News - Indian FOI expert Shyamlal Yadav at #DHplus
Yadav came to Brussels for Dataharvest, the European investigative and data journalism conference, to talk about his fight for a more transparent government. An overview of four of his biggest FOI stories.
In November 2007 Yadav made a critical assessment (PDF, 2MB) of the centre-left coalition United Progressive Alliance (UPA) in the weekly India Today. In 1,287 days the 71 ministers of the UPA traveled a staggering ten million kilometres by plane for official and, to a lesser extent, personal foreign visits. The total distance covered equals 256 laps around the world. 47 ministers published the financial details of their plane travels. With 270 million rupees—about 4.5 million Euros at the time—the bill was rather steep. And it didn’t even include the costs made by the Indian embassies in the visited countries.
In 2009 Yadav set his sights on the National River Conservation Plan, drafted to keep India’s rivers clean. An investment of 116 million Euros was apparently insufficient to make the holy river Ganges any cleaner. Near the northern city of Kanpur the biochemical oxygen demad of the river was 21 milligrams per liter. That is eleven times the amount that is allowed to call water drinking-water. Yadav sent over thirty requests for official documents. His conclusion (PDF, 1MB) was that after twenty years of environmental policy India’s rivers keep getting more polluted.
Civil servants of the three public service departments for administration, police and forestry are required by law to tell the government the value of their personal effects and real estate. However, few do so, and there are no sanctions for those who don’t. In 2011 Yadav requested and received the following information (PDF, 1MB) of the Department of Personnel & Training of the Ministry of Personnel: 150 directors, 207 acting secretaries and 799 undersecretaries disregarded their duty to report. The Principal Private Secretary promised him that the rules would be changed.
In 2012 Yadav proves in the Indian Express (PDF, 160KB) that India is not too concerned with its citizens’ privacy. He found the Ministry of Home Affairs to tap about 250 to 300 telephone conversations per day, or about 7500 to 9000 a month. It is unclear if the ministry deletes these recordings after six months, as is stated in the law, or not. State governments as well as national police forces have the right to submit telephone tap requests.
Inevitably, the question rises what consequences ensued from Yadav’s articles and whether he has ever been threatened. He answers this briefly: “a Chief Election Officer once called me to ask which reforms he needed to do. Politicians in general come to me and ask me what they should do to solve problems. I have never been threatened.”
By Nicolas Cornil
Translation by Rafael Njotea
The Dataharvest Conference took place from Thursday 8 until Sunday 11 May and brought together some 200 journalists, software engineers and data specialists from all over Europe (and beyond). It was the fourth time the conference was organised.
An overview of all articles, wrap-ups, slides and other useful links about the conference and the different sessions can be found here.