Friday, March 31, 2006

Information Democracy at work.

I have thousands of parallel lines of thought running in my brain right. Millions of synapses are firing instructions at the same time, and I'm not on any psychoactive substances (maybe residual activity?) - no, I'm sitting in office waiting for someone to return a phone call to me, blissful in the knowledge that I have delivered most of my deliverables. At the end of the day, while I might write Correspondent/Editor (or whatever) on my visiting card I'm just a delivery-man. But my deliverables are chunks of often quite unreadable and boring text.
So thats that, then.
Now, to the topic. The 'Great Bearded One' (GBO) whom often comes in here to comment is someone I have known for some time. Now despite the fact that GBO looks like Santa Claus and is as old as my parents, he is someone I genuinely like - middle-aged with grown-up kids, bustling company that doesn't need too much tinkering and a house on the hills of Pune, and the man also brews wine. Perfect middle-aged harmony. Its been a while since we last met up, but we've been in touch over email and I've been following GBO's latest crusade - in which he is armed with the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
Now GBO is the sort of person whom revel in the RTI Act. Y'see GBO's crusade has had some rather strange side-effects. He first targeted the airport authorities because they let people like Rahul-baba go through security unchecked - even though he has no legal right to do so (but, the crown prince is the crown prince, na?). Then there was the entire thing about how retailers inside the airport were charging more than the MRP for water/chips/soft-drinks and not giving bills - this has already had an impact. His latest one is on how people are misusing the VIP Parking slots at the airport. This was as direct consequence of a wannabe former beauty queen/Bollywood bimbette claiming that she had the right to park there. Strange since a couple of cabinet ministers never used the VIP parking facility even when they had it. This has now extended to other 'free' services various departments of the governments give including exemptions from highway tolls.
But, GBO is a clever man, he has found a massive loophole, which is that the for all these 'free' services, agencies should actually 'pay' the service tax on the value of the 'free' service, since the service-tax net thanks to the man with the veshthi is so immense it also covers airport parking as well as highway tolls. Aha! That means that in case Bollywood bimbette gets away without paying Rs 100 in fees/tolls, the agency that gave her the exemption will have to pay the Rs 10 to the central government anyway. The things you discover.
GBO believes that the RTI is used correctly can be a very effective weapon in the upliftment of some of India's more backward areas - incidentally, Bihar still hasn't implemented the RTI Act. He told me, that if he got the details of a few village panchayats he could find out exactly how much money had been spent there and on what. The RTI Act is tremendously powerful, and the bureaucracy in some cases is determined to stop people from getting information because it will expose flaws and corruption. GBO, being an argumentative sort (like many other stout middle-aged men) is also not easily put off by government apathy, and despite the fact that when you meet him you might find this almost impossible to believe - but GBO is bloody determined, even putting up with apathy, because he knows that in case of apathy, someone might end up behind bars (the RTI Act is THAT powerful).
Which is a good thing, because he is also bloody determined to make a good Zinfandel this year, and I plan to take a few bottles of those. I'm not going to explain the RTI Act in major detail, but if you want to help GBO in his 'Inforamtion Crusade', mail me at presstalk [at] and I'll put you in touch with him.
On another note, this critical analysis of The Hindu, is extremely readable and explains the extreme hipocrisy in what most liberals consider to be India's 'best' newspaper. Would you trust a newspaper whose editor was the card-carrying member of a political party? I wouldn't. That's why I read the TOI, which despite its extreme vapidness, is India's most apolitical large newspaper. Don't give me shit about HT here - Shobhna Bhartiya is a Congress MP and the Indian Express is the Congress Express.
The last post got a lot of activity, even at many of the blogs that linked to the post. On that particular case, I'll see what is happening and I'll keep everyone posted. And whats with all the wardrobe malfunctions at LFW, Mumbai (Check out this Flickr Tag, some very nice photos of Lakme Fashion Week here). Is it an event that is finding publicity hard to come by screaming "Look at Us", because that is what the cynic in me thinks. I saw the pics of Carol Gracias losing her top (given that every photog I know is camping at the NCPA just for things like this) and well, I'm not one to comment of physical perfection, but Frankentits should do it.
And a couple of links for the people who have been sent here all the way from - thanks for the link guys. Tokyo Undressed has some killer photography from you guessed it, Tokyo and Girls, Guns and Rope is a new book that would press the correct buttons of any male.


shyam said...

I'd grown up reading and mostly worshipping The Hindu, maybe mostly because I used to love reading newspapers end-to-end at that age, we used to pick up ToI from the news stand only on Sunday. Most of the adoration went away initially during the time at IIMC and the first couple of jobs after that there was very little of it left. What really blew all of it away were the years spent at Guptaji's dhaba, after that I've really given up thinking about credibility/issues raised by the media. It really amounts to zilch, other than probably in the minds of the readers.

K said...

Codey : True, true.
Worshipping 'The Hindu', you southie or what?

K said...

If you really want to see how badly crazy politically influenced autocratic editors can destroy a newspaper in India - remember 'The Statesman'? At one time, arguably the best paper around. Problem is I was only five or six when things started going downhill...

shyam said...

Aiyyo saar, I thought it was self explanatory :)

Yep, The Statesman was an institution, with the unique reputation of being prolly the only rag to still use the Queen's angrezi anywhere on earth.

Anonymous said...

K, I don't quite understand why a card carrying editor implies that the newspaper can't be trusted . Sure you wouldn't agree with their opeds , fine but don't throw the baby out with the bathwater please. As you yourself admit TOI is vapid and as an avowed consumerist perhaps you like it for its vapidness ? Why is it that a rag like TOI which basically is into selling a particular lifestyle and earning buckets for its publishers ( which is not a bad thing per se ) is more trustworthy ? And trustworthy on what counts ? comparative price charts of whiteline goods ?
Since you mention The Hindu and also in one of your posts comment about foreign trip making social activists pandering to west european greens what is your opinion about P. Sainath ? I don't know whether he is a party activist or not and frankly don't give a damn but do you deny his contribution as a journalist ? As you know he is a "Hindu" man , so we don't trust him right ? So perhaps Amartya sen was wrong when he praised Sainath ? Who knows Sen himself might be a closet Marxist or worse still a bleeding heart liberal . After all that chap has done some seminal work on famines of all things ! Which makes him not trustworthy as well :-)

K said...

I don't deny Sainath's contribution as a journalist, nor would I ever deny Swapan Dasgupta's contributions as a journalist. But, the Hindu is its editoral biases throughout the newspaper and not just in its edit and op-ed pages, I find it irritating. I don't want a severaly tinted political opinion - give both sides of the story. Write about Gujarat's economic prowess. Lets see HBL do that, eh?

Anonymous said...

K point taken , but as far as "both sides of the story" is concerned thats after all a sham employed by the corporate media who knows which side their bread is buttered on. Let me give you an example. I am sure that you know about the "loony leftie" Pilger who surprise of surprises is the one of the two journalists to have won the British journalist of the year prize twice ( the other being phillip knightley ) along with numerous other prizes. One of his recent documentaries was sought to be canned by the jewish lobby in U.K by referrring it to the Independent Television Commission for factual errors and wilful anti-Israel slant. Amazingly even the chairman of the company Carlton Michael Green, producing the docu trashed it in public. They even wanted to screen another documentary to "balance" out Pilger's !
what happened finally was that ITC okayed the docu in toto after stringent checks and double-checks . Incidentally Pilger's recent docu " stealing a nation " won the documentary prize awarded by the Royal Television society.The morale of this story is that one is entitled to have his opinion and still can be objective about his reportage without any need to be " all things to all men" .
Try some Ben Bagdikian and Chomsky , perhaps that will make you realise the "balancing" act of modern corporate media .
IMHO, opinions are what makes a thinking human being ( which includes journalists I presume ) , as long as they can be supported by facts and I daresay such lefties as Pilger have done a pretty good job of it and his peers seem to agree,

thalassa_mikra said...

I think what GBO is doing is fantastic, and this is exactly what those who lobbied for the Act envisioned. That citizens everywhere would put the Act to good use and call the government accountable to its own regulations.

More power to him, and if he's sending off his Zinfandel somewhere in Amrika, I'd like to get a hold of it :). Though, to be honest, the Zin is not my favourite grape. Does he do anything with Grenache? Or Pinot Noir, or perchance Chardonnay?

That Frankentits comment is hilarious!! Is it any wonder that our supermodels are royally ignored while Indian men salivate over the posters of Bollywood babes.

GBO said...

Here's a typical RTI Application:-


The Public Information Officer,
Department of Telecommunications,
Ministry of Communications and Information Technology,
Govt. of India,
20, Ashok Road, New Delhi – 110001.
attn: Mr. Vijoy Kumar DDG(PG), or alternate PIO.

subj: Application under Right to Information Act, 2005, dated 01st April'06. ((ver 1.1))


Kindly provide me with the following information:-

a) Information on action taken by Department of Tele-Communications or nominee / administrative / authority therein, pertaining to seizure of radio and other electronic equipment and action under Wireless / Telegraph / Convergence / I&B / Cable TV / DTH / VSAT/ IPC / DIR laws and Acts of India, in District Vaishali, State of Bihar, for the period of 01 February'06 through 31 March'06.

b) Copies of all correspondence to and from Department of Tele-Communications, including file notings and minutes of verbal communications if any, and including but not restricted to police complaint as well as "bond" taken, pertaining to action taken by Vaishali District Magistrate Shri Sanjeev Hans or nominee / administrative / authority therein under the Indian Telegraph Act, in connection with shutting down of "Radio Raghav" (Raghav Mahto), of Mansoorpur Village, Distt. Vaishali, State Bihar, for the period of 01 February'06 through 31March'06. I wish to specify that you may please not provide to me that information (or particular portion thereof) which would impede the prosecution of offenders under any law of India, and also any personal information which is unconnected with any public activity / interest or which invades the privacy of any person.

c) A list of all action taken by Department of Tele-Communications, on an all-India basis, under Wireless / Telegraph / Convergence / I&B / Cable TV / DTH / VSAT/ IPC / DIR laws and Acts of India, for the period 01-February'06 through 31-March'06, for any other seizure of radio and electronic equipment.


Humbly, submitted, yours, sincerely,


Note 1:-Application fee of Rs. 10/- in cash shall be submitted within 30 days as per procedure laid down by DoP&T at any one of the nominated APIOs located at the specified 604 Post Offices in India, and a copy of this application along with receipt shall be sent to you co-terminus. Interim, you are requested to commence processing this RTI Application as per the RTI Act-2005 with effect from date of submission of this electronic copy, also as per the RTI Act-2005.

Note 2:- The public authority, Deptt. of Telecommunications, has not yet published their arrangements to accept / accompany electronic payments for e-filings as per section 6 of the Information Technology Act 2000, is requested to do same, - and hence I am constrained to go to extra expense / trouble to file a routine email request by Postal deptt.


True, the fine print can trip you over when you want to reach out for system changes, but for the typical my road is bad, who spent how much on what kind of application, life is easier. Much of it can be done on the Net through eMail, too.

Go for it, let me know if anybody needs help in this. I got one going in India and UK simultaneusly about how much exemption from paying tolls Charles & Camilla ji got on highways in India . . . and on the UK end, why Charles and Camilla took exemptions from paying tolls on Highways in India.

It works. With service tax, too.


Anonymous said...

who is GBO?

movies point said...

movies point said...