India Insight

When the Right To Information becomes a fight for information in India

The Congress party-led government that drafted the Right To Information (RTI) Act in 2005 touted the law as one of its success stories for the average Indian in the last election. Whether it played any role in the election’s outcome is difficult to say, but activists who specialize in RTI requests throughout India say that government workers have found many ways to frustrate their attempts to get responses to their questions.

Filing an RTI is easier than it used to be, but extracting information is getting harder each year, said Neeraj Goenka, an RTI activist in Sitamarhi, a town in the state of Bihar.

“Bihar government brought a number of amendments to the RTI act to discourage people from asking questions. Bureaucracy is totally dominant here also like in any other state,” he said. “From top to bottom, everyone knows how the information can either be denied or delayed, and the application keeps moving from one authority to the other for months.”

An RTI works like this: a citizen files a request for information to a state office, and the office is required by federal law to respond in 30 days. The trouble is, a lax attitude toward enforcing the turnaround time coupled with an overburdened bureaucracy can lead to slower or absent responses.

A report this week said 66,000 RTI complaints and appeals are pending.

Goenka said that he filed a request in 2012 to find out what kind of penalties bureaucrats received for various mistakes on the job, and has received no information. “I filed a first appeal also, but in vain. If this is the situation with the information commission itself, which is supposed to be the guardian of RTI, you can easily imagine the rest of the scenario,” he said.

Markets this week: BHEL, Sesa Sterlite top Sensex gainers

By Ankush Arora and Sankalp Phartiyal

India’s stock market closed the week on a record-breaking note as the Bharatiya Janata Party led by Narendra Modi swept the Lok Sabha election, handing the Congress party its worst ever result.

Surpassing 25,000 for the first time on the day of counting, the benchmark Sensex jumped 4.9 percent this week. The broader Nifty, which also scaled a fresh peak on Friday, rose 5 percent.

In 2014, overseas investors have so far invested 6.5 billion rupees in Indian equities, contributing to a 14 percent gain in the main stock indices.

No anti-Muslim ideology in party – BJP’s Anurag Thakur

Many people see Anurag Thakur, 39, as the youthful face of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the main opposition to the Congress party-led government and the party of prime ministerial hopeful Narendra Modi. He is the son of the former chief minister of Himachal Pradesh, and was named one of the World Economic Forum’s global young leaders this year.

In an interview with Reuters, Thakur spoke about Modi’s popularity as well as criticisms levelled against him. He also spoke about internal problems at the BJP, the party’s perceptions among Muslims, Congress PM contender Rahul Gandhi and more.

Here are excerpts from an interview:

Q: The BJP has attacked Congress over many issues – price rise and corruption being the biggest. Do you think these problems will be solved if Narendra Modi comes to power?
A: Today, when the country wants someone who has experience, and can deliver, 65 percent people of the country want Modi as the PM. During NDA regime, there was hardly any price rise. There were no charges of corruption against Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his government colleagues.

Not funny – jokes Indian politicians crack

(Any opinions expressed here are not those of Thomson Reuters)

Politicians facing outrage over their comments often say that they didn’t mean what they said to come out that way. Lately in India, they say they were joking.

One of the latest was Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, whose self-confessed attempt at a joke earned him the ire of the Election Commission of India just before the beginning of this year’s elections that could boot the Congress out of power. Addressing a community of labourers in Maharashtra last week, the chief of the Nationalist Congress Party urged listeners to vote twice for his party – and told them how to do it.

“This time, Election in Satara is on 17 and as per my information election here is on 24. So cast your vote on ‘clock’ (party symbol) there and cast your vote on ‘clock’ here. Wipe the ink,” he said, referring to the indelible ink to mark the fingers of people who have voted, noting that people should be able to remove it.

Ashutosh gears up for Chandni Chowk race; talks about ‘biased’ media

(Any opinions expressed here are not those of Thomson Reuters)

Aam Aadmi Party’s Ashutosh might have been a TV news host, but now he talks like an experienced politician. “I am enjoying” being on the other side of the microphone, the former managing editor of Hindi news channel IBN7 told India Insight during an interview in which he discussed his decision to stand for Parliament.

It probably won’t be easy. He is taking on Kapil Sibal, a Congress party veteran and influential government minister. Sibal, a two-time member of the Lok Sabha from central Delhi’s Chandni Chowk constituency, has a knack for landing in controversies. From trying to police social media to trashing a popular upsurge against corrupt politicians in 2011, he often has become a target of public wrath.

