On November 8, suspected coal mafia attacked Right to Information (RTI) activist Agnes Kharshiing and her associate Anita Sangma in Meghalaya’s East Jaintia Hills district. Kharshiing is the president of the Shillong-based Civil Society Women’s Organisation (CSWO). The activists had visited the site to document illegal coal mining that has been continuing there despite a ban by the National Green Tribunal (NGT).
The activists were taking pictures of coal-laden trucks when they were attacked and dragged into a nearby jungle while being assaulted. The attackers fled when the locals arrived. While Kharshiing received severe head injuries during the attack, Sangma managed to somehow crawl to a nearby road and shout for help.
Agnes Kharsiing has been raising her voice and campaigning against the illegal coal mining carried out by coal mafia in the state for quite some time now. Ever since the ban was enforced by the NGT, she had exposed several cases of illegal mining and transportation. Even on the day before the attack, some coal-laden trucks were seized by the police on the basis of Kharshiing’s complaint.
Kharshiing was taken to a hospital near Tuber Sohshrieh, about 120 km from the state capital, Shillong. From there, she was shifted to the North East Indira Gandhi Regional Institute of Health and Medical Sciences in Shillong, as her condition deteriorated further.
Attacks on RTI Activists Rampant
RTI activists all over the country are being attacked by the goons. On November 1, Rohit Ashok Junawane, a 27 year old milk supplier from Aundh, Pune, was sickled to death by a gang of nine men. Junawane had filed an application under the RTI act, seeking information about the construction of a house by a man named Gajendra alias Dada More at the Westend Mall in Aundh. Gajendra, along with an accomplice, had also threatened Junawane when he had gone to fill the RTI application form.
The National Campaign for People’s Right to Information had written a letter to Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis on November 8, condemning the murder of Junawane and demanding that a thorough investigation be conducted on the matter.
“We urge the Maharashtra government to ensure a thorough investigation into the murder. The state government must ensure that all the information sought by Mr. Junawane is put in the public domain and widely publicised, which would act as a deterrent against such attacks in the future,” the letter read.
They have also demanded that the Whistle Blowers Protection Act, 2011 (No. 17 of 2014), which is supposed to protect people who expose corruption and wrongdoing, be effectively implemented, in light of the alarming increase in number of attacks on RTI users.
The letter further read, “Mr. Junawane's killing marks the 78th murder of an RTI user who has been silenced for seeking to show the truth to power. The government has failed to implement the Whistle Blowers Protection Act passed by Parliament in 2014 despite the increasing number of attacks and murders of RTI users. Maharashtra has seen the highest number of murders of RTI users.”