Thursday, March 23, 2017

Transparency of the Judiciary

Pakistan Today‎‎‎‎: Islamabad: Thursday, March 23, 2017.
A video of former Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and his son Arsalan jumping the cue at an airport before boarding a flight went viral yesterday. The controversial ex-CJP’s son’s attempt at justifying breaking the rules by smugly arguing with other passengers that his ‘business class’ ticket afforded him that right, which it does not, is reminiscent of the sacred cow syndrome prevalent in the judiciary.
Coincidentally the Lahore High Court (LHC) registrar on the same day has been asked by the Punjab Information Commission to respond to a complaint under Punjab’s Right to Information Act 2013 (RTI) in which the salary and perks of the Chief Justice of Lahore have been asked to be made public.
Two other RTI’s have also been filed concerning the LHC. One inquires upon the deployment of security personnel to judges specifying the number at their homes and offices separately. The second one attempts to gain some clarity on the recruitment process of the LHC, in particular how much do they collect in application fees and how come applicants, even after having paid the fee, are not informed about their status.
The RTI concerning the Chief Justice of Lahore has been pending since October last year. The observations of the commission about the status of the complaint highlight the reluctance of the LHC registrar to address it. On one hand the LHC registrar denied having received the complaint at all while on the other hand the required Public Information Officer (PIO) has not even been put in place a requirement to be fulfilled within 60 day of the act being passed.
It is most unfortunate that technicalities and delaying tactics are being used by the LHC in order to avoid answering simple questions. High courts are quick to dispense orders and decisions with regards to other institutions but when it comes to their own transparency they refuse to be as expeditious. The information sought after in the RTIs should be made public before the deadline otherwise the credibility of the LHC will further come into question.

FIR against Paul after RTI shocker

The Shillong Times‎‎‎: Shillong: Thursday, March 23, 2017.
An FIR was filed on Wednesday before the Chief Vigilance Commissioner against UDP member Paul Lyngdoh after an RTI reply revealed that the MLA has allegedly misused public fund to the tune of Rs 55.80 lakh.
Interestingly, those who filed the RTI query were Lyngdoh’s former supporters. But they denied any political agenda in filing the RTI and the subsequent FIR.
The scheme in question is the Special Urban Work Programme (SUWP) in which Rs 55.80 lakh public fund was allegedly misappropriated.
The FIR was handed to Chief Secretary KS Kropha as he is the Chief Vigilance Commissioner.
A copy of the FIR was forwarded to Assembly Speaker.
“As per findings under the RTI Act, 2005, obtained from the Shillong Municipal Board, Lyngdoh has deliberately misappropriated public fund in the supply of numerous utility items to his constituents in which the materials supplied and invoices raised thereafter do not match,” the FIR stated.
Addressing a press conference, Michael Pakyntein, a former supporter of Lyngdoh, said, “The receipts submitted to the Shillong Municipal Board were fake, which is reflected in the declarations made by respective shop owners.”
He added at least three shop owners denied that the materials were supplied by them and they have given their statement in writing as well.
The proprietor of DR Enterprise on Thana Road, in a letter, has denied that his shop sold Neelkamal plastic chairs worth Rs 18.90 lakh to the Chairman of Implementation Committee in West Shillong.
The shopkeeper went on to say someone had misused his cash memo by forging his handwriting and signature.  The RTI reply showed that under SUWP 2014-15, 2,000 plastic chairs were purchased for Rs 18.90 lakh on May 27, 2014; water tanks and tarpaulins were bought for Rs 19.80 lakh and cooking vessels at Rs 17 lakh.
But respective shopkeepers denied supplying the items.
It was also alleged that Lyngdoh bought blankets at Rs 12 lakh. Documents show that each blanket was bought at Rs 375. “However, the market rate for the same is Rs 150. In this case, the misused amount comes to the tune of Rs 7.20 lakh,” another resident of Mawprem, Rishan Nongsiej, said.

