Seriously, RTI is Also About Some Seemingly Funny Queries, Which Are Actually Introspective In Nature!
Recently, there was a query filed under Right to Information (RTI) Act, to the ministry of home affairs (MHA) seeking the names of the `tukde tukde gang’.
This was in the backdrop of a public speech by Home Minister Amit Shah on 26 December 2019, where he said that the time has come to punish the `tukde tukde gang’.  However, the RTI application seems to have rattled officials in the home ministry. The RTI applicant, journalist Saket Gokhale, is so serious about procuring this information that if he does not get it within the deadline of 26 January 2020, he claims he would be filing a second appeal with the central information commission (CIC).
While the `tukde tukde gang’ (whoever they are) has become the butt of sarcasm and vicious verbal attack, not only by the prime minister, home minister, senior leaders from Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and their ardent followers, the RTI query brings forth the serious aspect of whether it is recognised officially, through an official certified copy! No wonder, the MHA is now in a quandary.
Mr Gokhale received a reply from the MHA, which says, “Ministry of home affairs has no information concerning tukde-tukde gang."
A news report in India Today says, “the term 'Tukde Tukde Gang' has not been mentioned in any report by intelligence and law enforcing agencies. It was coined after the February 2016 controversy in the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) where it was alleged that some people raised "anti-India slogans". The Delhi Police is yet to establish this charge. Some officials said they believe this is frivolous RTI application.”
This is not the first instance when a seemingly frivolous query under the RTI has revealed that some important dates, holidays and records that, we, as a nation abide by, may not really have any official basis. 
Our political leaders have verbally stated them over the many decades that we have gained independence and they have become unquestionable laws. 
For example, in 2012, school girl Aishwarya Parashar from Lucknow, filed a RTI application to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) seeking information on copy of the official order that recognized ‘Mahatma’ Gandhi as the Father of the Nation.
The PMO said it did not have any such information and transferred her RTI application to the MHO, which in turn transferred it to the PIO of the National Archives of India. The National Archives in turn asked Aishwarya to visit the office and search through the files herself. And the matter ended there! 
So, this frivolous question actually tells us that there is nothing official about the title other than peoples’ love and respect for Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. 
Similarly, hockey is not the national game of India, as per a RTI reply, and there is no government order (GO), which notifies Republic Day, Independence Day and Gandhi Jayanti as national holidays, as per replies received from the relevant public authorities. 
Another seemingly funny RTI query was filed by Bangalore-based RTI activist Narashimha Murthy.  He filed an application with the Tirumala Tirupathi Devasthanam Trust, seeking information on whether Lord Venkateshwara's debt to Kubera had been cleared and if not, then how much of it is still left. 
He alleged that the trustees emotionally blackmail devotees on this point to extract donations.  A board to this effect is put up in the premises of the temple, which Murthy read, when he visited the temple and was shocked at the gullibility of the people. 
As per mythology, Lord Venkateshwara’s mother had borrowed lot of money from Lord Kubera, for his marriage. 
Of course, Mr Murthy got no reply, although he filed a second appeal with the Andhra Pradesh Information Commission! 
Seems like a stupid RTI query?  No, in reality it exposes the blind belief of people and advantage that trustees take of their unquestionable faith.
Some RTI applications are genuinely humourous. 
An RTI applicant, Ajay Kumar, in 2016 filed an application to the MHA seeking information on whether India would survive an attack by alien zombies and extra-dimensional creatures. What would be the chances of our survival? No prizes for guessing that it went viral on the social media.
RTI applications have also been filed to seek information regarding prime minister Narendra Modi’s  slogan of `aachhe din’ and whether `ladoos’ sent by the RTI applicant to the then President of US George Bush were delivered to him. Information has also been sought on an eligible matrimonial mate, from among employees in any government office, addressed to the Andhra Pradesh Information Commission amongst several others.
While it is good to have a good laugh over such frivolous and frivolous-yet-introspective RTI applications, no prizes for guessing that these are regularly used by political leaders and public authorities to state how they are already overburdened and all this is a waste of time. 
Well, somebody needs to tell them that laughter is the best medicine and it could lead to channeling their energy towards more transparency! Agree?
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)


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    1 week ago

    Does a building known as HIMALAYA HOUSE owned by HIMALAYA HOUSE COMPANY LIMITED fall under the purview of RTI?
    The secretary and the commitee is not willing to give information and are now planning to convert to Himalaya House Company Private Limited.
    I am a joint share holder (for a room in that building).


    1 month ago

    Nothing wrong in any of the RTI applications except the one regarding that individual's marriage. When we have a system, there will be some invalid requests coming in which can be rejected and just rejecting won't over burden any politician or bureaucrat with additional work. Nation is greatful to Indian National Congress Party for passing such a great law that makes government machinery accountable. to common citizens.

