In the past four years, Vivek Pandey has filed at least 120 RTIs. A medical student from Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh, he has sought information from almost every possible government department. While a week ago, he was in news for writing to the CBI, seeking a probe about an alleged NEET/JEE data leak, his latest RTI reveals how much money the NDA government has spent on publicity and advertisements.
Taking us back to the time when he started activism, Vivek says, "It all began after a group of us approached the Supreme Court about the question paper leak during NEET 2016. The court did not rule in our favour, but that was when I found out the flaws in our system. I wanted to expose it. That was when I started filing RTIs," says this 25-year-old. Exposing information, however, comes with a cost. Vivek recalls times when he had received threats via different mediums. "I was threatened constantly by NEET seat brokers. In fact, my father was quite scared for my safety that for a long time he didn't let me leave the house," he says.
In the past few months, Vivek also filed RTI requests for the National Testing Agency a few times. One of his RTIs revealed that the agency received Rs 10 Crore from the Government in 2018 to conduct exams all over India. Another RTI showed that Rs 59,75,49,500 was collected as application fees for NEET 2020. "I have to file a few more RTIs now. I need to now find out how much money was spent on conducting these competitive entrances," he says.
Vivek's latest RTI revealed that most of the money spent on ads (Rs 2,708.91 Crore) was spent on advertisements by the NDA government. The information by the Bureau of Outreach and Communication under the Information and Broadcasting Ministry suggest that the rest was used for advertisements on TV, radio, AIR, Doordarshan, internet, SMS and outdoor promotions.
"Since the beginning of its rule, we have seen the government spend a lot of money on advertisements. Suddenly, the number of government ads increased, especially for schemes like Jan Dhan Yojana, which targeted the common man," says Vivek. "However, I am not sure how effective these ads are. I know someone from my family who ran from pillar to post for a Jan Dhan Yojana loan and still couldn't avail it. This got me interested in the issue," says Vivek.