Subhash Chandra Agrawal is an ordinary man with extraordinary determination. Having filed about 3000 RTI petitions, Mr. Agrawal is known for his ‘Letters to Editors’ taking up causes of national and public interest by writing to newspapers and concerned authorities. The Right to Information Act, 2005, added more shine to his passion for letter writing for public causes. In 2009, Mr. Agrawal was presented with the first ever RTI Award by Honourable Vice-President of India.
Mr. Agrawal utilizes the RTI Act to reveal crucial information from all wings of governance including judicial system. About 350 of his 3000 RTI petitions have reached to the Central Information Commission (CIC) with almost all verdicts going in his favor. His RTI appeals have led to many famous revelations : Recent revelation of 35 Lakh INR spent on renovation of two toilets in Planning Commission; Revelation of former and present MPs owing over 7 Crore INR to MTNL; Bringing into light the names of 36 ex-MPs who have been occupying ‘unauthorised’ Government bungalows in Delhi. He through his several RTI applications pushed the agenda for introducing the Judicial Accountability Bill in the Parliament this year.
A cloth merchant from Chandni Chowk, Mr Agrawal, at one time, had the distinction of having the hat trick in Guinness World Records: (1) maximum letters till date published in newspapers, (2) maximum letters published in a particular newspaper in a particular calendar year in 2003 and (3) maximum letters till date published in a particular newspaper. Interestingly his wife Madhu Agrawal also holds Guinness World Record for maximum letters to newspapers in a particular calendar year.
Even before RTI came into force in 2005, many of Mr. Agrawal’s suggestions through his inspiring letters were implemented by various public authorities, for example: change in design of Railway Coaches; change in size and metal of coins by Reserve Bank of India; publication of Readers’ Digest in Hindi, improvement by Johnson & Johnson in Band-Aid, entry of women in Rotary International, etc.
May it be the constitution review, finance, banking; communications, posts, railways, transport, consumerism, radio, television, civic problems or any other field, his suggestions have been appreciated and recognized at highest levels as well as by the public. Once, the then Vice President of India, Mr. M. Hidayatulla, gave him a unique honour by sending him a hand written letter saying that “…because you think so seriously and sincerely in public interest, you are my personal friend, and I will not use official machinery in communicating with you.”
Not much is known in the public about this ‘unsung hero.’ What does he do to earn a living? Mr. Agrawal runs his family’s old wholesale business of textiles and furnishing. His wife, Mrs. Madhu Agrawal helps him in attending to a large number of visitors who seek his help in RTI matters.
A mechanical engineer from Delhi University (1971), Mr. Agrawal is known in the family for his sharp observations since childhood. This capability made him fire his first ‘letter-missile’ in a Hindi language daily of the national Capital in 1967 after facing an unpleasant experience of 20 Paise ticket-money being pocketed by the conductor of a DTC bus from Mall Road to the Red Fort. Quick response to the published letter by authorities, made Mr. Agrawal realize impact of taking matters through newspapers.
An incurable hardening of right-hand thumb during adolescence could not snatch his passion for writing which he continued by single-finger typing because he never learnt formal typing! “Perhaps,” he wonders, laughing, “I may have a world record in single finger type-writing as well!”
Soon after their marriage in 1975, Mr. and Mrs. Agrawal took a bold decision of not to have a child. The cheating in family business by his uncle made him rise above the materialistic world, and he started liking the philosophy of the Parsi way of life – work for the society, and not for yourself. It gives them sufficient time to devote themselves for taking up public-interest causes through letters to the media and the RTI queries.
Mr. Agrawal has been a foghorn for public accountability for years now. He studies each and every matter under his eye with due diligence and has always sought to help his countrymen become aware of the issues through his letters in newspapers as well as to correct the mannerisms of polit-bureaus in the higher echelons of our society. For powerful mediums – letters to the Editor and the RTI applications – Mr. Agrawal says: “No subject is too trivia – small-small corrections in the society can make a big difference.”