Double standard: Why doesn't Narendra Modi answer RTIs?

The Gujarat govt has ducked an RTI query on Modi's attendance in the CMO, his Cabinet meetings and other meetings. If the Gujarat CM thinks RTI activists will slow down for a new government, he's far off the mark.

Kavitha Iyer May 08, 2014 17:27:25 IST
Double standard: Why doesn't Narendra Modi answer RTIs?

In most other states, and certainly in Gujarat's closest rival Maharashtra, such a query under the Right to Information law would have been a routine matter: How many days has the chief minister attended to his duties in the CMO?

Double standard Why doesnt Narendra Modi answer RTIs

Narendra Modi. PTI

A Right to Information activist from Mumbai, Anil Galgali, filed the application on March 10 this year. Speaking to Firstpost, Galgali said he was interested in knowing how many days the rather busy prime ministerial candidate of the Bharatiya Janata Party has managed to devote to his home state. He sought the information for a period starting 1 January, 2012 onwards, to get a sense of Modi's increasingly hectic schedule as the years passed.

He also sought to know how many meetings of the Gujarat Cabinet took place within this period, plus data on what is the norm for minimum cabinet meetings are to be held in a given span of time, as well as information about meetings conducted by the CM with other government departments.

Galgali writes in an email, "In the reply, Mr Dhiren Shah, Under Secretary and Public Information Officer of the General Administration Department of the Gujarat government, stated that the scope of information sought was too vast and the period was also very wide." It's not possible to collect the data, Galgali was reportedly told. "He further informed that the CM functioned round the clock and it is not necessary for the CM to be physically present in the office, also the CM works from his residence which also functions as Chief Minister's Office, hence it is not necessary to furnish this information."

On how many meetings Modi had held with various government departments, the information reportedly concerned "more than one public organisation and departments, hence it does not come under the criteria of information as per the RTI Act".

This is curious. Record keeping of attendance, files cleared, even when the chief minister is functioning from his official residence and when he is on tour, is a fairly routine job. Attendance records of bureaucrats and public servants is considered mundane enough information to be recorded, and provided, so why not political leaders occupying high political offices? And information is not information if it pertains to more than one department? Come on, this was a battle waged by RTI activists many years back and comprehensively won.

Let's assume for a minute that attendance monitoring is not a priority when there are more pressing matters at hand. With a chief minister who has been on the move constantly at least since September-October last year, it might require some inventiveness to keep tabs of files perused and cleared while on the campaign trail or on board an aircraft or during the 400 overnight stays in various districts of India that Modi has gloated about. But what stops the government from stating how many Cabinet meetings were held? Even hologram appearances by the Gujarat CM are keenly counted by his electioneering team, so it's puzzling that the Gujarat government is unable to simply provide a count of the Cabinet meetings he chaired.

Shah has reportedly informed Galgali on this matter that the query pertaining to how many cabinet meetings were conducted by the CM (along with rules of how many maximum / minimum meetings have to be conducted) has been transferred to another department.

It would be in the interest of an aspiring prime minister to showcase the working of India's most powerful legislation of the past decade, especially since Rahul Gandhi has accused him of fearing a strong RTI Commissioner and Lokayukta. "I challenge Modi to appoint RTI Commissioner and Lokayukta in the state he has been lording over for more than a decade. The watchman of Gujarat will then find himself behind the bars," Gandhi said in Allahabad this week.

Tellingly, Modi has mocked the Congress for lauding itself on the RTI legislation, saying Right to Information applications never filled any hungry stomachs.

Be that as it may, it's the RTI law that has led to the unveiling of scam after scam that played a major role in the build-up of the anti-Congress mood across the country, surely something the Gujarat chief minister knows perfectly well. From Vadra's land dealings to the coal block allocation irregularities, much of the opprobrium he has enthusiastically heaped on the Gandhi parivar has its roots in RTI applications.

Doubtless, the RTI soldiers who shamed the UPA will resume work when the next government assumes charge. Excuses for not giving information including poor record keeping will not wash, especially coming from a leader claiming to be the most efficient administrator India can hope to get right now.

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