Er. Sarbajit Roy is an eminent Indian social and anti-corruption activist who has played a pivotal role in promoting transparency, accountability and good governance in the country. A strong advocate of the Right to Information (RTI), Roy was at the forefront of the India Against Corruption movement in the early 2010s
25-July-2023 6:22 am IST, New Delhi
The Tireless Crusade of RTI Activist Er. Sarbajit Roy for Transparency in India
Relentless Crusade for Transparency
Er. Sarbajit Roy is an eminent Indian social and anti-corruption activist who has played a pivotal role in promoting transparency, accountability and good governance in the country. A strong advocate of the Right to Information (RTI), Roy was at the forefront of the India Against Corruption movement in the early 2010s.
An engineer by profession, Roy was involved in India’s early computer and IT industry. But he grew disillusioned with the rampant corruption plaguing the system. Roy realized transparency through RTI could be a powerful tool for reform. He was among the first to use RTI extensively to hold authorities accountable.
Pioneering RTI Activism
Transforming RTI Landscape
When the Delhi RTI Act was introduced in 2001, Roy provided crucial feedback for its draft. He also participated in refining the subsequent National RTI Act 2005. Roy holds the distinction of being the first Indian to file an RTI application, appeal and complaint under the new regime.
Through relentless public interest litigation efforts, Roy compelled previously opaque state monopolies and private companies to come under RTI's ambit. His legal advocacy ensured bodies like electricity providers in Delhi were subject to public scrutiny.
Roy served as the Chief Moderator of HumJanenge, India’s largest RTI group. He helped thousands of Indians in using RTI to unearth details on governance issues. Roy also moderated online groups engaging in RTI awareness campaigns.
Unearthing Governance Failures
Sarbajit Roy’s interventions led to greater transparency around public policies. He utilized RTI to reveal numerous shortcomings in governance systems.
Roy brought illegal construction activities in Delhi under the scanner. His efforts also ensured environmental regulations for industries were enforced.
Through online activism, Roy campaigned against issues like internet censorship and pornography. He advocated financial inclusion, frequently exposing fake currency networks and deficiencies in payment systems.
Roy highlighted the menace of forced installation of risky set top boxes for cable TV.
Exposing Flaws in Key Schemes
Questioning Aadhaar's Legality
When the United Progressive Alliance government launched Aadhaar, Sarbajit Roy was among the first to highlight its perils. He exposed controversial aspects of the biometrics ID project through incisive RTI queries.
This included bypassing of processes, surveillance concerns and commercial misuse of data.
Tackling Graft in Political Class
Roy also took the fight against graft to the political class. He served a legal notice on Rahul Gandhi for false RTI declarations.
The Activist Commissions set up by Sarabjit Roy recommended penalties on corrupt leaders like Mayawati based on forensic RTI evidence.
Making Private Sector Accountable
Electricity Privatization Controversies
Roy's advocacy and legal activism to promote transparency extended across diverse sectors, as highlighted by his interventions against private electricity companies in Delhi.
When three private distribution companies (discoms) took over electricity supply in Delhi in the early 2000s, Roy realized the lack of public accountability could lead to inefficiencies.
Through incisive Right to Information (RTI) applications, Sarabjit Roy sought details from the discoms on aspects like new connections, revenue implications and distribution capacities.
However, the discoms refused to provide information, claiming they were not public authorities under the RTI Act.
Corporate Opacity Challenges
Undeterred, Roy persisted with his quest by filing public interest litigations. A breakthrough came in 2011 when the Central Information Commission ruled that the discoms fall under the RTI Act's ambit.
The Delhi High Court overturned this decision, but Roy succeeded in drawing attention to the opacity shrouding the discoms.
Earlier, Sarbajit Roy had shown how RTI could be creatively employed to hold corporations accountable. A 2005 petition filed by him pointed out that the Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission had not directed discoms to disconnect illegal industrial units despite clear Supreme Court orders.
Roy highlighted that the profits earned by discoms from such illegal connections ran into hundreds of crores. His relentless follow-up compelled authorities to act against the violation.
Roy’s interventions spotlighted how RTI could enable transparent and lawful functioning even by private corporations involved in public services delivery.
By patiently challenging reluctant officials and company managements, Roy emerged as an influential transparency advocate. He skillfully invoked public interest obligations to bring unregulated sectors under the discipline of RTI-enabled external scrutiny.
Er. Sarbajit Roy exemplifies how the efforts of tireless transparency advocates can achieve structural changes. Despite formidable challenges, he leveraged RTI extensively to fight graft and make governance more accountable.
Roy’s impact underscores that an empowered citizenry can constrain corruption and compel officials into enforcing regulations strictly. Through his activism, Roy advanced the promise of transparency as the strongest check against abuse of power.
- Economic Times (14 Sep 2004) "Sarbajit Roy petitions SC that cable TV is a utility and asks for subscriber addressability module (SAM) instead of sub-standard Set Top Boxes"
- Asian Age (3 Oct 2005) "Right to Information Act gets first applicant Sarbajit Roy, official sources said,"
- Indian Express (16 Oct 2005) "Sarbajit Roy was a bad boy in the 1980s: he wrote viruses"
- Indian Express (16 Oct 2005) "The hacker lives on, Roy is the leading manufacturer of programmable logic controls in north India"
- Times of India (29 Nov 2005), "Legal commentator on public issues Sarbajit Roy said"
- Times of India (10 Dec 2005) "The petitioner to disconnect electricity connections of illegal industrial units, Sarbajit Roy, has said"
- Times of India (23 Dec 2005) "The first-ever hearing filed before Central Information Commission by a Delhi-based engineer, Sarbajit Roy"
- Central Information Commission (23 Dec 2005) p.17 "Complainant Sarbajit Roy at first hearing before Central Information Commission"
- Times of India (24 Dec 2005) "After a two-hour public hearing before TV cameras, the first proceeding under RTI Act, the CIC directs DDA to explain why it had withheld the public feedback on the proposed Master Plan for Delhi-2021 from applicant Sarbajit Roy."
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