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‘Babus don’t do anything, hence, the RTI came in to keep a check on them’

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Anil Galgali, a RTI activist for over a decade sits down with ADC in an exclusive chat about how he became a household name and much revered person when it came to filing applications under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. He tells Dev Kotak why seeking answers from the concerned persons within the government is necessary and why everyone must demand solutions from the authorities responsible for not providing the stakeholders with what they deserve.

As we entered the office of a local distributor for IN digital cable, there are several cubicles we walk past before meeting Anil Galgali, the well known RTI activist based in Mumbai, who is seated in a separate cabin at the end of the room with two other men. Even though he doesn’t like to be called an ‘activist’ he modestly accepts that tag.

As we take seat inside the cabin and greet him, Galgali, already talking to one of them, seems to be giving a byte for one of the channels, is getting his video recorded on his phone in chaste Marathi.

When his phone rings, he even politely seeks permission to answer a call he must take.  The videographer’s phone rings and he gets bugged as his video gets interrupted and the flow disturbed. He requests the videographer to begin from the start. “Aree yaar kitna mast ja raha tha. Chalo wapas karle the’ he requests with childlike excitement. He is speaking on the Zaira Wasim issue (the 17-year-old actor claimed she was recently molested on a Delhi-Mumbai flight), for which he says the police were prompt in arresting the accused (it sparked off a debate as to whether if men made similar claims would arrests be so prompt?), but they must investigate in the future, because an innocent’s life is affected.

A publisher by profession, he runs the day-to-day operations at Agnishala, a hindi magazine, is his source of income since years and even now after he’s become a celebrity (of sorts) activist.

The humble man, also a journalist contributes to Hindi (Navbharat Times) and Marathi newspapers (Saamna, Jansatta). But he’s no longer into it full time as feels there’s immense pressure and his stories have gotten dropped. “The quotes of people involved or accused would call the newspaper offices and tell my bosses to drop their quote or not consider the story if it was negative. It was pressurising. There was no surety if my news would be published. Now with my magazine, I am the boss and can publish without any stress”, rues the crusader.

People must have knowledge of RTI Act
Educating people about the benefits of the RTI is a must, he believes. He feels people are unaware and lack the courage to question the government. Whenever possible he takes off on a trail to educate people about why and how filing a RTI application is necessary and helpful. Attending seminars and discussions, he prefers to take part as a speaker and give guest lectures on the need to file this in order to see a cleaner democracy and eliminate corruption. Even providing free assistance, to people in need, he accordingly issues instructions to be followed to seek replies. A development-oriented solution is something he wants alongwith positive change. Now he says even government officials help seeing a change in attitude to do something good.

The switch/ first sweet victory
“When I was a journalist, I did not get documents easily (for investigative stories) and it would take days to procure them. At a time when RTI Act wasn’t implemented and people did not have awareness, I had to go to the Bombay High Court. It was regarding relocation of hut and slum dwellers in Dindoshi near the airport and they were close to the retaining wall compound and posing a security threat as the runway was close and the wall broken,” says Galgali. Dwellers who were relocated to flats were selling off the houses or giving it on rent and coming back to slums again. This is when he sought data, numbers and RTI to actually guage how many had been moved. He says he wanted to close the issue and had no vested interests.

Double Delight
He almost jumps with enthusiasm while telling us that he was the first person in Maharashtra to get the RTI introduced in 2003, which is when the Act was passed. A popular journalist’s name (with Indian Express then) he promptly mentions, did his story. It was also a huge win in terms of RTI on the airport land dwellers’ issue as he set the ball rolling with a landmark initiative in getting something beneficial introduced. This is where it all began for him.

The trouble maker?
Posing trouble, he also filed a RTI to seek why rent arrears of Rs 15.50 lakhs to former minister Eknath Khadse was not yet collected. Going behind the rich, mighty and powerful, he does not fear anybody and goes behind anyone who he thinks can and will resort to wrongdoing. Also, he has exposed the CMO relief fund, the Hema Malini land deal issue (Rs. 50 crores worth of land awarded at 17 lakhs to the actress), targeting even the Mumbai University for colluding with a private company and accusing them both of corruption and siphoning off money as he relentlessly targets relevant issues.

The third eye
Ask him why he’s doing this and he says, “Someone has to question the government and why can’t it be me? We are the third eye  and someone has to work. Costs are involved, but I hope for positive change. This keeps the government in check when we work as a pressure group. Babus don’t do anything so the RTI came in to keep a check on them.”

People tell him he does this for publicity, but he shrugs them off and continues to work in public interest without expecting praises.

Wedded to work for now?
Ask him if he has no family, and he promptly says he’s single and very much wanting to get married as he continues to find the right match.  The 40-year-old says girls and to be brides are very demanding these days. “They want flat and big car. I do not have a big house. This is my source of income and it’s difficult to fulfil their demands.”

He has many fans, he shyly tells me. “I even oblige for selfies”, he proudly boasts.

The number game
Ask him how many RTIs he’s filed till date and he says if his team and he start counting, people will stop counting on them as he vows to work for the people.
 

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