Friday, December 15, 2017

Sri Lankan airlines refuse to disclose perks of directors

Economy Next: Colombo: Friday, December 15, 2017.
The management of Sri Lanka's debt-laden national carrier has turned down a request from employees seeking information about the perquisites enjoyed by the board of directors and top officials.
Six trade unions in a joint letter to their chairman Ajith Dias expressed dismay over Sri Lankan refusing the request made under the Right to Information (RTI) Act seeking details of benefits enjoyed by top honchos .
The unions said the RTI request was turned down saying the information was "confidential."
"We the employees, request your clarification on how this information can be labelled as confidential, when it has contributed to the further accumulated debt that you now state, may result in a potential loss of employment of nearly 7,000 individuals," the letter said.
Unions say the airline is a paradise for parasite directors drawing concessionary 10 percent tickets on top of dozens of free tickets to travel long haul routes and enjoy business-class lounges at airports abroad.
In June, the cabinet of ministers grilled the Sri Lankan board and a senior minister said they too had the same question about payments to directors but were yet to get a response. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe at the time had defused tension by offering to sack the entire board, a promise he is yet to keep.
The unions have also said that both Chairman Dias and Chief Executive Officer Suren Ratwatte were total misfits and should have no role in a restructured national carrier.

Pune: 46.8 acres Waqf land in litigation with 238 illegal owners

The Siasat Daily: Pune: Friday, December 15, 2017.
Nearly 46.4 acre of Waqf land on Katraj-Kondhwa Road is in dispute with 238 landowners battling as rightful owners of the land for the past 20 years.
The Central Waqf Council (CWC) have written a letter to the Principal Secretary of Minorities Development Department on 2 November to restore the rightful owners- Waqf Board on the disputed land which is now occupied by other owners.
Now an inquiry into the matter has been initiated and a report on the matter is awaited from the Pune regional Waqf officer.
The battle for the plot dates back to 1996 when the then members of the Alamgir Masjid Trust appealed the court to declare the land an inam (gift), which was apparently turned down by the court citing numerous unanswered questions pertaining to the land.
The trust was then directed to file a suit in the appropriate court for the land which the Trustee members omitted.
Salim Mulla, social Activists claims to have accessed the documents pertaining to the land records under the RTI Act which show the land had the first Kondhwa mosque which means the 238 owners have illegally encroached the mosque land and are now claiming their illegal rights.
He said that the first mosque was built on the 46.4 acres of land, which is now in dispute, but when he searched further into the litigation, it was revealed that back in 2006 the land was transferred to Waqf Board by the Charity Commissioner, which is now claimed by 238 illegal owners.
“Once I received all the documents under the RTI Act, it showed that the land belonged to the board from the start as it was a devasthan. However, the earlier trustees had sold the land to about 238 people and that since it was a nonsaleable land, this was clearly an illegal process,” he insisted.
The CWC decided to launch an inquiry into the matter after Mulla had asked for the response from various authorities regarding the illegal land dispute.
Mulla proposes the land should be restored to the Waqf Board so that a technical skills university for Minorities will be built on the land which is illegally occupied by numerous illegal owners.
But the battle of the disputed land seems not an easy one since the illegal occupants are claiming their rights stating their stay is legal since time immemorial and they have acquired the land by paying the price.
A landowner for the past two decades, Vedprakash Taneja, (80) a retired army colonel and a cardiologist claims he has been fighting for the land since he purchased it in 1990.
He says after selling his property in Haryana, he has here, built a farmhouse and now is fully determined to fight for his right on the land. He also said that the Trust has no authority to take away the land and is not an authentic board.
He said, “I gave up all my land in Haryana and used my savings to procure this land. I had all the land documents scanned from legal advisors before I invested my money. We paid the entire amount and it was a great relief to finally have land in the city where I could build my own farmhouse. I thought the battle was at an end a few years ago, but now I’m on my guard again. I challenge anyone to prove how the land belongs to the Waqf Board. I guarantee that I can prove them wrong.”
Now Taneja has also been directed to submit his documents pertaining to the land after the CWC launched an inquiry.
Another owner Mr. Robin Bhatnagar, also in his 80s shares a similar story to acquiring the land in 90’s.
He said, “In the numerous hearings that have occurred on this issue since 1996, all the courts have dismissed appeals from the trustees and the Waqf Board, and asked them to appeal to the appropriate court. However, 20 years later, they have still not done this. I am willing to give up my property if it is proved that it belongs to the board as long as I get my money back for the area that I own, according to the current market rate.”
When Pune Mirror contacted Waqf Board CEO Sandesh Tadvi, he replied, “An inquiry has been initiated and we are awaiting a report from the Pune regional officer, Atiq Khan, on the matter. We will be able to say more only after we get the report.”

