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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

48-hour Jail Experience of RTI Activists: Part I

Mumbai: RTI activists waiting in the lobby of SIC for the police to arrive and arrest them! 

How we landed in Jail – a brief account

Dear friends,
Since our release last Thursday after 48 hours in police and judicial custody, we have been repeatedly asked: “What exactly happened? Why were you charged with trespass, rioting, assault etc? Did you go on a rampage in Dr Suresh Joshi’s office or courtroom? How can singing Jana Gana Mana get somebody into so much trouble?”

People also ask, “How did it feel to be in jail? How are you feeling now? Aren’t you ashamed of being branded as criminals?”

On behalf of our small group of jailbirds, who proudly call themselves the Jana Gana Mana group, let me put the facts on record. I shall write this in three parts:

Part I: What exactly happened at Maharashtra State Information Commission on Tuesday, 19th May? Why did we get arrested? Why did CSIC Dr Joshi lodge an FIR with the Police?

Part II: What were the events in the earlier months that built up to this incident? Were we very aggressive or did we misbehave in earlier meetings? What put Dr Joshi into his negative / angry / vindictive frame of mind?

Part III: How did it feel to be in police lockup, taken around in police vans, marched barefoot to the Magistrate court, and sleep among 130 assorted inmates at Arthur Road jail? How was the food, and how were our conversations with undertrials and hardened criminals?

Today, I shall write only Part I.

What happened on the afternoon of 19th May

Dr Srikant Prabhu, a 67-year-old veterinarian, had a second appeal hearing before Dr Suresh Joshi at 4.30 pm. He was accompanied by G R Vora and Mohd Afzal. They completed that hearing before the other activists arrived one by one at the State Information Commission.

In fact, we were not one homogenous group. Two groups and some individual activists pursuing their own cause were together at this meeting to press for clean implementation of the RTI Act.

·  Krishnaraj Rao, G R Vora, Mohd Afzal and Sunil Ahya comprise one group. They had been following up Dr Suresh Joshi for proper implementation of RTI Act since November 2008.

·  Another group consists of Mukund Parikh, Dr Srikant Prabhu, Sanjay Ghatalia and K N Singh.

·  Vijay Chavan is a social activist who had been pursuing a number of second appeals, and successfully got several PIOs penalized.

·  Ravi Kiran Haldipur was an appellant who had recently become interested in our cause and our methods.

Our group – the first one -- submitted a letter (Pl scroll down to view the letter) to the inward department. The letter warned that if Information Commissioners implemented penal provisions of RTI Act in an arbitrary or mala fide way, then Sec. 217 & 218 of the Indian Penal Code would be applicable. They could be hauled to court and jailed for such action. Attached to this letter were relevant judgments of High Courts and Supreme Court.

Having submitted the letter, we spoke to Dr Joshi’s Executive Assistant Kalpana Gavas, and asked for a time to see Dr Joshi. She said that he was too busy to see us, as he had a doctor’s appointment at 5.30.

So we said we would go inside and observe his court hearings. (This is something that we have been doing a couple of times every month, in groups of varying sizes.) Again, she consulted Dr Joshi and said that only five of us could go inside at one time. We decided to disregard this.

We entered, stood or sat at the back, and observed one hearing. After the hearing was completed, we requested Dr Joshi (who had a band-aid on his forehead) for a brief meeting to submit our letter personally. He granted us five minutes and asked us to come to the front. Dr Joshi said that he would henceforth meet us and other activists only on the first Monday of every month. We told him that this was unacceptable, as the list of things that he had promised and had not implemented was growing longer, requiring more frequent meetings.

Suddenly, a well-known social activist who had come with us for the first time, stood up and announced that he always began this kind of meetings by singing the National Anthem in order to invoke a patriotic spirit. (He had earlier sung the National Anthem at the office of Dr Patangrao Kadam, Maharashtra Housing Minister.) He then unilaterally started singing Jana Gana Mana. The rest of us joined him in chorus. Dr Joshi remained seated for the initial three lines, and then shook his head in dismay, got up and left the room by the back door which leads to his chamber.

After we finished singing, we waited a few minutes for him to return, and then someone went outside to find that Dr Joshi was leaving. Standing in the lobby, he said loudly that this was not the way, and he was calling police. We said that if that was indeed the case, they we would wait for the police to arrive.

When we asked Ms Gavas again whether we were required to wait any longer, she asked us to wait. Approximately an hour after Dr Joshi’s departure, around 15 policemen arrived, took the statements of Ms Gavas and other office staff, took the group to Marine Drive Police Station in a police van and told us to sign us the arrest/surrender form. We were put in police custody at Azad Maidan Police Station overnight. Next day we were produced in Court and granted bail on a surety of Rs 20,000 per head. As we could not produce this at short notice, we were sent to Judicial Custody at Arthur Road Jail.

