Jaipur : For the Right To Information community, the acquittal of three of its activists has come as a relief after a 19-year-long trial and a conviction.
The activists say entire sequence of events has reinforced the understanding of how such cases can be used as weapons of attrition to harass and distract them from their essential work of fighting corruption, and demanding justice for marginalized and oppressed communities.
One month after their conviction on charges of criminal trespass and causing simple hurt in the 19-year-old RTI- related Harmara case, Nikhil Dey, Naurti Bai, Ram Karan and Chotu Lal,were acquitted on Thursday through an order of the ADJ court in Kishangarh;compounding the offence under section 320 of the CrPC while setting aside their conviction by the lower court.
As the four RTI activists filed their appeal against their conviction, in the Court of the ADJ in Kishangarh, the complainants approached them, offering to withdraw the case. The complainants stated that they wanted to compound the case to put an end to a continual and unnecessary dispute. The formal application, signed by the complainants was to be placed in the ADJ court, requesting the withdrawal and the “compounding” under section 320 of the CRPC; (deemed acquittal) of the case.
The application stated that since no dispute or issue existed any longer, the two affected persons Omprakash and Manisha,(brother and niece of the erstwhile Sarpanch) would in the interest of putting an end to continued animosity and dispute, and withdraw the case to conclude the matter.
The formal application was signed in the presence of the ADJ jointly by the appellants and the complainants;and accepted under section 320 of the Criminal Procedure Code( CrPC). Accordingly an order was passed acquitting the accused (copies enclosed) based on the signed agreement (rajinama) . The two separate orders of the ADJ set aside the conviction of Nikhil Dey, Naurti Bai, Ramkaran and Chotu Lal acquitting them from all charges under sections 451 and 323 of the IPC. The Court passed orders on 12th July 2017. Copies of court orders were received in the last week of July, 2017.
The incident, which occurred May 6, 1998, when the RTI activists made a demand for information from the local Sarpanch in response to large number of complaints of corruption in development works in Harmara Panchayat. The corruption allegations were against Sarpanch – Pyarelal – a liquour contractor of the village. These included payments for toilets, Indira Awaas houses, and labour payments for development works, that had not been made to the beneficiaries.
This case is yet another reminder of the backlash and attack that RTI activists consistently face when challenging entrenched centers of power.
On the 6th of May 1998, the activists went to ask for information from the Sarpanch of Harmara, carrying with them a letter from the BDO. Since his office was usually closed during working hours, the activists went to his house to deliver the letter from the BDO. It is then that the Sarpanch came out of his house and physically assaulted the activists present.
Despite this violence, the MKSS activists decided not to file an FIR, thinking that Right to Information cannot depend on police cases, and that it had to depend on dialogue with the Sarpanch and the exercise of a legal right under the Panchayati Raj Act. However, on the same day, Aruna Roy of the MKSS wrote to the Collector noting the incident and asking that the Collector to ensure that information would be given by the Sarpanch.