Movements and governments : Aruna Roy

The Indian Express: National: Friday, December 15, 2017.
Any evaluation of the political legacy of Sonia Gandhi has to acknowledge her seminal contribution to getting rights-based legislation enacted. It was one of her most significant contributions to development politics in India.
The year 2005 marks a watershed for social sector legislation. The RTI and NREGA two pieces of legislation that have since their passage dominated the discourse on governance and entitlements for the poor were passed after rigorous debate and discussion, inside and outside Parliament. These were followed by the enactment of many rights-based laws seeking to address basic needs of the marginalised, strengthening their agency and empowerment. Despite many shortcomings, the Forest Rights Act, Right to Education Act, National Food Security Act, the amended Land Acquisition Act, Domestic Violence Act, Street Vendors Act, Social Security Act, the amended SC/ST Atrocities Act, would never have been passed in form and substance had Sonia Gandhi not put her political weight and influence behind them as head of the UPA and of the National Advisory Council (NAC).
Sonia Gandhi should feel a sense of satisfaction for her fundamental role in establishing this path-breaking legislative paradigm. Whether supportive or critical, this was participatory democratic governance at its best. Even if many stalwarts in her party were not enthused, people in India’s marginalised majorities understand what these laws have achieved to change their lives.
It requires immense strength of purpose, conviction, and assertion, to push social sector issues and the real concerns of the marginalised into the mainstream of India’s decision-making platforms. The National Common Minimum Programme (NCMP) and the creation of the NAC headed by her, gave these issues a unique space. It enabled the transformation of political commitments to citizens into working frameworks of law and policy. The NCMP played a useful role when Sonia Gandhi used this declaration of intent as justification to overcome resistance in the government and party.
Our discussions with Sonia Gandhi on these issues began when she was Leader of the Opposition. She was easy to meet and a patient listener. She evinced an interest in the concerns of the poor and supported the Right to Information (RTI) movement from its early years.
When the Prime Minister’s Office called, inviting me to join the NAC, I feared restrictions on the freedom of expression and dissent, my most jealously guarded privilege. My only condition before joining was to request full freedom to express my views, even those critical of the government or its policies. I was never constrained from expressing dissent, disagreement or discontent; either within the NAC or outside. Sonia Gandhi’s capacity to respect dissenting opinions with grace distinguishes her from others in similar positions. Many of my NAC colleagues will bear witness that as chairperson, she never interfered with sharp debates or critical public statements issued by members. This established strong democratic principles of open discussions and robust decision-making in the NAC.
That Sonia Gandhi the chairperson of a ruling alliance headed an advisory body rather than the government was a quirk of history. Its mandate to confine itself to social sector promises and initiatives was a significant, deliberate decision. She selected an eclectic group of members in the NAC, displaying political maturity and breaking new ground. This collaborative exercise in preparing draft legislation and policy with civil society organisations and government yielded very useful results. The contributions from social activists, rooted in contemporary realities, and robust consultations with communities, lent rigour to the formulations.
The RTI and MGNREGA campaigns got her personal attention. The first promise in the NCMP, that “The UPA government will immediately enact a National Employment Guarantee Act. This will provide a legal guarantee for at least 100 days of employment”, provoked furious debate. The opposition from centres of power to this legitimate demand for a small share of the GDP for the poor was disproportionately high. Criticism and ridicule from neoliberal economists haunted this legislation from the beginning. Even though she was tentative about fiscal arguments, some crucial recommendations about the MGNREGA were finally incorporated, largely due to her support. Sonia Gandhi’s determined efforts pulled together the pro-poor elements in her party and the government along with the strong political support of the Left from outside.
A series of state RTI laws had widened the understanding of the critical need for transparency in governance. The RTI faced bureaucratic contestation in equal measure. There were objections about the scope of the law, promoting blanket exemptions, inclusion of parts of the armed forces and covering aspects of intelligence and security agencies under transparency norms. Penalties under the RTI were disputed hotly, as were the independent appellate authorities later the Information Commission. The RTI required a statesman rather than a politician to provide political support. Sonia Gandhi’s decisions were critical to the resolution of every attempt to prevent dilution. There were over 150 amendments on the floor of the House, indicating the degree of resistance that had to be overcome. History will credit her leadership in steering the RTI law and for promoting more open and responsible governance.
In the shadow of these furious debates, other rights-based laws were drafted and legislated. She kept her focus on the marginalised people’s access to constitutional guarantees. The legislation raised hope that movements and governments could work in collaboration for realising the constitutional mandate to address inequality and injustice.
The series of rights-based laws that followed drew upon this framework to begin a new phase in the legal lexicon of India’s constitutional democracy. It began to address inequality and the concentration of power. Sonia Gandhi’s contribution is an important part of that history and legacy.
(The writer is a social activist and former member of the NAC.)

Large-scale corruption and irregularities in NH Division of PWD alleged

The Sentinel: Guwahati: Friday, December 15, 2017.
The corrupt practice initiated by a section of officials of the National Highway wing of the State Public Works Department (PWD) in connivance with a section of dishonest  contractors is the root cause of the dilapidated condition of the national highways in Assam. This is not a complaint lodged any individual or organization, but it has been evident from the written reply of PWD in response to an application under the RTI. Though of late the State Government has expedited the pace of the repair and improvement works of the National Highways, but a section contractors and Executive Engineers have allegedly been involved in large-scale corruption using below standard quality of materials.
An RTI activist on October 17 t had submitted an application to the PIO of the office of the Executive Engineer of PWD, Guwahati NH Division  under RTI Act seeking information on the periodic renewal from KM 6/000 to KM 32/000 (Krishnai to the approach of nara Narayan Setu in Goalpara district) of NH 37 under Annual Program 2016-17 (phase-II) under Guwahati NH Division. The Assistant Executive Engineer-cum-the PIO in his reply on October 31 vide letter no. Com.449/Pt/2017-18/4790, replied that an amount of Rs. 9,45,55.672 was sanctioned for the work and the specification of the Hot Mix plant to be used in the work should be of Batch type HMP 100-120 TPH/Hot Mix Plant )DM-50 Drum Mix Plant 60-90 TPH. In the work, Polymer Modified Bitumen (PMB) 70 Grade should be used and the paver should be Hydraulic with Sensor Control. Further, the Bitumen plant required hooper for filler agent.
The Assistant Executive Engineer-cum-the PIO again on November 27 vide letter no. Com.449/Pt/2017-18/5000 in his reply to another application filed on November 1, replied that as per the provisions of the tender agreement the Bitumen plant must be inspected by an Inspection Committee before commencement of the work. The RO of Ministry of Road Transport and Highways should take the initiative for such inspection, but in this work no such inspection was done. For the entire work a total of 911.15 metric ton Polymer Modified Bitumen (PMB) is required. Though the department has claimed that the contractor has used the required PMB in the entire work, but as per the cash memo submitted along with the reply, it has come to the light that the contractor MP Agarwalla had purchased only 9.5600 MT of PMB 70 grade.
Significantly this PMB 70 grade Bitumen was delivered in the Guwahati office of the contractor instead of the destined location at Paikan in Goalpara. On the other hand, the contractor purchased 27.8240 MT and 26.9260 MT general quality bitumen on September 19 and was delivered to the site at Paikan. Further on October 30, the contractor concerned had purchased 18.490 MT Bulk Bitumen which was also delivered at Paikan. From the written reply made by the Assistant Executive Engineer-cum-the PIO, it has come to the light that the cost of PMB 70 grade is Rs. 39,750.00 per metric ton while the cost of general quality Bitumen is Rs. 29,500 per metric ton. Significantly, the cost of Bulk Bitumen is Rs.23,670 per metric ton.
From the copy of the cash memos furnished by the Assistant Executive Engineer-cum- PIO of the Office of the Executive Engineer, PWD, Guwahati NH Division, it is clearly evident that the contractor concerned, in deep-rooted nexus with the officials of the NH Division of the PWD, is trying to misappropriate an amount of Rs. 93,39,287 by using below standard quality of Bitumen. The use of general quality Bitumen instead of 70 grade Plymer Modified Bitumen (PMB) in the repair work of the stretch of NH 37 will surely damage the highway within a short period.
It has been alleged that the Executive Engineer concerned is taking the initiative to prepare the bill hurriedly for making payment to the contractor concerned only to misappropriate the huge amount. Will the Minister of PWD look into it and order a high-level inquiry into the alleged corruption and irregularities of the Guwahati NH Division of the PWD?