RTI pleas go unheard; PIOs keep info under wraps

The Hans India‎‎: Hyderabad: Thursday, March 23, 2017.
The Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI) has replaced the British era’s Official Secrets Act, 1923. But to the surprise of discerning citizens, the officials of the Telangana Secretariat are still living in the past sticking to the old enactment of 1920s.
For reasons better known to them, the PIOs of various departments in the Secretariat are refusing to divulge information to the applications under the RTI. Probably they are afraid that the irregularities and misuse of funds in their respective departments would surface if they reveal the information.
The Hans India submitted applications under the RTI to 10 departments in the State Secretariat seeking information regarding the cases filed by the Vigilance and Enforcement officials against the irregularities and misuse of funds in their respective departments. They also sought details of number of cases, evidence and recommendations forwarded against such officials, and the present status of the cases.
The officials, who provide information regarding the reports of vigilance and the Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB) and even affidavits submitted in the court by media representatives without applying under the RTI, have refused to divulge information to the RTI applications which means they are bent to protect the persons indulged in irregularities.
It is understood that Assistant Secretary and PIO of Animal Husbandry, Dairy Development and Fisheries, DV Varalakshmi forwarded the full reports and the actions recommended against the officials in three cases filed by the Vigilance and Enforcement officials.
However, PIO and Assistant Secretary of Consumer Affairs, Food and Civil Supplies department R Surya Kumar stated in the reply that as per the section 8(1)(h) of RTI act 2005, it is informed that since no V&E case has been completed/finalised by the government, the information as desired cannot be furnished.
Health, Medical and Family Welfare Department’s PIO and Assistant Secretary D Lalitha Kumari said in the reply that one case have been (sic) registered by the Vigilance & Enforcement against the officials working in the Head of Department of Drugs Control Administration, Telangana State and accordingly the disciplinary proceedings have been initiated which is under examination. In this regard, I am to state that as per section 8(1)(h) of the RTI Act 2005 there shall be no obligation to give any citizen that “information which would impede the process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of offenders.”
Finance Department’s Public Information Officer EVV Nageshwara Rao stated in the reply, “I am to invite kind attention to the reference cited. It is informed that, as per para 8(h), Chapter-II of RTI Act 2005, the disclosure of requested information is exempted.”
Environment, Forest, Science and Technology department’s PIO and Assistant Secretary, M Mahesh, said in a brief reply that 38 vigilance and ACB cases have been filed against various officials in the past two-and-a-half years. The PIO of the Higher Education department who received the RTI applications transferred the same to the Commissioner of Collegiate Education. The PIO of the Collegiate Education stated in the brief reply that only one case was filed in the department.
However, the PIOs of Commissioner of Intermediate and Directorate of Technical Education departments did not respond to the RTI applications till date even after two months. Backward Classes Welfare Department’s PIO and Assistant Secretary B G Sumathi replied briefly that 18 ACB cases and three vigilance cases were filed against the officials in the department.

JK RTI movement, CHRI hold an event in Baramulla

Kashmir Life: Srinagar: Thursday, March 23, 2017.
J&K RTI Movement and CHRI on Wednesday organized an event to present the findings of the study of compliance with proactive information disclosure under J&K RTI Act in Baramulla.
J&K RTI Movement members, Adv Syed Iram Quadri and Adv Bilal Ahmad Bhat presented the findings of their study of the state of compliance of 230 public authorities across J&K with the mandatory requirement of proactive information disclosure at Baramulla today. The audience comprised of RTI activists, social activists and lawyers.
Dr Shaikh Ghulam Rasool, Chairperson J&K RTI Movement explained method of rooting out misuse of RTI is for government to spread awareness about the law amongst the public. He explained the procedures for giving information from application stage onwards with focus on detailed procedures for seeking information.
Venkatesh Nayak Program Coordinator-Access to Information, CHRI New Delhi said that it was a privilege to visit Baramulla, the hub of initial RTI activism in J&K. It is imperative to protect and safeguard RTI law in J&K and I can see only activists of J&K RTI Movement, students and lawyers doing it, he said. Considering Baramulla an intellectual hub, we expect more young and senior citizens to come forward and use the law to demand transparency in governemnt’s decision-making processes, particularly with the spending of taxpayers’ money. He also added, that compliance with the J&K RTI Act requiring more and more proactive disclosure of information is still not satisfactory in a majority of the public authorities in J&K.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Punjab Information Commission verdict