We were charged with the following offences:

Section 143- Whoever is a member of an unlawful assembly shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to six month, or with fine, or with both.

Section 145- Joining or continuing in unlawful assembly, knowing it has been commanded to disperse- Whoever joins or continues in an unlawful assembly, knowing that such unlawful assembly has been commanded in the manner prescribed by law to disperse, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.

Section 146- Rioting- Whenever force or violence is used by an unlawful assembly, or by any member thereof, in prosecution of the common object of such assembly, every member of such assembly is guilty of the offence of rioting.

Section 448- Whoever commits house-trespass shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine or which may extend to one thousand rupees, or with both.

Section 452- House-trespass after preparation for hurt, assault or wrongful restraint- Whoever commits house-trespass, having made preparation for causing hurt to any person or for assaulting any person, or for wrongfully restraining any person, or for putting any person in fear of hurt, or of assault, or of wrongful restraint, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine.

Section 353- Assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty- Whoever assaults or uses criminal force to any person being a public servant in the execution of his duty as such public servant, or with intent to prevent or deter that person from discharging his duty as such public servant, or in consequence of anything done or attempted to be done by such person in the lawful discharge of his duty as such public servant, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.

Dear friends, many of us agree that the Jana Gana Mana singing was unnecessary and distracting. It happened in an unpremeditated way, and was not to our liking… but once someone in our large group started singing, we felt that the only gracious thing to do was stand at attention and join in.  We could not stop him midway by poking his ribs or kicking his shin, could we?

 Our conduct as a group may at worst be described as inappropriate or unruly. However, does this justify the serious charges levelled against us viz. assault, rioting, house-trespass etc? Does this justify the police harassment?

The response by Dr Joshi and the police was out of proportion... a bit like throwing someone into jail for crossing the road when the light was red. Don't you think so?

98215 88114
Source: Yahoogroup: [rti4empowerment] 




Dr Suresh V Joshi,

Chief Information Commissioner,

New Administrative Bldg., 13th Floor,

Opp. Mantralaya, Mumbai – 400032.




We wish to bring to your notice that your non-adherence to the RTI Act while conducting hearings and passing Orders on Second Appeals and Complaints, making a mockery of the Act and aiding and abetting corruption amount to an offence that may attract imprisonment, fines or both.

The very purpose for which this Act was enacted was to bring about transparency, accountability, better governance and reduction of corruption. Your Orders lead to the exact opposite. Your filibustering tactics are causing other SICs in Maharashtra also to shun transparency. This is clearly reflected in their Orders.

Being a retired public servant and an IAS officer, you may be aware of the below provisions of Sec. 217 and 218 of Indian Penal Code under which you are punishable.

IPC Section 217.  Public servant disobeying direction of law with intent to save person from punishment...
“Whoever, being a public servant, knowingly disobeys any direction of the law as to the way in which he is conduct himself as such public servant, intending thereby to save, or knowing it to be likely that he will thereby save, any person from legal punishment, or subject him to a less punishment than that to which he is liable… shall be punished with imprisonment… for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.”

IPC Section 218. Public servant framing incorrect record or writing with intent to save person from punishment…
“Whoever, being a public servant… charged with the preparation of any record or other writing, frames that record or writing in a manner which he knows to be incorrect, with intent to cause, or knowing it to be likely that he will thereby cause, loss or injury to the public or to any person, or with intent thereby to save, or knowing it to be likely that he will thereby save, any person from legal punishment… shall be punished with imprisonment… for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.”


Please consider this as a final warning and mend your ways. Otherwise we shall be constrained to file FIR and move the judiciary to pass strictures against you, dismiss you for dereliction of duty, non-implementation of laws and award you imprisonment and fines for aiding and abetting corruption.

We are already initiating legal action against you under these sections, and recent orders of High Courts and Supreme Court (copies attached) in favour of mandatory penalty under RTI Section 20 and reasoned Speaking Order.

If you improve your functioning subsequent to receiving this letter, kindly inform us of the same with evidence. We hope you will not face the ignominy of being dismissed from service, and/or being jailed at the end of your career.

Thanking you,

Yours Sincerely,

G R Vora        Mohd. Afzal  Sunil Ahya      Krishnaraj Rao

CC: Chief Justice of Bombay High Court


1)      Recent Delhi High Court Order on RTI Penalties

2)      Order of Punjab & Haryana High court on Mandatory Penal Provisions

3)      Supreme Court on the importance of reasoned Orders by appellate authorities


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