RTI vs RTP: Is there a contradiction? : Shamsul Bari and Ruhi Naz

The Daily Star: Bangladesh: Friday, December 15, 2017.
The disclosure of information on people's race or ethnicity during World War II caused one of the worst tragedies known to mankind. It led to secret denunciations and seizures, sending millions of friends and neighbours to labour and concentration camps and eventually to gas chambers. It changed the course of history.
A fundamental change it gave rise to was elevating the status of the individual vis-à-vis the State. It led to the introduction of Europe's stringent privacy regulations. Governments in Europe took steps to protect personal information of individuals from such abuses in the future. The concept of protection of personal data or privacy was born. It spread all over Europe quickly, and to the rest of the world gradually.
The technological inventions of our time, including the Internet and social media, have enabled unprecedented connectivity in the world. While humankind is ever closer, privacy and personal space for individuals is constantly shrinking.
The definition of privacy and the meaning of sensitive personal information vary among countries and cultures. Some cultures focus more on community rights rather than individual rights; others, such as countries in Europe, are sensitive to privacy rights because of their experiences in the World War II era.
However, the legal right to privacy is recognised in nearly every national constitution, as in ours, and in most international human rights treaties including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Common examples of “personal data” are: address, credit card number, bank statements, criminal record, medical record, etc. However, new technologies have driven the collection of personal information by governments and private bodies far and wide. Databases handling information that range from tax, medical, employment, criminal, and citizenship records to identification technologies such as identity card systems, fingerprints, and DNA mapping, proliferate at a faster pace. Services run by communications operators collect information such as emails, records of persons communicated with, lists of websites visited, and mobile locations. And, of course, people share information through social networking sites.
The increased flow of personal data across borders has caused growing concerns among citizens about data abuse by governments and private bodies. There are increasing calls from citizens' groups all over the world for their protection. What is our perspective on the matter in Bangladesh?
Some 80 countries all over the world have adopted comprehensive laws that give individuals some control over the collection and use of these data by public and private bodies. They are among 115 countries that have also legislated on citizen's right to information held by governments.
On the face of it, the right to information (RTI) and the right to privacy (RTP) may appear irreconcilable. RTI laws empower citizens to access information held by governments and public bodies. RTP laws, on the other hand, grant individuals a fundamental right to control the collection of, access to, and use of personal information that is held by governments and private bodies. Thus, one promotes access and the other seeks to control it.
However, instead of looking at them as conflictual laws, RTI and RTP are better considered as “two sides of the same coin.” They complement each other in the sense that one promotes individuals' right to protect themselves and the other promotes government accountability. Both are essential for good governance. This explains why there is considerable debate around the globe on the subject. Is there a need to adopt both the laws or a single law can cover both?
In Bangladesh, unlike in most industrialised countries, there is no single specific privacy or personal data protection law. The Constitution and other laws of the land, however, provide some protection. For example, Article 43 of the Constitution recognises the right of every citizen to be secured in his/her home against entry, search and seizure (subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interests of the security of the State, public order, public morality or public health). It also recognises the privacy of a citizen's correspondence and communications.
The RTI Act also provides protection of personal information that may offend the privacy of the personal life of an individual and any such information that may endanger the life or physical safety of any person.
Additionally, the Information and Communication Technology Act 2006 provides for safeguards of information and related matters stored in the memory of the computer. Although the Act does not explicitly mention “personal data,” there is scope for implied use. An area of relevance is Section 54, which foresees liability in case of data, computer database theft and a wide range of computer trespass, unauthorised digital copying, downloading and extraction of data, computer database or information. To the extent they may relate to personal information or data, they are of relevance. Stiff punishment has been provided for any infringement. However, the provision does not extend to personal data stored anywhere else other than in computers.
The law of tort may also be of some use for protection of personal data. Damages may, for example, be sought for illegitimate invasion of privacy. The Contract Act 1872 may similarly provide protection in the form of compensation or damages if a party breaches a contract. For example, personal data protection can be inserted into employment contracts and company policies.
But these are not enough in the current data privacy context. As a fast-developing country, we certainly need a broader personal data protection regime to cover all the contingencies. Guidance in this regard is available from the most influential of all Data Protection instruments of the world, the European Union (EU) Data Protection Directive. It has been adopted by the 27 EU member-states (plus three European Economic Area countries) and by numerous other countries in Africa, Europe, and Latin America that trade with the EU.
The directive takes a broad approach to personal information. Personal data are defined as “any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person... one who can be identified, directly or indirectly, by reference to an identification number or to one or more factors specific to his physical, physiological, mental, economic, cultural or social identity.”
The UK, too, has a Data Protection Act in addition to the Freedom of Information Act (FOI).  While the FOI applies only to public sector organisations, it covers a wide range of information. The Data Protection Act, which applies equally in both the public and private sectors, allows individuals the right to find out what information about them was being held, and to insist on having that information kept accurate and up-to-date. The UK Information Commissioner's office deals with dispute resolution for both the instruments.
In the US, though there is no single data protection law comparable to the EU's Data Protection Directive, there are many privacy legislations adopted on an ad hoc basis, as and when circumstances require (e.g., the Video Privacy Protection Act of 1988, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, and the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act).
The above may provide us with guidelines on how to go about the subject in Bangladesh. It is up to us now to decide what is best for us. Do we need separate privacy legislation, as in EU countries, or should we be satisfied with ad hoc mechanisms, as in the US? The Government may have some ideas on the subject but since the subject of privacy concerns citizens directly, we must take the lead. Is the civil society in Bangladesh ready for this challenge?
Dr Shamsul Bari and Ms Ruhi Naz are Chairman and Coordinator (RTI) respectively of Research Initiatives, Bangladesh (RIB).

