Tuesday, May 03, 2016

RTI Commissioner pulls up officials for apathy

The Hans India‎‎‎‎‎: Madanapalle: Tuesday, May 03, 2016.
Right to Information Act (RTI) commissioner Lam Thanthia Kumari slapped a penalty of Rs 60,000 on two Tahsildars for failing to provide the information sought by the applicants.
Lam Thanthia Kumari imposes a penalty of Rs 60,000 on two tahsildars for failing to provide the information sought by the applicants.
Thanthia Kumar on Monday took up the hearing on appeals related to RTI cases, pertaining to Revenue department including mandal revenue offices in Madanapalli division here at sub-collector’s office.
RTI commissioner after finding that the Piler Tahsildar had deliberately denied the information sought by five applicants slapped a penalty of Rs 10,000 for each case amounting to Rs 50,000 in total.
She also imposed a penalty of Rs 10,000 on Rompicherla Tahsildar for not providing the information sought by an applicant within the stipulated time of 30 days.
This apart, she also ordered officials concerned to issue show-cause notices in 12 cases: in four cases against Madanapalli Tahsildar, in two cases against Sadum Tahsildar, one each against Peddapanjani, Chinnagottigallu, Peddamandyam and Valimikipuram Tahsildars. Five cases were settled while the hearing on one case was postponed to next meeting.
Speaking on the occasion, the RTI commissioner made it clear that the onus of the effective implementation of the RTI Act at district-level lies with the district collector, SP and district revenue officer (DRO).
“They should take steps to ensure proper implementation of RTI Act and also raise awareness about the same in association with NGOs,” she said.
Along with the applicants, she said the PIOs concerned should also make themselves available during the hearing on the appeals and warned if they found to be suppressing any information sought by an applicant.
She wanted everyone to come together to ensure proper implementation of RTI Act to ensure transparency from grass-root level.

Not so free ; Although Nepal recognises the right to information, journalists are not able to investigate issues properly : LAXMAN DATT PANT

Kathmandu Post‎‎‎‎: Kathmandu: Tuesday, May 03, 2016.
May 3, 2016- Since the 1991 Declaration of Windhoek, May 3 has been marked as the World Press Freedom Day to assess the situation of press freedom all around the globe and to defend its independence. The day also pays tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession. Marking this day gives an opportunity for the media and concerned stakeholders to inform citizens about the violations against press freedom. The day is also a reminder of many instances of obstruction to media freedom all around the world. In some countries, news is censored and journalists are fined and suspended for doing their job, which is writing the truth. On this day in particular, media, development organisations including the UN condemn harassment, attacks, detention and murder against journalists. This day encourages concerned stakeholders to develop initiatives in support of media freedom and reminds state agencies of their commitment to press freedom. This year, the day is being celebrated with the slogan, ‘Access to information and fundamental freedoms: This is your right’.
Fundamental right
Freedom of information is a fundamental freedom and covers the right to seek, receive and impart information. The right to impart information is an exercise of making public a piece of information; this is directly related to the notion of press freedom. Media disseminate information to thousands of dispersed and heterogeneous people in a fast and reliable manner. The dimension of right to information contributes to a free press; it is highly significant for the assurance of other fundamental rights.
In particular, freedom of information shows the level of transparency maintained by the state and public agencies. The limitations imposed on the process of imparting information restrict the free flow of information. The recently declared Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) too have a number of issues concerning access to information. The SDG Goal 16 states “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.” Additionally, freedom of expression as a whole is vital to achieving Goal 16, target 10: “Ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements.”
In the case of Nepal
Assurance of freedom of information is key to attaining participatory democracy and good governance. It permits public scrutiny and oversight and ensures their participation and empowerment. Currently around 90 nations have adopted freedom of information laws. Nepal introduced the Right to Information (RTI) Act in 2007 and formulated regulations in 2009 along with the establishment of National Information Commission (NIC) as an independent body to oversee the implementation of the RTI Act. However, the implementation of the right to information in Nepal remains sluggish due to many reasons including limited capacity of the NIC, non-responsive public bodies and recklessness of the bureaucrats. Ordinary citizens have yet to enhance their bargaining power in terms of seeking information from the public entities. Awareness programmes on the right to information by the civil society have failed to reach the grassroots.
Despite the fact that Nepal recognises right to information as a tool to maintain transparency in public bodies and ensure the public’s right to know, the public in general and the journalists in particular are not able to investigate issues in detail. Corruption, misuse of government resources, and abuse of power, mismanagement and misconduct within the government offices are rampant and increasing. Extreme gap between the haves and the have-nots and limited mass awareness about the instruments on right to information are the major reasons behind the slowness in the empowerment of the marginalised and socially excluded groups. There is a pressing need to engage these groups in the process of development and to create a just society. Journalists have a bigger role to play in this regard. They can utilise right to information tools while doing their job, especially when digging up information in cases of corruption and fraud.
Need for transparency
A case of the successful utilisation of the RTI Act about a murdered journalist is worth discussing. Journalist Ramjee Dahal sought information with original bills and expenditure details of a probe commission formed to investigate the murder of journalist JP Joshi. He appealed to the NIC after the Ministry of Home refused to provide information. He was provided with all original bills and expenditure details following an order by the commission. The 485-page-long document that he received revealed how the authorities were engaged in corruption.
Access to information and media freedom are essential to democracy, equality and sustainable development. Journalists play a vital role in actualising the right to information in the interest of citizens; they empower citizens with information. Yet, it is not an easy task to collect information from the authorities engaged in corruption. There is also a need to improve the working environment for journalists. In particular, their safety concerns have to be addressed for them to engage in investigative journalism. This will help to develop a culture of openness and access to information in the country.
(Pant is the Chairperson of Media Action Nepal)

