Saturday, February 25, 2017

RTI activist trying to expose fraud in private schools stabbed

Times of India‎‎‎‎: Hyderabad: Saturday, February 25, 2017.
Seeking to know the truth using the Right to Information (RTI) Act can prove costly, and the latest to face this reality is Vakiti Madhubabu, a 34-year-old activist. Madhubabu is currently battling it out at Gandhi Hospital after being stabbed by a masked man near Jagadgirigutta bus stop at 9.45 pm on Thursday night.
Having sustained grievous injuries on his neck and arms, Madhubabu suspects that the attack was because of several RTI applications he filed to expose wrongdoings of private schools.
"I could not see the attacker as his face was covered, but I suspect it could be done at the behest of the private schools' lobby. I had tried to expose how several schools were running without recognition from the district education office. Many of them fleece parents by collecting excess fees," Madhubabu told TOI.
Barely able to speak through an oxygen mask at the emergency block of Gandhi Hospital, Madhubabu said he had filed around 20 RTI applications with the education department. "What I found was that many of these schools used fake certificates to obtain recognition from the district education office in Ranga Reddydistrict," he said.
The Jagadgirigitta police registered a case under section 307 (Attempt to murder) of the IPC on Friday morning, but there have been no moves to crack the case despite several eyewitnesses as well as CCTV cameras near the attack site.
"We have registered a case and are investigating," said P Srinivas, station house officer (SHO) at Jagadgirigutta police station, which falls under the Cyberabad commissionerate.
Madhubabu had earlier lodged a complaint against the Jagadgirigutta police. He had approached the VI metropolitan magistrate court in Medchal on January 20 this year after he was allegedly manhandled by cops following an RTI he filed against a senior police officer. Madhubabu had reportedly lodged a complaint over violation of the Flag Code after the Tricolour was seen hung wrongly atop the Jagadgirigutta police station. SHO Srinivas did not shed more light on this.
Rakesh Reddy Dubbudu, convenor of United Forum for RTI Campaign, Telangana, condemned the attack and sought a through investigation. "Whatever may be the motive behind the attack, it is a dastardly act," he said. The forum is now planning to take the case to all the authorities, including the State Human Rights Commission, Station Information Commission and top police authorities.

Budget 2017-18: Over 4K copies printed after ‘shortage’ last year

Indian Express‎‎‎: New Delhi: Saturday, February 25, 2017.
Citing “unnecessary criticism” due to shortage of Budget copies last year, the Budget division under the Ministry of Finance doubled the number of printed copies of 2017-18 Union Budget this year. After receiving communication from Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs, the Ministry of Finance directed printing of over 4,000 copies of 2017-18 Union Budget to avoid “any shortage and complaints of shortage” experienced last year.
The Ministry of Finance had printed total 2,042 copies of 2016-17 Budget last year, lower than 5,060 copies of 2015-16 Budget printed a year earlier, official records accessed by The Indian Express through a Right To Information (RTI) query showed.
“Due to the restricted number of copies printed, the Budget division faced unnecessary criticism. Keeping in mind, the number of sets given in 2015-16 and the demand for sets, it is proposed to print 4,025 English sets and 480 Hindi sets,” a Budget division official wrote in an internal communication in October 2016. Last year, the Ministry of Finance had to print additional 1,000 copies of 2016-17 Budget after both houses of Parliament, Reserve Bank of India and offices of Finance Minister and Ministers of State for Finance demanded more printed copies owing to a shortage.
The Budget division official in another set of internal communication said that they do not intend to print any additional copies this year. The maximum share of printed copies of Union Budget for 2017-18 were allocated to Lok Sabha with 650 English copies and 200 Hindi copies, followed by 525 copies to Press Information Bureau (PIB) and 425 copies to Rajya Sabha. Around 150 copies of Budget were allocated for circulation among secretaries and financial advisers of ministries.
The PIB had informed Budget division that 100 sets of 2017-18 Budget allocated for them would be insufficient to meet their demand and requested for at least 1,000 sets for distribution among media persons. In view of the measures for bringing down the expenses related to Budget preparation, the Standing Committee on Finance of 16th Lok Sabha had recommended constitution of expert group to review and rationalise the Budget documents. With an aim to make Budget preparation as cost effective, environment friendly, the Ministry of Finance last year rationalised the Budget copies to around 2,000. However, after distribution to all stakeholders, entire quantity got exhausted and therefore, it was decided to print over 4,000 copies of Budget for 2017-18.

