Story is about honorary doctorates (Honoris Causa) being conferred by Indian universities since last 20 years. I filed nearly 500 requests under Right to Information (RTI) Act to gather the information which was not accessible otherwise. When I analysed carefully the list of nearly 2000 awardees of last 20 years I found that majority of awardees were persons sitting on high profile posts like President of India, Prime Minister, ruling coalition chief, Chief Ministers, judges, governors, etc etc. Ironically, several awardees had direct conflict of interest with the universities which awarded them.
What makes this project innovative?
It was innovative in the sense that I tried and successfully collected the data which was easily not available. To collect such data was not possible without the RTI Act. It was tough investigation as it took nearly four years. Challenging task was to get the data and then analyse it and find the story hidden in this data. All this was done effectively and forcefully. Such stories are hardly seen in Indian media and it is an impact-making use of RTI, with data journalism.
What was the impact of your project? How did you measure it?
This story was much talked about, particularly among academicians and ruling classes, and now Government of India has made some initiative to think how this could be reformed. My sources in the government told that Ministry6 of Human Resources Development of Government of India has written letter to University Grants Commission (UGC), the regulator of Higher Education in India, to give its views on it. As an appreciation I got numerous email from academic circles in India and abroad.
Source and methodology
1. One by one nearly 500 RTI applications were filed to all public sector universities in India. There are 472 universities and those which are authorised to confer honorary degrees. To some of them more than one RTI was needed. As you know, it is very difficult to get information from such offices even with the RTI Act, it took around four years to collect, segregate and analyse the information. To cross check every name majority of persons were called to confirm the information. Since there are more than 150 sources, it is not possible to provide it. The methodology is briefly written in the first part of the story (link one above) as well.
In this story, challenging task was to collect the desired information. When that happened with the help of RTI Act, story was presented with the help of charts and graphics. But here focus was on data which was itself speaking whole truth.
Mr Unni Rajen Shanker (Editor of The Indian Express). In fact he gave the idea sometimes in February 2014, so credit goes to him as well. All my editors (Chief Editor Mr Rajkamal Jha and Executive Editor Ms Ritu Sarin) advised whenever needed, but investigation was my own. So, if you want to mention another name, please mention that of Mr Unni Rajen Shanker.