The News International‎‎‎‎: PK: Wednesday, March 22, 2017.
With the enforcement of Right to Information (RTI) law in Punjab, citizens aware of their rights are not only filing requests to the government departments but also to the judiciary. Sirmed Ali, a law graduate, is one of them. He asked questions which were impossible just a few years ago.
In October last year, he filed an RTI application demanding information about the monthly salary and allowances drawn by the chief justice of the Lahore High Court (LHC). The answer is yet awaited.
Waseem Elahi, yet another applicant, requested information from the LHC about the security personnel deputed with the judges along with a breakup of deployment at their homes and offices in addition to the expenditures incurred under this head. Being a taxpayer, he argued, it is his right to know about the use of his money. No reply has been received to date.
Third applicant is Shehryar Ahmed who had applied for a vacant post in the LHC advertised in the newspapers.
The application process fee of Rs500 was also deposited. He was never informed about his status. His RTI application has asked about the number of candidates applied, the names of selectors, total amount collected as processing fee and then wondered why he has not been informed about the status of his application.
“Shouldn’t the candidates be informed regarding their application status as they have paid hefty amount of Rs500 for the processing of their applications while being unemployed/student or seekers of better opportunity,” reads his last question in the RTI application submitted in February this year. He has not received any answer.
All three applicants finally moved Punjab Information Commission against the non-provision of requested details from the LHC. In each case, the PIC sent letters to the highest court of the province seeking explanation for inordinate delay as Punjab’s RTI law requires the submission of information within 14 working days.
Since Sirmed’s is the oldest among three complaints filed against the LHC, the PIC has issued its verdict demanding the provision of information not later than April 4 this year.
In the judgment announced on March 20, the PIC has reminded the LHC that Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Law 2013 is equally applicable on judiciary and quoted precedent from India in furtherance of its argument. Delhi High Court in its judgment dated January 12, 2010 upheld an order of Central Information Commission of India whereby disclosure of information regarding asset declarations of Supreme Court judges had been directed.
“In this context, any inordinate delays or obstructions caused by the administration of the LHC are likely to be perceived as inconsistent with international best practice and harmful for the cause of transparency being pushed forward by the civil society through, inter alia, demands for robust implementation of right to information laws,” reads the PIC verdict available with The News.
“The Hon’ble LHC is the highest court of the largest province of our country with the mandate to administer justice and hold all other institutions to account in terms of their compliance to laws enacted by the legislature,” the PIC verdict pointed out. “It is, therefore, extremely important that it sets the highest standards of compliance with the Act and transparency in its administration, which others follow and get inspiration from,” the verdict continues.
Another point noted in the PIC verdict is the failing of the LHC in designating principal information officer who would deal with the RTI requests. “It is, however, disconcerting that the Hon’ble High Court hasn’t designated a PIO, although it should have been done within sixty days after the commencement of the Act on December 16, 2013, when it was published in the Punjab Gazette (Extraordinary). Similarly, neither the statutory requirement of proactive disclosure in terms section 4 of the Act has been implemented, nor is information being provided to citizens in response to their requests made u/s 10 of the Act,” the verdict reads.
“In the instant case (of Sirmed Ali), the requested information has been effectively denied, as the respondent has not decided yet the application of the complainant on its merits, despite several letters of the Commission. It may be noted here that each application for access to information should ordinarily be decided within 14 working days as per section 10(7) of the Act,” the verdict goes on.
Explaining the reason of delay in designating PIO, Jamal Ahmad, additional registrar of the LHC, conveyed to the PIC that PIO couldn’t be designated as it “has been pending decision of the Hon’ble Administration Committee of this court.”
The PIC verdict has re-emphasized that the nature of information requested (salary and allowances of judges) should have been rather displayed on the official website.
“As for the instant complaint is concerned, the requested information is of such a nature that it should have been proactively disclosed through the official website or other types of publications in accordance with section 4(g) of the Act. However, it has neither been proactively disclosed, nor the respondent has provided the same to the complainant even after a lapse of several months and despite the notices issued by the Commission. The response of the deputy registrar (HR-II) to the effect that the application of the complainant had not been received by the respondent amounts to rejection of information request on technical grounds, especially when copies of the application of the complainant were attached with the letters of the Commission addressed to the respondent and, in any case, the requested information is of the nature that it should have been proactively disclosed. Any office holder, who appreciates the importance of transparency and is working with a problem-solving approach, would focus on the substance of the matter, instead of delaying disclosure by relying upon technicalities,” the PIC judgment reads.

160 lions die in Gir in 2 yrs : Manas Dasgupta

The Tribune‎‎‎: Ahmedabad: Wednesday, March 22, 2017.
The Gujarat Forest Department has admitted that more than 160 Asiatic lions have died in the Gir forest in the last two years since the 2015 census put their population at record 523.
This included death of 95 lions from April 2015 to March 2016, and another 67 from April last year to date. What was more shocking of the 95 deaths recorded last year was that 25 died unnaturally, including of electrocution by coming in contact with live wires put up by farmers to save their crops from herbivorous animals, and falling into wells left open by farmers in their fields, the department revealed in a reply to a query under the RTI Act.
Almost all unnatural deaths were recorded in the areas outside the protected sanctuary zone in the periphery of the villages falling within Gir forest as under pressure of increasing population and shortage of prey, a number of Asiatic lions fanned outside the sanctuary zone and into the habituated villages. The wildlife experts said some of the carcasses of the lions were found in such highly decomposed conditions that it was even difficult to ascertain the exact causes of their death.
The high death rate of the lions concerns environmentalists who have urged the state government to expand the protected zone to cover the wastelands and some other areas in the periphery, particularly because the state government was opposed to the idea of shifting a few species to Kuno-Palpur forests in neighbouring Madhya Pradesh to create a second home for the Asiatic lions.
Meanwhile, a man-eater sloth bear, which had strayed out of the forest areas in Danta in Banaskantha district in north Gujarat and killed three persons besides injuring four others, was killed by sharp-shooters in a joint operation by the foresters from Danta, Gir Sanctuary and even Delhi who were rushed to the area this afternoon after the locals raised the alarm.

