rescued  him. Though he filed an FIR , the Begunia Police refused to receive it. He returned to his home disappointed.

On 22.9.15, when he was on his way to Nuagaon Police Station to know the status of his case filed earlier, he was held up by a gang of miscreants and taken to a field where he was attacked and mercilessly beaten up with lethal weapons. His leg and hand were broken and he was left unconscious. He was rescued by police staffs of Mahipur Police Outpost and admitted in Nayagarh District hospital. Then he was referred to the Capital Hospital and finally admitted in S. C.B. Medical College and Hospital, Cuttack for treatment. His son has filed an FIR in Nuagaon Police station on the same day on 22.9.15 against Sri Bhima Nayak, Sri Nalu Parida, Sri Bijay Parida, Sri Baru Parida, Sri Kanhei Nayak and Sri Ashok Nayak. His case has been registered under Sections 341/323/325/307/379/34 of IPC.  Though one week has passed since then, the police has not arrested the culprits.

Observations of the Visiting Team
Sri Mahakud  has thus been a victim of criminal –police nexus and suffered due to  his constant fight against  corruption in general and corrupt police officials in particular by using RTI as a tool. He is now battling for recovery, but    his condition is very critical. As his BPL card has been taken away by the miscreants, he is not able to avail the free provisions of the Hospital. His wife is the only person attending him at is bedside. His bed no. Is 315 in Orthopedic Ward of SCB Medical College and Hospital Cuttack. The interested persons may meet him and extend financial assistance for his treatment expenses and as well solidarity with the cause for which he has suffered so much.      

Besides, the case of brutal attack on Sri Mahakud being a frontal challenge to RTI activism and anti-corruption campaign in the State, there is an imperative need for all the RTI users and anti-corruption activists to get together in a single civil society platform to raise their united voice of protest against such attacks.    

Our Demands -

  • An indepth enquiry into the facts and circumstances including the police-goons nexus, behind the brutal attack on anti-corruption activist and RTI user Sri Keshab Mahakud;
  •  Arrest and action against the culprits responsible for the brutal attack on Sri Keshab Mahakud, basing upon the FIR lodged in this behalf;
  •  Adequate compensation by the State Government to Sri Keshab Mahakud, an anti-corruption activist and RTI user, who has been subject to brutal attack by the goons in connivance of the police;
  • Free medical treatment to survivor victim Sri Keshab Mahakud, who is now undergoing treatment in Orthopedic Ward of SCB Medical College and Hospital Cuttack;
  • Setting up a Protection Cell in the office of DGP Odisha for prompt intervention in any incident of attack on anti-corruption activists and RTI users for rescuing them and nabbing the culprits, and maintenance of a Help Desk in every Police Station for the similar kind of intervention at local level; and
  • Odisha Information Commission to take suo motu cognizance of the attack on RTI user and anti-corruption activist Sri Keshab Mahakud and recommend to the concerned public authorities the needful measures to be taken for amending their objectionable pattern of behaviour towards an RTI user like Sri Mahakud.       

Report prepared by
Pradip Pradhan
RTI Activist and State Convener, Odisha Soochana Adhikar Abhijan
M- 9937843482

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