Exemptions only for core activities

The Hans India‎‎‎: Manipur: Tuesday, May 03, 2016.
The Manipur High Court in Abid Hussain v State of Manipur, W.P. (C) No. 880 of 2014 decided on 13.10.2015 by Justice Kotiswar Singh made a very fine analysis of information that could be given or withheld by the organisations exempted under Section 24.
It is a comprehensive judgment relating public interest aspects in Preamble to Section 24 and discussing the impact of proviso in Section 24 and also exceptions under Section 8. It presents the issue in a complete perspective.
A Hussain sought information about the recruitment process of Sub-Inspector of Police in the State of Manipur. The Manipur government issued a notification, exempting the Department of Police from the RTI Act, as per its Section 24.  Hence, the police denied the information about recruitment process.
The case reached the High Court of Manipur [W.P. (C) No. 880 of 2014] wherein the question considered was whether the petitioner was entitled to that information when the Police Department had been exempted as per the Section 24 and whether there was any allegation pertaining to corruption and violence of human rights had been made by him.
Preamble perspective: The High Court looked at it from the Preamble of RTI perspective. It said: The exclusion of some under Section 24 is to ensure efficient functioning and operations of the government, optimum use of limited fiscal resources, preservation of confidentiality of sensitive information and as such other public interest and to protect such other public interest as clearly mentioned in the Preamble to the Act.
Expression “information pertaining to allegations of corruption and human rights violence” is of too general and of wide amplitude.  A balanced and reasonable interpretation of this expression can be done by referring to the Preamble.
In the context of the Preamble, the Section 24 exemption was to protect certain public interests including efficient operations of government, optimum use of limited resources and preservation of confidentiality of sensitive information.
….If any information sought for does not relate to any of these areas referred to in the Preamble but are also relatable to any allegation of corruption and violence of human rights, there is no reason why such information should be withheld, if sought for, the Manipur HC explained.
Sensitive information perspective: Having said this, the High Court looked at the issue from a different perspective, saying: The legislature in their anxiety to keep certain organisations which are engaged in activities involving sensitive information, secrecy of the State,
have sought to keep these organisations away from the purview of the Act by including such organisations in the Second Schedule of the Act as far as Central organisations are concerned and in the official gazette in respect of State organisations.  It does not, however, mean that all information relating to these organisations are completely out of bounds of the public.
The Manipur High Court gave an example:  “…even though the Central Bureau of Investigation is one of the organisations included in the Second Schedule to the Act, it does not mean that all information relating to it is out of bounds of the public.
If one looks at the website of the Central Bureau of Investigation which is in the public domain, there are so many information about the organisation which are already voluntarily made open to the public. This is for the simple reason that disclosure of these information does not in any way compromise with the integrity of the organisation or confidentiality of the sensitive nature of works undertaken by this organisation.
The purpose of excluding all these organisations from the purview of the Act as provided under Section 24 is to merely protect and ensure the confidentiality of the sensitive works and activities undertaken by these organisations. Therefore, if there is any information which does not impinge upon the confidentiality of the sensitive activities of the organisation and if such information is also relatable to the issues of corruption or violation of human rights, disclosure of such information cannot be withheld.
Similarly, in respect of the police organisations in the State of Manipur, if anybody seeks any information which does not touch upon any of the sensitive and confidential activities undertaken by the police department, and, if the said information also can be related to the issues of any allegation of corruption or violation of human rights, such information cannot be withheld.”
It further held: “Therefore, if there be any information which does not relate to the principal or the core function of the organisation which is sought to be protected by including in Section 24 of the Act, but if it can have some reference or relatable to corruption or violation of human rights, such an information cannot be withheld.
It may be observed that the core function of the police organisation is to maintain law and order, security of the State and discharge such activities which are related to and ancillary to these functions. In that context, undertaking the exercise of a recruitment process is not part of the core function of the police department.
It is some function which could be outsourced to any other agency like the Public Service Commission etc. and this activity does not form part of the core function of the Police Department which cannot be outsourced to any other agency. Of course, recruitment of intelligence officials may form part of the core function. But in the present case, such is not the case. The recruitment in issue is the general recruitment process of the personnel of the police department generally.”
Exceptions under Section 8: Even if any information sought for comes under any of the clauses mentioned in Section 8 of the Act, the authority can withheld such information. Disclosure of the marks obtained by a candidate in a recruitment process cannot be said to be hit by any of the clauses mentioned in the Section 8 of the Right to Information Act, 2005.
The HC concluded: “The information sought (about recruitment process of sub-inspector) will not be covered by any of the inhibiting factors mentioned in Section 8 of the Act, nor impinge upon the core activity of the Manipur Police Organisation and if furnished would rule out any allegation of corruption, hence is “pertaining to allegations of corruption”. Hence it cannot be withheld. Recruitment information was finally directed to be given.
From this fine analysis of Manipur High Court Judgment, the inferences that can be drawn are: 1. The public interest aspects mentioned in Preamble are ensured by Section 24; 2. Information about allegations pertaining to corruption and human rights violation is exempted from Section 24.
Such information has to be given by organisations exempted under the Section 24 also; 3. If information sought relates to aspects mentioned preamble, but about allegation of corruption and human rights allegations, it can be given; 4. Organisations which are engaged in activities involving sensitive information, secrecy of the State, have sought to be out of purview of RTI as per s 24.
If information sought relates to this core area of functioning, it can be withheld, and if not, it can be given; 5. Though the information sought is relating to this core area but it pertains to allegations of corruption and human rights violation, it can be given; and 6. If the information sought referred to above is hit by any exceptions under Section 8, it cannot be given.

First steps to empowerment

Eastern Mirror‎‎: Nagaland: Tuesday, May 03, 2016.
Every year, 3rd of May is observed as the World Press Freedom Day by UNESCO across the globe. Its objective is to have a world where people are given free access to accurate, fair and unbiased information representing a plurality of opinions and the means to actively communicate vertically and horizontally, thereby participating in the active life of the community. The day coincides with the anniversary of the world’s first freedom of information law passed in the Swedish parliament in 1776 covering both modern-day Sweden and Finland. The key achievements of the Act were the ban of political censorship and the gaining of public access to government documents. It is the 250th year since this law was passed and a clear indication that freedom of information is not a recent concept. Freedom of the press and the freedom to information work hand in hand. Although free press is the one big tool to propagate the benefits of the freedom of information to the people, the freedom of information is the first key step required to securing true freedom of the press. It is the first step to empowerment of the Press and the people that gain access to it. With the creation of the United Nations the concept has gradually been accepted by most of the countries and the number of countries that have adopted freedom of information as a law/act has risen dramatically in the last 5 decades. The United States passed US Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in 1966. Though a little late Nagaland also came under similar freedom of information law with the rest of India through the RTI Act in 2005.
Like elsewhere even in the typical Naga context, the Right to Information is a tool that empowers citizens to take fact driven decision making else without proper information it is just an opinion driven best-speaker-gets-more-support style of decision making. Nagas are witness to many such decisions where emotions attached to social and religious affiliations have played the key role rather than factual data and historical facts. Starting from the highest law making body in the state, the Nagaland Legislative Assembly to the tinniest village committee meeting the ailment still continues today. On the other hand the concept of recording correct and true information is still lacking in Nagaland as evident from the data kept by the government agencies. The most glaring example being the census of 2001 which had an inflated figure in the population of the state thereby resulting in negative growth in the census of 2011. Information in itself is not complete empowerment but the right method of analysing it with the correct way of interpretation makes it true empowerment. In Nagaland the practice of collecting and keeping information itself is flawed. The concept of data integrity is still not considered a virtue. Successive governments have failed to ensure the same as evident from the lack of correct data with our agencies. It is a farce when incorrect data is utilised for a state’s planning and development with progress as a key objective. So when the world is celebrating its 250th anniversary since the first freedom of information law was enacted, Nagaland has to think and act to collect and keep correct information first.