Maharashtra HSC Exams 2017: Place to store exam papers, answer sheets found unsafe

India.com‎‎: Maharashtra: Wednesday, March 22, 2017.
It has been found the Maharashtra state board’s Mumbai division office where the answer sheet and exam papers are stored is in dilapidated state.  As a per a structural audit, there have been revelations that cracks have been developed in some of the pillars of the 20 year old building , weakening the building’s foundation as per the board officials. The teachers have also complained that the basement is not yet cordoned off while the divisional board has appealed to the state board to begin the repair work at the earliest.
Siddheshwar Chandekar, secretary of the divisional board also revealed that they will not be able to shut the basement until the exams and assessments conclude. The room is occupied even after results are declared, as photocopies of answer sheets are stored here for students who request to see them under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. There have also been fears that in case the building is not repaired in time  it might collapse and lakhs of copies of answer sheet might get destroyed. The official sources also revealed that the room is occupied even after results are declared, as photocopies of answer sheets are stored here for students who request to see them under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
The state board officials also said that they are considering the divisional board’s appeal for repairs, it is unable to find a suitable time. After the SSC exams end in April, work will begin for supplementary exams to be held in July. The results of SSC exams will be declared in August. The work for Maharashtra HSC and SSC will commence for supplementary exams to be held in July, and the results will be declared in August.

J&K has to go a long way to implement its RTI Act in letter and spirit!

The Northlines: JK: Wednesday, March 22, 2017.
The J&K Right to Information Act (J&K RTI Act) enters its 9th year of implementation today. A Rapid Study of the official websites of 230 public authorities under the J&K Government conducted by J&K RTI Movement and CHRI reveals that compliance with the requirement of proactive disclosure of information under Section 4(1)(b) of the J&K RTI Act remains poor. Key findings from this Rapid Study are given below.
What is proactive information disclosure under Section 4 of the J&K RTI Act?
Section 4(1)(b) of the J&K RTI Act makes it compulsory for all public authorities to place a wealth of information in the public domain. This includes detailed information about their organization and functions, powers and duties of their officials, rules, regulations, norms and  manuals that must guide their work, details of decision-making processes, budgets and expenditure, subsidiary programmes implemented, authorisations and permits issued and a list of all records held in paper or electronic form. Additionally, every public authority is required to publicise relevant facts about all important policy matters or decisions it takes, from time to time. Every person who is affected by any decision of a public authority has the right to be informed of the reasons behind such decisions. Section 4(2) of the J&K RTI Act explains that the purpose of proactively disclosing all this information is to reduce people’s need to seek information by filing formal RTI applications. A deeper examination of the scheme of the J&K RTI Act indicates that proactive disclosure of information is prioritized over reactive disclosure i.e., supplying information against formal RTI applications.
Key findings from the Rapid Study conducted by J&KRTI Movement and CHRI
Key findings from a rapid study of the official websites of the two Divisional Commissioners, the administration of 22 districts and 206 departments, autonomous bodies and other public authorities are as follows:
·       The DivComs and all districts have official websites. 59% of the districts have not uploaded Section 4(1)(b) information to a reasonable degree of compliance on their official websites. They are either incomplete or not published at all.
·       3/4ths of the district websites do not display any information about their annual budgets. Only the district administration of Bandipora and Budgam have displayed the latest budget-related information for 2016-17.
·       The Kargil district website is the best of all district websites included in this Rapid Study. Detailed information about the working of the Deputy Commissioner’s office and other departments in the district has been published in compliance with the J&K RTI Act. Udhampur seems to be the only district administration to display the physical verification reports of the developmental projects undertaken under various developmental programmes up to 2016.
·       Some districts have nevertheless taken innovative steps to display other categories of information proactively. Doda district website displays property statements of the officials of the DC’s office, and the Tahsildars and the total number of various types of ration cards issued by the administration, Tahsil-wise. Websites of Samba, Rajouri and Pulwama display the number of complaints received under the J&K Public Services Grievances Act, 2011. However this information is also not regularly updated.
·       More than 15% of the remaining 209 public authorities (other than DivComs and District Administration) in J&K covered by the study do not have websites. As many as 4 out of every 10 of the 177 public authorities with official websites do not display any information required to be proactively disclosed under Section 4(1)(b) of the J&K RTI Act. Compliance is only 57.62%;
·       19.2% (32) of the public authorities have not displayed any details regarding the PIOs and FAAs designated by them for dealing with RTI applications and first appeals.
·       More than 3/4ths (138) of the public authorities with websites have not displayed budget-related information. Only two public authorities have displayed budget related information for the latest year i.e., 2017-18 (namely, Finance Dept. and the Directorate of Audit and Inspections). Six of the remaining public authorities have displayed budget related information for the year 2016-17 (namely, the Directorates of Horticulture and Animal Husbandry, the J&K Legislative Assembly, the J&K Legislative Council, IMPA and Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology).
·       Under the section relating to budget and expenditure, the website of the Chief Minister’s Secretariat states as follows:
Chief Minister’s Secretariat does not have budget allocation for any programme nor it has any agency under its direct control.”
However, the budget document uploaded on the website of the Finance Department displays the following sums of money allocated to the Council of Ministers and the CM’s Secretariat in 2017-18:
  I.    Council of Ministers (Voted): Rs. 752.80 lakhs;
II.   CM’s Secretariat- GAD: Salary, travel expenses, Medical reimbursement grant- Rs. 54.80 lakhs; and
III.  CM’ Secretariat- GAD: Secret Services expenses: Rs. 1,500 lakhs.
·      The budget-related section of the RTI Handbook(Manual) of the Governor’s office (Raj Bhawan) has not been updated after 2014-15.
·      The website of the J&K GeneralAdministration Department – the nodal department for implementing the J&K RTI Act, has not been updated for budget-related information after 2016.
(This Rapid Study is an outcome of the Internship Programme that CHRI hosted at its New Delhi office for Adv. (Ms.) Syed Iram Quadri and Adv. Bilal Ahmed Bhat, members, J&K RTI Movement (J&K RTI Movement) and the School for Rural Development and Environment (SRDE), from 01-28 February, 2017. CHRI and J&K RTI Movement have compiled this preliminary report.)