Maharashtra has no records of Rs2,100 crore Local Area Development Scheme money given to MLAs and MLCs

Moneylife: Mumbai: Friday, December 15, 2017.
Every year, Maharashtra government allocates Rs700 crore in total towards the Local Area Development Scheme (LADS) to be utilised by members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs) and members of Legislative Council (MLCs). However, there is no record on utilisation of the LADS fund by 288 MLAs and 76 MLCs over the past three years that comes to Rs2,100 crore, reveals a reply received under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. The Planning Department, plainly stated, “…no records are available with the government so we cannot provide details of the same.”
Pune-based RTI activist Sanjay Shirodkar sought details of expenditure over the past three years through the LADS, which amounts to Rs2,100 crore. He says, “List of works undertaken by the MLAs and MLCs is maintained by the Planning Officer at every District Collector’s office. Hence, it is the Planning Department’s responsibility to make an Annual Report of each MLA and MLC and put it in the public domain. Also, each one of the MLA and MLC has to file report of work undertaken by them to the Vidhansabha (Assembly) Secretariat. Hence, I first filed my RTI to the Secretariat but obviously because it does not have the records, my application was redirected to the Planning Department, which stated it has no records of it.’’
The LADS fund enables each MLA to undertake small developmental works in his/her constituency through the allocated funds of Rs2 crore per year. These works are at a micro scale, falling within the jurisdiction of the MLA’s constituency, which may have been overlooked by the local administration in its annual budget. They pertain to development work, creating durable community assets.  
After submission of the proposal by the MLA, the district authority is mandated to implement the same within three months of acceptance of the proposal. The objective of the Fund is to strengthen the local community’s infrastructure like roads, school building, drinking water, public health, sanitation, electricity, health and family welfare, irrigation and so on.
Shirodkar says this apparent deliberate negligence is across all political party lines as none of them have reported to the Vidhansabha Secretariat. “If creating and maintaining annual report on LADS Fund and putting it in public domain is the mandatory duty of the Planning Department, why is it not being done?” he asks.
The Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) too is in disarray. As per the Annual report for 2010-2011 released by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, which disburses these funds, at least 45% to 60% of MPLADS funds in most of the states have been spent on roads. This is particularly so in Maharashtra (see image below).  
The Report also observes that in 13 states and union territories (UTs), about Rs1.30 crore was used for not admissible items like payment of honorarium or wages or travelling, expenses of staff, fuel for official vehicles and purchase of laptops. It also observed that no proper records were maintained; eight states executed 700 works costing Rs9.45 crore without formal recommendations of the MPs; 150 projects worth to Rs2.44 crore were recommended by the representatives of the MPs.  
Nearly Rs15 crore were disbursed to private trusts and societies beyond the permissible limit of Rs25 lakh. Following are division of funds spent in Maharashtra – 47% are for roads and bridges, as per the 2010-2011 report. We do not know if things have changed as the state government has not been maintaining records, at least since the last three years, as per the RTI reply.
As per the government directives, norms of transparency under the RTI Act must be followed by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation and all the district authorities, which implement the works. This applies to funds allocated under LADS for MLAs and MLCs as well. That is, “as per the provisions of the RTI Act, 2005 and the rules framed there under, all citizens have the right to information on any aspect of the MPLAD Scheme including works recommended or sanctioned or executed under it, cost of works sanctioned, implementing agencies, quality of works completed, user agencies, etc. The district authorities are responsible for providing information to the public in the manner required under the RTI Act, 2005.”
Despite such information falling under Section 4 of the RTI Act where the public authority is bound by providing updated information from time to time in the public domain, that is on its website, not only is there secrecy, but tax payers’ money is being frittered away by our netas with the babus turning a blind eye.

Govt told not to appoint PDA chairmen as RTI officials

Times of India: Panaji: Friday, December 15, 2017.
To ensure efficient functioning of the Right to information (RTI) Act, the Goa State Information Commission has directed the government to appoint the chief town planner as the first appellate authority (FAA) instead of the chairman or chairperson of the respective planning and development authority (PDA), who is often an MLA or a political party office bearer.
In the alternative, the member secretary of the PDA (who is presently the PIO) can also be designated as the first appellate authority and in such scenarios the public information officer can either be the deputy town planner or assistant engineers or architectural planning assistants, state information commissioner Juino De Souza stated in the order.
"The RTI act 2005 clearly specifies that the first appellate authority should be an officer higher in rank to the PIO. A chairman or chairperson of the PDA rendering honorary service are not government officers and as such no action can be taken against them should they fail to perform the duty case upon them as per the RTI act," de Souza said in the order copies of which have been chief secretary and secretary, town and country planning (TCP).
He added that the chairman or chairperson have no fixed timings and no proper RTI training imparted to them which is necessary to improve the efficacy and ensure a fair non biased decision for disposing first appeals within a defined time frame.
In state government corporations, it is never the chairman but the senior most officer who is the head of the department such as the managing director or general manager and the same yardstick can be applied in the case of PDAs.
Nelson Fernandes approached the commission after six RTI applications regarding constructions in Margao and Fatorda filed before the south goa planning and development authority went unanswered. He received no reply when he went in appeal to the first appellate authority. He stated that the FAA visits the office once a week on Tuesday and is busy with meetings and other PDA matters.
The commission has directed the FAA to dispose of his appeals after hearing the party within 30 days of the first hearing.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Why India needs a green manifesto : VINAYAK DALMIA