Lungs choked: Majority TB cases in Telangana from capital

Times of India‎‎: Hyderabad: Saturday, February 25, 2017.
In what is likely to raise a serious cause of concern, the Telangana state recorded a whopping 45,160 new Tuberculosis (TB) cases in 2016, up from 41,343 cases in 2015. The data was obtained by a city-based NGO Helping Hand Foundation under Right to Information Act.
Though public sector hospitals continued to report most of the new TB cases, the increase in numbers is being attributed to a big jump in detection of new TB cases by private hospitals as compared to in 2015. While public sector hospitals detected 39,375 new cases in 2016 and 39,498 new cases in 2015, private hospitals reported 5,785 new cases in 2016 and 1,845 new cases in 2015.
"With TB being a notifiable disease because of its airborne nature in spreading the disease, the numbers of new TB cases being reported have increased in the private sector in 2016. But still, many private hospitals do not report such cases to the he alth authorities," said Mujtaba Hasan Askari, founder, NGO Helping Hand Foundation.
What's shocking is that when it comes to districts, the data shows Hyderabad topping the charts with highest number of 6,309 new Tuberculosis (TB) cases detected in state run hospitals in 2016. Not far behind is Ranga Reddy district with 3,972 new TB cases during the same period.
This is not all as the data obtained by NGO Helping Hand Foundation using Right to Information act (RTI) from Telangana State TB office shows another stark and shocking truth: Health authorities are clueless about 213 missing patients suffering from the deadly multi drug-re sistant (MDR) version of TB detected in last two years.
"In last two years, health authorities detected 1,722 new drug resistant TB cases including 905 cases in 2016 and 817 cases in 2015 respectively . But what is a cause of serious alarm is that no one knows the whereabouts of 213 drug resistant TB patients. They can surely infect others if they remain untreated," added Mujtaba Hasan Askari.
In fact, experts point out how routine TB cases turn into MDR TB through negligence of the patients. "TB germs take a long time and multiple drugs to die.That's why TB medicines have to be taken from six to nine months and sometimes even longer. For MDR TB, one needs to be treated for two to two and half years at least," said Dr Nalini N, consultant pulmonolgist at the Continental Hospital.
However, sources said that the Telangana state Revised National TB Control Program (RNTCP) office is yet to introduce the new block buster drug `Bedaquiline' (BDQ) for treating MDR TB patients. "Bedaquiline is a modern drug. It will soon be rolled out after TB officials receive training ext month," said Dr Ch Surya Prakash, state TB officer and joint director, RNTCP.

RTI activist trying to expose fraud in private schools stabbed

Times of India‎‎: Hyderabad: Saturday, February 25, 2017.
Seeking to know the truth using the Right to Information (RTI) Act can prove costly, and the latest to face this reality is Vakiti Madhubabu, a 34-year-old activist. Madhubabu is currently battling it out at Gandhi Hospital after being stabbed by a masked man near Jagadgirigutta bus stop at 9.45 pm on Thursday night.
Having sustained grievous injuries on his neck and arms, Madhubabu suspects that the attack was because of several RTI applications he filed to expose wrongdoings of private schools.
"I could not see the attacker as his face was covered, but I suspect it could be done at the behest of the private schools' lobby. I had tried to expose how several schools were running without recognition from the district education office. Many of them fleece parents by collecting excess fees," Madhubabu told TOI.
Barely able to speak through an oxygen mask at the emergency block of Gandhi Hospital, Madhubabu said he had filed around 20 RTI applications with the education department. "What I found was that many of these schools used fake certificates to obtain recognition from the district education office in Ranga Reddydistrict," he said.
The Jagadgirigitta police registered a case under section 307 (Attempt to murder) of the IPC on Friday morning, but there have been no moves to crack the case despite several eyewitnesses as well as CCTV cameras near the attack site.
"We have registered a case and are investigating," said P Srinivas, station house officer (SHO) at Jagadgirigutta police station, which falls under the Cyberabad commissionerate.
Madhubabu had earlier lodged a complaint against the Jagadgirigutta police. He had approached the VI metropolitan magistrate court in Medchal on January 20 this year after he was allegedly manhandled by cops following an RTI he filed against a senior police officer. Madhubabu had reportedly lodged a complaint over violation of the Flag Code after the Tricolour was seen hung wrongly atop the Jagadgirigutta police station. SHO Srinivas did not shed more light on this.
Rakesh Reddy Dubbudu, convenor of United Forum for RTI Campaign, Telangana, condemned the attack and sought a through investigation. "Whatever may be the motive behind the attack, it is a dastardly act," he said. The forum is now planning to take the case to all the authorities, including the State Human Rights Commission, Station Information Commission and top police authorities.