Can’t apply RTI Act to unaided institutions: Maharashtra information panel

Times of India: Pune: Wednesday, March 22, 2017.
Private unaided trusts or academic institutions which are not receiving any "substantial financial aid" from the government do not fall within the ambit of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005, the state information commission's Pune bench has ruled.
The bench, presided over by information commissioner Ravindra Jadhav, has set aside an order of February 4, 2015 by the first appeal officer and block education officer of Panchgani panchayat samiti. The impugned (under challenge) order had directed the New Era High School at Panchgani, near Mahabaleshwar, to supply information regarding its teaching, non-teaching staff and other aspects under the RTI Act.
The high school, which offers CBSE and Cambridge IGCSE curricula from Std I to XII, is run by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of India.
In June 2015, the institution had moved a second appeal before the SIC Pune bench, arguing that it is a permanently unaided school. That, it was neither a public authority as defined under Section 2 of the RTI Act nor was it directly or indirectly receiving any "substantial financial assistance" from the government. "The term substantially financed is critical here in the context of the rulings by the higher courts regarding applicability of RTI Act to private unaided institutions," lawyer Shivraj Kadam, who represented the institution, told TOI on Tuesday.
The SIC bench referred to a judgment by the Nagpur bench of the Bombay high court on August 20, 2009 and held in an order on March 10 that it was amply clear from this ruling that RTI Act provisions cannot be applied to those unaided institutions which are not getting any substantial financial aid from the government.
The high court had ruled that private unaided schools and colleges cannot fall within the definition of 'Public Authority' under Section 2 (J) of the RTI Act. Further referring to direct or indirect financing by the government, the high court had said, "The term 'substantially financed' has been repeatedly used by the Parliament with a view to exclude such institutions which are financed directly or indirectly with a small or little contribution of funds by the appropriate government. The Parliament has deliberately used the word 'substantially' and this court finds that there is wisdom in doing so."
Referring to other two rulings by the Punjab and Haryana high court, the SIC bench held, "It would not be a good precedent to direct respondent no. 2 (New Era School principal) to supply the information in so much as the said respondent might be imparting education and performing public functions, however, is not receiving substantial grant-in-aid."
Nitin Uttamrao Kokate, a resident of Koparkhairane in Navi Mumbai, had sought the information from the school and the same was turned down by the school principal following which he had approached the first appeal officer at Panchgani panchayat samiti. "The SIC bench's latest order comes as a major relief for similarly placed private unaided institutions across the state," said Kadam.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Centre declines funds to UP institute for RTI promotion