Hindu Business Line: National: Thursday, December 14, 2017.
Environment is good politics now, and it’s time for administrative and political action to give India a green roadmap.
According to the just-released Global Carbon Budget report, India is expected to record a two-per cent increase in carbon emission this year. But before that happend, in the week leading up to Diwali, the Supreme Court banned sales of crackers in the NCR region. But soon, large parts of northern India was under a blanket of smog. And there was controversy surrounding the Odd-Even traffic management scheme in Delhi.
Even as these events were unfolding, the PM (particulate matter) pollution levels reached alarming levels, with the children and the elderly facing the risk of permanent lung defects, forcing schools to be shut down and sales of air masks and purifiers going through the roof.
So, in a span of a month, as a country and as a capital, we have tried to deal with the issue of air pollution in myriad ways from domestic use of mild explosives, farmer stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana and vehicle emissions.
A fresh take
As large parts of the northern and central India struggle to breathe, it is time to bring a breathe of fresh air to the pollution problem. While civil society and citizens can and do play a critical role in solving environmental issues, institutional action is critical from political establishments and the executive alike. Caring about the environment has now become both good politics and good governance.
Why? Because, for one, pollution costs India dearly according to the Lancet Commission, 2.51 million Indians died in 2015 due to pollution-related causes. We rank No. 1 in pollution-related deaths and 25 per cent of all deaths are caused due to pollution.
Moreover, according to a 2013 World Bank report, air pollution alone costs India 8.5 per cent of its GDP due to welfare costs and lost labour income.
Next, pollution has also entered the public discourse. Indians (especially urban Indians) are now increasingly concerned with the issue.
Social media outrage, memes and other forms of satire on the subject shows a clear trend. Rigorous surveys tend to corroborate the mood as per a 2015 Pew Research, 73 per cent of Indians were “very concerned” about global climate change.
A similar tone is repeated in a 2016 Pew Study which finds that 73 per cent of city dwellers and 65 per cent of rural Indians view air pollution as a “very big problem” with 47 per cent of the people willing to forgo economic growth for cleaner air. A separate Nielsen (2011) study shows that 90 per cent of Indians were “concerned” about air and water pollution and 80 per cent thought climate change was an “important issue”.
Reaching a crescendo
While the problem is not a new one and the debate is not a first, but the issue has reached a crescendo both in terms of public consciousness and externalities.
Firstly, there is a need for a Green Manifesto when political parties gear up for elections at least in urban India. Not only is that a moral imperative, it is also tactically suave.
The recent manifestos of most major parties did not give sufficient space to a green agenda. Come 2019 and beyond, that should, and will, change. There is a need to have a separate environment vision document especially for urban India.
Given the recent events political parties should expect environment to become a focal campaign point, at least in cities. A glimpse of this coming change can be seen in some of the more recent documents albeit from relatively young political parties.
While the West does suffer from double standards in international negotiations there are still some lessons to be learnt. In the American context, candidates are compelled to articulate their respective positions on the matter. Former US Vice-President Al Gore built an entire movement and narrative around the subject. The UK even has a Green Party, albeit it has seen limited success.
Secondly, there is a need for an environment roadmap from the administration and the executive. The Niti Aayog could set green goals akin to the UNDP’s Millennium Development Goals. While air pollution is one of the main culprits, it is not the only one and radical solutions need to be sought.
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) needs to be revamped and armed with more scientists and environmentalists. As some have suggested India should have a federal green agency akin to the US EPA. Certain government measures are welcome steps for example, the vision to sell only Electric Vehicles by 2030.
We are seeing early signs of the political boundaries being marked out in the battle of green. Various proposals are doing the round. These include creating a multi North Indian CM committee headed by the Prime Minister to floating a “Right to Clean Air” Private Member’s Bill.
There is also public debate around the RTI disclosure surrounding the high under utilisation of the ₹787 crore Green Fund by the Delhi Government.
A developing country which continues to face dual challenges of unemployment and poverty, needs to balance environment concerns with needs for rapid large-scale industrialisation. That economic engine along with accelerated urbanisation will put immense pressure on India’s Green Report card and that is a juggling act political leaders and administrators will need to master.
A recent article talks about the various “time bombs” India is sitting on and its path of “self destruction”. Climate change and pollution figured high in the list of reasons for us to be very worried about our future and the future of our nation.
Every Indian has a right to life and according to Articles 21 & 48 of the Constitution, a clean environment is part of that right. Neglecting pollution concerns not only violates fundamental rights but it also have economic, human and political costs. The Indian voter is ready with open doors for an environment conscious politician to walk in. But this time, the concern has to be real, the manifesto substantial and the promises delivered.
(The writer is an entrepreneur)

Of 4,500 encroachments, just 11 razed in two years

The Tribune: Ludhiana: Thursday, December 14, 2017.
In the past one year and 11 months, the Municipal Corporation authorities have been able to remove only 11 permanent encroachments from the industrial city.
However, according to an affidavit submitted by the MC authorities to the High Court, the total number of permanent encroachments is approximately 4,500. The MC had claimed that some of these encroachments could not be removed while others have already moved various courts.
Interestingly, Contempt Of Court 27 of 2013 regarding the permanent encroachments in the city is already in the High Court, and yesterday was a hearing date of the case.
According to the information obtained under the RTI, the MC authorities have given details that from January 1, 2016, till November 2, 2017, they have been able to remove 11 permanent encroachments from the city.
Three of the permanent encroachments removed fell under Zone A, while eight others were in Zone D. As far as Zone B and C are concerned, no permanent encroachment could be removed in almost two years. The RTI information was sought by Rohit Sabharwal, who has also filed the COCP 27 of 2013 in the High Court.
The first PIL regarding these permanent encroachments was filed in the High Court in 2003 (CWP 4886) and the Court had asked the MC authorities to remove the illegal structures. But since nothing was done, several persons came forward to file COCP, following which the cases were clubbed under one COCP- 1299 of 2009. Again in January 2012, the High Court issued orders to remove the encroachments, but in vain and another COCP 27 of 2013 was filed.
It is not easy to remove permanent encroachments in the city for the simple reason that politicians’ vote bank is involved. Politicians, cutting across the party lines, support the encroachers who tend to form their vote bank. Because of this reason, permanent encroachments in Chaura Bazar have not been removed till date. And when authorities tried to act tough against violators, they had to face the wrath of protestors, political leaders, etc. The lackadaisical attitude of the authorities, interference of political leaders, religious sentiments, vested interests of the staff of the MC are major reasons that permanent encroachments will never be removed from city.