CIC seeks detailed report from Oriental Bank of Commerce on loans extended to Vijay Mallya

India Today: New Delhi: Saturday, February 25, 2017.
Troubles are mounting for embattled businessman Vijay Mallya as the Central Information Commission has asked the Oriental Bank of Commerce and several probe agencies to explain a loan extended to his now-defunct Kingfisher Airlines.
The one-time billionaire, who moved to Britain last March, is wanted in India in connection with loan defaults of Rs 9,000 crore. The decision of the CIC, dated February 10, came against the backdrop of an RTI application in which the petitioner had asked from OBC the "total outstanding of M/s Kingfisher Airlines" towards the bank as also "details of security/collateral held by your bank", apart from "third-party audit conducted" by the bank to "verify the value of the collateral of M/s Kingfisher Airlines".
The petitioner, Gurugram-based information activist Harinder Dhingra, had also asked what the bank had done to recover the loan, the names of officials who had processed it and the notings on the file of the loan. M/s Kingfisher did not respond to Mail Today's queries despite repeated attempts till the filing of the story.
Dhingra has accused the OBC of having lent the once premier air carrier Rs 54.52 crore without any collateral as guarantee for the loan.
PETITIONER SMELLS FOUL PLAY
"It is strange that such innocuous information that pertains to public money be denied in the name of hampering investigation," he said.
"It is also strange that the bank does not know of what happened to the money it lent to the company- it doesn't know if the company has been declared a defaulter. There is at this moment not even the preliminary investigation has been launched and yet we can't get information."
The bank, however, did not furnish any information apart from how much the airlines owed it, stonewalling behind Section 8 (1) h of the RTI Act, arguing that "the matter was pending investigation before different investigating agencies and disclosure of the information could hamper the investigation process."
Mallya, once called the King of Good Times for cavorting with celebrities and publishing a much-sought-after swimsuit calendar, has been mired in a growing series of legal battles following the collapse of his carrier and was last month charged with conspiracy and fraud by the CBI.
CIC NOTES LOOPHOLES' IN BANK'S CONDUCT
In another revelation, the CIC order also noted that the bank did not even know whether it had declared Kingfisher Airlines a "willful defaulter". "…the representative of the Respondents (OBC) was unable to state whether the borrower had been declared a willful defaulter by the Respondent Bank or not".
The commission, however, took strong exception to the bank's denial to furnish information sought by the RTI application by simply invoking the stonewalling clause of the RTI Act.
"It is clear from the above (CIC quotes from Delhi High Court judgment of 2007) that information cannot be denied by the CPIO by merely invoking Section 8 (1) h, without giving adequate justification as to how disclosure of the information would impeded the process of investigation," it said. "The representative of the Respondents did not make any submissions to provide such a justification…" Unsatisfied with the answer received, the commission has asked the three investigation agencies-CBI, ED and SFIO-to put their submissions regarding why and how, if at all, the information could be detrimental to the investigation, before the next hearing of the case, on April 3.
The commission also asked that M/s Kingfisher Airlines also be represented at the next hearing, in case they want to make any submission. While the bank might have denied releasing the details to the petitioner, the commission asked the central public information officer (CPIO) of the bank to "file to the commission a report regarding the current status of the loan, the amount outstanding and whether the borrower has been declared a willful defaulter or not." The report is to be filed by March 20.

Gujarat BJP MP instructs officials not to provide info under RTI, activist objects, complains to Lok Sabha speaker

COUNTERVIEW: Ahmedabad: Saturday, February 25, 2017.
When a law maker become law breaker, democracy is in danger. But when a law maker instructs offices to break a law, the situation becomes even more dangerous. On February 3, 2017, BJP MP from Navsari (Gujarat) CR Patil, wrote a letter to the Surat Municipal Corporation (SMC) virtually instructing it not give information to citizens under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005.
The letter alleges that “not only SMC but most of the public authorities are receiving applications under RTI Act by frivolous applicants, blackmailers and money extorters.” However, the letter does not give any data, reason or justification that may form the base of the allegation.
Patil further says that in the case of SMC most of the applications are related to “Illegal constructions”, and after receiving information, citizens blackmail the “illegal construction owners”, adding, they even give threats for demolition. Again, he does not give the list of owners of illegal constructions who are being threatened.
Patil recommends that SMC should prepare a list of such users and should blacklist them, and should instruct all offices not to give any information under the RTI Act, 2005. He adds, his recommendation should be taken up at the coordination committee or Sankalan Samiti meeting of SMC.
The letter, written by Patil on February 2, was received by SMC in February 3, and was marked to all head offices of SMC on the same day. It was also marked to the Sankalan Samiti, which probably was on February 4, 2017, as per the noting on the letter.
Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel (MAGP), an organization of concerned citizen working to spread RTI at the grassroots level, has strongly opposed the letter, as also the culture/mindset of secrecy of the MP, and has made written representation to the Lok Sabha speaker.
The representation states that an MP takes oath to honour the constitution and laws of the state and cannot outrightly instruct or recommend for violation of any law passed by Parliament. It appeals to the Lok Sabha speaker to seek explanation from CR Patil for the basis of such “unconstitutional” act by him.
MAGP founder Harinesh Pandya says that Patil has “written his letter on his letter head and he alleges that RTI users are frivolous, and clearly recommends blacklisting and not providing any information under RTI.”
“Has he submitted any data to the Lok Sabha and taken permission for writing such recommendatory letter? The MP is officially admitting that he is dishonouring a law passed by Parliament. He is accountable towards people, also towards the Lok Sabha. He should be asked explain with data the rationale, reason and justification for his unconstitutional act”, Pandya insists.
“Elected representatives may give instructions to statutory bodies or bureaucracy on people’s issues, but not for violating any law. If such cases repeat, it will result into lawlessness. We have started a mass letter writing campaign condemning this act to send a strong message that our elected representatives cannot misuse the power given to them by people and go unchallenged. Our campaign will continue till Patil withdraws his recommendation”, Pandya warns.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Sri Lankan Youth Are Using RTI To Help War-Affected Families : Shiran Illanperuma

