The rights craftsman

A mason takes the RTI route to provide relief for people in Karnataka’s Dakshina Kannada district.

Published: 04th November 2017 10:00 PM  |   Last Updated: 04th November 2017 05:43 PM   |  A+A-

By Harsha

Sanjeeva Kabaka is on a rare pursuit: Seeking truth. And for a school dropout, it is indeed an irony that he has chosen the path of filing RTI applications in his resolute mission. Living in a modest house in Kabaka—a village in the Dakshina Kannada district of Karnataka—the 56-year-old mason’s decade-long journey has yielded piles of files with information and resources compiled from more than 200 RTI applications.And because of him, several people—many unknown to him—have received relief from the humongous complexities that exist in the process of receiving compensation.

On August 13, 2008, six migrant labourers from Andhra Pradesh drowned after floods washed away a hydel power plant at Bajathoor village near Uppinangady in Dakshina Kannada. Besides promises made by elected representatives, there was no confirmation whether the labour department had ensured justice to the families. In response to an RTI application filed by Kabaka, the department admitted that the firm was neither registered with them nor had it made any contribution to labourers’ welfare fund. Eventually, `6 lakh compensation was paid to families of all the six drowned victims.
“To obtain information under RTI is a right of every citizen. For me the act of filing RTI is a humane
way of responding to individuals facing injustice,” Kabaka says.

Sanjeeva Kabaka working at a cement pre-cast unit at Mitthur in Puttur taluk of Karnataka  | Rajesh Shetty Ballalbagh

Another example is the case of Anantharam, a police constable, who became bedridden after an accident on December 6, 2007. “The government paid a paltry compensation. On reading in newspapers that he was a Kabaddi champion and met with an accident after serving duty all night, I wrote a letter to the department protesting against the injustice,” Kabaka says.

Along with Dr Ravindranath Shanbhag of Human Rights Protection Foundation (HRPF), Kabaka approached Karnataka State Human Rights Commission (KSHRC). “Until then, I had never met Anantharam,” he recollects. A year later, KSHRC ordered a compensation of `17 lakh and provided job to Anantharam’s wife.

According to Dr Ravindranath Shanbhag, it was only because of the information obtained under RTI by Kabaka that Karnataka HC ordered relief to 6,140 victims of endosulfan poisoning in three coastal districts (Dakshina Kannada, Udupi and Uttara Kannada).His activism also prevented a possible suicide pact, which is common among families of endosulfan victims. Yamuna of Kade Shivalaya village in Bantwal Taluk of Dakshina Kannada was contemplating suicide after all attempts to get the health department identify her two bedridden children as victims proved futile. After visiting the poverty-stricken family, Kabaka wrote letters to the officers concerned.“My efforts paid off and Yamuna’s two children were identified as endosulfan victims,” he says. Many villagers and even advocates have been seeking his guidance in filing RTIs.

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