Shri Shailesh Gandhi – An Outstanding CIC India ever had…
Rw: First of all please accept our gratitude for allowing us to have an exclusive interview our Idol Shri Shailesh Gandhi, who is also our constant source of inspiration and information, too! 🙂
SG: It is my pleasure to share my thoughts.
Rw: Hardly there’s any RTI Activist, Journalist or Politician in India who don’t know about best CIC India ever had so far. But for the future brigade of Corruption crusaders and journalists, we request you give a brief introduction of yours.
SG: I am a first generation entrepreneur and a Distinguished Alumnus Awardee of IIT Bombay. I sold my company to become an RTI activist in 2003 and was part of the National RTI movement which was involved in drafting the National Act. I was the convener of the National Campaign for People’s Right To Information (NCPRI). I used RTI and also trained many citizens and government officials in over 1000 workshops to use it. I gave many landmark decisions on RTI, apart from organizing the first digital paper-less office in the Commission. I am passionately pursuing the cause of evolving ways for a time bound justice delivery system and improving governance systems. I have published a book: RTI Act- authentic interpretation of the Statute and a paper critiquing Supreme Court judgments on RTI. These are available at www.satymevajayate.info website.
Rw: So Sir, What should we call you? An IITian, An Entrepreneur, Former CIC or a prominent Corruption Crusader and Social Activist?
SG: Citizen empowered by RTI.
Rw: Sir, when and how you started your movement against Corruption in Maharashtra in general Mumbai in particular?
SG: I did not start any movement against corruption. My strong belief is that corruption is a byproduct of a very poor governance structure. Time bound delivery of all services to all citizens is not a priority, and this is a consequence lack of respect for the individual citizen. We claim to be the world’s largest democracy without satisfying the criterion of being ‘a government of the people, by the people, for the people.’ The heart and essence of democracy are the concepts that each individual is a sovereign and she gives up part of the sovereignty in return for the rule of law. This would be Lokshahi or Swaraj. An individual must be treated with respect and dignity. Unfortunately, when this sovereign goes to her government office she usually comes out feeling angry, frustrated and humiliated. All these are the consequence of a bad government structure. This needs to be changed and we the citizens must take the responsibility for this.
Rw: Please share how and who approached from UPA Govt to appoint you as Information Commissioner? Was it a move to divert you from unearthing the rampant corruption of MS’s Govt or a move of previous Govt. to clean their image in public?
1SG: I was selected without anyone in Delhi knowing or promoting me. It was a random occurrence, but my selection was also without any process and a random occurrence.
Rw:. Sir, We’re feeling honored in interviewing one of the most efficient Information Commissioner and the Central Information Commissioner of India, who redressed more than 20,000 RTI Appeals and Complaints. This achievement of yours should be applied for World Record Certification! Please share your experiences as an Activist turned IC, a Govt Babu and any anecdote. Plus have you ever wanted to be a Civil Servant or an IAS Officer?
SG: I think the system expected me to conform with all the other commissioners. It was scandalized since I did not fall in line. I had never thought of being in service in government or outside it. Our Governors, Commissioners, regulators, and Lokayuktas are our checks and balances of democracy. Apart from flawed, non-transparent selection, they suffer from lack of transparency and accountability. If they performed reasonably the nation could undergo a huge transformation.
Rw: Nowadays, even at SIC and CIC Offices, there’s a huge number of pending cases similar to our HCs and SC. What should be the course correction?
SG: All of them must commit to time-bound delivery. They must realize that their salary is paid by the poorest man in the nation. If democracy does not deliver they are responsible and must carry the blame. We must demand time-bound delivery from all including courts. We are too busy blaming the political class for all ills and have not recognized simple solutions.
Rw: Sir, please share the details of your latest book “RTI Act – Authentic Interpretation Of The Statute”. We’ve also provided the link to your book on our RTIwala website, which can be referred as manual by RTI applicants.
SG: The RTI Act of India rates amongst the best five laws in the world for transparency. However, because of gross misinterpretation and non-implementation, we rank fairly low in terms of transparency in governance. The book is an attempt to point out the real meaning of the words in the law. This is expected to empower the citizen in defending their right in appeals before adjudicators who have a little predilection for transparency. Any citizen can read and understand it.
Rw: Sir, What’s your take on recent RTI Draft Rules 2017? Is it meant to weaken the RTI Act which has become the nightmare of every Corrupt Politician and Official?
SG: On the whole, it does not appear to have been designed with the intention of weakening the law. There are two really bad provisions in the rules and I expect the civil society opposition will be taken into account and these will be changed.
Rw: According to you what changes should be brought in RTI Amendment Rules 2017 and why?
SG: There is one provision that an appeal can be withdrawn and if an appellant dies, the appeal will abate. This is completely flawed and will encourage threats and attacks on RTI users. In fact in such cases, the information should be displayed on websites so that there is no incentive to attack or threaten someone. The Central Information Commission and the Maharashtra State Commission are already following this practice. There is another provision which states that a complaint will not be entertained without an RTI application. This provision does not take into account the provision of the law in various situations.
Rw: Do you think our Politicians ever allow Political Parties to come under the ambit of RTI Act? What should we, as the public can do?
SG: It is unlikely and all institutions including courts and Information Commissions are misinterpreting the RTI Act to reduce its scope. Citizens will have to wage a constant pressure for transparency if this right is not be emasculated.
Rw: Your two most favorite Politicians and Political Parties?
SG: The two biggest parties in the country, since we should have a good opposition for a functioning democracy. But more importantly, active citizens since it is their vigilance which can keep governance in check.
Rw: Would you ever consider joining Politics or at least the chance of becoming a Governor or nomination to Rajya Sabha?
SG: I would take up any position to bring power to the attempt for change. But is very unlikely that those in power will repeat their mistake and put me in a position of power.
Rw: Out of 10 marks how many Marks you’d like to give to Shri Modi Govt at center and Shri Fadnavis Govt of Maharashtra on all accounts?
SG: 6 to each. They appear to be moving towards good governance, but not towards greater transparency. There are some worrying signs of a divisive agenda.
Rw: Apart from Smt. Aruna Roy, who else inspired you to work Transparency & Accountability? And for us, it’s you! 🙂 🙂
Rw: You have you so many feathers in your cap, how and for what you’d like to be remembered?
SG: I would prefer to be forgotten like one of the seeds for a better India.
Seeds are not meant to be remembered.
Rw: Who’s your role model? And lessons from your life you wish to share with us!
SG: My parents were a major influence on me and taught me my values.
Rw: Any book or two which had a huge impact on Shri Shailesh Gandhi?
SG: My experiments with truth by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.
Rw: Do you like our RTIwala (www.rtiwala.com) website?
SG: I am very happy you have started this website to promote RTI. Your efforts will add considerable impetus to the RTI movement and make it stronger. My best wishes for your growth and role in empowering citizens.
1In our upcoming posts, we’ll share some interesting anecdotes and amazing facts shared by Shri Shailesh Gandhi with RTIwala Team. So keep visiting RTIwala website.
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