According to a reply procured under RTI, traffic can be stopped only for the President, the Vice President, the PM and visiting foreign dignitaries who are given President and PM level security cover
Most cases of traffic being stopped or diverted for VIPs to pass, making our life difficult, are illegal. Jammu-based RTI activist, Deepak Sharma was surprised to find out that the police have no right to stop traffic for most VIPs that pass by. Fed up of being inconvenienced due to all grades of ministers enjoying VIP treatment on roads, he filed an RTI application, seeking information on who is eligible for special privileges on roads.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) replied that, traffic on roads can be stopped only in the case of movement by the President of India, the Vice President, the Prime Minister and visiting foreign dignitaries, who are given President and PM level security cover.
This is what the reply stated, “…it may be stated that as per guidelines issued by MHA in consultation with Central Security Agencies, traffic is to be stopped only in the case of President of India, the Vice President of India, the Prime Minister of India and visiting foreign dignitaries who are given President and PM level security cover so as to give them safe passage during movement by road.”
Stopping the normal flow of traffic is just one way VIPs misuse their illegal privileges.
Here are many other examples of, how VIPs flout rules unabashedly to pamper their cronies. An RTI application filed with the MHA regarding nominations for the 2013 Padma awards shockingly revealed that several VIPs nominated their family members and friends for the prestigious awards.
As per the RTI reply, there were 25 nominees, recommended by VIPs. Lata Mangeshkar had nominated her sister Usha; Ustad Amjad Ali Khan had recommended both his sons, Amaan and Ayaan; Congress MPs Motilal Vora and T Subbarami had recommended over 10 names and Amar Singh had nominated Jaya Prada. This was in gross violation of the rules for application for Padma awards.
Another example is of former aviation minister, Praful Patel, who is fighting hard to defend himself regarding the purchase of the aircraft fleet. He would have no voice when it comes to his daughters’ misdeeds during his tenure as minister. Noted RTI activist, Subhash Chandra Agrawal, had filed an RTI application in this regard.
The replies were shocking. In April 2010, Patel’s daughter Avni Deshpande decided to have a bigger Air India aircraft from Bangalore to Male in Maldives, as seven of her family members from her in-laws side, could not be accommodated in the business class, as it was full.
The RTI documents show that directions were given by email from Mumbai office of Air India to change the 'equipment' of Bangalore-Male flight on 25th April and Male-Bangalore on 28 April 2010 from a smaller Airbus A319 to the larger A320.
Accordingly, Air India provided a bigger plane so that the following members could travel in business class: R V Deshpande, Radha Deshpande, Prasad Deshpande, Meghna Deshpande and Master Dhruv, in addition to Avni and her husband Prashant Deshpande. What is worse is that the reply states that the return flight went half-empty, thus frittering away public money.
Similarly, his other daughter, Poorna Patel: a Delhi-Coimbatore Air India flight was cancelled 12 hours before departure as she turned it into a chartered flight so that she could fly from Chandigarh to Chennai with some cricket players for an Indian Premier League (IPL) match!
Pune-based RTI activist, Vihar Durve, after the horrific incident of sexual assault on a lady journalist in Mumbai, filed an RTI application, to procure information on police security for VIPs in Maharashtra. His reply revealed that 64 VIPs have 812 policemen around them. Out of these, Sushilkumar Shinde, his wife and daughter were surrounded by 66 security personnel. His wife alone had 14 policemen to guard her. Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan enjoys the cover of 46 security guards while 31 security personnel protect Ajit Pawar, the deputy CM. The reply shockingly revealed that out of 48,969 policemen on duty in Mumbai, more than 55% or 27,740 are deployed for security of VIPs, while the remaining over 21,000 cops attend to around two crore odd population of the metro city.
Several RTI applications have been filed regarding former President of India Pratibha Patil, who spent Rs225 crore on foreign tours wherein she visited 45 countries during her tenure as President. RTI applications filed by Subhash Chandra Agrawal and others reveal that in most cases she took along with her, a large contingent of her family members and friends. Several RTI applications had also revealed how she tried to usurp a 2.60 lakh sq ft of prime Defence land in Pune to build her home but a tenacious campaign through a series of articles in Moneylife thwarted her dreams. She had to surrender the land and is now residing in a smaller residence.
As for the railways, the VIP quota is an accepted norm. Veeresh Malik, Delhi-based RTI activist and Moneylife's Consulting Editor, has filed a series of applications with the Rashtrapati Bhavan, Prime Minister's Office (PMO), the MHA, Ministry of External Affairs, Ministry of Civil Aviation, Ministry of Surface Transport and Ministry of Railways, and a few other government bodies, which use or used the term ‘VIPs’.
However, he says he has “never got anything close to a cogent definition of the term (VIP).” The Railways, he says, has been more than helpful with the information provided. Picking up from the reply, Malik summarized that, “There is no definition for the term VIP, and apart from the usual lot, pretty much anybody who holds a requisition from a 'High Official' (yet another undefined term) qualifies to be one as far as out-of-turn allotment of reservations is concerned. That letterheads of these VIPs are regularly misused for reservations under emergency quota is a known practice, and is also reported on in the media from time to time.”
Refreshingly, the Balaji Temple in Tirupati - wherein the VIP culture had reached insufferable proportions – has clamped down on VIP privileges. Earlier, with 5,000 VIPs visiting the temple every day, thousands of common people had to wait for long hours. Now, only 800-1000 VIPs are permitted per day, resulting in 10,000 more common people being able to take the darshan.
VIP culture simply mocks at democracy. It is up to us to become more assertive and put our foot down against it. Like the Pak passengers who prevented XXX from boarding the flight because he was two hours late, let us do it in our own way; click photographs and take videos with your mobiles and post them on YouTube!
Some links of stories pertaining to VIP culture:
(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”.)