Armed with the RTI, employee takes Steel Ministry to Court

Chandra Prakash Gandhi is fighting a lone battle against the Steel Ministry and one that concerns about 1000 public sector employees. One of his main weapons is the Right To Information (RTI) Act.

Bharat Refractories Limited, a Central public sector Undertaking under the Ministry of Steel had rolled back the retirement age of its employees from 60 to 58 years. The Ministry had approved the move in 2001.

Mr Gandhi, who was heading the Bhillai Plant of Bharat Refractories Ltd. at that time, was one of the employees affected directly by the decision. He retired at 58 as per the roll down. Sceptical of the decision of the Steel Ministry, Mr Gandhi filed RTI applications to find out about the powers of the Ministry in this regard.

The Ministry of Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises noted in its reply that “the Steel Ministry at the time did not have the power to approve the rollback of age of the employees. It said that the powers lay only with the Cabinet.”

It enforced Mr Gandhi’s apprehensions. Armed with the noting of the Steel Ministry and the reply of the Ministry of Heavy Industries, Mr Gandhi has challenged the decision of the Steel Ministry at the Chhattisgarh High Court.

“I always doubted the motive of the decision to roll back the age of public sector employees”, says Mr Gandhi. He points out that there had been corrupt and dishonest activities in the company and he had issued a chargesheet against the miscreants. The manager too was involved. “It was due to this that the decision to reduce the age of retirement was passed as I too got covered under it, but, the ministry at that time was not authorised to pass the decision”, he says.

It was not Mr Gandhi alone who was affected by the decision to retire employees two years earlier. It brought an earlier retirement for about 1000 public sector employees. Mr Gandhi calls it “illegal retirement.” Mr Gandhi, who is 66 years now, still hopes that the law will take its course and the affected people will get their due.
Mr Gandhi is one of the nominees for the RTI Awards, 2009.

Anees Ibrahim dead?

It was a day when news channels gloated over the speculated death of Anees Ibrahim in Karachi. One of the Hindi news channels claimed that they had information of an attack on Dawood Ibrahim and his brother Anees.

The news of firing on the gangster brothers was thrilling enough to catch the attention of rival news channels. “Anees Ibrahim was dead reportedly from 12 rounds of bullets fired at him and the underworld Don Dawood Ibrahim was injured in the attack.” Quite ironically, none of the channels tried to verify the news before announcing it to their audience.

By 1 o’ clock in the afternoon, all the Hindi news channels had picked up this news and had their reporters analyzing on the repercussions of this on the D Company. IBN7, ZEE NEWS, INDIA TV, NDTV INDIA, and NEWS24: no one missed it. It appeared that one of them started it and the rest followed suit. Not only did the anchors speculate on how the reported death of Anees Ibrahim was a huge setback for India’s most wanted gangster, Dawood Ibrahim, but also “attributed” the crime to the Bahuchchi Bhetti Gang.

News about the underworld attracts a lot of attention. Bollywood has been benign in dedicating a number of their films to the underworld. Most of them have been a hit with the audience. But theirs is a make-belief, unreal world. Journalism on the other hand has its obligation to truth. Its essence is a discipline of verification. The news channels at this instance, flouted both.

Same source

The channels were identical in their details. All of them specified that Anees and Dawood were shot at near the Al Habeeb Bank ATM in Karachi. Anees Ibrahim was dead and that Dawood was injured, the incident reportedly took place at 12:30 p.m in the night; they unanimously pointed out without disclosing their source. It was evident that the source of the news for all the channels was the same considering the identical nature of the account. One channel started it and the rest followed. After all, any story about the D Company is too sexy not to attract the attention of the news channels.

The channels continued reporting on the make-belief incident even when they could not confirm the news. IBN7 made a call to Shyam Keshwani, the advocate of D Company who made it clear that the news was baseless and there was no such attack on the Ibrahim brothers. He explicitly said that he had spoken to one of their relatives and that both Dawood and Anees were safe. Even this did not stop the coverage.

End of the drama

It was only later in the day when Annes Ibrahim himself disclosed to Aaj Tak that “he was not dead.” He clarified in a telephonic conversation that there was no such attack on him and that he was travelling in a plane at the time that the channels claimed he was allegedly attacked and killed in Karachi.

This article was published in The Hoot

Dipu Shaw