20May2019

Andaman Chronicle

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RTI rap for UPA bigwigs: Grapes gone sour

By Gajanan Khergamker

The Prime Minister has expressed his disdain with regard to the RTI Act being ‘misused’. MrManmohan Singh was recently reported saying such RTI applications are of no ‘benefit’ to people but only consume the officials’ valuable time, which can be otherwise used for a good purpose.

It’s ironic how the PM’s concerns only surface at a time when a string of scandals is unearthed through the RTI Act during the UPA regime.

Apparently, it was only after an  RTI was filed to question UPA president Sonia Gandhi’s foreign travel expenses and health care expenses (which supposedly went up to Rs 1,880 crore in past three years) and  her son-in-law, Robert Vadra’s alleged 300 crore land scam, that the PM feels the need to defend people’s privacy.

This is not the first time that a politician or a relative of a politician has been questioned about his/her expenditure while on duty through RTI. One look at the replies to the applications filed, explains the PM’s statement on people filing frivolous RTI applications.

Minister baying for austerity splurges

Earlier, in May last, an RTI query filed by an RTI activist and a journalist ShyamlalYadav, revealed Deputy Commissioner of Planning Commission of India, Montek Singh Ahluwalia spent around Rs 2.02 lakh daily (average) expenditure for trips between May and October 2011.

The findings revealed Singh undertook ‘four trips covering 18 nights that cost the exchequer a total of Rs. 36, 40, 140 an average of which comes to Rs 2.02 lakh a day.’

This was revealed at a time when the Tendulkar Committee re-evaluated the country’s poverty line and came out with a report according to which a rural Indian spending Rs 22.50 and an urban Indian spending Rs. 29 a day is not poor. According to this calculation, Singh’s expenditure is almost 50 times more than a common rural man!

And, it was around the same period that the-then finance minister Pranab Mukherjee (now the President of India) and prime minister had urged people to spend austerely during the ‘difficult times’. Oddly, it’s the common who pays taxes yet are urged to practice austerity while those in power who urge austerity indulge in luxuries rather ostentatiously.

Detailed statistics procured through RTI Act, filed by ShyamlalYadav revealed Montek Singh Ahluwalia made 42 official foreign trips in all and spent a total of 274 days abroad during his seven-year tenure, this is excluding the days spent in travelling. A total of 274 days in seven years is ‘one in every nine days’ spent abroad.

And, that excludes the days spent travelling. It was also reported that his ‘junkets’ abroad cost the exchequer a sum of Rs 2.34 crore.  This sum, oddly, is the least among the three different totals procured through the RTI application.

It wasn’t specified whether the figures mentioned, included the expenses incurred by Indian embassies abroad: If not, the original cost could be much higher.

Montek Singh Ahluwalia, on his part, in an attempt to justify the expenditure saying all his trips overseas, albeit expensive, were ‘necessary’ for the ‘discharge of official duties’. Oddly, 23 out of his 42 foreign trips were made mostly to the US.

Salaries unpaid yet junkets planned

In another case, around the same time, another minister was seen squandering the exchequers’ money. When the airline services, in the country, private or otherwise were going through a bad patch, so much so that Air India’s employees had gone on a strike for delay in payment of salaries, Aviation Minister, Ajit Singh had sent invitation to many journalists asking them to join him on his trip to the US where he was going to take the delivery of first Boeing 787 jets.

Invitations were sent to various media organisations via e-mail by the aviation minister, asking to join him in his visit to Seattle and Charlston, USA, from May 28 - 31 to get delivery of B787 Dreamliner and that their travel, accommodation, etc., will be taken care of. After this was reported, the trip was first postponed before being cancelled.

So, while the common man keeps struggling with inflation in probably every sector, ministers and government officials have no qualms while lavishly spending the common man’s hard-earned taxes. And, especially for something as insignificant as getting media coverage for their so-called ‘achievements’ like buying aircrafts from the US, at a time when they cannot afford to pay the staff their salaries on time.

So, even though this information wasn’t revealed though an RTI query, will the prime minister feel that this information had nothing to do with public and that the information officers would be wasting time culling out such information when asked for? The tax-paying common man has every right to know where and how his money is being spent; whether it’s right or not for these ministers to spend so much of his money on unnecessary frills is another question altogether.

For the PM to come out and say that the RTI Act is being misused and is infringing on the right to privacy of political leaders, he should consider the fact that being in a public arena does translate into surrender of one’s right to privacy, to an extent. Being in the limelight will inevitably lead to every act of yours, innocently innocuous as it may seem, analysed in the media and public glare. You will have to take your privacy being infringed upon in your stride.

People vote you to power. They may not have the right to know all about your personal life but have every right to know if your personal affairs are being funded by public wealth.

And when questioned, coming out in the open with correct and clear information will help hold onto people’s trust. Fighting that only make your intentions suspect.