AIC registers case against State Home Department for RTI Act violation

The Sentinel: Mangaldai: Tuesday, May 03, 2016.
The government has introduced the RTI Act 2005 to bring transparency and check corruption in governance but due to a section of corrupt bureaucrats and officials, the very purpose of the Act is often stated to be threatened. Not to talk about the officials of any other State Government departments, it is the most sensitive Home department which has been entrusted with the responsibility of looking after the law-and-order situation in the State that has been found to be ignoring repeated petitions under the Act since 2013, thereby violating the provisions of the Act. But thanks to the Assam Information Commission (AIC) which has taken up the matter very seriously and served notice to the Home Department seeking explanation as to why penalty u/s 20 (1) of the RTI Act should not be imposed after registering a case on the basis a complaint petition by the RTI applicant senior journalist Mayukh Goswami of Ward No-1 here.
The Commission by its letter (No. SIC/ KP(M) 200/2013 /11 Dtd. 19th March, 2016) addressed to the SPIO of Home Department not only asked him to submit explanation but also directed him to appear before the Commission for necessary hearing. However, as the hearing on April 5 could not be completed due to the absence of officials concerned of the respondent Home Department, the Commission by its order (No. SIC.KP (M).200/2013/15 dtd. 20th April ) has fixed May 4 as the next date of hearing. However, a written submission on April 4 received by the Commission from B Pegu, Joint Secretary of Government of Assam and SPIO of Home department has  stated that the SPIO sought assistance from the Joint Secretary, Home (A) Department vide letter dated January 22, 2013 followed by three reminders without any effect. The Commission observed it as a case of serious negligence and lapse on the part of the Home Department.
The applicant Mayukh Goswami, under the provision of the RTI Act, on January 11, 2013 filed a petition before the PIO, Home Department, Government of Assam, seeking information regarding the promotion of police officers in Assam Police to the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police, Additional Superintendent of Police and Superintendent of Police in the year 2012 and if any case of criminal nature was pending against any of the said senior police officials enjoying promotional benefits.
Unfortunately the Home Department allegedly denied information even after first appeal before the first appellate authority of the department on February 25, 2013 which led to the applicant to raise complaint before AIC on April 19, 2013. In the meantime the applicant received three copies of letters from  MC Deka, Deputy Secretary, Home Department respectively with memo nos. HMA.59/2013/2 Dtd. 22/1/2013 , HMA.59 / 2013 /5 Dtd. 15-3-2013 and HMA.59 / 2013 / 7 Dtd. 22/3/2013 which were addressed to Joint Secretary of the department,  MP Sharma twice and Joint Secretary S Shah once.
Meanwhile, according to the information received from the Director General of Police, Assam, as many as 87 officers have been promoted from the rank of Inspector to Superintendent of Police, including 52 from Inspectors to Deputy Superintendent of Police, 26 to Additional Superintendent of Police and other 9 to the rank of Superintendent of Police or Commandants. Significantly, some of the senior law enforcers are enjoying official benefits even though cases of criminal nature are allegedly pending against them.

Officers trained on RTI Act

Nagaland Post: Dimapur: Tuesday, May 03, 2016.
One-day training programme on Right to Information Act 2005 was conducted for First Appellate Authorities, Public Information Officers and Assistant Public Information Officers of Nagaland Civil Secretariat on April 29 at Nagaland Civil Secretariat Conference Hall.
Altogether 64 offices attended the programme.
Chief secretary, Pankaj Kumar, IAS shared his experiences on RTI- current scenario and future.
He stressed on the need for proactive disclosure as per Section 4 of RTI Act, where public servants were urged to “provide information and not answer questions”.
He also appealed the participants to learn the proper way of noting the file as people would read and consider their work.
Though the misuse of RTI was comparatively less in Nagaland, the chief secretary cautioned that people may misuse it and therefore appealed public authorities to check such practices.
Also speaking at the programme, Chief Information Commissioner, Nagaland Information Commission, Toshi Aier, IAS (Rtd) said that major chunk of the state’s budget was spent on salary of government servants.
Aier said since he took over as CIC a month ago, he had already taken up 10 cases, and expressed the need for the Appellate Authorities and PIOs to be more dedicated in disseminating information to the citizens.
Various topics such as “Overview of the RTI Act 200, Responsibilities of PIOs and APIOs, Role of Appellate Authority by librarian ATI and Appeals and Penalties” were taken up at the programme.
Earlier, the valedictory function was graced by chief information commissioner, Nagaland Information Commission, Toshi Aier, IAS (Rtd) and the program was coordinated by Dr.Hovithal Sothu.

