Posts Tagged ‘Right to Information’

When ‘Indian Express’ gave ‘The Hindu’ a story

18 June 2013

N. Ram (left) with Shekhar Gupta at a meeting in 2011 with Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan (right)

In October 1989, when The Hindu‘s then associate editor, N. Ram, was stopped in his tracks by his uncle and editor, G. Kasturi, from publishing the third part of an investigation into the Bofors gun deal, Ram found a novel method of getting the story out.

He called a press conference and handed out the story—done in collaboration with the paper’s Geneva correspondent Chitra Subramaniam—to any newspaper interested in carrying it.

In much the same manner, Indian Express editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta has revealed how, in 2006, he found a way of getting out a story related to the elevation of a Delhi high court to the Punjab and Haryana high court, by giving the third part of the story to The Hindu.

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In a Walk the Talk interview with Gupta on NDTV 24×7 last week, the serial letter-writer Subhash Agarwal revealed how a family dispute led to his becoming a right to information (RTI) activist.

Agarwal’s uncle, Hari Ram, had filed a case against his father in 1991.

Hari Ram’s son-in-law was, at the time, a judge in the Delhi High Court (Justice Arun Kumar). The case was heard by Justice Vijendra Jain. The two judges knew each other well enough for Justice Jain to lend his official residence to be used by the petitioner Hari Ram, for his grand-daughter’s wedding.

This was in violation of one of the elements of the Code of Conduct or “Restatement of Judicial Values”, adopted by the Full court in 1997 which said no judge shall hear and decide a case of his relative or friend.

The wedding invitation card, with the judge’s residence printed on it, became the evidence for Subash Agarwal to approach both the Supreme Court and the President of India in 2005.  The chief information commissioner’s verdict showed the power of RTI.

Justice Vijendra Jain was later made chief justice of the Punjab and Haryana high court, but his elevation to the Supreme Court as a judge was stalled, despite the then chief justice Y.K. Sabharwal reportedly overruling the recommendation of the President of India, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.

Shekhar Gupta: So you discovered then the power of RTI which nobody had figured until then?

Subash Agarwal: Yes. The media made me strong. The media highlighted the CIC verdict and that shook the whole of the judiciary.

What happened to these judges then?

After the CIC verdict was published in the media, there was pressure on my uncle from his son-in-law and his associates in the higher judiciary, which also included the Chief Justice of India. And then he had to compromise though we had to pay a price much higher than the value of (the disputed) property at that time.

But the fact also is that one particular judge who later rose to be Chief Justice in a High Court could not ultimately come to the Supreme Court because of your activism.

Right. Mr Kalam held the file of promotion of that judge for elevation to the Supreme Court.

Even though the Chief Justice nearly overruled [the then President], Dr A.P.J. Kalam.

Yes.

You remember that The Indian Express was in the forefront of following that story from Rashtrapati Bhavan. It’s a story I cannot yet tell on camera but we paid gravely for that, but we were willing to pay.

Yes. Your paper has always been the pioneer in highlighting such malpractices.

I made this disclosure public that our third story on that issue, I had to then, with great respect and understanding, give to The Hindu, to Mr N Ram, who played a great editor and published it instead because circumstances were such that the Express could not have carried it…So, this was the first time that an RTI activist actually prevented a judge who had risen to the level of High Court Chief Justice from coming to the Supreme Court.

He had almost reached the Supreme Court.

Coincidentally, in November 2006, the Indian Express‘ new editorial headquarters in the Qutub institutional area was “sealed”  following a Supreme Court judgement.

Ironically, in 2011, The Indian Express and The Hindu were involved in a noisy battle, after N. Ram threatened “defamation proceedings” against the Express for reporting on the internecine war within the Hindu family.

Photograph: courtesy in.com

Read the full interview: Jan Andolan activism has failed’

Also read: Letter-writer secures win against top judge

Media advisor is second highest-paid in PMO

29 June 2012

Life isn’t easy for a public servant in the age of transparency, when every little detail is open to scrutiny under the right to information (RTI).

Mail Today, the tabloid newspaper owned by the India Today group, carries a two-page story today on what the prime minister and his key men earn, and it turns out that the PM’s media advisor, Pankaj Pachauri, gets Rs 30,000 less than his master, Manmohan Singh (Rs 1.6 lakh per month).

In fact, with a monthly cheque for Rs 1.3 lakh, Pachauri is the second highest-paid employee in the 404-person PMO.