Out Of 5 MI Dams 3 Found Constructed In Paper Only

Kangla Online: Imphal: Thursday, December 14, 2017.
The construction of three minor irrigation (MI) dams have been found to be completed at paper only for which 44.48 lakhs had been withdrawn as expenditure for construction in Khoupum area, Noney district.
This was found during a field inspection held by Nungba Kendra Citizen Forum with a team of media persons yesterday. The team visited five MI dams in the area and fond that thee three of them have not been constructed at all.
The first is MI dam at Luwanglong Khullen Village under Langthaophai meant to be built under the agency, Achungpao Raimei, for which total tender amount is Rs. 26.14 lakhs and the withdrawn amount is Rs. 8.45 lakhs.
Second is MI dam at Duigumpang river under Khoupum Gaidingjang meant to be built under the agency, K. Brajeshwor Sharma for which the total tender amount is Rs 26.14 lakhs and withdrawn amount is Rs. 19.02 lakhs, and lastly, MI dam at Lamreithok river under Riangpang.
Not a single trace of construction was found at these three dams though the agencies had withdrawn a total amount of 44.48 lacs.
The dams which have been found actually constructed and functioning since last two years, are MI dam at Longkhuailong Village on Meingchollok river built under the agency Achungpao Raimei, for which total tender amount is Rs. 26.14 lakhs and withdrawn amount is Rs. 10.60 lakhs and MI dam at Lumbanglong village on Khunupu river built under the agency, Achungpao Raimei, total tender amount is Rs. 21.78 lakhs and the withdrawn amount is Rs. 11.51 lakhs.
Speaking to media person on the work site, chairman, Nungba Kendra Citizen Forum (NKDF), Aphuna Gangmei said the forum had urged for a joint field inspection with the department but they refused to co-operate with the forum. He said the data was found on the vide letter numbered CE/MID/RTI/2015-16 dated October 31, of section 6 (I) of the RTI act 2015.
As the department had refused to co-operate, the forum including the media team inspected the work. He condemned the agencies for not constructing MI dams after expenditure amount had been withdrawn from the department.
He appealed the concerned department to take necessary steps against those who had embezzled the funds and complete the construction urgently for the welfare of the people who are settling in the area. If timely steps are not taken NKDF will take necessary actions, Aphuna asserted.

Publish detailed project reports online, TNSIC tells CMRL

Times of India: Chennai: Thursday, December 14, 2017.
The Tamil Nadu State Information Commission (TNSIC) has asked Chennai Metro Rail Ltd (CMRL) to consider publishing approved project reports on its website to ensure a level playing field for all stakeholders, after CMRL refused to selectively disclose information to an RTI applicant since it could breach the competitive interests of others.
The recommendation was made during the hearing of a case pertaining to a second appeal filed by A Meenakshisundaram, a resident of Chinmaya Nagar. He had filed an RTI with CMRL, seeking information on whether the new proposed phase of metro rail would pass through Kaliamman Koil Road, Chinmaya Nagar, Virugambakkam. He produced a news report about a new corridor running from Koyambedu under phase 2, which he apprehended would run through his locality and affect his business.
In response, CMRL had declined information, stating that the information was not under the purview of the RTI Act. When TNSIC took it up for enquiry on November 20, CMRL's Public Information Officer (PIO) submitted that a proposal was sent to the Centre in April 2017 after it was approved by the state government. A revised proposal was sent after some queries were raised.
"Till the final approval, the exact alignment of the proposed metro track cannot be stated with any degree of certainty," the PIO told TNSIC. In addition, CMRL also stated that as the project wasn't approved, sharing the complete details of the project prematurely would prejudicially affect the economic interests of the state as the project involved an estimated Rs.85,000 crore.
"Selective disclosure of the information to one petitioner while others are in the dark will affect their competitive position," CMRL told TNSIC. In its order, TNSIC noted that currently there was only one detailed project report, which is liable to be modified, and as and when it was approved and finalised, CMRL could consider uploading it online.
The petitioner also wanted to know if the proposed corridor would be an elevated or underground one. The PIO declined to give that information, but assured that if he met the officer, information that did not compromise economic interests or commercial confidence could be shared.

Whistleblower IFS officer Sanjiv Chaturvedi seeks details of black money brought from abroad by govt, PMO says info not covered under RTI

Times of India: Dehradun: Thursday, December 14, 2017.
Responding to an RTI query filed by whistleblower IFS officer Sanjiv Chaturvedi regarding the total black money brought from abroad by the Modi government from June 2014 till date, the PMO told the officer that “the request is not covered under RTI rules.”
According to Chaturvedi, he had in August filed the RTI a copy of which is with TOI seeking the response to over a dozen questions from the PMO.
The queries included besides the details of the black money recovered from abroad, particulars of the quantum of money deposited in citizens’ bank accounts till date and the efforts made by the PMO in this regard. Replying to Chaturvedi, Praveen Kumar, under secretary and central public information officer in the PMO wrote, “The request made by you is not covered under the definition of information as per section 2 (1) of the RTI Act.”
Chaturvedi had also sought details of complaints submitted to the PM on corruption charges against serving central ministers from June 1, 2014 and August 5, 2017, and the action taken by the PMO in addressing these complaints. In response, the PMO official wrote, “The request made you is generic and vague. The CIC in the case of Anil Kumar Mittal versus Miranda House has observed that ‘information seekers are expected to seek pointed and specific information and not to make roving and open-ended enquiries’.”
In response to another of Chaturvedi’s queries on the amount spent by the central government on the advertisements related to publicity of the government from June 1, 2014 till date Kumar replied that no expenditure has been incurred by the PMO on such advertisements.
Among the other queries that the Magsaysay award-winning official wanted addressed were details of efforts made by the PMO regarding appointment of Lokpal, a list of products manufactured in the country as an outcome of the Make In India initiative, details of the number of persons given employment under the Skill India initiative and documents related to “any improvement in any of the parameters including Biological Oxygen Demand/Dissolved Oxygen Content etc in the waters of river Ganges after June 1, 2014 as a result of the Namami Gange project.” He also wanted details of the expenditure made on advertisements and promotional events of the Make In India,Skill India and Namami Gange projects.
These queries along with a few others posed by Chaturvedi were transferred by the PMO to the concerned ministries and departments and the official was “advised to approach the concerned central public information officer/appellate authorities in the transferee public authorities in this regard.”