Roar.lk: Sri Lanka: Friday, February 24, 2017.
Hundreds of displaced families lined up outside the Vavuniya Divisional Secretariat (DS) yesterday (February 22), precious documents in hand, hoping to find answers about the legal status of lands they were resettled on by paramilitary groups during the war.
Perhaps the most stunningly organised use of the Right To Information Act yet, the entity responsible for this is a little-known youth organisation called Association for Friendship and Love (AFRIEL), which was founded in 2013.
According to AFRIEL co-founder and chairman Ravindra De Silva (32), the youth organisation has been cooking up a campaign to help war-affected families in the north and east utilise the RTI for months now.
“We have documented thousands of cases of human rights violations but the government has rarely provided information. We struggled over how to move past this and thought that the RTI might be a good solution so we started organising forums at the village level,” says De Silva.
Yesterday alone, AFRIEL assisted 270 families form Nelukkulam, Thaskoddam, Easankoddam, Kathankoddam, and Ampikaipalankoddam in filing inquires into the ownership of lands given to them by paramilitary groups like the LTTE.
Since the enactment of the RTI, AFRIEL has assisted families in making around 700 applications usually relating to issues of military occupied land or disappeared loved ones. De Silva says they hope to facilitate 3,000 applications by the end of the month.
Aside from facilitating applications from families, AFRIEL has also launched some of its own, having visited every DS office in the Northern Province.
Says De Silva, “We asked about how much land is being occupied by the military, and how much of this is state-owned and privately-owned. We have also asked for the names of the original owners of the private lands.”
“We asked for details of disappeared people in the area. Some families have made complaints to the Human Rights Commission about such issues and not heard back for over 15 years. We want to use the RTI to follow up on these cases.”
Local government officers have been, for the most part, extremely forthcoming, according to De Silva. All of AFRIEL’s RTI applications have so far been accepted and acknowledged without charge. Already, two DS offices have promised to provide the information requested.
But AFRIEL’s plans don’t stop at northern government offices. The youth organisation hopes to make a trip south to Colombo with around 300 victims by the end of the month to file RTI applications at the Resettlement Ministry, Land Ministry, and Defence Ministry among other authorities.
Human rights activist and adviser to INFORM, Ruki Fernando, expresses cautious optimism about AFRIEL’s campaign. Fernando himself has been involved in helping war-affected families look for disappeared loved ones and military occupied land long before the enactment of the RTI.
“It is too early to tell what the results will be from these applications. Public authorities tend to be very choosy when it comes to political issues. Requests regarding military occupied land or disappeared people are very contentious and come with a lot of local and international lobbying,” says Fernando.
Given the recent resurgence of protests in the north, Fernando says the RTI can work in tandem with popular demonstrations to appeal to not only the government, but also media and civil society in Colombo to play a role in resolving conflict issues.
“In principle, I want to use the RTI in my own work with war-affected families. But I will wait a little until the results start trickling in. For too long I’ve been banging my head against statutory institutions, wasting money and taking risks with little achieved in the end.”
An unusual side-effect of AFRIEL’s volley of RTI applications is a supposed improvement in the efficiency of bureaucratic processes at local government offices, as De Silva claims that the slew of RTI applications has forced them to up their game.
“One government worker told me that he didn’t realise just how many people in the region don’t even have birth certificates or national IDs. So I think we can expect some systematic changes as DS offices are forced to coordinate more with Grama Niladharis, collect more information, and learn new processes,” says De Silva.
But it’s not just government workers who are learning through this process. Citizens, too, are familiarising themselves with local government mechanisms and the various tools at their disposal to seek redress for grievances.
“We found that people’s knowledge about legal procedures was very low,” explains De Silva. “Because of the conflict, many people are more familiar with the LTTE’s civil administration, so it is a challenge to educate youngsters about legal procedures.”
Originally from Galle, De Silva found himself in Vavuniya when helping monitor the 2013 Northern Provincial Council elections as the regional coordinator for Peoples Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL). During this time, he befriended several local youth, with whom he discussed issues pertaining to freedom of expression and post-war traumas.
“We just started as friends and discussed how we can help each other. Eventually, we decided to mobilise more youth to get involved in organising and coordinating with local government to solve long-standing issues,” says De Silva.
Today, AFRIEL has a growing network of ‘citizen watchers’ throughout the north. De Silva says that the intention is to recruit two youths from every village and train them to identify community grievances and facilitate solutions through the island-wide network.
(Editor’s note: The opening lines of this article previously stated that families were looking for answers regarding lands occupied by the military. This has been amended to read “answers about the legal status of lands they were resettled on by paramilitary groups during the war.”)