Why all are politicians trying to muzzle the RTI Act

Moneylife: Pune: Tuesday, May 03, 2016.
RTI is exposing their arrogance and hence they try to discredit the Act by often talking about its misuse. If RTI Act is muzzled, soon we may have to provide reasons even for speaking. We must defend our democracy.
There is a very disturbing news reports about the entire political spectrum agreeing that Right to Information (RTI) Act is misused and some constrictions should be developed to muzzle it. This is indeed a sad state of affairs. Samajwadi Party’s member of Parliament (MP) Naresh Agarwal has levelled a charge that the Indian Parliament passed the RTI Act under US pressure! I would have imagined that other MPs would have raised a breach of privilege motion against him. Unfortunately, such a derogatory remark about Indian Parliament did not result in any protests by other MPs. Praful Patel of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) made a remark, which was still worse. He had objections to the poor- paanwaala and chaiwaala- seeking information under RTI. He then genuflected before the most famous chaiwaala of India Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and said the PM is an exception. His implication was that if you are a chaiwaala who is not the PM, how dare you a low down person seek information from the government? The government appears to have been willing to go along that path. Rajiv Shukla of the Congress party also went along with this, almost repudiating his own party’s biggest achievement. I remember former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s poem (slightly modified by me):
कौरव कौन, कौन पांडव, टेढ़ा सवाल है;
दोनो ओर, शकुनी का फैला कूटज़ाल है,
धर्मराज ने छोडी नही, जुए की लत है,
हर पंचायत मे, पांचाली अपमानित है,
बिना कृष्णा के आज महाभारत होना है,
कोई राजा बने,  रंक को तो रोना है.
अब उठ और अपने   RTI   की रक्षा कर,
वरना तेरी लोकशाही निवस्त्रा हो जाएगी,
गांडीव  उठा अगर भारतकी रक्षा करनी है.
Citizens must get together and give an effective message that they will not tolerate a retrograde attack on their fundamental Right to Information. If they shackle RTI by labelling some applications as ‘misuse’ they will refuse most information which reveals corruption and arbitrariness. As an Information Commissioner who dealt with over 20,000 cases, I had the opportunity of interacting with a large number of RTI users and Public Information Officers (PIOs).
Generally, PIOs would refer to most applicants who filed RTI applications regularly as blackmailers, harassers and those who were misusing the Act. I would broadly divide those who filed a large number of RTI applications in the following categories:
Those who filed RTI applications with the hope of exposing corruption or arbitrariness and hoped to improve and correct governance.
Those who filed RTI applications repetitively to correct a wrong, which they perceived had been done to them.
Those who used RTI to blackmail people. This category largely targets illegal buildings, mining or some other activities, which runs foul of the law.
All these categories together comprised around 10% of the total appeals and complaints. This represent persistent users of RTI and those who are generally knowledgeable about appeals and procedures. Nobody will deny that the first category deserves to be encouraged and is growing steadily.  In the second category, there are some who have been able to get corrective action and some whose grievance may defy resolution. Generally, most of us have a strong aversion for the third category who are making it a money-earning racket. This category certainly does not exceed 5% of the total.
I would argue that in the implementation of most laws some people would misuse its provisions. The police often misuse their powers to subvert the law, and so criminals too misuse our judicial system to prolong trials. The misuse of laws is largely dependent on the kind of people in a society and whether the justice system has the capability of punishing wrongdoers.  There are people who go to places of worship with the sole objective of committing theft or other crimes. But society does not define these as their main characteristic.  Is it reasonable to expect that only angels will use RTI?
I would submit that the powerful finds RTI upsetting their arrogance and hence try to discredit the Act by often talking about its misuse. I have often questioned government officers how the blackmailers operate.  They state that the RTI blackmailer threatens an illegal action with exposure and thereby extorts money. I wonder why society has such touching empathy for the victims who have committed illegal acts.  If RTI is muzzled by asking people to define why they want information, soon we will have to provide reasons for speaking. We must defend our democracy.

Monday, May 02, 2016

Centre Declines To Share Information On Bringing Back Kohinoor Diamond

NDTV: New Delhi: Monday, May 02, 2016.
The Centre has declined to share details of India's efforts to get back the famous Kohinoor diamond from the UK, saying the matter was subjudice.
"A petition has been filed in Supreme Court of India regarding retrieval of Kohinoor diamond from London, UK. Since the matter is now subjudice, hence no information can be provided," the Archaeological Survey of India said in reply to an RTI query filed by news agency PTI.
An application was filed with the External Affairs Ministry seeking details of steps taken for return of Kohinoor along with copies of letters written to and response received from the United Kingdom in this regard. The query was forwarded to Culture Ministry.
The issue of Kohinoor diamond has been in news for the last few days. In response to a Public Interest Litigation being heard by the Supreme Court, the government had on April 18 said the diamond estimated to cost over $200 million was neither stolen nor "forcibly" taken by British rulers but gifted to the East India Company by erstwhile rulers of Punjab 167 years back.
However, the next day, it had said all efforts will be made to get it back.
Kohinoor, which means mountain of light, is a large, colourless diamond that was found in southern India in early 14th century. The 108-carat gem, which came into British hands during the colonial era, is the subject of a historic ownership dispute and has been claimed by at least four countries including India.
Earlier responding to another RTI application, the ASI had said under the provisions of the Antiquities and Art Treasure Act, 1972, India takes up the issue of retrieval of only such antiquities as have been illegally exported out of the country.
"Since the object referred by you (Kohinoor) has been taken out of the country prior to the Independence, the Archaeological Survey of India is not in a position to process the matter," it had said.
To a question seeking details of items which are in the UK's custody and India wants to claim them back, the ASI, which functions under the Culture Ministry said: "There is no list available with the Archaeological Survey of India about the items in Britain's custody".
The Supreme Court is hearing the PIL filed by All India Human Rights and Social Justice Front seeking directions to the High Commissioner of United Kingdom for return of the diamond besides several other treasures.
The PIL has made Ministry of External Affairs and Ministry of Culture, High Commissioners of the UK, Pakistan and Bangladesh as parties to the case. It has also sought return of the ring and sword of Tipu Sultan and other treasures of him besides Bahadur Shah Zafar, the Queen of Jhansi, Nawab Mir Ahmad Ali Banda and other rulers of India.

Activist prepares to battle sand mafia in poll

Times of India: Coimbatore: Monday, May 02, 2016.
False cases, brutal attacks and harassment - that's what D Prabhakaran has suffered at the hands of the sand mafia on the banks of the Kousika river in Tirupur. And now, he's set himself up for another fight - against political parties in the state in Tirupur North constituency.
Prabhakaran, 31, is contesting as an independent candidate from Tirupur in the upcoming election and filed his nomination papers last week.
Last year, Prabhakaran took on the sand mafia and exposed the collusion of government officials. He believes that entering politics will help him expose corruption.
"Parties are using money and alcohol to get people to hear their speeches and cast votes," he said. "I am contesting purely to register my protest against these methods. I do not want to promise things I can't do," he said.
Though he was accompanied by members of the Aam Aadmi party, Lok Satta party and other social activists when he filed his nomination papers, Prabhakaran says his ideology does not match that of any other party.
The son of a powerloom weaver, Prabhakaran was helping his father in the family business. "I used to file applications under the right to information (RTI) act and help people approach officials to solve small problems related to drinking water and sewage," he said. "It was then that I realized how deep corruption ran," he says.
Two years back, he started noticing people mining sand from the Kousika River, a tributary of the Noyyal. "They were not paying the state government the required taxes for mining sand," he said. "Some of them earned up to 40 crore in two years." Prabhakaran's fight against sand mining was not an easy one.
With almost all government officers turning a blind eye to his petitions and protests, Prabhakaran had to take the issue to court. What ensued was an attack by thugs, a police case against him and arrest. He was subsequently released.
He also took to streets demanding the Avinashi-Athikadavu project to channel excess water from the Bhavani river into 85 ponds to recharge groundwater. "We managed to get a government order after weeks of protest," he said.
The activist says he wants to do something for farmers and the powerloom industry. "I want to create a sustainable environment where people live as one with nature and revive and protect water bodies. I also want to root out corruption and create a cotton market for powerloom owners to sell their cotton directly," he said. "Currently, we depend on bigger textile mills to pay us a reasonable rate for job work, which is unviable," he added.