Central funds for RTI promotion dip 66% in 4 years

Times of India: Rajkot: Thursday, December 14, 2017.
How serious is the BJP-led NDA government about promoting Right to Information (RTI) Act brought by the previous UPA government?
If the official figures of fund disbursement are anything to go by, there are serious doubts about the government intentions to create awareness. The disbursement of funds has drastically reduced from Rs 18 crore in 2013-14 to just Rs 5.82 crore in 2016-2017.
A portion of these funds are released by the Centre as per requirement placed by the state governments to carry out awareness and training programme regarding RTI.
What's more appalling is that Gujarat has not got a single penny in the last two years from the Modi government to promote RTI. The figures were provided in an RTI application filed by city-based activist Shailendrasinh Jadeja.
"Such a drastric reduction in disbursement of funds shows that the government is reluctant to create awareness about an Act which can expose them. The state government has also been careless because they have to raise the demand for the funds, which it has not done," said Jadeja.
In contrast, the neighbouring BJP-ruled Maharashtra government received Rs 55 lakh in 2016-17 for the programme. Several RTI applicants have been complaining that they queries are not replied to in a time-bound manner or even suppressed.
Bharatinsh Zala, an RTI activist, said, "The state government has totally failed to implement RTI Act in the right earnest. I was denied information of salary and perks of ministers and expenses of the chief minister and other ministers despite a government resolution of 2002 to make this information public."

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Industry’s policy on new Indian pollution curbs: ignore them.

A Times: Aruna Chandrshekhar: New Delhi: Wednesday, December 13, 2017. 
New norms for power plants came into effect on December 7, but most power plants seem set to give them little notice.
It shouldn’t have to take a Sri Lankan cricket player throwing up in a Delhi stadium to confirm that air pollution is catastrophic in India. But it takes a particularly tone-deaf environment minister to deny that off-the-chart levels indicate a state of emergency.
“You see, what happened in Bhopal when there was a gas leak and hundreds of thousands of people fell acutely sick and had to be rushed to hospital – we call that an emergency situation, where you have to panic and you have to see what you have to do,” the minister, Dr. Harsh Vardhan, told CNN-News18 last month.The environment ministry is in no such panic, and the lack of accountability over Bhopal, 33 years after the world’s worst industrial disaster, is well documented.
At midnight on December 7, a set of progressive pollution norms that had been held up under government and industry pressure for over two years finally took effect. The new rules – issued by the Environment Ministry in 2015 and ignored by the power industry – are extremely significant for ordinary Indians. They prescribe stricter standards around emissions of particulate matter (PM), sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and mercury from the burning of coal for power, and make it mandatory for power plants to install critical pollution reduction technology. The Central Pollution Control Board predicts that if enforced the new regulations could reduce particulate matter emissions by nearly 40% and sulfur and nitrogen pollution by 48%.
Overnight, as the norms took effect, more than 300 coal power plant unitsacross India were found to be in the red. Despite two years of warning to get with the program, not a single plant to date has begun retrofitting the new technology. Instead, India’s Central Electricity Authority and Ministry of Power have lobbied to allow units more breathing space – so that they will be allowed to continue violating the country’s 1986 Environment Protection Act until 2024.
Delhi alone has 13 thermal power plants inside a 300 km radius, while Chennai and Visakhapatnam have power plants barely a few kilometers from their residential centers. Other cities, such as Ahmedabad, have plants right at their core.
A government in denial
“Dr. Harsh Vardhan is a doctor – will you ban him from your association?” an irate Delhi resident asked Dr. K K Agrawal, the Chairman of the Indian Medical Association (IMA), at a press conference to remind the Environment Ministry of its obligations. The country’s premier medical organization has in fact not shied away from calling out the state of the air as a “public health emergency”.
“Somebody has to sound the alarm bell, if the government doesn’t do its job,” said Dr Agrawal, “When you allow a cricket match to be played or a new thermal power plant to be set up, you’re sending kids [the] wrong signal that the air outside is fine to play in.” Dr. Agrawal has been writing to the Olympic Association, the International Cricket Counci (ICC) and others arguing against holding sporting events in severely polluted Indian cities, and wants pollution reports to be made as important and mandatory as weather reports.
Over 135,000 citizens have signed a petition, endorsed by civil-society groups such as Jhatkaa, Greenpeace India, Help Delhi Breathe, Urja and others, that calls for an end to pollution crimes. “Power plants have failed to act on a warning that’s two years old and now want even more time to install the necessary emission reduction technology,” said Avijit Michael from the campaigning group Jhatkaa, which received shocking Right To Information (RTI) responses from power producers showing that they haven’t even begun the groundwork called for by the new rules.
“When you allow a cricket match to be played or a new thermal power plant to be set up, you’re sending kids the wrong signal that the air outside is fine to play in”
But it’s not just a case of ad-hoc urban planning in existing city-centers and “collateral damage” in industrial towns. Even new cities like Amaravati, the under-construction capital of the state of Andhra Pradesh, will violate World Health Organization (WHO) pollution standards.
“When we were arguing in court as to how Amaravati is located next to a critically polluted area like Vijayawada, we were told it was the rank lowest on the list of critical clusters. That’s like saying it’s the healthiest patient in the ICU,” says leading environmental lawyer Ritwick Dutta, who points out that health was removed as a factor for consideration in lifting bans on new industrial projects in critically-polluted areas.
While doctors like Agrawal are cautious about pollution death-toll estimates in international reports like The Lancet’s, he does acknowledge the severe lack of health data relating to pollution in the country. Under Indian law, no health impact assessments are required to expand or set up new thermal power plants. The IMA recommends all its doctors have their own pollution meters, which could add valuable data from states where even the government has no data to show. “Even if one lung is gone and two-thirds of the other severely damaged, patients may not experience breathlessness unless they exercise,” said Dr. Agrawal. “It is a duty of doctors to explain this to people who assume that unless extreme symptoms are visible, there’s nothing wrong.”
Children at risk
One of the first comprehensive Indian studies on the public health impacts of coal and thermal power comes not from Delhi but from a power-generating state without a single live air-quality monitor. In Raigarh, in the state of Chhattisgarh, researchers from Community Environmental Monitoring and the community-led Adivasi Mazdoor Sangathan found toxic heavy metals such as cadmium, arsenic and mercury in extremely high levels in air, water and soil samples.
“It was shocking to see strikingly high levels of musculoskeletal health complaints among even Adivasi (tribal) teenagers,” said Dr. Smarjit Jana, an epidemiologist from the All India Institute of Hygiene & Public Health. “These health symptoms corroborate with effects of toxic chemicals found in the environmental sampling of water, air and soil in the region.” Many of the metals are known to cause respiratory disorders, lung damage, reproductive damage, liver and kidney damage, hair loss, brittle bones, stomach pains, mental illnesses and nausea. If this is what Adivasi kids are reeling under, it’s hard to imagine what’s in store for city kids.
Responding to the furor over cricketers falling sick, the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s acting president, C K Khanna, told news agency PTI: “If 20,000 people in the stands did not have a problem and the Indian team did not face any issue, I wonder why [the] Sri Lankan team made a big fuss.”
“These health symptoms corroborate with effects of toxic chemicals found in the environmental sampling of water, air and soil in the region”
It’s another matter that air quality levels in Colombo recorded particulate matter levels 1/16th of those in Delhi on the same day. Sri Lanka, incidentally, is the only South Asian nation that has ratified the Minamata convention on mercury, with its specific mercury emission standards for coal-fired power plants. India, despite signing it on September 30, 2014, and contributing significantly to the treaty’s text, has yet to ratify it.
India’s new norms also call for reduced water usage by coal-based power plants, which are known to be notorious water guzzlers. But thanks to industry lobbying, the new limits were ‘watered down’ by 20% before their introduction. A thousand-watt power plant will still be allowed to draw excess water that could otherwise irrigate 700 hectares of land. And this in a year when the World Meteorological Organization reports that average rainfall fell by five percent, and drought worsened.
Even despite the government’s dismissive approach to international reports treaties, sporting embarrassments and protests at home, the new pollution norms are a step forward and may well prevent future pollution across the country. “Any law can only operate with citizens’ involvement,” says Ritwick Dutta. “Polluters need to be named and shamed for every unit that’s in violation,” he says.  From the huge mobilization across the country, it’s clear that citizens are beginning to speak truth to power. Whether Dr. Harsh Vardhan steps up to bat for them, as the power industry and Ministry push back, will be the real litmus test.