A man on mission to create a transparent society

Tehelka: New Delhi: Friday, February 24, 2017.
Within five years, this gentleman has filed about 8,800 applications under RTI and more than 3,663 second appeals before State Information Commission, Haryana, Central Information Commission (CIC), New Delhi and Rajasthan State Information Commission. It goes to Harinder Dhingra’s credit that not a single application or appeal has been dismissed as “without merit”.
On his appeal, Central Information Commissioner Madabhushi Sridhar Acharyulu, had recently directed the PMO to collect information about national anthem Jan Gan Man and national song Vande Matram and provide it to the petitioner. To Dhingra’s RTI query earlier, the PMO had replied that it did not have any information. Dhingra had also sought to know whether Vande Mataram is the national song.
Another RTIs by Dhingra sought clarification whether tiger is the national animal and that peacock is national bird and lotus is national flower. He has also asked whether hockey is the national game.
The CIC has asked the Ministry of Environment and Forests, the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) of National Tiger Conservation Authority, the CPIO of Ministry Of Youth Affairs & Sports to provide relevant information to the petitioner.
He got a path-breaking order of Haryana State Information Commission, declaring Gurugram-based Medanta and Artemis hospitals as public authorities under RTI Act 2005 for disclosing about organ transplant cases treated by them.
In another major breakthrough, through his appeals before State Information Commission, Haryana, Dhingra got Sehwag Public School in Jhajjar, run by cricketer Virender Sehwag, into the transparency net by getting it declared as public authority under RTI Act 2005. The Sehwag Public School Jhajjar is constructed on 33 Acres land given on nominal rent by Haryana Govt.
At the age of 60, he works 10 hours daily. Punam, his wife, supports and extends helping hand. “Punam is a pillar of strength for me as she not only backs me but also encourages me to continue with my work,” says Dhingra. Playing with his eight years old grandson Garv helps Dhingra ease his work stress.
His son gives him 20,000 every month to file RTIs, applications and PILs. Besides the support of family members, Dhingra has a dedicated team of activists, which include SK Sharma, Dr Amar Chauhan, Om Parkash Kataria, Sidharth Bhatia, Mohender Kumar Badgujer, Mohit Khatana, Sagar Yadav, Sudhir Yadav and Aseem Takyar.
Nine years back when Dhingra’s export business took a hit due to the global slowdown, he had to sell both his factories that produced readymade garments in Gurugram and Manesar to clear bank loans. During follow-up with the government and customs authorities, Dhingra noticed that officers created a lot of problems. To expose them, he started filing RTI applications.
Dhingra faces anonymous complaints against him and his family levelling ridiculous allegations. “Of course there are moments of depression and I get tempted to leave everything when system does not work at all but after few days I decide to continue the fight,” said the RTI activist, who wants to emulate former US president Barack Obama to create a transparent society.
“In the land of Mahabharta, I am doing Karma without thinking about for the results,” he added.
Through his RTI applications and appeals, Dhigra got the Haryana Wakf Board declared as “Public Authority”. He has been instrumental in getting the Amity University; Ansal University; ITM University, Gurgaon; Manav Rachna University, Faridabad; Baba Mast Nath University, Rohtak; NILM University, Kaithal; and SGT University, Farooq Nagar ,Gurugram, declared as public authority under the RTI Act.
Dhingra was able to get an order from State Information Commission, Haryana directing, Medanta- Medicity Hospital and Artemis Hospital, Guru ram to display on its website the mandatory free treatment being given to poor patients.
He has exposed the Gurugram Police’s lackluster approach in implementing the RTI Act as appeals are disposed off even before receiving it. Replies given are generally contradicted later.
He has got Kingdom of Dreams Gurugram and Energy Research Institute Gurugram declared as public authority. On his appeal, Haryana Information Commission asked the Director General of Prisons to provide the information about under-trials on its website to enable them to take benefit of right to release as stipulated under Section 436 A of CrPC. This order is likely to free more than 100 under-trials who are awaiting the trial of the section under which they are booked and have undergone more than half of the prison’ss term prescribed under those Sections of IPC. Seventy of one hundred such prisoners have since been released as intimated to Dhingra by DG Prison’s office in response to his RTI application.
Due to his RTI applications and subsequent appeals before CIC, Oriental Bank of Commerce was ordered to release the figure of loan given to Kingfisher Airlines to buy the plane from the US without any collateral security. Dhingra got an order from the State Information Commission, Haryana, directing Food and Civil Supplies Department in Gurugram and Rewari to put the list of beneficiaries of BPL category on its website. This decision would check the pilferage of public money. As a result of the same, the government admitted before SIC that they have found more than three lakhs illegal ration cards which have since been cancelled. Thus saving a lot of public money.
Dhingra trained Public Information Officers of CPWD in Northern Region (Delhi), Himachal Pradesh Institute of Public Administration and Haryana Institute of Public Administration Gurugram about RTI Act without any fees. He was selected for an award for bringing a maximum number of “bodies” under the domain under RTI Act 2005 in India by DoPT & Haryana Government and award money of 5,000 was donated to CM Relief Fund.
Dhingra had filed an RTI application October 21, 2015, before Haryana government’s Town and Country Planning Director wanting to know the outstanding amount payable by builders to Government of Haryana as on 31st Oct 2015 and was shocked to find that by that date 12,659.88 crores were outstanding. Out of which only 3323.54 crores were stayed by the courts. Dhingra says that it meant that 9336.34 Crores could be recovered by the government immediately as almost all the defaulters have properties in Haryana having more value than the outstanding payable to the state.
Dhinra has sought Haryana Chief Minister’s permission to prosecute state Finance Minister Captain Abhimnayu under Prevention of Corruption Act on November 21, 2016, for evading stamp duty in mines owned by his family. Due to Dhingra’s efforts, Sexual Harassment Prevention Committee has been constituted in Gurugram. His complaint to Human Rights Commission, Haryana, resulted in installation of a lift as well as sitting place for litigants in Gurugram Courts.

