The power of Right to Information (RTI) is manifested in a myriad ways. In a rare example of the effective use of RTI, the wife of an undertrial, who suspiciously died in the Beed Central Jail, sought legal intervention based on the documents procured through RTI, and then forced the Maharashtra government to cough up compensation of Rs5 lakh through the High Court. Recently, she received the compensation from the state government.
The Aurangabad Bench of the Bombay High Court, on 14 July 2015, ordered that, “Information was collected under the Right to Information Act and death due to head injury was confirmed.’’
The Court ordered compensation for the family, citing the fact that a prisoner is a State’s responsibility and stated that, “In spite of Government Resolutions, when in the present matter it became evident that the victim suffered homicidal death for which the employees of the jail have been even prosecuted, the Government failed to extend any compensation to the petitioners. They have been left to fend for themselves. Looking to these aspects, there is no reason why the State should not be saddled with interest as well as costs of this petition.”
“We make it clear that the State is duty bound to take action against its employees who perpetuated atrocities on the victim causing his death and also employees who tried to cover up the incident to suppress truth. The officials who used criminal force against the prisoner are responsible. Similarly, officials who may have been present when criminal force is used but who do not take preventive action to protect the prisoner or who do not report the incident must all be said to be liable and responsible for the criminal acts perpetuated against the prisoner.”
The High Court asked state government to pay her the compensation within two months along with interest. It was a historic feat for young Asha, who had petitioned against the state government, on the basis of the RTI documents, with her three children, between 6 months and 4 years, who were also petitioners.
RTI Activist Vijay Kumbhar says, “God forbid, such a tragedy should not occur for any family, but such a courageous use of RTI by the undertrial’s wife goes to prove that, if you take efforts to get such crucial information under the Act, you can take the issue to the logical end. Each such affected person, should fight for justice via the path of RTI.”
On 28 March 2009, at around 2am, undertrial prisoner, Namdeo Sable was rushed to hospital but was declared dead. His 25-year-old wife, Asha, repeatedly requested the jail authorities to let her know the real cause of his death. The post-mortem report had mentioned head injuries, newspapers reported the same and the first information report (FIR) was also lodged against some employees of the jail; but the authorities ignored her request. They spread the word that Namdeo was fine until the night of that day and died due to some internal bleeding. Sable, being the sole bread winner, the family demanded adequate compensation, besides punishment of the culprits. But all fell on deaf ears.
Asha then filed a RTI application at the Jail Superintendent’s office, demanding a copy of the medical reports, the post mortem report and a copy of the FIR.
Thereafter, she filed a criminal writ petition in the Aurangabad Bench of the Bombay High Court, stating that a prisoner is the State’s responsibility and hence, he should have been protected from inmates and others who harmed him.
The Court observed that the Jail had failed to use technology like night vision cameras, which would have captured the incident on video. In the absence of this, the state must compensate the affected family, which has lost its bread winner, the Court ruled.
Following the Court order, Maharashtra Home Ministry on 3 October 2015 directed that the family of Sable, comprising his wife and three children be paid a compensation of Rs5 lakh with 9% interest from the day of his death on 28 March 2009, up to the time that compensation has been paid to her (which was paid recently).
This is indeed a great example of how RTI has sunk into the grassroots and is being used by the common man, for justice. Though of course, the sum of compensation is no match to the precious life that was lost.
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, and also convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet – The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart – Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)