Right To Information Act Gives Crime Reporter in Bangalore Big News, For A Change

Oct 12011

H.M. Chaithanya Swamy is a crime reporter in Bangalore. The city is known for its booming outsourcing industry and not for its crime rate. Reporting on crime from the city can be quite tame, but that may be changing, thanks to the Right To Information, which recently made headlines there.

H.M. Chaithanya Swamy is a crime reporter in Bangalore. The city is known for its booming outsourcing industry and not for its crime rate. Reporting on crime from the city can be quite tame, and perhaps not as exciting as Mumbai where gangland wars and bollywood stars provide a heady mix. In Bangalore, crime could mean road accidents, occasional dowry death or the violent brawl in a pub.

Swamy had tried his hand once in filing a Right To Information form, or RTI, but was not successful. Later, he attended the workshop held by me and our RTI activist at the office of the Daily News and Analysis (DNA) English newspaper in Bangalore which had changed his approach towards RTI.

But he hit pay dirt when the scandal arose over illegal mining of iron ore in the state of Karnataka. With the demand from China booming due the exploding growth in the country, most of the iron ore from Karnataka was exported and prices went over the roof. Excessive regulation, lack of transparency were the norms in the Indian mining sector. This was exploited by a savvy set of private mine operators who mined more than what they were supposed to mine and exported them after bribing politicians, the bureaucracy and the police. With their excessive mining they were also causing havoc to the environment. The loss to the exchequer was put around $5 billion.

The men running the illegal mining were very powerful. They were ministers in the government of Mr. Yeddyurappa, the then chief minister, who was also accused of being hand in glove with those involved in illegal mining.

As pressure mounted on the state government for an enquiry, it appointed Mr Santosh Hegde, a former judge heading the anti corruption body to look into the illegal mining issue. He produced an explosive report which nailed the chief minister of the state Mr Yeddyurappa as being complicit in illegal mining and called for action against him.

Normally such reports are given to the legislative bodies and based on their convenience they might release it, much after the issue had died down. Mr Hegde hinted that the report would be available through the Right to Information Act, and he would act soon if he were to receive requests.

Chaithanya Swamy soon jumped into the fray. He was the first to file the Right To Information applications in the office of the Lok Ayuktha. And there was a unexplained delay in the acceptance of these applications. Swamy raised a hue and cry and immediatly wrote the next day in the paper on how Right To Information applications are not being received. This almost the first time when a reporter had aggresively sought a report through the Right To Information and had gone to town when his application was not accepted.

It was accepted the next day, and he was amongst the first to receive the report through the Right to Information Act. Following the publication of the report and its content by Swamy and other journalists, Mr. Yeddyurappa, the chief minister of the state, had to resign from his post, and those ministers who were into illegal mining had to be dropped from the new ministry.

Swamy is a happy man. Even crime reporters in Bangalore can make an impact, if they can find their way through RTI.