Ashutosh, who goes by a single name, said the media is being manipulated by political parties and corporations to make sure that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi wins the prime minister’s race in May. Regarding his own former media company Network18, which accepted a large investment from Reliance Industries in 2012 in a complex deal, he had little to say. Nevertheless, he shared his thoughts on how he sees the media now that he is on the other side of the camera. Here are edited excerpts from the interview.

Railway Budget 2014: Highlights at a glance

Railways Minister Mallikarjun Kharge left train fares and freight rates unchanged on Wednesday, in an interim rail budget ahead of a national election due by May.

It wasn’t really a surprise. In 2012, Dinesh Trivedi was forced to resign as railways minister after his decision to raise passenger fares for the first time in eight years prompted a furious response from his own party — the Trinamool Congress — that was part of the Congress-led coalition government at the time.

The government did raise fares last year, this time with a Congressman at the helm of affairs, as a cash-strapped railways ministry tried to raise money to pay its employees.

Interview: Modi a bloated figure, country will disintegrate if he’s in power – Veerappa Moily

By Frank Jack Daniel and Nidhi Verma

(This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission)

Veerappa Moily, oil and environment minister in India’s Congress-led government, told Reuters on Thursday that Narendra Modi, prime ministerial candidate for the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, is a “bloated figure” and the country would disintegrate if he is voted to power.

Here are edited excerpts from the interview. Responses have been lightly edited for clarity:

What’s your take on Narendra Modi and what he could offer to the country?
Mr Modi is a bloated figure and ultimately when it comes down to realities, I don’t think he will be a figure who will be counted for the country, forget about becoming prime minister. He cannot contribute any value to the BJP, he cannot contribute any additional value to the NDA (National Democratic Alliance). And no sooner he was declared as a leader, there was a disintegration of the NDA. Many of the important major partners, they just left the NDA … They’ll win Gujarat or Madhya Pradesh or some. They may be solid. With two or three states solidly backing BJP, I don’t think in this country, they can [form] the government.

Interview: Congress session will lead to changes – Sachin Pilot

After years in the shadows as a reluctant heir-apparent, Rahul Gandhi is set for his own tryst with destiny, to lead the ruling Congress party in elections due by May that it has only a slim chance of winning.

Reuters spoke to Sachin Pilot, the country’s corporate affairs minister, on the Congress party’s strategy for the 2014 election, Rahul Gandhi’s style of working and the rise of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Responses have been lightly edited for clarity.

What is the Congress party doing wrong?
We have within ourselves perhaps far superior elements to take on conventional challenges today. But what we are not doing tremendously well is in the perception battle. Somehow, we have not been able to position ourselves as an alternative to most political forces operating today. What the Congress party needs to do now, I think what Rahul Gandhi wants to do, is to create an institutionalized mechanism for the party because this ad-hocism is not bearing fruit.

India won’t have misfortune of having Rahul Gandhi as PM: AAP’s Kumar Vishwas

By Sankalp Phartiyal and Aditya Kalra

The Aam Aadmi Party’s Kumar Vishwas, who plans to challenge the Congress party from the Gandhi family’s bastion in Uttar Pradesh, said it would be unfortunate if Rahul Gandhi became India’s prime minister.

Vishwas’s remarks came as Gandhi suggested in a rare interview published on Tuesday in the Dainik Bhaskar that he was ready to be prime minister if the Congress returns to power in the 2014 general election due by May.

“I don’t think that India has the misfortune of him (Rahul Gandhi) ever becoming prime minister,” Vishwas said in a telephone interview from Amethi district. “The direction in which the country is headed right now … things will only get worse (if Gandhi becomes PM).”

Markets this week: Sensex gains 1 percent, Tata Power surges over 10 percent

By Ankush Arora and Aditya Kalra

The BSE Sensex ended with gains of 1 percent in the week ending Dec. 6, as investor sentiment was boosted after exit polls indicated the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), seen by many as being more business-friendly, will win four of the five state elections conducted recently.

State elections are seen as a semi-final before the national polls next year. Elections are the key theme for the first half of 2014 and the recent rally in the stock market implies that a BJP government is no longer viewed as a low-probability scenario, UBS said this week. The investment bank has set a 2014 target for Nifty at 6,900.

Foreign institutional investors (FIIs) inflows for the year have crossed 1 trillion rupees, regulatory and exchange data showed. They have made net purchases of around $18 billion so far this year, Deutsche Bank figures show.

  •