Business Standard‎‎: New Delhi: Tuesday, March 21, 2017.
The Centre today refused funds to the Uttar Pradesh Academy of Administration and Management, a premier training institute for bureaucrats, for the promotion of the Right to Information Act (RTI).
The institute that provides training to officers selected through state public service commission had sought Rs 1.5 lakhs for awareness generation for RTI and Rs 75,000 to meet the administrative contingencies.
The Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), which acts as nodal authority for implementation of the transparency law, declined the request saying "funds are not available under component concerned."
The DoPT, however, approved Rs 8.5 lakhs to the academy to train 850 officers at state, division and district levels for handling RTI matters.
A sum of Rs 10 lakh was also sought by the academy to provide training to 1,000 officers.
"As per the budget availability, the number of participants has been reduced from 1,000 to 850. Accordingly, Rs 8.5 lakh is being released for this purpose," a DoPT order said.
The grant is under the centrally-sponsored scheme 'Improving Transparency and Accountability in Government through Effective Implementation of the Right to Information Act.' The scheme, launched in August 2010, is aimed at contributing towards more accountable and transparent government, as well ensure "effective implementation of the RTI Act."
The transparency law empowers citizens to seek time-bound response to their queries related to governance.

Deposit Rs 50,000 to get all documents: PIO to RTI applicant

DNA: Odisha: Tuesday, March 21, 2017.
An RTI activist has claimed that the Public Information Officer of ICDS, Rajnagar has asked him to deposit Rs 50,000 to get all documents on supply of nutritional food to children, which he had asked for under RTI act.
RTI activist Anirudha Sethy, a native of Rajnagar tehsil in Kendrapara district had sough information about of details of food supplied in the angwandi centres run under the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) in Odisha's Kendrapara district under the RTI Act.
The Public Information Officer (PIO), ICDS, Rajnagar Block has asked me to deposit Rs 50,000 after which they will supply all the required documents requested by me, Sethy claimed.
"We have sought the sum in accordance with the provisions of RTI Act and rules. If the applicant will not deposit the amount within a week then he will be denied the right of getting information," said Public Information Officer, ICDS, Rajnagar, Rajani Roul.

Public Authorities in Jammu and Kashmir Not Complying With RTI Rules, Finds Study