Two officers in the dock for not providing info for over 2 years

Bangalore Mirror: Bangalore: Monday, May 02, 2016.
KIC slaps show-cause notice; orders probe into the missing electoral video of policemen promoting politician while defying code of conduct for elections.
A curious case of an electoral video going missing has put two officers in the dock now, nearly three years after the state assembly polls. Information denied under the RTI Act even after the said period has resulted in state information commission (KIC) slapping a show-cause notice on the officers and ordering probe into the missing electoral video that reportedly had footage of police participating in a politician's poll promotions, when a model code of conduct was in force. The officers in the dock are - AB Hemachandra, joint commissioner, BBMP, who was additional district election officer during the polls in May 2013; and Pragna Ammembal, the returning officer in the ward where the incident is said to have occurred.
"Even after a lapse of 2 years and 7 months, Hemachandra, being responsible officer, has not submitted a fact-finding report to the commission within stipulated period of time thereby delaying in providing the information to the appellant who is seeking the information about the election matter, which has to be taken on priority basis," Shankar R Patil, KIC commissioner, observed in his April 5 order.
The first time the case came up before the commission in September 2015, it had asked Hemachandra to file a fact-finding report within 30 days. As the matter came up in April 2016, instead of the fact-finding report, copies of reminders sent to the RO to produce the CD were produced before commission. The commission took serious objection to this, saying it had not sought the office communiques.
With BBMP officials' failure, the KIC has set a deadline. It has also asked to show-cause why they should not be penalised with Rs 4,000 fine for the delay.
"Commission viewed it seriously and directs Shri Hemachandra, joint commissioner (south), to submit a facts finding report to the commission on or before May 24," Patil has said in his order.
The case:
The case pertained to an RTI application filed by Wg Cdr G B Athri (rtd). He had sought information under RTI Act pertaining to the electoral video recording between 1 and 3.30 pm on April 26, 2013, in the office of returning officer Pragna Ammembal of Padmanabhnagar assembly constituency. However, the information was denied.
Athri then filed first appeal, which helped little. Finally, he filed an appeal before the KIC in September 2015. More than six communiques were sent to the returning officer during the time, and Hemachandra also sent reminders to her with respect to Athri's first and second appeals, but all were in vain. The matter reached the KIC in September 2015 and the commission had in the same month directed the joint commissioner to furnish fact-finding report within 30 days. As it was not provided within stipulated time, the commission came down cracking against the officer while issuing a notice.
Athri told Mirror the video pertained to a statement made by an ACP that six police officials were publicly circulating pamphlets bearing R Ashok's name. At the time, police were using their official car, which was against the law.
The ACP had also said that the staffers would be brought to book but nothing happened. "If at all I have to complain, the evidence is crucial. But now, they are not providing this even after an inquiry has been ordered into it. Hence, I have moved commission," Athri told Bangalore Mirror.

First appellate authority officer of BMC slammed for disrespecting RTI Act

DNA: Mumbai: Monday, May 02, 2016.
A first appellate authority (FAA) officer of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has been pulled up for disrespecting the Right To Information (RTI) Act. FAAs, often the first stage of scrutiny of information under the RTI, have often been criticised by the commission for not paying heed to the Act.
In an order passed on April 26, state chief information commissioner Ratnakar Gaikwad has asked why no action should be initiated against the FAA for failing to conduct the first appeal hearing and also not appearing for the second appeal hearing, in an application filed by Fort resident Eknath Pawar. Pawar had sought to know the details of children who dropped out from BMC schools. The commission also directed that the information be made available suo motu by May end.
Reportedly, the public information officer did not provide any information regarding the matter. When the applicant filed a first appeal, no hearing was conducted. Citing a General Administration Department (GAD) circular, which talks of strict disciplinary action against officers for not giving information under the RTI Act and not attending hearings at the commission without any written explanation, the commission directed the municipal commissioner to take action against the officer.
"Statutory bodies are over administrative bodies. The problem is that officers are not interested in implementing administrative matters at all. The FAA, an officer senior to public information officer, only exposes the fact that they are shielding them. In fact, the RTI Act is a service rule for all employees. Why should the commission even need to ask for any action? Action should be taken without the commission's directives," said RTI activist Bhaskar Prabhu.

Adarsh scam: Activist decry political leaders for criticising RTI Act

DNA: Mumbai: Monday, May 02, 2016.
Activists in the state have slammed the leaders who have criticised the Right To Information (RTI) Act, which led to the unearthing of a series of scams, including the Adarsh housing scam. Reportedly, Sawajwadi Party MP Naresh Agarwal had said that the transparency law was passed under "the US pressure".
Protesting the statement, former central information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi said, "I am surprised that no one in the Parliament objected to Naresh Agarwal when he said that the RTI Act was passed under the US pressure. It was derogatory to the Parliament and a privilege motion should have been moved against him."
Besides Agarwal, Praful Patel of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), which was instrumental in passing of the landmark Act, also criticised it. From Congress, which has often called it its flagship Act, Rajiv Shukla has slammed the provision. Patel was reported to have said that any panwadi or chaiwalla was misusing the Act.
RTI activist Bhaskar Prabhu, however, said, "The Act was passed through people's movement. Any person talking against it is talking against the people of India."
Echoing the sentiment, Gandhi said, "The only people who are getting intimidated are citizens from the government machinery. When the government says that the officers are intimidated, they should give some proof. The truth is that a lot of RTI activists are being threatened or murdered. Let them come out with such truth about the government officers. They want to muzzle RTI because it is exposing them."
Activists also said that people had to resort to filing RTI applications because the government was failing to provide suo motu details. "They talk of blackmailers. Who gets blackmailed?" questioned Gandhi. "In any case, misdeeds of powerful people need to be known. What is wrong if a chaiwalla or a panwadi is unearthing them?" he rued.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Geotags to put dvpt works in the public eye