ENSURE THAT RTI DOES NOT FAIL

Daily Mirror: Sri Lanka: Friday, February 24, 2017.
Sri Lanka’s achievement in having the world’s 3rd best RTI Act is without doubt mainly a result of having good Rules on Fees and Appeals, as proposed by the new Right to Information (RTI) Commission.
Also of help was the Commission’s Regulations on proactive disclosure of Public Authorities, laying down criteria for the appointment of information officers and providing free reuse of all information obtained under the RTI Act passed last year.
The fact that the Commission was able to successfully intervene with the Government to ensure that these standards were gazetted by February 3 is no mean achievement as we must surely recognize. The Commission itself was fully functional only in late December last year, with all its five members being appointed. It would have been a major task to bring out these standards in time.
In the meantime, the Commission was hit with a double whammy as it is commonly called, when it was reported that the Government’s National Budget for this year did not have a separate allocation for the body. Instead, funds were being passed through the Presidential Secretariat. In a statement released last week as referred to in the Daily Mirror editorial of February 17, despite these constraints, the Commission has re-affirmed its determination to function independently under the RTI Act. Given the calibre of the Commissioners, who serve on the body, we believe and hope that this promise will be strictly adhered to.
In that context, it is also necessary for the RTI Commission to be given reasonable breathing space to work out its institutional arrangements. As the scarcely two-months old Commission stated, it was currently working in an interim capacity with skeletal staff. Reportedly the Commissioners themselves have been working up to now without adequate financial compensation.
These thoughts come to mind when seeing the recent open letter issued by Decent Lanka to the Chairman of the RTI Commission. The host of details asked for include the decided cadre for the office of the Commission provided for under Section 13 of the Act, minimum educational requirements for all positions in the Commission, including that of the Director General, the procedure to be adopted in recruiting staff including the Director General and the time schedule for these.
Questions may also arise as to whether this barely two-month old Commission should be besieged with such detailed queries so early on in its functioning. No doubt this request may have been made with the best of intentions. But often the best of intentions may not be so good for the highest principles of RTI.
The RTI law and the RTI Commission came into being after the Sri Lanka media in particular, engaged in a long and protracted struggle. The media need to have a strong interest in making sure that this succeeds. Together, the Law and the Commission comprise a strong regime that could work for the betterment of Sri Lankan citizens. In Government and outside, some elements would probably wish for RTI to fail, given its potential to bring misdeeds out into the open. Therefore a negative outcome that they will be happy about must not be hastened by unwarranted pressure that makes it difficult for the RTI Commission to function. Its members who have been recognized for their commitment to the public interest may indeed throw up their hands and quit.
A commentator to this newspaper said recently that the RTI law was a law against its creators. But the difference is that the creators of this law were not the politicians. Rather it was the people and the Government had no option but to give into their demands.
We must hope that this promising start in bringing a good RTI Law into force will be strengthened by effective implementation. As the RTI Commission itself observed, the people’s support and cooperation is essential for this. No doubt, all well intentioned Sri Lankans would agree with that request.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Only seven woman officers heading police stations out of 215 across J&K

