Arappor Iyakkam, a Tamil Nadu-based NGO, working on creating awareness to the general public about the RTI and online services of the government has been under the hammer for quite sometime. Now, the Chennai police have filed a criminal defamation case against the organisation and its managing trustee for making derogatory comments against the Cabinet Minister for Municipal Administration S P Velumani in a television talk show in December 2018.
The Right to Information (RTI) Act has been amended by the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, making it a toothless body. The Tamil Nadu government, led by the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) is also playing a second fiddle to the union government in curbing the RTI activism of organisations by denying permission to the conduct of awareness programs. The government’s move against the NGO can also be seen as a revenge measure for exposing irregularities under the local administration minister.
Indoor Event Cancelled by Police
The organisation is now conducting the awareness programs at the houses of volunteers since the police are denying permission for large indoor programs. Even while being conducted in houses, the police are turning up in large numbers to monitor the happenings of the events. The organisation alleged that there were 10 policemen monitoring the happenings of the event conducted on Sunday (August 5) for about three hours.
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The organisation has been conducting the program named ‘Know Your Rights’ (KYR) for the general public for the past two years. An event planned on July 8, was cancelled by the Kilpauk Deputy Commission of Police stating that no permission was requested for the conduct of such an event in advance.
The Times of India quoted Jayaram Venkatesan of Arappor Iyakkam as saying, “We have conducted the Know Your Rights program at 45 different locations so far. Interested residents and volunteers take part in the event, organised to create awareness among the public about civic issues, RTI act and online services provided by the government. Most residents are not aware that they can raise complaints online and file RTI petitions”.
Awareness on Water Crisis Conducted with Court Permission
The Chennai police also denied permission for the conduct of ‘Kelu Chennai Kelu’ (translated as ‘Listen Chennai Listen’), an awareness program on water crisis in the city of Chennai during the last week of June. Arappor Iyakkam has accused the state governments for poor water management policies for the crisis. The organisation wanted the government to be accountable on factors including rain water harvesting, complete sewage treatment and water cycle improvement.
The organisation had approached the Madras High Court after the police denied permission for the demand, with the lame excuse of another organisation being granted permission for an event on the same venue on the particular day. The court then ordered the police to grant permission to conduct the program on the forenoon.
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This is not an one time incident, many political parties and civil rights organisation are facing a similar fate of permission being denied at the last moment for demonstrations pertaining to peoples’ issues.
Minister Accused of Irregularity
The organisation alleged that S P Velumani has allotted a government building to an IAS training academy run by a trust headed by S P Anbarasan, his brother. The building in R S Puram in Coimbatore was supposed to house the Sanitary Inspector’s office of the corporation along with a shopping complex. The old building housed the sanitary inspector’s office and the office is now functioning in a temporary shelter in the same premises.
S P Velumani along with Varadhan Infrastructure and KCP Engineers filed a petition in the Madras High Court to restrain the NGO from addressing the press regarding the allegation. Again, the organisation managed to publish the documents of the irregularities with an order from the Madras High Court.
These exposes by Arappor Iyakkam irked the minister to the extent of denying permission for their events and filing civil and criminal defamation cases.
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