Pune Mirror‎‎‎‎‎‎: Pune: Sunday, May 01, 2016.
Details of all projects done in the last five years will be tagged and uploaded on PMC site.
If you've been consistently tripping over broken footpaths and grimacing as your vehicle bounces into a pothole, you're probably wondering just where the civic authorities are putting taxpayers' money.
Now, the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) plans to use geotagging to enable greater transparency in its development works. Following this, the corporation will make a social audit of its works, including those related to the health department, roads, solid waste management, construction, water, drainage, land and estate, heritage, etc. At present, there is no system to provide direct information to citizens regarding the commencement and completion of works, the expenditure of individual projects, names of contractors, etc. People have to either approach officials of concerned departments or file applications under the Right to Information (RTI) Act to get detailed information.
Now, all of this is set to change as all information will be uploaded on the PMC website after the project is tagged on Google Maps. PMC has compiled information of all development works of the last five years, including small road works as well as bigger projects.
Elaborating on the concept, Prerna Deshbhratar, additional municipal commissioner of PMC, said, "We have initiated the process of geotagging. It will help to provide detailed information of ongoing works with just one click. We will also provide information regarding the amount, the type of work, its start and completion dates, names of contractors and the PMC official under whom the work is happening."
She added, "We have also decided to give people the chance to register their opinion on development work. They can opine on the quality and if the project fulfills the needs of the city. This will help in the social audit. However, it will take at least six months to activate the service in a full-fledged way. But, we will ensure that it brings about greater transparency and democracy in development work."
Rahul Jagtap, head of PMC's information and technology (IT) department, said, "Currently, we are developing the software for geotagging. Once this is done, we will be able to upload information."
Civic activists, however, are skeptical of PMC's ability to implement the initiative. Ashish Mane, an activist from the Wadgaonsheri-Viman Nagar area, said, "It is a good initiative but I am doubtful about the implementation. Under geotagging, PMC will have to give detailed information related to development work. And, in order to do this, they will need to update information. I don't think officers will upload complete information. At the end of the day, they don't want total transparency as there are always problems with their work. However, it this does work out, it will be a boon as there will be no need to file RTI applications or chase officers to get information."
Civic activist Vijay Kumbhar, too, raised questions on the implementation of the system. "It is merely another announcement made by the corporation. I do not think it will work. And, if it does, it will not last long. Past experiences of how the corporation functions have left me in doubt," Kumbhar said.

Junior slaps fine on senior officer, rescinds order

Times of India‎‎‎‎‎: Chandigarh: Sunday, May 01, 2016.
A junior official of the Haryana forest department slapped a fine of Rs 5,000 on his senior an Indian Forest Service (IFS) officer for not providing information under the RTI Act. However, realizing how peculiar the situation was, he withdrew the order two days later.
This prompted Haryana state information commissioner Hemant Atri to express surprise over the state of affairs in the department. The commission, on Friday, also decided to issue a show cause notice to the IFS officer Jitender Ahlawat, posted as divisional forest officer at Karnal, asking him to explain why penalty up to Rs 25,000 should not be imposed on him.
The series of events started about six months back when Karnal-based lawyer Parvesh Mehta sought information regarding encroachment on the protected forest land near National Highway-1 (NH-1) in the town. Dissatisfied with the response of the forest officials, Mehta in February approached the commission. His appeal was forwarded to the Rohtak's conservator of forests, who was the first appellate authority (FAA) in the case.
Meanwhile, on April 20, a superintendent posted in the office of conservator of forests Rajbir Singh imposed a penalty of Rs 5,000 on Ahlawat, who is state public information officer (SPIO) in the case, for terming the application a questionnaire. In an official communication, Singh, who is also assistant state public information officer (ASPIO) into the matter, asked Ahlawat to provide complete information to the applicant.
Though, when Singh realized the mistake, he wrote another letter to the SPIO to inform him that previous letter has been withdrawn urging him to take appropriate action.
During the hearing on Friday, the commission noted the "severe discrepancy" wherein the ASPIO penalized the SPIO without any powers. "Neither the superintendent is a competent authority nor the FAA (first appellate authority) can impose penalty, which is sole prerogative of the commission under the RTI Act," said Atri in the order.

Medical claims worth Rs 56 lakh yet to be settled, says RTI info

Chandigarh Tribune‎‎‎‎: Bathinda: Sunday, May 01, 2016.
Reimbursement of medical claims amounting to Rs 56,08,228 has been lying pending for Bathinda district since 2013-14 to March 31, 2016, under the Central and state governments’ Employees State Insurance Scheme.
Approaching both Centre and the state government for the immediate release of the claims, the data of which he collected through the RTI Act, social activist Sadhu Ram Kusla has written letters to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal. He has also demanded that officials who caused the delay in the release of the money to settle the claims must also be brought to book.
Kusla said despite the fact that the PM had taken note of the delay in settlement of medical claims and had directed the Secretary, Labour and Employment Department, GoI, to look into the matter, officials forwarded the matter to the Senior State Medical Commissioner, Chandigarh, who then forwarded it to dispensaries in Bathinda.
The social worker further stated that there were four dispensaries in the district. Of these, while dispensary No. 1 is yet to settle claims worth Rs 13,15,066 for 2015-16, claims worth Rs 85,815 have been pending with the dispensary No. 2 for 2014-15 and worth Rs 2,05,341 for 2015-16. Dispensary No. 3 is yet to clear claims to the tune of Rs 6,46,566 for 2014-15 and Rs 1,54,726 for 2015-16.
The dispensary located in Lehra Mohabbat is yet to dispense medical claims under the scheme to the tune of Rs 3,65,544 for 2013-14, Rs 9,30,009 for 2014-15 and Rs 19,05,161 for 2015-16.
Expressing grief over the state of affairs, Kusla said under the ESI Scheme those working at factories, construction sites and other trades for meagre salaries are covered and the state government is responsible for clearing their medical claims but the state government has turned a blind eye towards the welfare of those belonging to poor financial background.
Holding the state government, Health and Family Welfare Department and senior State Medical Commissioner responsible for the tardy pace of settling the claims, the social activist said these were the figures for only Bathinda district and if one were to collect similar data for the entire district, the results would be shocking.

Two Degrees of Separation: The Controversy Over Modi’s Educational Qualifications Explained