Mumbai Mirror: Satish Nandaonkar: Mumbai: Wednesday, December 13, 2017.
Borivali metropolitan magistrate also issues warrants against six other officials of the group; Order comes on home buyer’s complaint of carpet area fraud.
The Borivali Metropolitan Magistrate has issued bailable arrest warrants against DB Realty founder Vinod Goenka and six others associated with the group directing them to appear before the court on January 25, 2018. They allegedly committed a carpet area fraud and offences under Maharashtra Ownership of Flats Act (MOFA).
The arrest warrants were issued last week after the court rejected an application from Goenka and others for permanent exemption from appearance under section 205 of the Criminal Procedure Code in connection with a complaint filed by home buyer Manish Agarwal. Agarwal alleged that he was given a lower carpet area flat in DB Woods project at Goregaon in 2008.
The project was initiated by Gokuldham Real Estate Development Company Pvt Ltd, a subsidiary of DB Realty. It later merged with DB Realty on October 16, 2015.
Agarwal alleged in his complaint that Gokuldham Real Estate Development Pvt Ltd had agreed to sell him flat number 3303 in A wing of the project admeasuring carpet area of 1254.75 sq ft for a sum of Rs 2.01 crore. But the information he obtained under RTI from the BMC showed it had an area of 984.36 sq ft. Also, the developer had promised the possession of the flat before June 30, 2011, but it was delayed by four years. He had filed a complaint with district deputy registrar, the competent authority under MOFA, alleging violations of section 5 of the MOFA.
During the hearings before the competent authority, DB Realty denied any violation of section 5 of MOFA, and cited non-availability of sand due to a sand-mining ban which was lifted only in 2014, delay in approvals from authorities, and by contractors for the delay. The developer also attributed mala fide intentions in Agarwal’s complaint stating that none of the other 629 flat owners in the project had complained of MOFA violations.
In his September 16, 2016 order, the competent authority – district deputy registrar NR Nikam – ruled that DB Realty had violated section 5 of MOFA which requires the promoter to maintain a separate account to be used for funding the under-construction project, and disclose all transactions under Rule 10 which DB Realty has failed to comply and convicted them under section 5 of MOFA.
Agarwal then filed a criminal complaint with the Metropolitan Magistrate 67th Court, Borivali, for alleged offences under section 420 of IPC, and various MOFA provisions. The court, on the basis of conviction under MOFA, issued summons for appearance in February 2017. DB Realty moved the Sessions Court but it upheld the Borivali court’s order. When the developer sought exemption from personal appearance, the court rejected it and issued bailable arrest warrants for Rs 15,000 each against the seven accused asking them to appear on January 25, 2018.
When contacted, advocate Shailendra Mishra, representing DB Realty, countered Agarwal’s claims. “Manish Agarwal has had no transaction with DB Realty. He had booked the flat from Gokuldham Real Estate Development Company Pvt Ltd, which merged with DB Realty in 2015 as per High Court’s order. Therefore, no criminal liability transfers except civil liability upon DB Realty vis-a-vis the flat,” Mishra said.
He said honouring civil liability, DB Realty had asked Agarwal to take possession of the flat which he refused on various grounds and instead moved the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission seeking a compensation of Rs 9 crore although his investment is much less.
“DB Realty states on record that Agarwal’s claim of lower carpet area is false. He had also filed a police complaint following which the police offered to verify the carpet area by bringing his architect, but he didn’t agree,” Mishra said.
When contacted, Agarwal’s lawyer Saikumar Pathrudu said, “DB Realty’s claims are false and without any substance. They had made all these claims before the Sessions Court which rejected their revision application and upheld the Borivali’s court’s order.”