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.

Short skirts, bad stars, chow mein: Why men in India rape women

Demonstrators from All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA) hold placards and shout slogans during a protest against the recent killings of two teenage girls, in New Delhi May 31, 2014. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

The 2012 Delhi bus rape case and an ever-longer list of rapes and murders in India have prompted politicians and public figures in India to cite plenty of implausible reasons why rape happens and why men brutalise women or portray women in ways that suggest they had it coming. Many people, when speaking out, tend to minimise the crime or rationalise it in ways that sound ludicrous to many. We created this list of such comments more than a year ago, but it seems like it’s time to add some new entries.

(Updated July 15, 2014) Binay Bihari, minister for art, culture and youth affairs in the state of Bihar: The minister said that mobile phones and non-vegetarian food are reasons for a surge in rape cases, NDTV reports. “Many students misuse mobile phones by watching blue films and hearing obscene songs which pollute their mind,” he said. On food, he reportedly said that non-vegetarian food “contributed to hot temper… and cited sermons of sants that pure vegetarian food kept the body and mind pure and healthy.” (NDTV)

(Updated July 2, 2014) Tapas Pal, lawmaker from Trinamool Congress: The popular Bengali actor was caught on camera threatening workers of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and their families. “If any opponent touches any Trinamool girl, any father, any child, I will destroy his entire family. I will unleash my boys, they will rape them, rape them,” Pal said in the video. Pal later apologised for what he termed a “gross error of judgement”. (Indian Express)

Brokerages bullish on Sensex, revise targets after Modi win

By Sankalp Phartiyal and Aditya Kalra

Indian stock markets rallied to record highs in May with the benchmark BSE Sensex breaching the 25,000 mark for the first time after Narendra Modi won a clear mandate to govern Asia’s third-largest economy.

Markets surged as Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies stormed to power on promises to revive India’s struggling economy, which is growing below 5 percent, and create more jobs for its 1.25 billion people.

The Sensex touched a record high of 25,375.63 on May 16, the day election results were announced, while the broader Nifty hit a life high of 7,563.50 the same day. The Sensex is up 18.1 percent so far this year.

India equity funds ride Modi rally in May, post best month in five years

India’s diversified equity funds outperformed the broader markets in May and recorded their best monthly performance in five years, as stocks rallied on hopes of an economic revival after the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won a decisive election mandate.

Equity funds clocked an average return of 11.57 percent in the month, the highest since May 2009 when funds rose 30.2 percent, data from fund tracker Lipper, a Thomson Reuters company, showed. In comparison, the BSE Sensex rose 8 percent.

Though blue-chip stocks gained, high exposure to better performers in the mid- and small-cap segment, and sectors such as financials and infrastructure, helped schemes outperform the broader markets, experts said.

Narendra Modi’s new team of ministers

The Indian government on Tuesday announced its list of cabinet ministers along with their portfolios, a day after Narendra Modi was sworn in as the new prime minister.

Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies won a landslide victory in a mammoth general election, grabbing 336 of the 543 seats and ending the Congress-led government’s decade-long rule.

Besides Modi, 45 other members were inducted into the new council of ministers, a third smaller than the previous government. Modi himself would look after atomic energy, space, personnel and any ministry not allocated to a cabinet colleague.

Markets this week: Sesa Sterlite, NTPC top Sensex gainers

The benchmark BSE Sensex rose 2.4 percent this week as domestic-oriented stocks surged on hopes the incoming BJP government would keep up its promises to kick start an economy whose growth has dipped to its slowest in a decade.

Shares in companies such as Coal India, that are expected to benefit from an economic revival, and utilities performed well.

Sentiment was also boosted after Reuters reported that the finance ministry was working on a roadmap for cutting welfare spending and reining in deficit.

They say every vote counts, but mine wasn’t

(Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of Thomson Reuters Corp.)

Fifty-four percent of Bangalore‘s eligible voters showed up at the polls on April 17, a disappointing number considering the high turnout in some states. I was not among them, but it was not for lack of trying. Despite doing everything correctly, my application never went through.

I was 18 the last time India held national elections. Since then, we moved around a lot. I was looking forward to voting this year for the first time. A record number of people are registered to vote in this election, and the country is at a crossroads as it considers whether to kick out the Gandhi-Nehru dynasty and its Congress party in favour of the Bharatiya Janata Party and prime ministerial hopeful Narendra Modi, or perhaps a third front of other parties.

Interview: Nitin Gadkari on the election, BJP’s priorities and Amit Shah

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


By Shyamantha Asokan

Nitin Gadkari is a top leader of India’s Hindu nationalist opposition party, which is forecast to emerge as the front-runner in the country’s mammoth general election. A series of opinion polls this year say that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, will win the biggest chunk of the 543 parliamentary seats up for grabs. Results are due on May 16.

Modi and the BJP have been wooing voters with promises to rescue India from its slowest economic growth in a decade, leading to much speculation over the party’s exact plans for economic policy. But critics say the party, and Modi in particular, could be a divisive force along religious lines.

Reuters spoke to Gadkari, a former party president and a member of the BJP’s manifesto committee, at his residence in New Delhi. Here are edited excerpts from the interview. The questions have been paraphrased.

Young professionals in Bangalore favour Modi’s promise, shrug off riots

As far as Vinod Hegde is concerned, Indian prime minister candidate Narendra Modi bears no responsibility for the 2002 Gujarat riots. More to the point, Hegde doesn’t care.

Hegde, a 26-year-old stockbroker in Bangalore, said that for people like him, the Gujarat chief minister is the only choice to lead India after countrywide parliamentary elections that began this week.

Allegations that Modi failed to stop or even allowed deadly riots in 2002 don’t sway his vote, Hegde said. And if the ruling Congress party’s candidate is Rahul Gandhi, the choice becomes even clearer.

Bandhan eyes India’s banking league with RBI licence

Kolkata-based Bandhan Financial was little known in India’s corporate arena. But a new banking licence from the Reserve Bank has given Managing Director Chandra Shekhar Ghosh and his 13,000 employees a reason to cheer.

“This is a different type of win. In the last 13 years they (employees) have been working hard and now they have got the recognition,” said Ghosh. “I hope that this is not a big challenge, the challenge is to develop the skills of the staff, it will take some time.”

The Reserve Bank of India on Wednesday granted provisional bank licences to Bandhan and infrastructure lender IDFC, preferring them over bigger corporate applicants and paving the way for new banks in India after a decade.

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