RTI activist killed in MP had received several threats: Fact-finding team

Bhopal, Jul 5 (IANS): A month after 42-year-old RTI activist Ranjeet Soni was shot dead in a government office in Madhya Pradesh's Vidisha district, a fact-finding team of activists has released a report noting that Soni had been under severe pressure from local government contractors to stop his activities.

The report available with IANS mentioned that the team visited Vidisha on June 19 to meet the family of Soni, who was killed on June 2. The team comprised activists Anjali Bhardwaj, Rolly Shivhare and Amrita Johri who are members of the working committee of the National Campaign for Peoples' Right to Information; Ajay Dubey who is board member of Transparency International, India, and Santosh Malviya who works with Dubey in Madhya Pradesh.

The report states that Soni's widow Gayatri said that he was most recently pursuing issues related to fake Fixed Deposit Receipts (FDRs) made by certain contractors in collusion with officials to bid for government contracts.

The report suggested that Soni himself was a contractor for government work but stopped working with two of those arrested for his murder -- Jaswant Raghuvanshi and S. Kumar Choube -- after a falling out. Police have arrested three others, including the shooter Ankit Yadav who was allegedly assigned the task.

Soni had been using the RTI Act to access details of public work and government expenditure and would file complaints against irregularities he had noticed. Local journalists told the fact-finding team that over 130 RTI requests had been filed by Soni.

Based on the RTI replies, he filed complaints before various authorities including the Lokayukta, public works department and the Chief Minister's Office seeking action.

"A perusal of the RTI applications filed by him show that in several cases he was seeking information which in any case should have been proactively disclosed by the concerned public authority as required under Section 4 of the RTI Act," reports said.

The fact-finding report notes the discovery of several RTI applications made by Soni to unearth allocations and acquisitions at government hospitals, eligibility of persons appointed for government jobs, and details of road construction. In 2016, Soni filed a police complaint alleging a physical attack by Raghuvanshi and his people over an RTI on road construction deals filed by him. Raghuvanshi allegedly also got a person, who Soni alleges he did not even know, to file a case under the SC/ST Act against him.

The family, even before Soni's death, had made significant changes to their lives to accommodate the shift in Soni's profession, even selling their house and moving when payments to Soni stopped due to "action by these contractors."

"In our view, the connection between Ranjeet's murder and his use of the RTI Act to access information and expose alleged corruption/irregularities cannot be denied," the team notes in the report.

The report also mentioned that the family is in deep financial crisis and the government must provide immediate compensation. The report requests the authorities to place in the public domain, on the website of the concerned public authorities, all the RTI applications filed by Soni in the last one year (including any pending applications) along with the information and replies.



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