Readers keen on seeking help on drafting RTI applications may write in to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call Gajanan Khergamker on 022-22841593 for any assistance on RTI or to have their findings / issue featured here

  • Written by Denis Giles
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Political Parties Urged To ‘Walk The Talk’

RTI activists are up in arms against political parties and, quite rightly, want all political parties to be come under the RTI scanner.

Political parties have, time and again, refused to divulge any information asked under RTI Act stating that they aren’t public authorities. Peeved with this attitude, two activists, Anil Bairwal of Association of Democratic Reforms and Subhash Chandra Agarwal, filed a complaint against all political parties before Central Information Commission (CIC).

Reportedly, The Association of Democratic Reforms had asked all the political parties about their largest donors and the manner of the donations. All parties, other than CPI, refused to answer the questions stating that they aren’t government authorities and hence not bound to answer any questions.

The complaint filed by the two activists prompted the CIC to call a meeting with all the political parties’ secretariats to discuss transparency law and information dissemination. The meeting held on 26th September 2012 was ditched by most of these political parties other than CPI and NCP. The meeting concurrently was cancelled and a new date for the meeting is yet to be decided.

When it comes to exploiting power and enjoying sops, these political parties are the first to claim them but when it comes to talk about responsibility and accountability, they get defensive.

All political parties benefit immensely from various sops offered to them for being a ‘political party,’ one of such sops being 100 per cent tax exemption on income. It was recently reported that, due to this tax exemption, six major political parties saved more than Rs 500 crore between the years 2006 - 2009.

This means that, indirectly, they are benefitting from the exchequer’s money; which, according to RTI activists make them liable to be declared as ‘public authority’ and come under the RTI Act.

Out of all the political outfits, the Congress party was the one that gained that most. It got the maximum exemption of Rs 300.92 crore. The next in line was BharatiyaJanata Party (BJP) which saved Rs 141.25 crore in taxes. Other parties that profited from the tax exemption were BahujanSamaj Party (BSP), which saved Rs 39.84 crore, Communist Party of India (Marxist) saved Rs 18.13 crore, Communist Party of India Rs 24 crore, and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) Rs 9.64 crore.

This data, was compiled by activist groups Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and National Election Watch (NEW).  Tax exemption is given political parties under provisions of Section 13(A) of the Income Tax Act.

The definition of public authority under Section 2(h) of the RTI is - any non-government organisation that is substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate government.' And, since political parties enjoy tax benefits, land allotment and other such facilities, they should be included under the definition of ‘public authority.’ It was also reported that, in all, the six political parties were allotted land worth Rs 456.91 crore.

Besides that, the activists also pointed out the fact that free slots for advertisement are given to political parties on state-run Doordarshan and All India Radio during election time.

Political parties representatives go about damaging public property during bandhs and other protests causing immense losses to public funds that run into crores of rupees but they don’t want to be questioned about it.They have the right to use public money and damage public property but they don’t want to be held accountable.

It was reported that around 123 BEST buses were damaged in the ‘bandh’ protest called by BJP in May this year against hike in petrol prices. And, when it came to compensating for damages, one of the BJP party leaders, also on the BEST committee, was quick to point out to point out that the parties (BJP and Shiv Sena) that damaged the buses shouldn’t be paying the compensation for repairing the buses and that it should be claimed from the insurance companies. Although he was generous enough to mention that he understands that it will cause people trouble since almost 100 buses will be off the road for around a month.

The parties that refuse to be held accountable for their actions, benefit from public’s money, damage public property, yet refuse to act like a ‘public authority.’

So, when an upcoming political party accuses a member of another influential political party’s family member of a multi-crore rupee scam, if asked about their income and funding that come for the party, they can swiftly refuse to divulge any information regarding the same.

It was recently reported that, out of the 700 political posters that lined the city roads during Ganpati festival, only 41 were legal and rest were put up without BMC’s permission. This is when the rates for political hoardings were just Rs 182 for the first sqmt and Rs 121 for every subsequent sqmt.

These political parties are always swift to say that they will ‘look into the matter’ and ‘take action against their party members who put up illegal hoarding’ we don’t have a ‘right’ to question them about the ‘action’ that they take against such members who deface our city.

So, while all the politicians publically maintain that they are all for transparency regarding funds of political parties and such, when it comes to acting on it, they all went AWOL in the CIC meeting regarding the same issue.

A similar issue had risen in 2008 when the ADR and NEW had asked to make IT returns and contributions of political parties public. Even then, political parties were reluctant to share such information with the public and had protested but the ADR and NEW had won the CIC judgement.

(Readers keen on seeking help on drafting RTI applications may write in to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call Gajanan Khergamker on 022-22841593 for any assistance on RTI or to have their findings/issue featured here)

  • Written by Denis Giles
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Doctors liable to take ‘reasonable’ care: Commission

A while back, the National Consumer Dispute Commission observed a doctor can be booked for medical negligence even if the situation doesn’t turn life threatening but reasonable degree of care is not taken while deciding on the course of treatment or while treating the patient.