Even the man Pachauri reports to, principal secretary Pulok Chatterji (Rs 92,000), and the national advisor Shiv Shankar Menon (Rs 1.13 lakh per month), earn less than the PM’s media advisor.

(Update: Sanjay Kapoor, editor of Hard News, points out on Twitter that Muthu Kumar who reports to Pachauri gets more than his boss.)

The salaries of all the employees in the PMO, their total salary bill, the PMO’s budget for 2012-13, the travel details of officials besides the PM’s own salary have been posted on the PMO’s website, under section 4 of the RTI Act.

Image: courtesy Mail Today

Read the full article: What the PM and his men earn

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Also read: At 7, Race Course road, this is Pankaj Pachauri

Is the PM’s media advisor missing in action?

How a letter-writer entered the Guinness Book

8 June 2012

In The Hindu, Aman Sethi profiles Subhash Chandra Agrawal, the tetile merchant whose use of the right to infomration (RTI ) Act unceasingly shapes the news agenda.

Before he donned his current role, Agrawal had entered the Guinness book of records for the most number of letters to the editor of newspapers and magazines:

“His first letter, published in Dainik Hindustan in 1967, was about a bus conductor who pocketed his money without issuing a ticket. Officials of the Delhi Transport Corporation apologised. Emboldened, Agrawal wrote another letter, then another, then another till 3,699 of his letters were published, a feat that won him a place in the Guinness World Records in 2006.

“I sat in my shop and composed letters during lean hours,” he says. “I bought the Indian Newspaper Society’s address book and printed stickers with the newspaper names and addresses.” Each week, he typed out letters, stuck the addresses on envelopes and mailed them. When a letter was published, he made clippings and dispatched them to the authorities concerned.

Photograph: courtesy The Hindu

Read the full profile: A very special correspondent

Also read: Letter-writer secures win against top judge

How IIJNM students put the RTI to good effect

1 May 2009

Only 10 per cent of India’s 1.1 billion population is said to be aware of the Right to Information (RTI) Act which grants citizens the right to access government documents.

Nevertheless, its power and potential is unmatched. For a small fee, any Indian, male or female, rich or poor, can step up to “the scariest government agency” and take his or her shot.

For journalists, RTI is a “game-changer“.

Students of the 2008-09 investigative class of the Indian Institute of Journalism & New Media (IIJNM) in Bangalore—under the guidance of Prof Ralph Frammolino, a reporter at the Los Angeles Times for 24 years and a Pulitzer Prize finalist—have used the RTI to show how killer local city bus drivers are back at the wheel; how the State government never fires chronically absentee teachers; and how the chances of corrupt officers trapped and raided by the Lok Ayukta getting punished are low.

They have also used RTI to show how chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa uses public money for his temple visits. It wasn’t easy. The students had to go to the CM’s office 12 times and file an appeal before obtaining the list.

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PAVAN KUMAR H. and P. KRISHNAMURTHY write: During his first five months in office, Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa spent more than Rs 11 lakh in government funds to make eight trips to Hindu temples—including one to Tirupathi to take part in the Bramhotsava.

Records obtained by IIJNM Investigations under the Right To Information (RTI) Act show that Yediyurappa charged the eight trips to taxpayers as “official” business.

In five out of eight instances, he used government funds to rent a helicopter or an airplane to carry himself and several top ministers to Hindu shrines, where he offered pujas and, in one case, inaugurated a food serving hall.

Interviews and records also show that during the same period, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader made no official visits to other houses of worship even after being invited by Christian and Muslim leaders.

And in one case, Yediyurappa was visiting a Mangalore temple at government expense the day after pro-Hindutva vandals ransacked two nearby Christian sanctuaries.

Despite heavy media coverage of the church incidents, Yediyurappa didn’t show up at the churches, although he denounced the attacks on prayer halls and met Christian leaders. Still, his failure to visit the sanctuaries prompted accusations that he and his pro-Hindu BJP tacitly condoned the attacks—a charge he vigorously denies.

A BJP spokesman defended the chief minister’s temple visits, saying the reason he didn’t go to mosques and churches in the first few months of his tenure was because “he was not invited.” Yeddyurappa has since gone to at least one dargah and one church, according to press reports.

“Yediyurappa is not against any religion,” said A.L. Shivkumar, media manager of the State BJP. “He treats all religions equally.”

Kumar said Yediyurappa has gone to more temples because Hindu priests continually ask him to.

