Times of India: Hyderabad: Saturday, March 18, 2017.
After much dilly dallying, the Guntur district authorities have refused to give information under the RTI Act to a query on Rohith Vemula's caste, saying it would hurt the investigation into the issue.
Vemula, a research scholar at the University of Hyderabad (UOH), committed suicide last year, triggering nationwide outrage over discrimination against Dalits in varsities. But the issue soon narrowed down to the question of Vemula's caste, with those opposing the contention of students saying Vemula was not a Dalit. The district authorities also came out with varying versions in the days that followed.
An RTI petition was moved way back on November 2 on this issue. In its reply on Feb 27, the Guntur district authorities said that the information could not be shared as "it can impede the process of investigation." A superintendent rank officer in the collectorate cited section 8 (1) (h) of the RTI Act, which allows withholding of information which impedes the process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of offenders.
UOH vice chancellor Appa Rao, Union minister of state Bandaru Dattatreya, BJP MLC Ramchander Rao and ABVP leader Susheel Kumar have been charged with abetting Vemula's suicide. If the charges are proved, they face imprisonment under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act.
The RTI posed mainly three questions to the Guntur collectorate. The first was whether the district revenue authority or office of collectorate submitted a report to the Cyberabad police on Rohith's caste. "In case the report is already submitted to the inquiry officer, furnish a copy of the report ," the petition urged. The third query asked the reasons for the delay by the district revenue authorities in submitting their report on the student's caste status.
The district officials, in their reply, said these questions do not fall in the ambit of the RTI Act. RTI activists are of the opinion that the superintendent has misinterpreted the RTI Act. "How can section (1) (h) apply to questions on whether a report was submitted or reasons in case a report was not submitted to the investigating officer? This is just misinterpretation," said C J Karira, a RTI activist.
Recently, a notice was served by the district officials on Rohith's family seeking their objections to their probe finding that placed the family in the Vaddera community instead of a scheduled caste. Since then, there has been no progress in the case.