Extraordinary Indians| Commodore Lokesh Batra: A Transparency Activist Who Holds The Powerful Accountable
Commodore Lokesh Batra, one of India's foremost transparency activists, leaves those in power bristling through his use of RTIs to expose corruption
When Commodore Lokesh Batra retired from the Indian Navy in 2002 after serving the country for 36 years, he had a clear plan. He wasn’t interested in a post-retirement job. “Instead, I wanted to focus on giving back to society and the nation at large,” he says.
But even Batra, 73, may not have guessed the impact his work—holding those in power accountable, using the Right to Information (RTI) Act—was to have. More often than not, his efforts have shone a light on major issues of public concern, leaving those in power bristling. This 1971 war veteran effectively used the transparency law to reveal that electoral bonds (EBs) launched by the central government for funding political parties is mired in questionable decisions. “My RTI documents reveal how the Reserve Bank of India and the Election Commission had strong reservations about EBs, and yet the government decided to go ahead. The government had claimed that everybody was on board. But that was never true,” says Batra.
Noida-based Batra, a well-regarded figure among RTI activists, explains why he digs deeper. “It is our right to know if the taxpayer’s money is being optimally spent on nation building and welfare schemes. Also, a government servant’s primary duty is to the people and not their political masters. Using our ‘right to know’ is one way of finding out the truth,” he says.
Cases Batra has been involved in include exposing numerous instances of neglect by local authorities during the gruesome Nithari killings (2007) and filing RTI applications to find out the expenses of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s foreign visits. Batra was also the one to point out various errors in the Hindi version of the RTI Act, leading it to be amended. He even played a pivotal role in removing the hurdles for Indians living abroad to be able to pay RTI fees through Electronic Indian Postal Orders (e-IPOs).
A recreational long-distance runner, Batra uses his endurance while dealing with the bureaucratic maze in the government. “I have spent months, sometimes years, watching sarkari departments pass the buck,” Batra says.
Having spent years in government corridors, he knows how to get the results. “I have loads of patience and the discipline to follow up. I never give up until the truth is out in the open. Satyameva Jayate (Truth triumphs)!” he says. Of course, his unrelenting pursuit of truth has a price: Misinformation about him was spread, not to mention rampant threats and intimidation. “My family is concerned, but they are also supportive knowing that someone has to do the job,” he says. This soldier believes in soldiering on.