The Wire: New Delhi: Tuesday, March 21, 2017.
A rapid study of the official websites of 230 public authorities under the Jammu and Kashmir government has revealed that nine years after the implementation of the J&K Right to Information Act, compliance with the requirement of proactive disclosure of information under its section 4(1)(b) remains poor. Based on the official websites, 59% of the districts not having uploaded information under the section to a reasonable degree and nearly 75% of them have not been uploading their annual budgets.
The rapid study emerged out of an internship programme hosted by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) in New Delhi for advocates Syed Iram Quadri and Bilal Ahmed Bhat, both members of J&K RTI Movement and the School for Rural Development and Environment (SRDE). The report was later compiled by CHRI and J&K RTI Movement. Its findings were discussed at the Institute of Management, Public Administration and Rural Development (IMPA) in Srinagar today to identify practical recommendations for improving compliance with section 4(1)(b).
According to Venkatesh Nayak of CHRI, section 4(1)(b) of the J&K RTI Act makes it compulsory for all public authorities to place a wealth of information in the public domain. This includes detailed information about their organisation and functions, powers and duties of their officials, rules, regulations, norms and  manuals that must guide their work, details of decision-making processes, budgets and expenditure, subsidiary programmes implemented, authorisations and permits issued and a list of all records held in paper or electronic form. In addition, every public authority is required to publicise relevant facts about all important policy matters or decisions it takes from time to time.
“The purpose of proactively disclosing all this information is to reduce people’s need to seek information by filing formal RTI applications,” said Nayak, adding that in practice the district authorities have been found to be lacking in making proactive disclosures.
District officers fail to be RTI role models
The study revealed that while divisional commissioners and all districts in Jammu and Kashmir have official websites, in 59% of the cases, information provided on the sites was either incomplete or completely absent.
Moreover, about three-fourths of district websites do not display any information about their annual budgets, the only exceptions being Bandipora and Budgam which have put out their latest budget-related information for 2016-17.
The study has also given a thumbs up to the Kargil district website for being the best among all the districts. “Detailed information about the working of the Deputy Commissioner’s office and other departments in the district has been published in compliance with the J&K RTI Act,” it said.
Similarly, it lauded Udhampur district administration for being the only one to display the physical verification reports of the developmental projects undertaken under various programmes up to 2016.
Using innovation to improve transparency
The rapid study has also pointed out how some of the districts have taken innovative steps to display other categories of information proactively. “Doda district website displays property statements of the officials of the DC’s office, and the tehsildars and the total number of various types of ration cards issued by the administration, tehsil-wise. Websites of Samba, Rajouri and Pulwama display the number of complaints received under the J&K Public Services Grievances Act, 2011. However this information is also not regularly updated,” said Nayak.
The study also points to a sorry situation: over 15% of the remaining 209 public authorities (other than divisional commissioners and district administrations) in J&K covered by the study do not have websites. But what it finds inexplicable is why over 42% of the 177 public authorities with official websites do not display any information required to be proactively disclosed.
Thirty-two public authorities silent
For those wanting to seek information under the RTI Act, what is even more worrisome is that 32 public authorities in the state have not even bothered to provide details regarding the public information officers and first appellate authorities designated for dealing with RTI applications and first appeals.
Though proactive disclosure also covers annual budgets, the study showed that 138 public authorities with websites have not displayed budget-related information. Only two public authorities have displayed budget-related information for the latest year, 2017-18 the Finance Department and the Directorate of Audit and Inspections and six others have displayed budget related information for the year 2016-17.
CM’s office not revealing budget details
The report finds that the issue of compliance is lacking right from the chief minister’s secretariat, whose website states that the “Chief Minister’s Secretariat does not have budget allocation for any programme nor it has any agency under its direct control.” This runs contrary to the information provided by the Finance Department on money allocated to the council of ministers and the chief minister’s secretariat in 2017-18.
According to it, the council of ministers has been allocated Rs 752.80 lakh. The chief minister’s secretariat  general administration department has been provided a salary, travel expenses and medical reimbursement grant of Rs 54.80 lakh, and secret services expenses of Rs 15 crore.
As for the governor’s office or Raj Bhawan, the study revealed that its budget-related section of the RTI Handbook (Manual) has not been updated after 2014-15, indicating a clear disinclination to comply strictly with the RTI rules.

J&K RTI Movement and CHRI celebrate 13 years of ‘Right to Information’

Kashmir Reader: Srinagar: Tuesday, March 21, 2017.
Compliance with the J&K RTI Act requiring more and more proactive disclosure of information is still not satisfactory in a majority of the public authorities in J&K, reveals a study released at the commencement of the ninth year of implementation of the Act in the State.
As per a statement issued here, a preliminary report on the findings from rapid study of compliance of public authorities with section 4(1) (b) of J&K RTI Act was released at the event “Celebrating 13 years of Right of Information in J&K” on Monday. The event was organised by J&K RTI Movement and Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), New Delhi at the Institute of Management, Public Administration and Rural Development (IMPA), Srinagar.
The report was prepared by Adv Syed Iram Quadri and Adv Bilal Ahmad Bhat of J&K RTI Movement and School for Rural Development and Environment and John Mascrinaus and Venkatesh Nayak from Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative. This is the first such research done by the J&K RTI Movement since the beginning of the RTI era in J&K.
Ghulam Rasool Sofi, former State Chief Information Commissioner lamented that there is no provision for penalising any officer in a public authority for not complying with the proactive disclosure requirements under the RTI Act. He urged the activists to campaign for amendment to the J&K RTI Act to ensure timely filling up if vacancies in the Information Commission.
Dr Shaikh Ghulam Rasool, Chairperson J&K RTI Movement introduced the objectives of the event and said J&K RTI Movement is keen to enhance the implementation of proactive disclosure throughout the state of J&K. He said in two districts we have already started and will further carry out the required research in this regard.
Mufti Islah, senior journalist and Bureau Cheif CNN-IBN appreciated the J&K RTI Movement saying he has travelled to far-flung areas of J&K with the said Movement and has seen the grassroots activists actively using RTI on ground. He said many stories have come to the fore with RTI requests that had a widespread impact.

Section 91 Of CrPC Is Not A Substitute For Right Under RTI Act: MP HC...

