I Feel Sad That Arvind Kejriwal Didn’t Respond To My Letter: Shailesh Gandhi.
Shailesh Gandhi, an IIT Bombay Graduate and the former Information Commissioner with the Central Information Commission, is known for his many landmark decisions in RTI and the sheer commitment that he possesses for bringing transparency and accountability in the governance. He has in his credit reducing the high rate of pendency of appeals in the Commission during his tenure. He heard over 20000 cases in his tenure, making it around 25 cases per day. He has always been vocal on the issues of transparency and accountability in the governance and has also recently co-authored a book on the subject. Last year, he had written an open letter to the Chief Minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, one of his former colleagues, questioning his style of governance and not doing enough for his prior commitment of transparency. However, he didn’t receive any response from the other side, which he says made him sad. In the first part of this telephonic interview with Rohit Kumar of ‘Express Today’ he openly talks his mind about everything asked, including the present state of RTI and its implementation in the country, RBI’s recent notification on RTI, the comparison of the present regime with the previous regime in terms of transparency and commitment to RTI, the issue of political parties’ unwillingness to come under the RTI, the approach of judiciary towards RTI, the hope he sees in ‘Swaraj Abhiyan’ for voluntarily coming under RTI and many more issues. Here is the excerpts from the interview.
Rohit Kumar: Hello Sir, this is Rohit this side. My first question to you is how do you see the present state of ‘Right to Information Act’ under the present Modi Govt. in power? Are they sincere in its implementation? I am asking it because this Govt. is claiming that it is fighting against corruption on grand level and they are saying that demonetization move is also an inevitable part of our determined fight against corruption. So, do you think that they are really serious about fighting against corruption?
Shailesh Gandhi: I think you mixed up two-three different issues. I would leave demonetization out of this discussion. (The interviewer intervenes, ‘I brought it into the picture because they are claiming that they are fighting corruption). No, that is okay but I would leave demonetization out of this conversation. As far as RTI is concerned, so far until this last week, in my opinion this government was no better worth than the earlier government. But, just three-four days back or may be yesterday RBI came out with a circular which effectively amends the RTI Act and says we frame our own rules, to they have also violated a Supreme Court order in this matter. This is a sign which is very dangerous. I mean, now whether it is a reflection of the government or not, I am not commenting at this stage but this RBI diktat is almost deciding that it is going to make the RTI Act. This is the first time I am seeing RBI disrespecting the RTI. Now, whether it is government to blame or whether it is the RBI governor, I am not too sure about it.
Rohit Kumar: So Sir, do you mean to say that before this RBI issue, the government was really serious in implementing the RTI Act?
Shailesh Gandhi: No, as much as the earlier government. Let me tell you in my own opinion, ‘No body in power likes RTI’.
Rohit Kumar: But Sir, the previous regime has also the credit of enacting ‘Right to Information Act’ which this government doesn’t have?
Shailesh Gandhi: It enacted the ‘Right to Information Act’ but within six months they wanted to completely weaken it. They did not realize when they brought the RTI Act what are the consequences. I give them credit for bringing the RTI but also within six months they had attempted to weaken the basic spirit of RTI.
Rohit Kumar: So, the crux is that you give this government, you know, the greater credit for RTI than the previous regime?
Shailesh Gandhi: No, no, no, not greater, not greater, I am saying equal, no better or no worse, I am not saying it better, certainly not, the only thing is the first dangerous sign I am seeing is this last week or last two days circular by RBI, if this is the trend, I mean if this is the beginning then it is certainly going to completely damage RTI. I do not know whether this one action should be taken as a signal or not, but if this is going to be followed then this government will effectively damage RTI.
Rohit Kumar: Okay, now let me move to the other question Sir. My next question is what is the state of RTI in Maharashtra where you reside? Is it in any way better than what is its status under the central regime?
Shailesh Gandhi: I would say comparable. I mean, I don’t see any major difference. I personally feel, the Maharashtra Commission does a slightly better job than the Central Commission.
Rohit Kumar: Okay. Basically, I am asking it because you in October this year had written an open letter to the Chief Minister of Maharashtra urging him to fill the vacancies in the State Information Commission. What was the response? Has the government filled the vacancies?
Shailesh Gandhi: They have not filled the vacancies. They have given me a reply that they will do it urgently, I mean that’s the response they gave. Yes, in terms of appointment of commissioners government has not done its job what it needed to but on the other hand the Commission in Maharashtra is performing better than the Central Commission, that’s the point I am making.
Rohit Kumar: Okay Sir. My next question would be, you had also written an open letter to your former colleague and companion Arvind Kejriwal, the Chief Minister of Delhi. He had not responded you. So, what reasons do you see Sir that he did not respond to you? Did it in anyway pain you? What difference do you see between the Maharashtra CM and the Delhi CM, one who immediately responded you and the other, who even being your former colleague, did not?
Shailesh Gandhi: Okay. I will treat this at two level. One, as far as RTI is concerned Arvind Kejriwal is as good or as bad as everybody else. The point is when you are in power you don’t like to be transparent. Secondly, on the not responding part, I feel definitely sad that he chose not to respond. I am a former Information Commissioner, at least, he should have responded to that. I also realize this fact that he probably now thinks arrogant and doesn’t care. He used this perhaps as a tool rather than having a real commitment to it.
Rohit Kumar: Yes Sir, because the next question is similarly related to the previous question that the same party, Aam Admi Party had promised that it will bring its party under RTI when it comes to power but it did not, so what might be the possible reasons for such a huge U-turn?
Shailesh Gandhi: If I repeat, everybody in power dislikes the RTI. Arvind Kejriwal is in power or Aam Admi Party is in power. Once they got in to the power, they don’t like RTI. When they didn’t have the power they liked the RTI. It’s not a unique characteristic of ‘Aam Admi Party’ it’s a characteristic of everybody in power and that goes for our Commissions, our Courts, our bureaucracy our politicians and so on. I mean, I suspect that if Media persons had to be subjected to RTI, they would also go against RTI.
Rohit Kumar: Okay. Sir, My next question is that recently ‘Swaraj Abhiyan’ which has turned into a political party has voluntarily brought itself under the RTI Act. So, what prospects do you see about transparency in the political parties with respect to ‘Swaraj Abhiyan’? Does it give you a hope?
Shailesh Gandhi: Yes, it definitely gives me a hope and you see, I personally feel that Prashant Bhushan’s personal commitment to transparency is phenomenal. However, with the ‘Aam Admi Party’ experience, if you would ask me before he came to power, definitely Arvind Kejriwal used to be very transparent. I am hoping that if ‘Swaraj Abhiyan’ gets into power they will continue this. I mean, there is no reason for me to doubt that they will not, but I have seen this happening in case of ‘Aam Admi Party’. When you are not in power, when it doesn’t apply to you, RTI looks very good, but when you gets into the power and it has to be applied to you then it makes you uncomfortable. That is a real test for you. That is the ‘Agnipariksha’.
Rohit Kumar: So, what are the reasons that give you hope that ‘Swaraj Abhiyan’ even if it comes to power will continue?
Shailesh Gandhi: No, I am not saying that, I am not saying that. No, I am not saying that. Rohit, I am saying that I hope that it does. I hope for a better India, will it happen, I don’t know. I hope that RTI and transparency will grow, will it happen, I don’t know. These are hopes.
Note: This is the first part of the interview with Shailesh Gandhi. The second part of this interview shall be released soon.
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