    Debasish Ray Chawdhuri

    1 month ago

    While I think that an RTI application seeking a life partner is a little far fetched, I think most of the questions are very pertinent. For example, if the trust is collecting money from the devotees to pay the lord's debt, the devotees have a right to know how much of it is left.

    On a side note, some of our Gods need to get some financial education. Did he really need that extravagant wedding ceremony that he could not afford?



    In Reply to Debasish Ray Chawdhuri 1 month ago

    I read a news report some yrs ago that TTD said that the loan was repaid.


    1 month ago

    Very Interesting!


    1 month ago

    Though many of the RTI Mentioned here seems funny, and few of them have gone Viral... the fact is that it touched many turths also...
    Like the RTI for Tirumala temple, every one knows that Trust has enormous wealth collected through emotional pitch..and not used for any welfare...
    Or the recent RTI of Tukde Tukde Gang displays that there were many rattled by the naming and and were worried if they fall in that list...They have a big relief after MHA reverted that they don't have details..:)
    The list also shows that RTI has become a very dependable tool to find out Truth and hence people are relying on it for verifying even historic events..

    The Chief Information Commissioner Retired Last Week. Why No Hurry to Fill Up the Post?
    The retirement date of Chief Information Commissioner Sudhir Bhargava was crystal clear. He vacated his post on 11 January 2020, leaving behind a burden of 34,500 pending second appeals. Yet, once again, the government is determined to take its own sweet time to appoint a new chief at the Central Information Commission (CIC).
    Interestingly, this time, the appointment would be in accordance with the new rules following amendments to the Right to Information (RTI) Act in 2019. These amendments have made the tenure of the information commissioners, including the chief information commissioner, uncertain. Further, all terms of service including salaries and allowances of the central and state chief information commissioners (SCICs) and information commissioners (ICs) will be determined by the central government. 
    This also applies to five posts in CIC that are lying vacant. Paradoxically, the information commissioners currently working in the Commission, would continue to work according to the earlier rules, which assure them a five year term at prescribed salaries, allowances and pension benefits, while the new incumbents would be at the mercy of the government.
    Thanks to this peculiar situation, RTI activist Subhashchandra Agrawal suggests that, “a system be formulated whereby the senior-most information commissioner may be appointed as the chief information commissioner”. He says, such a system will ensure that the important top post is always occupied and also take care for the peculiar situation having arisen, where the new appointees may be appointed on downgraded terms. 
    As Mr Agarwal points out, no commissioner would want to take up the post of Chief IC under the new rules if it involves a downgrade to service conditions and retirement benefits. On the other hand, any outside appointee would face the ignominious situation of heading the Information Commissions with service-conditions inferior to those of present ICs. This would be both uncomfortable and embarrassing for all concerned. “In any case, it is always better to appoint a person as chief IC, who has already gained sufficient experience as information commissioner”, says the veteran RTI activist.
    This is the fourth time that the post of the chief information commissioner has fallen vacant since 2014. In fact, none of the vacancies in the CIC have been filled since May 2014 without activists having to approach the courts. 
    Elaborating this RTI activist Anjali Bhardwaj says, “Since May 2014, every time the chief information commissioner has retired, there has been a gap (of up to nine months) between retirement of the incumbent and appointment of the new chief and people have had to approach courts to compel the government to fill the vacancy. The post of the chief IC was vacant between August 2014 and April 2015 when Rajiv Mathur retired. The post again fell vacant for one month in December 2015 when Vijay Sharma retired and subsequently again in December 2018 when RK Mathur retired.”
    In its February 2019 judgment on a public interest litigation (PIL) regarding timely and transparent appointment of information commissioners, the Supreme Court had directed that vacancies in information commissions should be filled without delay by initiating the process of appointment one to two months prior to the date on which the vacancy is occurring to minimize the time lag between the occurrence of a vacancy and filling up of the vacancy. 
    RTI activist Ms Bharadwaj, who had filed the PIL, says, “The court had also held that ‘in case CIC does not have a chief IC or other commissioners with required strength, it may badly affect the functioning of the Act, which may even amount to negating the very purpose for which this Act came into force.” 
    In September 2019, a fresh petition was filed to the Supreme Court regarding the failure of the central government and some state governments to fill vacancies in information commissions as per the February 2019 directions of the SC. 
    On the directions of the Supreme Court even though an advertisement was issued inviting applications for four vacancies in January 2019, these have not been filled till date. 
    As per the submission of the government to the Supreme Court, 256 applications were received for the four vacancies, but in November 2019, when the search committee met, it decided to re-issue the advertisement against the backdrop of the amendments to the RTI Act in July 2019. 
    So, another advertisement was released on 12 December 2019. However, the government has not abided to the SC orders to make appointments transparent.
    Ms Bhardwaj says, “The Supreme Court directed the government to place in the public domain the names of the search committee and complete the process of appointments within three months. In flagrant violation of the February 2019 judgment of the SC, information regarding the number and particulars of applications received, the names of members of the selection committee or the criteria adopted for shortlisting applications has not been placed in the public domain.’’
    Is keeping vacancies for a long time another strategy of the government to dilute the RTI Act, besides already undermining the independence of the CIC? It seems so.
    (Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)
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    Electoral Bonds: File Notings Reveal Requests to Keep Donor Names Secret
    In a landmark order last week, the Central Information Commissioner (CIC) has asked four public authorities – the Reserve Bank of India (RBI); State Bank of India (SBI); the Election Commission of India (ECI) and; the Department of Economic Affairs (DEA) to provide names of individuals and entities that wanted to hide their identities in the electoral bond scheme. 
    The commission, which is the apex body under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, issued a show cause notice to all four asking as to why penalty should not be imposed on their central public information officers (CIPOs) for not providing information that falls in the ambit of their organisation.
    The order is part of a two-year battle fought by well-known RTI activists Venkatesh Nayak, who is a research scholar at the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) and Commodore Lokesh Batra (retd). 
    Commodore Batra had procured file notings, which reveal that several requests were made to keep names of donors a secret.
    Mr Nayak, who was initially denied information about any such requests having been made, pursued the matter with the help of RTI replies received by Cmde Batra. He sought information on:
    • The total number of representation or petitions or communications received by the government till date, from donors regarding the need for maintaining confidentiality of their identity while making donations to political parties;