GAUZE MOP LEFT INSIDE PATIENT

The Commission made the move after hearing a petition of a Delhi-based woman who underwent third surgery for abdominal pain in Mumbai and doctors found a gauze mop that was left inside her stomach from the previous surgery.

The complainant Kamla Devi, after getting discharged from the hospital, filed a complaint in the state panel against the doctors in Delhi who operated on her the first two times in November and December 1995. Reportedly, she was being treated by Dr R K Jain and Dr S Mehta and the former had suggested the surgery.

The first time she was admitted in the hospital in November 1995 was for abdominal pain and vomiting. On the basis of her doctor’s advice, she underwent a surgery but her pain didn’t get better so she was re-admitted and operated upon again.

Even after this, when her pain persisted, another surgery was reportedly suggested by Dr Jain. On relatives’ advice, she came to Mumbai for the surgery where the gauze was discovered in her abdomen.

The doctors at first denied the allegations. Their arguments were rejected by the state panel after which they appealed to the national commission. Here they argued the ‘negligence’ did not pose a threat to the woman’s health and life so it cannot be amounted as medical negligence. That is when the national commission observed negligence doesn’t have to amount to death or pose a risk to health and asked the doctors responsible to compensate the women by paying Rs 50,000.

The judgement was passed 17 years after her first operation.

Rarely a month goes by without some or the other doctor being accused of medical negligence by the patient or kin of the patient. The degree of negligence and its repercussions can vary from person to person but that does not mean a doctor is not liable for the negligence and shouldn’t be punished for it. But, many doctors think otherwise as was apparent in the case of Kamla Devi.

MOTHER DIES DUE TO POST-OP COMPLICATIONS

It is only when a patient dies or something seriously goes wrong with the patient’s health that doctors are held guilty for negligence. Sadly, even at times when the doctors are proclaimed guilty, it takes way too long for the punishment to actually be delivered. Dr Nikita Manchanda, who delivered a baby boy through C-Section on 3rd May 2009 in Max Hospital, Delhi, died after two days owing to a complication.

A day after her delivery, she complained of severe abdominal pain and began to vomit continuously. In desperation, she called her gynaecologistDrAlka Gupta. However, even after hours of writhing in pain her calls went unanswered. Nikita was administered pain-killers by the resident doctor at the hospital after consultation with Dr Gupta and the anaesthetist. The doctor did not find it necessary to examine Nikita even though the pain-killer did nothing to alleviate her condition.

The next morning, on realising that her condition wasn’t improving, the doctor rushed Nikita to the ICU. It took a full three hours to shift Nikita to the ICU and arrange for blood. Nikita was declared dead by noon.

Reportedly, Nikita’s father had filed more than 50 RTIs to the police department, the health department of India, Medical Council of India and Delhi Medical Council.

And, it was in 2010 that the reply to his RTI application to Medical Council of India revealed that Max hospital had enough evidence to prove the four doctors were guilty of medical negligence and their quantum of punishment would be revealed in ‘next meeting.’

That the doctors were guilty was decided by the ethics committee in June 2010. More than a year passed and there was no sign of the ‘next meeting’ in which the punishment of the guilty was to be decided even when Manchanda filed an RTI application asking about the case.

It was only in May 2012, when Manchanda filed a second appeal to the ex-Central Information Commissioner, Shailesh Gandhi that Gandhi directed the PIO of the MCI to provide details of quantum of punishment awarded to the doctors and also put it up on its website along with other doctors found guilty since January 2011.

PATIENT TURNED AWAY, DELIVERS ON ROAD

Around a fortnight back, Bombay HC refused to give relief to a doctor held guilty of negligence. Last year, a pregnant woman, Tabassum Sheikh had come to Bhabha Hospital and was examined by DrAtulKulkarni who then directed Tabassum to DrManorhitaGaikwad (the petitioner).

Reportedly, the doctors referred Sheikh to another centre but didn’t arrange for an ambulance for her and Tabassum delivered a baby right at the hospital gate. By the time any medical help could reach her the baby died. The BMC sacked the doctor for negligence and the HC upheld BMC’s decision.

…ANOTHER DELIVERY ON ROAD

In a similar situation, in April this year, in Hyderabad, a pregnant woman was allegedly turned away from a government-run hospital and she ended up delivering the baby on the road.

After severe protests from the locals, a probe was ordered against the hospital. Thankfully, in this case, the mother and the child survived.

Cases like these are not really rare to come by. Doctors in government hospitals turning patients away every now and then or doing a shoddy job without the fear of any sort of reprisal or exposure should be punished severely enough that it serves as a lesson for other such doctors who take issues of medical negligence lightly.

Not just in government hospitals, doctors in private hospitals too should have empathy towards patients, fear the law and not take issues of health lightly as is usually the case.

(Readers keen on seeking help on drafting RTI applications may write in to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call Gajanan Khergamker on 022-22841593 for any assistance on RTI or to have their findings / issue featured here)

  • Written by Denis Giles
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