Gujarat RTI Activists Face Scrutiny As CID Summons Over 300 For Verification

Gujarat RTI Activists Face Scrutiny As CID Summons Over 300 For Verification

This action comes in the wake of alleged extortion charges against Ahmedabad-based RTI activist Mahendra Patel

Melvyn ThomasUpdated: Thursday, April 04, 2024, 01:33 PM IST
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Surat: The Gujarat Crime Investigation Department (CID) has sparked concern among RTI activists in the state with its recent move to summon over 300 individuals for verification of their credentials and the purposes behind their RTI applications. This action comes in the wake of alleged extortion charges against Ahmedabad-based RTI activist Mahendra Patel. The CID announced on Wednesday that it had issued summons under Section 91 of the Criminal Procedure Code. This section empowers the department to summon individuals to produce documents or materials relevant to an investigation. Reportedly, the activists summoned are those connected to Mahendra Patel through social media platforms.

"We have decided to proactively verify the credentials of around 300 other RTI activists and also ascertain the purposes for which they utilized the information obtained from various departments," stated Superintendent of Police CID (Crime) Mukesh Patel. This move by the CID raises questions about potential intimidation tactics against those exercising their right to information under the RTI Act. The Act, enacted in 2005, empowers citizens to request information from public authorities, promoting transparency and accountability in government functioning.

Four extortion cases against Mahendra Patel since January

The impetus for the CID's action appears to be the recent filing of four extortion cases against Mahendra Patel since January.  According to reports, Patel allegedly used information obtained via RTI to threaten a school in Surat with license cancellation and subsequently extorted Rs. 66 lakh from them.  Patel has been booked under relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) pertaining to extortion and criminal intimidation.

However, the decision to broadly target RTI activists with social media connections to Patel has caused apprehension among activists. They fear this could be a veiled attempt to discourage legitimate RTI use and silence those exposing potential corruption. "The timing and the scale of this verification drive raise concerns. It is crucial to distinguish between genuine RTI activism and any misuse," said a prominent RTI activist from Vadodara, who wished to remain anonymous.

Criticism from human rights advocates

The development has also drawn criticism from human rights advocates. They point out that India already has a worrying track record of attacks and harassment against RTI activists, with Gujarat being one of the worst affected states. "This action by the CID has a chilling effect on the right to information. It is essential to ensure that legitimate RTI use is not stifled under the guise of investigation," stated another RTI activist from Surat.

Whether the CID's verification drive is a genuine attempt to investigate a potential network or a tactic to curb RTI activism remains to be seen. However, it has undoubtedly created an atmosphere of unease among RTI activists in Gujarat.

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