    • A clear photocopy of all representations or petitions or communication as described above;


    • A clear photocopy of the Draft Electoral Bond Scheme prepared by your Department for consultation with the Reserve Bank of India and the Election commission of India
    As there was no reply for 40 days, Mr Nayak filed first appeal to the Appellate Authority requesting him to “admit this appeal and direct the concerned CPIO to disclose all information” asked for. The first appellate authority (FAA), stated that the information comes under the offices of Department of Financial Services (DFS), the Election Commission and co-ordination section of DEA and ordered transfer of Mr Nayak’s RTI application to these three public authorities.
    Mr Nayak’s RTI application was subsequently forwarded to the RTI section of the RBI. All four public authorities claimed that they have no information to furnish.
    Mr Nayak then filed a second appeal to the CIC asking it to “invoke its power under Section 18(3) of the RTI Act to make a determination as to which of the four public authorities actually holds or controls the information requested in the original RTI application.
    He also asked the CIC to direct the public authorities, which hold the information, to disseminate it. He also asked the CIC to direct all four public authorities to provide rigorous training to their respective CPIOs.
    Mr Nayak’s second appeal highlighted how each public authority was eligible to provide the information but was shirking its responsibility. 
    He wrote, “The electoral bond scheme has been issued by the DEA. Yet, the CPIO did not  reply for over 30 days and when I filed an appeal with the FAA, my RTI application was transferred to the co-ordination section of the DEA.”  
    Mr Nayak also said, “SBI has been named as the designated bank from which any person may purchase an electoral bond of the denomination of one’s choice subject by completing the procedural formalities described in the scheme. It is inconceivable that it does not have information as it must have been consulted prior to the issuance of the gazette notification of 2 January 2018 regarding the electoral bond scheme as it will be rolled out through the largest bank over which it exercises jurisdiction.”
    As for the ECI, Mr Nayak points out, “…it is the election management and monitoring body established by the Constitution of India. It keeps a record of the electoral bonds scheme as far as obtaining and publishing details of the donors who make donations to political parties through the purchase of such bonds. Hence, it is inconceivable that it does not have the required information.” 
    About the RBI, Mr Nayak’s second appeal said, “it is the sole authority that regulates the affairs of all scheduled banks in India. The Finance Act, 2018, amended Section 31 of the Reserve Bank of India, 1934 to include a reference to electoral bonds. It is inconceivable that the RBI would have been excluded in the process of consultation on the draft electoral bonds scheme. Common sense indicates that such consultation would have required provision of a copy of the draft electoral bonds scheme.’’
    On 3 January 2020, central information commissioner Suresh Chandra issued a show cause notice to all four public authorities asking why they should not be penalised and to provide the information sought by Mr Nayak. The deadline to do so is by the end of this month, for all the four public authorities.
    (Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)
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    Meenal Mamdani

    2 months ago

    I admire and respect the determination with which Mr. Nayak and Cmdr Batra are pursuing their efforts to unmask the identity of those who have bought electoral bonds. However I suspect that political parties will come up with another mechanism to receive donations without the donor being identified.
    I say this based on the experience with Political Action Committees (PACs) in USA. New laws have closed loopholes to find that PACs use other mechanisms to circumvent the restrictions.
    This time around in USA some Democratic Presidential candidates have publicly announced that they will not accept money from PACs. These candidates have received an outpouring of small donations from the public, donors whose names are in the public domain.
    Will this happen in India too? Yes, may already be happening in small, local contests. But doubt that at the national level it will happen any time soon.

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