RTI on Sonia’s foreign visits Who Cares?
It seems that the Right to Information (RTI) Act takes some highest echelons of the UPA government led by the Congress party out of the purview. This is particularly so when its own people are likely to be found in the wrong. It is rather indifferent while sharing information about their leaders with the people of the country.
This becomes more transparent when Chairperson of UPA and Congress President Sonia Gandhi went abroad for health reasons. The whole trip was kept from the public view except for the fact that only rumours and speculations remained afloat. It was argued by the senior Congress leaders that health problem is a private affair and everybody has a right to keep it under wraps. But recently it is revealed that the UPA government is deliberately not delivering the information of public interest at least when it is related to its chairperson Sonia Gandhi.
Few months back, an RTI activist Ramesh Verma from Hisar, Haryana, filed an RTI application with the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO), Prime Minister Office (PMO) seeking information under four points, namely, the foreign trips of the Chairperson of UPA and National Advisory Council Sonia Gandhi has done in last ten years and at the expense of the Indian Government, the costs incurred, the benefits of her visit etc. He filed the RTI application on February 26, 2010. His application was forwarded from PMO to the Ministry of External Affairs which was further transferred to the Cabinet Secretariat. Then it was forwarded to the Ministry of Parliament Affairs and finally to the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation.
Thus the application kept moving from one ministry to another but each ministry showed its ignorance regarding this information asking the details of madam’s foreign visits. This whole exercise took more than one year. Running from pillar to post and leaving no stone unturned Ramesh Verma got no concrete reply from any of the ministries. He finally appealed to the Central Information Commission (CIC) to direct the government to provide the details asked. CIC heard the case on June 6, 2011 and expressed its displeasure over the casual approach of the government on the RTI application and directed the government to provide the information within 10 days and that too free of cost. CIC wrote in its decision: “One thing is for sure that, in this case, the RTI request has been handled rather very casually. It was originally addressed to the CPIO of the PMO. That CPIO should have taken care to find out which exact Ministry in the Central Government was concerned and should have transferred the application to that Ministry or Ministries. Instead, the application was forwarded from one place to another, resulting in so much delay. We hope that, in future, before transferring any RTI application, the PMO would make appropriate enquiries and send the request to the relevant public authority.”
However, the CPIO of PMO didn’t respond to the CIC orders and almost ignored it. A defiant and tenacious Ramesh Verma didn’t lose his courage and he complained to the CIC. Then he once again filed the same RTI application with MEA on July 30, 2011 and in PMO on September 22, 2011. But again the same story, that all stale ordeal, go and rub your heels on the same trodden path. Ramesh Verma, in vain, struggled a lot through the hard way without a result satisfying his query. He says, “Either the government is fully ignorant about the foreign trips of Sonia Gandhi conducted at the expense of the government or otherwise it is trying to hide something from the public. Whatever may be the case; I have complained to the CIC despite the delay of another five months their order is yet to be implemented and waiting for the date of hearing.”
Congress party is claiming that it is the oldest and largest democratic party of the nation but it maintains silence on certain issues. Congress spokesperson Rashid Alvi refused to comment saying: “I cannot comment because I don’t have the complete information. RTI has its own rules and I believe that the government will follow them for providing the information.”
BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitaraman says: “In this case nothing explains the delay in sharing the information requested in the RTI. It is the Act UPA is taking credit for. At every stage Congress party reminds whole nation that it is we who got the RTI Act and now it is very clear that they are trying to undermine it.”
What does this whole episode prove? Is it a sign of a healthy democracy? Is it the same government who firmly passed the RTI bill in 2005? At that time, it was said that it was no one but Sonia Gandhi, who despite all the bureaucratic reluctance backed strongly the bill and protected it from any amendment which could have hampered the main motive of the bill that is transparency in the government functioning. Then what happened now that suddenly Prime Minister Manmohan Singh gives his opinion that RTI should be reviewed? Why is the government showing its reluctance to provide the details of a Member of Parliament and Chairperson of NAC, a body created by the government? Is Sonia Gandhi above the law of our Constitution? UPA and Congress, both should clear their stand. Why were the leaders who were seen very vocal and were accusing the crusaders against corruption such as Baba Ramdev and Anna Hazare, are silent? Are we still living in the age of imperialism when no one had the right to question anything on the Royal Family?
By Ravi Shankar