The Wire‎‎: New Delhi: Sunday, May 01, 2016.
Why was the PMO reticent in providing information about Modi’s degrees? And what could be the political fallout? The Wire breaks it down.
The controversy over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s educational qualifications taken centre-stage once again after the Central Information Commission (CIC), acting at the behest of a RTI application by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, directed the Prime Minister’s Office to provide ‘specific roll number and year’ of the prime minister’s degrees from Delhi University (DU) and Gujarat University (GU).
The CIC said that this would help them locate Modi’s records easily, following which the universities could provide relevant information about his degrees to the public.
The debate over Modi’s educational qualifications started last year after various RTI applications seeking details about his degrees were refused by the universities and the PMO.
This had led to suspicion among Modi’s political opponents that he may have provided wrong information in his election affidavits. His election affidavits mention that he finished his undergraduate degree through a distance learning programme from DU in 1978 and his MA from GU in 1983.
The debate has fuelled yet another spat between Aam Aadmi Party leader Kejriwal and the BJP machinery. When did this controversy erupt? Why was the PMO reticent in providing information about Modi’s degrees? And what could be it political fallout? The Wire breaks it down.
Neither the constitution nor the Representation of the People Act specify minimum educational qualifications for getting elected as an MP or even becoming prime minister. So why is a fuss being made about Modi’s degrees?
The emerging controversy over Modi’s degrees is not about whether he his qualified to serve as an MP or prime minister but whether he made a false statement on oath in an affidavit that is a crucial part of the election process. Not having a degree does not disqualify a candidate in any way but if a candidate says he has degrees which he does not possess, then that would amount to having made a false declaration and misled voters.
When did the controversy begin?
Modi, in his affidavit for the 2014 general elections, acknowledged having been married to Jashodaben for the first time. In his earlier affidavits for the Gujarat assembly polls, he had claimed to be unmarried. This had led to a huge political furore in the campaign leading up to the general elections. Modi’s inconsistent claims regarding his marital status fuelled further doubts about his educational qualifications. Moreover, the controversy around Minister of Human Resources and Development Smriti Irani’s fake Yale University degree goaded many of Modi’s political opponents to probe his educational qualifications in 2015.
Consequently, a number of RTI applications were filed in the PMO, GU and DU to scrutinise Modi’s claims of education. His election affidavits in the 2014 parliamentary polls claimed he had undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. Likewise, his election affidavits for the 2012 and 2007 Gujarat assembly polls claimed the same.
So what was the response of the PMO and the two universities?
In response to an RTI filed on the matter, the PMO advised the RTI activist to approach the Election Commission of India (EC) and refused to divulge any information. The PMO said in reply to the RTI request, “The information about the PM’s education qualification is available on the PMO’s website http://www.pmindia.gov.in under the hyperlink ‘Know Your Prime Minister’ which can be accessed by the applicant,” and asked him to get the required information from the EC.
The EC too added to the mystery by saying that this information was not available with them and the applicant could access them by visiting “http://eci.nic.in under the head Affidavits of candidates.”
Following this, a Gujarat-based social activist filed another RTI at GU seeking details of his masters degree, which was again denied by the university. The university sent a one-line reply in Gujarati, “Under the RTI Act of 2005, this information can’t be made public.”
But the RTI Act allows for appeals if the information sought is denied. Was an appeal filed?
When the activist, who chose to remain anonymous, moved the appellate authority against GU’s reply, he was asked to file the RTI requests all over again and told the PMO was not obliged to provide any information if GU does not have the requisite information. The appellate body, headed by S.E. Rizvi, said, “A public authority is obliged to provide information, which is held in its records and, in the matter in hand where the requisite information does not form part of office records, the contention that the PMO should provide the same is not correct.”
The appellate authority interpreted section 2 (J) of the RTI Act to relieve the PMO from divulging this information. It said that since no minimum educational qualification was required to become the prime minister, the PMO is not under any obligation to possess details about Modi’s educational degrees.
The secrecy around Modi’s degrees was further magnified when DU also denied any information on his undergraduate degree details in April 2016. To Delhi resident Hans Raj Jain’s RTI, the DU said that the information sought is too general and cited its inability to find any information without a roll number. DU’s plea was accepted by the CIC, which dismissed the case.
Why did the controversy come to the limelight again?
After Jain’s plea was rejected, Kejriwal on April 28 wrote a strongly-worded letter to Chief Information Commissioner M. Sridhar Acharyulu.
“According to some reports (details are attached), Prime Minister Narendra Modi is preventing the concerned department from releasing details about his educational qualification. Allegations are being made that the PM has no qualification and degree at all,” said the letter, written in Hindi, which also questioned the CIC’s autonomy.
Kejriwal in his letter said, “Nation has the right to know the educational details of the Prime Minister. His educational qualifications should be released in the public at earliest. The RTI Act gives us the right to know the qualifications of the person holding the position of the Prime Minister.”
Thereafter, the CIC treated this letter as an RTI application and directed the PMO to give Modi’s roll numbers to the universities so that they could find out the details of his degrees.
“Not prescribing the education (degree based) qualification for contesting electoral offices is one of the great features of Indian democracy. What is needed is education and not degrees. However, when a citizen holding the position of Chief Ministership wants to know the degrees-related information of the Prime Minister, it will be proper to disclose. The commission directs the CPIOs of Delhi University and Gujarat University to make best possible search for the information regarding degrees in the name of ‘Mr Narendra Damodar Modi’ in the year 1978 (Graduation in DU) and 1983 (Post-Graduation in GU) and provide it to the appellant Mr. Kejriwal as soon as possible,” the CIC order said.
What impact will this controversy have on national politics?
Both Kejriwal and Modi have been attacking each other in public rallies for a long time. Apart from the public spat in rallies, Kejriwal has been accusing the Central government of intervening in the daily affairs of the Delhi government. His party has made it out to be a political attack by the BJP, which the AAP defeated in the Delhi assembly elections comprehensively.
In the recent past, Kejriwal and AAP have been the most vocal opponents of the BJP regarding the Union government’s handling of political and administrative affairs. Clearly, Kejriwal is trying to propel himself and his party as the political alternative to the BJP. The AAP’s long-standing campaign has been to target non-transparent governments, be it during the Congress-led UPA government, or now. The AAP has built its support base by rallying against corruption and opacity in governance. Therefore, Kejriwal has successfully catapulted the reluctance on the part of PMO to divulge details of Modi’s educational qualifications into a campaign against an opaque government.
In its political fight against the BJP, the AAP has relied not on big exposes against the government but on its small governance failures that have a cumulative effect on people. With the CIC granting Kejriwal’s request, it is a small victory for the AAP over the BJP. Kerjiwal’s deft handling of the issue of Modi’s educational qualifications is sure to get him more friends than enemies.
What happens if DU and GU are unable to confirm the award of degrees to Modi, or say categorically that no degree was awarded by them to Modi in the years mentioned by the prime minister in his election affidavit?
At present, giving false information on oath is listed as a criminal offence in the Section 191 of the Indian Penal Code. It says:
“Giving false evidence. -Whoever, being legally bound by an oath or by an express provision of law to state the truth, or being bound by law to make a declaration upon any subject, makes any statement which is false, and which he either knows or believes to be false or does not believe to be true, is said to give false evidence.”
A little bit of history on election affidavits may be worthwhile to understand the legalities of the process. Following a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by the Association for Democratic Reforms in 1999, election affidavits were first put in place after a series of court orders by the Delhi high court and the Supreme Court in the early 2000s.  After these judgments, the EC made election affidavits that required each candidate to declare his/her criminal, financial, and educational background mandatory.
At present, the EC does not have any exclusive punitive powers if a candidate is found to have provided false information. There are no verification procedures to ensure that candidates do not provide wrong information in election affidavits. The ADR, an advocacy organisation for electoral reforms, has been demanding the Election Commission of India develop a proper verification mechanism for election affidavits.
However, given the constraints of time and resources, the EC has not been able to do much about it. Jagdeep Chhokar of the ADR told The Wire: “The EC does not verify.To our demand in the court, the SC had said that the EC should take the help of intelligence agencies to verify the information. However, the Union of India filed a petition in the SC saying that it should not be done. The EC gave an affidavit saying that it was impossible for it to verify information of so many candidates in such a short span of time.”
Chhokar said that the problem the EC faces is actually serious. “There are 7000 candidates in a general elections. In 15 days, you cannot expect the EC to do the verification. Following the EC’s and the government of India’s petition, the SC in 2002 said that verification cannot be done. Subsequently, we have been asking the EC to verify the information of only the winners within six months of their election. The EC has been saying that it sends the entire lot of affidavits to the income tax department for verification. However, the income tax department is not willing to do that.”
If the EC can’t act, are there other legal penalties for making an incorrect declaration in an election nomination-related affidavit?
At present only IPC Section 191 lists wrong information on oath as a criminal offence. The Representation of People (Amendment) Act, 2010 under which elections are held does not list out any penalty against submitting a false election affidavit. The courts have intervened occasionally. For instance, when Modi in his Gujarat assembly elections had left the column of his marital status blank, the SC, hearing a petition filed by Sunil Sarawagi in 2013, ruled that a candidate’s nomination can be rejected by the EC if a column is left blank. In his 2014 parliamentary election nomination, Modi was, therefore, forced to declare that he was married to Jashodaben.
The EC is demanding some reforms in the whole process but thinks that the verification of so many affidavits is not feasible. “The EC has no way to verify. We got only two hours to accept or reject a nomination. But what we do is to put all the election affidavits in the public domain so that citizens can themselves verify. However, we had been demanding that the EC may have some punitive powers for candidates who lie in affidavits. This will act as a deterrent. The Justice A.P Shah Law commission report  released in February 2014 also recommends some of these reforms.,” former chief election commissioner S.Y Qureshi told The Wire.
The Law Commission has recommended amending the RP Act on the issue of filing false affidavits. It has said that false affidavits could be grounds for disqualification, that it should ‘qualify as corrupt practice under the Act.’ It also said that the maximum punishment prescribed at present should be increased from six months imprisonment to a minimum of two years. “Consequently, trials of cases in relation to false affidavits must also be conducted on a day to day basis. Further, a gap of one week should be introduced between the last date for filing nominations and the date of scrutiny. This would give adequate time to file an objection on nomination papers,” the commission recommended.
However, given the pressures it may create for legislators, it looks highly unlikely that the BJP-led government would implement these recommendations in the near future.