“He visits many places and people invite him to the temples nearby, so he goes there,” he said. “He is a ‘pakka‘ (devout) Hindu and he goes to a temple as every traditional Hindu does. It would be wrong if he does not go there.”

But Christian and Muslim leaders have another account.

Adolf Washington, public relations officer for the Catholic Archbishop’s office in Bangalore, said church officials had called Yediyurappa “many times but he did not come. He is a Chief Minister so we cannot force him to come.”

Salim Babu, secretary of the Karnataka Wakf Board, which manages mosques for the government, said both Yediyurappa and his Wakf Board Minister, Mumtaz Ali Khan, have spurned requests from the Muslim community to attend events and meetings.

“He is not interested in attending mosques,” Salim said about Yeddyurappa, adding that the chief minister showed favoritism to the religious majority. “He should not discriminate between a tall son and a dwarf son.”

Records show that Yediyurappa’s State-paid temple visits began shortly after he was sworn in on 30 May 2008.

His first was on June 17, a trip that cost taxpayers Rs 2,440, to the Ghati Subramanya Temple in Doddabalapur. That was followed 12 days later by a Rs 854 car ride to the Sri Keshtra Siddhara Betta temple in Tumkur. There, the chief minister participated in a Guru Vadana, or tribute ceremony, in honor of Shiva Kumar Swamiji of Siddaganga Mutt.

The most expensive trips were to Tirupathi, India’s most famous Hindu shrine. His trips on July 17 and October 1 each cost taxpayers Rs 3.6 lakh for a “special aircraft” and Rs 9,500 for the taxi.

The official purpose given for the trips was “local visit,” although the latter was during the Bramhotsava. The nine-day festival is the busiest time for the temple.

Twice he flew in state-paid helicopters to temples. A September 8 trip to the Banavasi temple in Hassan cost Rs 1.4 lakh for the helicopter ride. The other, on October 10, cost taxpayers nearly Rs 1.9 lakh for transportation to the Sri Krishna Mutt in Udupi, where he inaugurated  the food hall.

According to the CM’s office, a temple visit is “official” and paid by the government if Yediyurappa is invited by a local official, such as a district commissioner (DC), to attend a public ceremony, function or make an inspection.

Also read: How to use RTI and be the change you want to see

Tehelka promoters ‘vindicated’ by official papers

9 February 2009

First Global, the brokerage promoted by Shankar Sharma and Devina Mehra which had a 14.50 per cent stake in the webzine turned magazine Tehelka, has scored a major victory with official documents reportedly showing that the firm had been harassed by market regulators on trumped-up charges, after the then BJP-led government had been shamed by a Tehelka expose that caught the BJP president taking a cash bribe on camera.

According to a story in Business Standard, official documents obtained from the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) under the Right to Information (RTI) Act show that First Global had no “advance knowledge” of the stock market crash of March 2001 following the Tehelka story.

Titled “Operation Westend“, the investigation by journalists Aniruddha Bahal and Matthew Samuel resulted in the resignation of the then BJP chief Bangaru Laxman, defence minister George Fernandes, and plenty of egg on the BJP’s face.

But it also resulted in a massive witchhunt against the webzine and its promoters.

Documents obtained under RTI show that the brokerage—first Asian firm outside of Japan to become a member of the London Stock Exchange —had no role in hammering down the stock markets. In fact, it did not figure in the list of the top-50 sellers from mid-February to mid-March 2001.

But, because of its links to Tehelka, First Global was stripped off its registration; Shankar Sharma and his wife and partner Devina (a former Business India journalist) were arrested as they were about to board a flight to London (Shankar was arrested two more times); and hundreds of cases were lodged against the duo in an extraordinary act of political vendetta that eventually resulted in the closure of Tehelka online before its resurrection as an offline magazine.

First Global, which “paid more taxes than companies like Proctor & Gamble, Ranbaxy, and Titan“, was also forced to shut shop.

The assault on Tehelka resulting in its closure, was one of two standout cases of media harassment by the former BJP government, whose prime ministerial candidate L.K. Advani was recently decorated by India’s leading English language broadcaster NDTV with a “lifetime achievement” award.

“Always in favour of anti-terrorism laws, he abolished Press Censorship and repealed anti-press legislation during his tenure in 1977-1979 as the I&B Minister,” read the citation. Advani is also credited for his Emergency era comment on the Indian press: “When you were only asked to bend, many of you chose to crawl.”

Photograph: courtesy rediff.com

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