Bangalore: An IAS officer and his wife are fighting back against corruption, demanding their Right To Information after six transfers this year.
Six transfers in as many months; IAS officer M N Vijaykumar has been through hell. And all the while his wife Jayashree stood with him. She even opened a website to expose the corrupt practices within the Karnataka Government. Their efforts prompted the Lok Ayukta to order the chief secretary to respond to Vijayakumar's application under the Right to Information Act by June 27.
Vijayakumar had asked for reasons behind his frequent transfers. The reply is yet to come, but he has got another letter from chief secretary P B Mahishi. The government has asked him to close the website run by his wife, and hints at legal action if he doesn't fall in line.
"They are questioning why I've opened a website? They say I've done it on the behest of my husband. They are ignoring my entity. They said I cannot do anything till I disassociate from my husband," says Jayashree, Vijaykumar's wife, who opened 'Fight Corruption', the website to wage her husband's battle.
Jayashree approached the women's commission which has directed the chief secretary to appear for a hearing on Monday. When contacted, Mahishi refused to comment on the issue. Jayashree, on her part, insists that the website is more than a way of showing her support to her husband.
"Our focus is in bringing good governance to Karnataka. We are fighting to that end," insists Jayashree.
The RTI Act was instituted to ensure the common man's right to information. But when it's the very right that is questioned, then there's scant little that the common man can do.
Bangalore, April 9 (IANS) A senior Karnataka Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer's wife has made an "abnormal" request to Governor Rameshwar Thakur - suspend him from service as he is facing threat to his life.
"I know this is an abnormal request. But I have no other option as the government refuses to grant him leave, if he gives the real reason - threat to his life," J.N. Jayashree, wife of M.N. Vijayakumar, administrator, Command Area Development Authority in Belgaum, about 500 km from Bangalore, told IANS Wednesday.
Vijayakumar is known for his fight against corruption in the government.
Jayashree, a mother with two sons, runs a website "fightcorruption.wikidot.com" and frequently uses the Right to Information Act as part of her support to her husband.
She wrote to Thakur April 3 that there were at least two threats to Vijayakumar's life and she fears for him as he is alone at Belgaum.
In a letter to state Chief Secretary Sudhakar Rao in the last week of March, Jayashree said her husband was unconscious for five hours December 27 last year due to wrong medication and none of the senior officials in Belgaum bothered to assist him even after she called them from Bangalore.
"I have already written in my mail dated Feb 14 the danger my husband could face because of wrong diagnosis of his medical condition. (In this regard also I want to personally inform about how this wrong diagnosis could have been used for harming my husband)," she said in the letter to the chief secretary.
"He has not even been given government accommodation," said Jayashree.
"I cannot be with him as our younger son is studying pre-university course in Bangalore and now that elections (to the state assembly) have been announced, my husband will not get a transfer. Hence, the abnormal request," she said. The couple's elder son is pursuing PhD in the US.
Vijayakumar, a 1981 batch officer, has been transferred seven times in seven months between Sep 2006 and March 2007.
"My husband has seven more years of service left. He does not want to quit or take voluntary retirement. He will stay in service and we will fight corruption from within the system," said Jayashree.
Asked how can any governor act on such a request, Jayashree said: "I have no other option. As a wife, I have to protect my husband. Hence, I have made such a strange request," she said.
Jayashree said she has not yet received any reply from the governor's office to her letter. "I will wait for some more time before thinking of what other steps I can take to ensure my husband's safety," she added.
Fighting corruption in India
The life of a whistleblower in India is a dangerous one. JN Jayashree is married to a bureaucrat who has spent his career protesting against bribery and swindling in government practices. She tells Kavitha Rao that when she started to fear for her husband's safety, she decided to start up a blog to protect him and document their anti-corruption movement
I live in Bangalore, the capital of the southern state of Karnataka, ranked recently as the fourth most corrupt state in India by Transparency International. My husband, MN Vijayakumar, has been an officer in the Karnataka cadre of the Indian Administrative Service for 26 years. He has been trying to fight corruption in the government throughout his whole career, with some success. However, for the past two and a half years his reports have been completely ignored, while corruption has increased.
My husband has been transferred several times – once even to a defunct company – with no reasons given. Last year he tried to introduce a revolutionary system that would have allowed public inspection of government files under the Right to Information Act (an act similar to the British Freedom of Information Act, which gives the public the right to seek information from public authorities). Two days before the system was launched, he was transferred again.
He filed a complaint against the chief secretary – the top civil servant in the government – before the Lok Ayukta (an anti-corruption watchdog body), and since then we have received several threats. One night someone came to our house and told us that our son (who studies at university) was sick, and that we needed to go with him immediately. He had no way of knowing that our son was actually asleep in our house. Recently, a stranger came up to me and told me to stop my crusade, and threatened to hurt my family. We have filed several police complaints, but they have been ignored.
Last year, in May, I started writing a blog. I didn't want my husband to end up like Shanmugam Manjunath or Satyendranath Dubey (the two men who were found murdered after exposing government corruption). Most whistleblowers don't tell anyone what they are doing until it is too late. I thought that the public should know how my husband was being treated. Corruption has always been a problem, but bureaucrats are now hand-in-glove with politicians and are promoting it, not preventing it. Even if they don't actually take bribes themselves, they turn a blind eye to those who do.
Currently there is no protection for people who inform on the government. After the murder of Manjunath in 2005, the central government asked the state governments to set up committees to protect whistleblowers, but the Karnataka government has yet to set up a committee.
My husband and I have filed about 35 applications under the Right to Information Act (RTI), asking for information on everything from the government's transfer policy to their measures to deal with corruption and protect informers. It is a slow process, but we have started to receive some information. Everything that I do is made public on my blog, and anyone who wants to make a difference is welcome to help. I also guide people who want to file applications under the RTI.
We are trying to build public pressure to get the state governor to take action. We have not yet had support from the government, but there has been a lot from the public: we have well-wishers from all over the world, some as far away as the US and the UK. There are plenty of honest people in government who support us secretly, but they are afraid to speak out; some tell us that they will help us when they retire.
What my husband and I are are trying to do is identify officers in the government who can help people to get things done without taking bribes. In Belgaum, the district in Karnataka where we are currently posted, my husband set up an anti-corruption movement called Pragati Belgaum. He plans to compile a list of honest government officers in the area. There are honest people out there, but nobody knows who they are.
Several officers have now pledged in writing that they will no longer accept bribes. On Anti-Corruption Day we presented a memorandum to the state governor demanding measures to check corruption, such as including vigilance officers in every department, and giving more powers to the Lok Ayukta. There is already a public services bill, which provides some protection for whistleblowers, but it has still not been made a law by parliament. We are lobbying to turn it into a law.
My husband and I consulted our college-going children before we began our movement, because we knew we would be threatened and face financial difficulties. One of the chief secretaries asked us: "Do you know what you are doing? I don't have to tell you that the people you are fighting against are so powerful that they will decimate you." But we went into this with our eyes open, aware of the risks.
My long-term goal is to change people's mindset. We hope to form a network of committed individuals who will combat the network of corruption. The RTI is the main tool we have in our fight: information is power. We can't expect overnight changes, but I believe that if we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem.
So many Indian people have come to accept corruption as a way of life; they are ready to pay a bribe to get their work done – or done faster. We plan to start anti-corruption education programmes in schools and colleges to educate the young. The new generation needs to say no to corruption.