Rivals gang up on RTI activist

KOLKATA, 17 DEC: While the CPI-M and Trinamul Congress are fighting pitched battles on the city streets, they have ganged up in a small hamlet in South 24-Parganas to suppress the efforts of a 17-year-old youth to expose corruption in a gram panchayat.
The class XII student, Shovan Naskar, who used the RTI Act and found fund mismanagement in the panchayat is now being punished for knowing too much. Shovan’s parents and relatives were beaten up, and his house vandalised. For good measure, Shovan’s and his sister’s school books were torn to pieces.
Shovan and his sister belong to a family of daily wage-earners in Atasura, Mograhat in South 24-Parganas. Their education was sponsored by an NGO.
Shovan had attended a workshop on the Right to Information organised by the same NGO ~ Children International-Sahay.
After returning to his village, he filed a query under RTI to local Urelchandpur panchayat office on 25 October and asked for information on the panchayat budget, list of bidders for a road contract, who was given the road contract and on what basis, attendance of the panchayat members at meetings, loans granted by the panchayat and who were given the loans and on what basis. He collected the answers and documents from the panchayat office on 30 November.
On 12 December, a Trinamul Congress member of the panchayat, Mr Palan Naskar, allegedly came to his house with his son and said that Shovan had stolen the documents from the panchayat office. Shovan said that Mr Naskar threatened him and his parents. “Don’t try to cross your limits and stay away from panchayat affairs,” they were told, he said.
The same day, around 7.30 p.m., about 25 people vandalized Shovan’s house, broke his uncle’s arm and molested his aunt residing in the same house. They also took out Shovan and his sister’s books and tore them to pieces. Shovan’s family lodged an FIR at the Mograhat police station the same evening.
It should be noted that the pradhan of Urelchandpur gram panchayat belongs to the CPI-M. The panchayat has five CPI-M members while the rest belong to Trinamul Congress. CPI-M had gained control of the panchayat after a toss for the pradhan’s chair went in their favour.
“I don’t know what is their problem. The papers I got from the panchayat shows gross mismanagement of funds. The funds sanctioned for re-excavation of a khal was used for some other purpose, while funds for road construction was not used,” he said.
His father said that the goons are regularly threatening them. “They have told the neighbours that my son is a thief and has stolen papers from the panchayat office. They carried guns on the night of the attack. We are scared to even go out for work,” he added.
The FIR was lodged five days ago, but police is yet to take any action, they said. However, Shovan said that he would soon meet the SP of South 24-Parganas to seek his help.
The pradhan of Urelchandpur gram panchayat, Mr Gobinda Naskar and Mr Palan Naskar, could not be contacted as their cell phones remained switched off.

Soma Basu

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