Daily Excelsior‎‎‎‎‎: Jammu: Thursday, February 23, 2017.
In a state where Chief Minister is a woman, only seven lady officers were heading police stations out of total 215 across Jammu and Kashmir. Out of total 215 Police Station spread across 22 civil districts (25 Police districts) in Jammu and Kashmir State, only seven police stations were headed by female officers and rest of 208 commanded by male Station House Officers, a RTI activist here today said.
Out of these seven Police Stations, six are all women police stations, means factually only one general police station is being headed by a female officer, he said adding that one of the 25 police districts was headed by a lady officer.
In addition to this, on the question of representation to lady police officers on other significant positions in the state only two armed police Battalions (IRP) were headed by female commandants.  Moreover there were only two lady officers in the task team assigned for managing traffic in both the capital cities of the state ie Srinagar and Jammu.
Besides this no other significant post is held by a lady police officer in the entire state which itself is headed by a women Chief Minister. The information was provided by the Jammu and Kashmir Police Headquarters in response to an application of RTI activist Raman Sharma.
Sharma said that in a reply it was mentioned that there was no separate norm for postings and promotions however their transfer was governed by a general policy of transfers which was also applicable to male colleagues.
“Though the transfer policy regulation does not have any specific guideline for the transfers/postings of the lady cops, however, General Principle Rule 4 of transfer policy document issued by the PHQ vide their order no 2615/2012 dated 21/07/2012 states that where both husband and wife are serving in the police department, they may be conveniently posted as far as possible subject to availability of the post and keeping in view the interest of the administration as well,” he added.
It is pertinent to mention here that earlier also in an RTI reply, the State police had admitted that representation of women in the police department was less than 4 per cent and majority of them constitute in the constabulary only.

RTI activist murdered?

The Hans India‎‎‎‎‎: Nellor: Thursday, February 23, 2017.
The post-mortem report said to have revealed that  RTI Putta Veerabhadraiah was murdered. He was found dead on railway track close to Magunta Layout, a couple of days ago.
Railway police registered case as suspicious death.  Sources in the railway police said on Wednesday that the wounds have revealed possible murder and they were waiting for post-mortem report from the medical authorities.

Charsadda DHQ ‘refuses’ to provide required information to RTI Commission

Daily Times‎‎‎‎‎: Peshawar: Thursday, February 23, 2017.
District Headquarter (DHQ) hospitals are backbone of health services at district level and first access to a large number of people in need of health services.
Pakistan Tehreek Insaf (PTI) after assuming the power in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), declared emergency on health and education after general elections of 2013 elections.
A huge Development budget of Rs 50.7 billion has been allocated to health sector from 2013 to 2017. The year wise spread remain as Rs 9.9 billion in FY 2013-14, Rs 11.1 billion in FY 2014-15, Rs 12.3 billion in FY 15-16 and Rs 17.4 billion in FY 2016-17. Unfortunately the provision of available facilities does not justify the budget allocations.
Centre for Governance and Public Accountability (CGPA) initiated a social audit process in District Charsadda under which citizens were enabled to perform the social audit of DHQ Hospital Charsadda's Minimum Services Delivery Status vs Available Services Delivery Status.
A social audit committee (SAC) was formed to gather the required information for which Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2013 was used. SAC filed different information requests but the DHQ responses on the RTIs were dismal.
However, the little information that was received from RTI requests reveals the true picture of the DHQ. District Head Quarters Hospital Charsadda was made functional in 1990.
It is a large infrastructure consisting of Emergency, different Wards, Administration, staff hostel, staff flats and OPD. Sanctioned posts (from BPS 20 to BPS 01) in DHQ are 278. Total 120 positions 0f Doctors and Specialist are sanctioned, out of which only 40 are filled and 80 are Vacant.
This indicates that only 33 per cent sanctioned positions are filled while 67 per cent are vacant. A total of 559,073 patients visited the DHQ Charsadda from July 2015 to June 2016 as per certified information provided by DHQ. Similarly, total OPD from July 2015 to June 2016 was also 559,073.
One can assume that this information is frivolous showing daily attendance of 1532 patients over a spread of 365 days and no patient was treated in emergency. Anesthesia specialist position is vacant and one can wonder how and by whom major operations have been treated.
The RTI requests pertaining to information about employees' leave record, staff duty roaster, ward wise available beds, medicine distribution record, log books of the vehicles, expenditure record, equipment's list were not entertained etc. When the information was not provided by the DHQ, a number of RTI complaints were sent to RTI commission. But yet another dismal performance came out. It has been more than 60 days now that KP RTI commission has been unable to direct DHQ Charsadda to provide the requested information.
The RTI complaints can be tracked in the KP RTI complaint status with reference numbers 2825, 2826, 2827, 2836 and 2837.
Muhammed Anwar, Executive Director CGPA, stated that the provisions available at DHQ Hospital have always been inadequate and insufficient to provide emergency treatment to citizens.
He also stated that under the current security threats, provincial government must declare emergency in health sector.