MPs may complain, but these five RTI cases show why information is power in India

The News Minute: New Delhi: Sunday, May 01, 2016.
Anyone listening to MPs complain in Parliament about the Right to Information (RTI) Act recently might wonder why this frivolous law exists. After all, when Samajwadi Party MP, Naresh Agarwal said the RTI was being misused, he found much support in the Rajya Sabha with NCP member Praful Patel saying the Act had destroyed all objectivity since bureaucrats only wondered “what will come out under the RTI. And Congress MP Rajeev Shukla hinted that RTI activists are making money off of the Act.
Even the government, on its part, agreed to look into the concerns raised about the misuse of RTI.
But this seems another example of wanting to throw the baby out with the bathwater, as even a casual peek at recent history suggests the revolutionary act that came in 2005 has pulled more than its fair share of weight. Here are just some of the biggest examples of the RTI being put to great use:
Adarsh Scam:
The 31-storey Adarsh Housing Society in Colaba, Mumbai was originally supposed to be a 6-storey building for war widows and heroes of the 1999 Kargil War. RTI applications filed by activists Simpreet Singh and Yogacharya Anandji brought to light how bureaucrats, politicians and military officials had flouted rules and acquired flats in the building below markets rates. The revelations ended with then Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan having to resign and on Friday the Bombay High Court ordered the demolition of the building.
Public Distribution Scam in Assam:
Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti, a non-governmental organisation based in Assam, filed an RTI request in 2007 that revealed irregularities in the distribution of food meant for people below poverty line. The RTI resulted in the allegations being probed and several government officials being arrested.
Commonwealth Games:
The Commonwealth Games scam or the CWG scam that left the Indian government red-faced was riddled with misappropriation of funds and corruption charges. An RTI filed by a non-profit organisation called Housing and Land Rights Networks revealed how Rs 744 crore from social welfare projects for Dalits had been diverted to the Commonwealth Games from 2005-2006 to 2010-2011.
Government Primary School Scholarship:
When NCP Minister Praful Patel mocked the RTI act by saying that any “chaiwala” and “paanwadi” can ask for any information these days, he didn’t seem to have reckoned with cases like that of Manoj from Vailpoor, a village in Nizamabad district from Telangana, into account. Manoj, a beedi worker’s son and a grade 4 student, decided to find out why 15 students studying in the Government Primary School in the area weren’t receiving the promised scholarship amount form the Labour welfare department for the academic year 2011-12. Manoj’s RTI application got 10 children their scholarships.
IIM’s Admission Criteria:
A visually-impaired girl Vaishnavi Kasturi was denied a seat in the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore in 2007 even after scoring well in the entrance examination. Kasturi filed an RTI application to find out their selection process. The RTI application revealed that the entrance mattered little as compared to Class X and XII results.
Elaborating on why India needs the RTI, journalist and RTI activist Ritu Goyal said “When you file an RTI you get documents with the ‘notings’ of officers on the side which sometimes are more telling than the document itself and makes the bureaucrat directly responsible. This could be one of the reasons why politicians and bureaucrats are running scared,” she further added.
According to Goyal, not only has RTI made information accessible to the public but since its introduction government departments have started putting out information online on websites to avoid getting RTI applications. Thus the Act has brought far more information into the public domain that have emerged directly from RTI queries.
Indeed, the success of the RTI is visible from the extent of violence that has turned against activists. Talking about how the government should be working towards protecting RTI activists and journalists, Dr KV Babu, a physician and RTI activist from Kannur, said “We as RTI activists are very scared. Just two months ago there was a case in Mangalore where an RTI activist was killed in broad day light. The RTI Act doesn’t have a provision to keep the applicants name a secret. RTI activists should be looked at as whistleblowers and should be protected.”
As for those who look at filing RTI applications as a money-making activity, Gangadhar Patil, a journalist who has filed around 3000 RTI applications said, “It is true that people misuse the Act but screwdrivers and knifes are also used to kill people but that doesn’t mean we stop manufacturing them. Similarly, just because of some people who are misusing the Act we shouldn’t punish others who are using it for genuine reasons.”