National Campaign for Peopleís Right to Information
C 17A Munirka, New Delhi 110 067 [India] ; Tel: (91) 26178048

24 September 2003

People seeking ration related records beaten up by ration shop keepers

On the afternoon of 23 September, 2003, Panini Anand and Rajiv Kumar, volunteers of Parivartan who had gone to assist people who were seeking records in the Assistant Commissionerís office of the Food and Supplies Department, North East Delhi, were abused and attacked in his office premises by local leader and ration shop owner, Jagatpal Singh, along with some other ration shop owners of the area. The volunteers were severely beaten up in the office premises and one of them was, later, hit by a brick while he was on the way to the Nand Nagari police station to file a complaint. An FIR (No. 548/2003) has been filed.

Subsequently, some ration shop owners surrounded the Nand Nagari police station and threatened the Parivartan volunteers with dire consequences. It was only on the intervention of the Deputy Commissioner that the volunteers, including four women, were evacuated by a police vehicle and driven to safety.

Based on the threats issued by the ration shop owners, it is clear that this attack was in retaliation to Parivartanís role in helping the people of Delhi to file applications under the Delhi Right to Information Act, seeking to inspect records of ration shops. Obviously the attack was an effort to create insecurity and a sense of fear among the people, especially as many of the applicants have also reported receiving verbal threats and have been asked to withdraw their applications for information.

It is worth noting that, fed up with the problems of corruption plaguing the public distribution system, several residents of resettlement colonies across Delhi have been asking for access to information, related to records of ration shops, under the 'Delhi Right to Information Act'. In fact, a meeting attended by over 300 resettlement colony residents was organised by Parivartan and other groups, on 29 August, 2003, at the Gandhi Peace Foundation, to discuss and highlight the problems that these people were having with ration shops in their areas. The participants also went in a delegation to meet the Commissioner, Food and Civil Supplies, Delhi Government and over 150 applications were filed for inspecting records concerning the distribution of rations.

It was in this connection that on 23rd September, records of ration shops of Circle 46 were to be shown to the applicants in the office of the Food and Supplies Officer. However, when people reached the office of the Food and Supplies Officer to inspect the

records the local ration shopkeepers were already present there and seemed determined to prevent public access to the records, in order to hide discrepancies in the distribution of ration and kerosene oil, and the modus operandi and quantum of corruption. Even before this attack, they had tried to threaten and bribe the applicants to prevent them from applying for information.

The National Campaign for Peopleís Right to Information strongly condemns this action of the ration shop owners. Although the ration shop owners are obviously trying to intimidate the people, their resorting to violence reveals their desperation and further confirms our conviction that empowering the people of Delhi through the Right to Information Act is an important, and perhaps the best, way of fighting entrenched vested interests.

Shekhar Singh
On behalf of NCPRI

Working Group: Ajit Bhattacharjea, Aruna Roy, Asmita Kabra, Bharat Dogra, Harsh Mander, Nikhil Dey, Nitya Ramakrishnan, Prabhash Joshi, Prashant Bhushan, Renuka Mishra, SR Sankaran, Shekhar Singh

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