Bail granted to the RTI activist Siva Elango who may be released today
Conditional bail was granted to the Siva Elango, president of NGO Satta Panchayat Iyakkam (SPI), who was arrested by police on Wednesday on a complaint by Ashok Kumar, the registrar of the Tamil Nadu State Information Commission (SIC). The Teynampet Police had picked Elango from the TN SIC and booked him under IPC Sections 353 (preventing a government servant from discharging his duty), 294 (b) (obscenity) and 506 (1) (criminal intimidation). The metropolitan magistrate's court on Friday directed that Elango will have to appear before the Teynampet police station daily until further orders. As the bail order did not the prison officials by 6 PM yesterday, he is likely to be released from prison on Saturday.
The chief information commissioner of Tamil Nadu, K.S. Sripathi, disputed the version of events put forward by RTI activist Siva Elango and said that the question of offering him a seat never arose. He said that Elango was seated during the proceedings and refused to leave if an order wasn’t passed immediately. Sripathi said that Elango sat through the other hearings that followed his case and disrupted the proceedings. Sripathi admitted that SIC followed the same procedures as a civil court, where people stand during the proceedings. He reportedly said that Elango was waiting to create a scene.
The news of arrest of a RTI activist triggered several protests from across the country. A large number of social activists, including members of Aam Aadmi Party, Lok Satta Party, and volunteers of the Satta Panchayat Iyakkam (SPI) protested near the office of the SIC in Teynampet on Friday. They raised slogans and demanded fair treatment of RTI applicants by providing seating arrangements inside the offices. The protest lasting for about half hour, ended with the arrest of 90 protestors, who were subsequently released in the evening.
In a press release, the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI), condemned SIC for abusing its power and victimising RTI activists and has demanded withdrawal of the criminal complaint filed against Mr. Elango. The press release reads, “The NCPRI demands that RTI users be treated with the same degree of respect and civility as any other person in a democratic society.”
Shailesh Gandhi, former central chief information commissioner, has initiated an online petition asking the National Human Rights Commission to take cognisance of the incident and to issue directions to all judicial and quasi-judicial bodies in the country to offer a chair to a petitioner during hearings. The practice of standing before a court is a British legacy. Is it time to abolish it and offer basic courtesy to someone who appears before the authorities?