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