Live Law: Bhopal: Tuesday, March 21, 2017.
A single judge of Madhya Pradesh High Court has held the provisions under section 91 of Criminal Procedure Code (Cr.P.C) “is not a substitute” or “an alternate remedy” for the right under provisions of Right to Information Act that may or may not be available to the accused.
The court directed the trial court to exercise its jurisdiction under section 91 of Cr.P.C. and “call the documents from the police so requested by the petitioners”.
The petitioners moved an application under section 91 of Cr.P.C. praying the trial court to exercise its powers and summon certain documents from the police concerned to a criminal case registered against them.
The petitioners approached the High Court after the trial court and the revisional court rejected their application seeking relief under section 91 of Cr.P.C.
The reason for the petitioners calling for certain documents was to prove the complainant was first to assault them and the injuries inflicted on the complainant was in exercise of their (the petitioners) right of private defence.
While dismissing the application the trial court asked the petitioners to procure the documents under Right to Information Act while the revisional court held the petitioners by doing so were trying to delay the proceedings before the trail court.
Allowing the petition, Justice Atul Sreedharan said “the reasoning given by the trial court for having dismissed the application under section 91 is unsustainable in the eye of law”.
Adding, “the provision under section 91 of Cr.P.C is not a substitute or an alternative remedy for the right under the provisions of Right to Information Act, which may or may not be available to the accused”, the court said.
The court observed “asking the accused to exercise his right under Right to Information Act would, infact, procrastinating the proceedings or defeat the cause of justice as far as the accused is concerned, whereby the police could delay in delivering the information to the accused or non-deliver the information at all as sought for”.
In a word of advice to the trial court, the court said when the accused files an application under section 91 of Cr.P.C. at the stage of defence evidence the only thing “the trial court has to see whether the documents so called for is relevant to the conduct of the defence of the accused person, however, remote it may be”.

Monday, March 20, 2017

FDCM buys touch screens for Rs 33L sans tender process

Times of India‎‎‎: Nagpur: Monday, March 20, 2017.
The Forest Development Corporation of Maharashtra (FDCM), a wholly-owned government company engaged in destroying high-value forest, has hit yet another controversy by placing orders for four LED touch screen displays costing about Rs33 lakh to a city-based firm without floating any tenders.
Information against the 'deliberate' lapse has been received under the RTI Act on an application filed by consumer rights activist Avinash Prabhune. Procurement of expensive interactive LED touch screens without tenders not only implies to financial irregularity but is also in violation of government guidelines in respect of purchase rules issued vide a GR on December 30, 2015. The GR states that any purchases of Rs3 lakh and above will be done through e-tendering.
The touch screens were procured for managing director and chief general manager's (CGM's) meeting hall despite the fact that FDCM already has latest overhead projector for meetings and there was no immediate need for expensive touch screen display.
Prabhune has questioned FDCM move. From the corporation, which fells large-scale trees around tiger corridors for its survival, such gross violation is unacceptable. Already, FDCM has clandestinely buried Rs4 crore financial irregularities in over 25 years detected in audit.
It is mandatory for any government office to follow e-tender procedure for any store purchase of amount above Rs3 lakh. Yet FDCM MD's office placed order on September 7, 2016 to city-based Online Computers for procurement of material worth Rs33 lakhs.
"At the time of placing this order, government rates under director general of supplies & disposals (DGS & D) were not approved. The rate contract had lapsed in May 2016. Yet, orders were placed in September 2016, when no rate contract was available. Hence, it was must to follow e-tender procedure for procurement of the material," says Prabhune.
RTI reveals that out of the four LED touch screen display, two were supplied and bills were submitted in October 2016. On these bills, FDCM's financial adviser raised objections as procedure was not followed before placing order.
On this, even ex-MD Suresh Gairola had directed to take approval of FDCM board of directors (BoD) for procurement before making payment. Gairola had also cancelled the order for remaining two LEDs in December 2016.
During BoD meeting held on December 30, 2016, it was decided to take legal opinion of FDCM counsellor. Legal opinion by MM Sudame, who is on the FDCM's panel, asked to cancel the orders citing that items procured were not branded and hence require financial procedures, which were not followed.
Sudame also informed that as out of the four screens, only two were supplied and order for remaining two were cancelled, it itself showed that officials at top level are firm that procurement in such a manner is illegal and hence it should be immediately cancelled.
Prabhune says from the documents, it is clear how cash-strapped FDCM is violating rules and guidelines for store purchases for expensive items.
A board meeting has been called on March 23, allegedly to approve the bills of the local firm. Present MD Umesh Agrawal did not respond to TOI calls. He also did not reply to an SMS sent to him. Principal secretary (forests) Vikas Kharge too was unresponsive.
FDCM chairman CS Chandel said the material must have been ordered as per rate contract. "It may happen that few days after placing the order rate contract must have lapsed and hence the problem. Yet, if it is against legal opinion and rules we will reject the bills and contract too," Chandel said.