RTI Movement hails Khurshid Ganai’s selection as CIC

Greater Kashmir‎‎‎‎: Srinagar: Thursday, February 23, 2017.
J&K RTI Movement has expressed satisfaction over the selection of Khurshid Ahmad Ganai for the post of State Chief Information Commissioner (CIC).  In a statement, the RTI Movement said that Khurshid Ahmad Ganai is an upright person who can manage the affairs of State Information Commission (SIC) effectively.
“Khurshid Ganai has played an important role in drafting J&K RTI Amendment Act of 2008 when he was Commissioner / Secretary to Government General Administration Department (GAD) way back in 2008.

‘₹60.51 cr. given to Kannada groups in five years’

The Hindu‎‎‎: Belagavi: Thursday, February 23, 2017.
The State government finds several reasons to deny even promised benefits under various schemes to the socially and economically deprived sections of society but it extends its largesse when it comes to free distribution of funds from the exchequer at the expense of tax payers to Kannada organisations.
The government has, through the Department of Kannada and Culture, distributed a huge sum of ₹ 60.51 crore to several Kannada organisations across the State on various occasions, including Rajyotsava, during five-year period from 2011-12 to 2015-16, said RTI activist Bhimappa Gadad, quoting figures he has obtained from the department under the RTI Act.
Who got what?
He told presspersons here on Wednesday that ₹60.51 crore was distributed among 1,169 organisations, of which 402 are in Bengaluru city and Bengaluru Rural district and received a lion’s share of ₹33.33 crore. There are 40 organisations that have received more than ₹ 40 lakh. The organisations in Belagavi district received ₹ 66.55 lakh during the same period.
But, of the 40 organisations, the highest amount of ₹ 2.55 crore was given to secretary, Shivakumar Kala Sangh, Sanehalli, Chitradurga, followed by ₹ 1.32 crore to president, Akhil Bharat Sharan Sahitya Parishat, Jayanagar, Bengaluru, and ₹ 82 lakh to the founder-honorary secretary, Uday Bhanu Kala Sangh, Kempegowda Nagar, Bengaluru.
Mr. Gadad demanded that the government should conduct an inquiry and also tell people if such huge amount of public money being distributed to such organisations had any productive purposes.

Disclose how ceiling prices of stents fixed: CIC to NPPA

India.com‎‎: New Delhi: Thursday, February 23, 2017.
The Central Information Commission today directed the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority to disclose all records on the basis of which “ceiling prices” for the coronary stents were fixed.
The transparency watchdog also directed the NPPA to maintain catalogued data of all complaints bringing out instances of overcharging by hospitals along with action taken by it.
“Details of aforesaid complaints found true along with penal/ corrective action taken by NPPA shall be proactively placed in public domain through the website of NPPA,” Information Commissioner Yashovardhan Azad said in his order.
He said these directions are being issued under the powers conferred under Section 19(8)(a)(iv) of the RTI Act, 2005 to “promote greater transparency, which shall ensure that the benefits of beneficial executive actions reach the general masses”.
The Section of the transparency law empowers the Commission to issue directives to any public authority to make necessary changes “to its practices in relation to the maintenance, management and destruction of records”.
The order came on the plea of Suraj Prakash who had sought to know the basis on which the NPPA has fixed the prices of all types of coronary stents.
“The Commission is inclined to allow the request of the appellant considering the larger public interest involved the CPIO shall also furnish complete information including notesheets along with the relevant documents/ price costing estimations etc. whereupon the ‘ceiling prices’ were arrived at by the NPPA,” Azad said.
The issue of coronary stents came to media limelight following instructions issued by the government yesterday invoking an emergency clause under drug pricing control law thus making it mandatory for stent makers to maintain production and supply of coronary stents.
However, the matter before the Commission pertained to an RTI application filed on September 9, 2015.
The pharmaceutical department said there have been reports of shortage of coronary stents in the market and hospitals.
Last week, the government had slashed prices of stents by up to 85 per cent by capping them at Rs 7,260 for bare metal ones and Rs 29,600 for the drug eluting variety.
Under the Section 3 (i) of DPCO, 2013, the government can regulate distribution and direct any manufacturer to increase production and sell products to institutions, hospitals or any agency as the case may be in case of emergency or in circumstances of urgency or in case of non-commercial use in public interest.