news Wednesday, April 08, 2015 - 05:30
The News Minute | April 8, 2015 | 11.20 am IST For the first time, probably ever, Congress, Left Democratic Front, and Bharatiya Janata Party members have unanimously agreed on something. Not on political reforms, but to declare a RTI activist a “public nuisance”. VV Vijitha, the 37-year-old social activist in question, has been trying to save Mookkunnimala a hill near her village Pallichal in Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram district, from the quarry mafia. “Earlier Mookkunnimala was the livelihood for many villagers here. They did small scale quarrying for their living. But six years ago almost all the parts of the hill has been acquired by mafias with the help of local political leaders here. Our village was a prosperous beautiful place to live. Now it has changed, got polluted no drinking water, that is how we form an organisation and began our fight,” Vijitha tells The News Minute. Even though she has been actively involved in the agitation against granite quarrying in Mookkunnimala,for many years, people in the state came to know her name only recently when the Pallichal panchayat committee have declared Vijitha a “public nuisance” and asked the State Information Commission to issue a statewide notice. Peeved over Vijitha’s series of RTI or Right to Information queries Pallichal village panchayat had passed a resolution against her as she had rushed 35 RTI pleas to the panchayat office in a year. But on Saturday, the Principal Secretary to the Local Self Government Institutions scrapped the “public nuisance” resolution and asked the Secretary of the Pallichal panchayat in to appear before him to give an explanation. The 22-member panchayat council consists of members from the three political parties. According to the Hindu, this resolution is the first of its kind to be passed by any panchayat in Kerala against a woman. Through her frequent RTI queries they found huge irregularities in the whole business and later the Vigilance department of the police registered a case against many quarry owners, the present panchayat president and a former village officer. Following that, the district collector also banned mining in the hill after illegal activities were found there. Even after the ban order came, the mining continued. Recently the High Court of Kerala quashed the collector’s order as he failed to respond despite repeated queries as to what provisions of the law were invoked to order the ban. “Many political pressures are behind it, powerful politicians including our present speaker N Sakthan backs these mafia in our village,” Vijitha says. Vijitha recognises this public nuisance tag as revenge for exposing such scams of the local government. The minutes of the panchayat committee's November 2014 meeting on the resolution were also obtained through an RTI plea. “The meeting had decided to ask the information commissioner to probe my applications. They also said my queries were needless and troublesome,” she said. Following the resolution, Vijitha was arrested, on a complaint by the panchayat authorities who alleged that she had caused damage to the panchayat office and later left on bail.  “I did not damage any properties, I just reacted through RTI queries,” she says. Vigitha says that the threats she face are numerous. “Many had tried to harass me physically as I am into protest. Many times some of their goondas had warned me to stop doing this or they would kill me. Many fake cases has been filed against me,” she says. “I work for my village, it is my duty to serve my people, I will do it till my death.” Vijitha’s RTI pleas reveal not only the quarry mafia issue but many other corruption cases inside the local government. “I have enquired about irregularities in personal allowances, Kudumbasree ADS allowances, usage of official vehicles etc… These all can reveal huge corruptions going on in our system, that is why they are scared and wanted to shut my mouth,” she says. “Being a common housewife this is what I can do staying in a small village, but I have to do it at my best,” she says. According to the RTI Act, any Indian citizen can file an application containing the particulars of the information sought. Personal details, except those to contact the applicant, need not be mentioned. "It is utter nonsense and the panchayat committee has no right to declare her as public nuisance," says D B Binu, another RTI activist. "Everyone is scared of the RTI because it exposes their corruption.” Photo Courtesy : Facebook page of Mookkunnimala Samrakshana Samara Samithy

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