Rajiv-ji aur RTI Ki Jai Ho

Our RTI application for government ad spend figures also gave us a crash-course on how bureaucratic the RTI can be.

BySomi Das
Rajiv-ji aur RTI Ki Jai Ho
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There’s always outrage at the government ad spend on the death and birth centenaries of our erstwhile politicians. On Rajiv Gandhi’s death centenary in 2013, we carried a report with incorrect figures. Following which, we filed a Right To Information (RTI) application to ask for the amount of advertising spend by the government on Rajiv Gandhi’s death centenary ads in the Delhi editions of various English newspapers. When we contacted the newspapers, they were not willing or able to share data with us. What was as much of an eye-opener as the ad spend by the government, was the amount of time it took us to get a response from the RTI section of the Department of Audio Visual Publicity (DAVP). Over 60 days. For something that need not take more than a couple of days.

So just how bureaucratic can the RTI process be? Going by the Bharat Nirman ad which we’ve been privy to, we thought it would be a breeze.

We couldn’t have been more wrong. What actually transpired in the last 60 days was a long journey of phone calls, appellant applications and frequent visits to Soochna Bhawan.

Let’s take you through the steps. Since the ads were released through DAVP, we filed an RTI with it on June 24, 2013 asking three specific questions:

1.      How many advertisements were placed in the Delhi editions of the following newspapers for Rajiv Gandhi’s death anniversary on May 21, 2013?

  • The Hindu
  • The Indian Express
  • The Times of India
  • The Hindustan Times
  • The Economic Times 

2.      What was the total rate paid by DAVP to the above-mentioned newspapers for these ads?

3.      What is the DAVP rate for the following newspapers?

  • The Hindu
  • The Indian Express
  • The Times of India
  • The Hindustan Times
  • The Economic Times

We did receive a response on July 27, 2013. A response which asked us to “please refer to our website for the required details” and asked us to check the following links:

For rates per ad for different newspapers

For amount of money spent on the birth and death anniversaries of former leaders.

But the response didn’t answer our question. We specifically needed the amount of money spent on Rajiv Gandhi’s death centenary advertisements in 2013. On July 27, 2013, the website did not have the relevant data.

So, as per process, we immediately filed an application to the appellant authority and despite several reminders and visits to the office we were able to get a response only on August 29, 2013. The person responsible for receiving RTI applications told us that the officer concerned had been given “some” duty regarding the Bharat Nirman ads and was therefore not on RTI duty or available to answer our questions. It is ironic that the same Bharat Nirman campaign which boasts of the efficiency of RTI became a hurdle in our path to get a response on an RTI application which was two months old.

Finally, we got the response but only after this reporter went to the Soochna Bhawan office and pretty much parked herself there until the information was shared. We received the following figures from the appellant authority, N Venudhar Reddy, Addl. Director General, DAVP.

The final figure of advertisement spend by just the Government of India is close to Rs 50 lakh in just the Delhi editions of the top English newspapers. This amount does not include the extremely large number of ads placed in these newspapers by various state governments. Ads which are not placed through the DAVP.

On the 19th death anniversary of Rajiv Gandhi, historian Ramachandra Guha in an editorial in The Telegraph had written: “A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that on May 21, 2010, perhaps Rs 60 or 70 crore were spent by the taxpayer — without his and her consent — on praising Rajiv Gandhi. Since the practice has been in place since 2005, the aggregate expenditure to date on this account is probably in excess of Rs 300 crore”.

It’s fair to say that Sonia and Rahul Gandhi’s love for austerity doesn’t seem to have percolated to the ministries under Congress command. Much like the truisms of the Bharat Nirman ad don’t seem to have taken form into reality on ground.

Ho raha Bharat Nirman?

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