Chandigarh, Nov 4 (IANS): “People should not be afraid of their government. Government should be of their people.”
This ‘revolutionary’ quote by Alan Moore is the ‘X’s’ header photo of 31-year-old Right to Information Act (RTI) activist Manik Goyal, who has been often facing warnings from the government for picking holes in the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government and its functionaries that came with a vow to change India’s politics.
In his latest revelation about a document, Goyal, who runs a family business in Mansa town and was senior to famous singer late Sidhu Moosewala in school, claimed on 'X' that the Bhagwant Mann government is renting a fixed-wing jet aircraft to transport Arvind Kejriwal to other states for the upcoming election campaigns.
Subsequently, the Punjab Police asked him to delete the post that had details about the tender for hiring a plane.
“It is a sensitive document related to the security of state functionaries,” the police said in a post.
In fact, Goyal shared a notice inviting bids for a eight to 10-seater fixed wing jet for about six months by the Directorate of Civil Aviation.
Goyal did not remove the post and clarified on the micro-blogging site that the document was not secret and was already in the public domain.
His stand was that the state has already hired a helicopter and taking a jet plane is misuse of public money.
His critical post ruffled the feathers of the government as it was contrary to its stand of ending the “VIP culture” that privileges politicians.
Jumping into the political slugfest, Akali Dal chief Sukhbir Badal and BJP secretary Manjinder Singh Sirsa criticised the AAP government for threatening the whistleblower.
Badal stated that “it is clear that the jet plane is being hired to facilitate AAP convener Arvind Kejriwal in the forthcoming assembly elections at the cost of the state exchequer.”
Sirsa said: “What a downfall of the party that talked of ‘inquilab’ (revolution) and is now suppressing every free voice.”
Congress legislator and hockey Olympian Pargat Singh accused the government of muzzling democracy and suppressing free speech. “If speaking out is a crime, Punjab Police, file an FIR against me first!”
Former AAP MP Dharmavira Gandhi asked the government why it is trying to threaten activists.
Despite all the major political parties standing behind the RTI activists, the government and AAP have not clarified the reason for hiring an aircraft for a short duration.
The RTI activist, who started his career initially as an AAP activist, told IANS that last year too the Punjab government hired a helicopter and paid nearly Rs 1 crore for the travel of both Kejriwal and Mann to poll-bound Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh as part of the party's campaigns.
Goyal said procuring information through the RTI has become tedious under the helm of the AAP government in Punjab.
“During the previous helms of both the Congress and SAD (Shiromani Akali Dal), RTI filing procedure was not as tedious and time consuming as it’s now. The party (AAP) that initially worked for exposing corruption in public offices through RTI is now concealing information on spending of taxpayers’ money. The procedure is cumbersome, not allowing you to make government officials accountable,” he rued.
Last year the government had declined RTIs that he filed on the Chief Minister’s air expenses, citing security concerns.
According to data secured by Goyal, the government has been spending Rs 100 to Rs 150 crore in a month for self-promotion through the print and electronic media in other states, especially those that are poll-bound.
During the stint of previous governments, the annual budget of the Directorate of Information and Public Relations was nearly Rs 50 crore.
“In addition to these misleading advertisements, it’s now being reported that the government is providing substantial sums to their ‘selective’ news channels under the guise of producing these advertisements. They never disclose these expenses in response to RTIs.”
Goyal accused the AAP of “betraying” the promises of good governance and of ending wasteful expenditure, on which promise it had come to power.
In another revelation about the recovery of mobile phones from the high-security Bathinda Central Jail, Goyal said from March 2022 to March 2023 a total of 48 mobiles were recovered.
Eight mobiles were recovered in March when gangster Lawrence Bishnoi, a prime accused in the killing of Sidhu Moosewala, appeared in an interview from inside the jail.
The government in a statement after the interview said the video was not either from Bathinda jail or any other jail in the state.
After the interview, Director General of Police Gaurav Yadav said ever since a high-security dead zone was set up in Bathinda jail, no mobile phone was recovered from there as the zone was comprehensively covered by jammers.
His statement contradicts the recovery of eight mobile phones from Bathinda jail.
Another RTI query revealed that no jammer in the jails across the state has been upgraded after 2016.
Firmly believing the people should not be afraid of the government, Goyal said public information officers in Punjab prefer to pay penalties rather than share information. He believes not sharing information is defeating the whole purpose of the RTI Act.