RTI activist Payi Gyadi’s fight against a corrupt minister in Arunachal Pradesh has been met with attempts to silence him, says Brijesh Pandey
WHEN ITANAGAR businessman and chairman of the Sango Lamte Foundation Payi Gyadi embarked on his crusade against dishonesty, he did not bargain for this: Four FIRs, one attempt to frame him by planting weapons in his car, and countless ‘offers’ to reach a ‘compromise or die’. His crime: exposing that the current Arunachal Pradesh Health Minister Atum Welly’s son and daughter had got government jobs based on fake certificates.
It all started when Gyadi posted vacancies for faculty members for his computer institutes. The spate of applications from overqualified persons for an assistant’s job intrigued him. He wanted to know why PhD holders were not trying for government jobs. He was told by a few applicants how illegal appointments of sons and daughters of the high and mighty were depriving them of job opportunities. “This is when I decided to fight the corrupt system and give these deserving candidates their due,” says Gyadi.
But fighting the mighty is easier said than done. Another RTI activist before Gyadi had filed a case against the illegal appointments, and had hitmen coming to his house to kill him. Not finding him home at that time, the goons burnt his car instead. This incident received a lot of publicity and Gyadi and his group supported the activist. During the inquiry, the police arrested one person, who was later killed in an alleged encounter. This incident shook the RTI activist and he seemed to have bowed down to pressure.
“We stood by him and supported him,”says Gyadi, “but later found that he was not sincere and appeared to have compromised. Then I decided to carry the battle forward. While looking for clues against these people, I realised it was tough to fight them. Several cases were filed against the minister and his cronies but later on, unable to resist the pressure, people were bought off. I decided that come what may, I will not budge from my stand. We will set an example before the country.”
IN 2007, Atum Welly’s son Akung was appointed as Inspector (Tax and Excise). He submitted graduation certificates from Pragjyotish College, Gauhati University. In 2010, when Atum was the Cultural Minister, his daughter Anung was appointed as Social and Cultural Organiser (SCO). YD Thongchi, Chief Information Commissioner, Arunachal Pradesh, was secretary of the cultural wing then. Like her brother, Anung too had submitted a graduation degree that she claimed to have acquired from Beltola College, Gauhati University.
Gyadi had an inkling that these appointments were done on the basis of forged certificates, and he filed an RTI with the University. The reply was shocking: both colleges wrote back stating clearly that Akung and Anung were never enrolled with them. So, there was no question of them graduating from these colleges.
Armed with this information, Gyadi petitioned both the excise and cultural department to take action against these illegal appointments but nothing happened. “We went to the local police station to file an FIR but the police refused to lodge a complaint. We went to the SP and the DGP, yet nothing happened. Exasperated, I approached the Chief Judicial Magistrate but to no avail. After this, we moved the sessions court, which advised us to move the Gauhati High Court. It was extremely frustrating to see no action being taken by anybody despite knowing that the appointments of the minister’s son and daughter was done on the basis of fake degrees,” says an agitated Gyadi.
Health Minister Welly’s son and daughter got government jobs on forged certificates
Gyadi then filed a writ petition in the Gauhati High Court for registration of an FIR against the minister, Thongchi and Akum and Anung Welly. The High Court ruled that the petition was genuine and issued a stern order to the police asking them to register FIRs against all four.
But more shock was in store for Gyadi. “When we went to the SP to register the FIR on the orders of the HC, they refused again!” says Gyadi. “We were forced to file a contempt petition against the SP and the OC.” Finally on 4 March this year, an FIR was lodged in Itanagar Police Station against Atum Welly and Thongchi for their roles in fraudulent appointments. Later, the allegations against the four were confirmed in an affidavit filed by the SP of Itanagar, Chuku Apa, in which he said: “Sufficient documentary evidence of forgery exists against Anung Welly and Akung Welly and they will be arrested.” However soon after he filed the affidavit, Apa was transferred.
This was not the end of Gyadi’s ordeal. “On 5 June, which was a Sunday, my relative wanted to borrow my car to go to the market. No sooner had he opened the car door that he came running back and informed me that there was a pistol and some bomblike objects inside. It turned out, the objects wrapped in newspapers were grenades. Together with the pistol, they had been planted in my car,” alleges Gyadi. “By then, I had already started suspecting a conspiracy, as I had seen some shady men lurking around my house for some time. I did not waste a minute and started videographing with my cell phone. I saw a lot of plainclothes policemen around. They were planning to kill me in an encounter while I was in my car and had planted the ‘evidence’. They disappeared as soon as I started videographing. Soon after, I called my lawyer and asked him to draft an FIR. All this took one hour and around 2 pm, the police reached my place.”
The Itanagar Police interrogated Gyadi. “I told them that I was on my way to the police station to lodge an FIR and had already sent an SMS to the DGP. Despite this, they detained me for a night and asked all sorts of questions. I kept insisting I was being framed. People gathered outside the police station and the SP had to let me go.” he says.
Finally on 16 June, the Itanagar police arrested three people — one was Sanjeev Tana, former election agent of Atum Welly in the 2009 Assembly polls. But, this too was a smokescreen..
According to Gyadi, “They were not kept in jail. Under the pretext of poor health they were kept in an air-conditioned room in a private hospital in Itanagar. When we filed an RTI asking about their health, we were told their condition had improved and were immediately shifted to a government hospital. Ironically, Welly holds the health portfolio. So on one pretext or another, they didn’t let the police interrogate the accused. Surprisingly, two of the three were granted bail despite protests by the investigating officer. Since then, I have been regularly getting threats.” Despite attempts by TEHELKA to contact Welly for his version, there was no response at the time of going to press.
Gyadi has demanded a CBI inquiry into the case of conspiracy. He says it is not possible for the state police to probe a minister. He has already approached the Gauhati High Court. The court has acknowledged the threat to Gyadi’s life and has ordered that he be provided security.
Threat or conspiracy, Gyadi is unperturbed. “I will fight this till the end. I want to expose all those involved in such corruption,” he says.
Brijesh Pandey is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka.