S.C. Agrawal: From textile trader to RTI hero

The Delhi High Court ruling bringing the office of the chief justice of India under the RTI Act was filed by this man

danish

Danish Raza | January 24, 2010


Subhash Chandra Agrawal
Subhash Chandra Agrawal

He got to know about the Right to Information (RTI) Act through social activist Arvind Kejriwal at a seminar in the capital in 2005. He filed his first RTI application the very day the Act came into being. He asked for information on the action taken on his complaint against a Delhi High Court judge. He was told that what he had sought did not come under the Act and next time he should frame his questions in a professional manner.

Four years and more than 500 RTI applications later, Subhash Chandra Agrawal is a familiar name among those working for a transparency Act.

The landmark CJI verdict

Hearing his RTI application, the Central Information Commissioner (CIC) in January 2009 held that office of Chief Justice of India (CJI) came under the purview of RTI and the information regarding asset declaration of apex court judges should be made public. The SC first moved the HC and then a division bench against the CIC order.

On January 12, 2010, a division bench of Delhi HC upheld the single bench decision. The order came as a victory for Agrawal, a textile trader, living in Central Delhi’s Chandni Chowk. “It is a landmark decision. It is historic in every sense,” says Agrawal, who reads five newspapers, daily, to look for stories which could become basis for filing RTI applications.

“On November 7, 2007, I came across a news item about a 1997 resolution of the SC, according to which, the SC judges should declare their assets. I got a cue for this petition,” says Agrawal about the petition in which he had asked if the SC judges were declaring their assets to the CJI.

Mission possible

His other petitions, hearing which, the CIC ruled in his favour include DoPT accepting file-notings under RTI; disclosure of ministers’ wealth; check on expenses on judges’ foreign trips; and the decision to regulate fees-structure by private universities.

“One-third of my petitions relate to the judiciary”, says the 60 year old, who takes five to seven minutes in drafting an RTI petition and call it his ‘Sunday hobby’.

“It’s an art. It comes through practice,” says he.

Agrawal started with filing RTIs on irregularities in civic agencies including the MCD and DMS.

He says in the last four years, he has realized that various government departments have different attitude towards transparency and one should not generalise.

MCD’s health department tops his list of the most notorious departments. Agrawal’s encounter with the ‘babus’ of the civic body was a bitter experience. “I had filed a petition on some irregularities in Nigambodh Ghat (a cremation ground in Delhi). When their officials came for site inspection, they started abusing me. They were not ready to listen,” he recalls.

A Guinness World record holder for writing maximum numbers of ‘letters to the editor’ (3699, according to the last count done in January 2006), Agrawal believes that Section 26 of the Act should be repealed. As per the Section, State governments can draft their own rules regarding the application charged to provide information under the Act. “States are misusing it to tweak the Act in their favour,” says he.

Has letter writing taken a back seat now? “No no, that’s my first love. That goes on side by side,” he says, pointing to the framed copies of world record in his study.

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