Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Losing records a serious crime : By Madabhushi Sridhar

The Hans India: New Delhi: Tuesday, April 25, 2017.
The department concerned must necessarily fix the responsibility for the loss of the record and take appropriate departmental action against the officers/officials responsible for loss of the record. Registering an FIR in the cases of missing files will be an empty formality.
Unless files are stolen or destroyed, which amounts to crimes, the police has no role to play. Missing files could be a potential strategy to undermine the rule of law and criminal justice systems, besides enabling white collar criminals to escape.
One Balendra Kumar sought details with regard to the file notings of all corresponding papers of a file; he gave the file number also.  But, the CPIO said the file was not traceable. In first appeal, a couple of papers were given. The CPIO stated that the office had made all possible efforts to find out the missing file and even went to different sections of the departments concerned but failed.
The defence of missing file cannot be accepted even under the RTI Act.  If the file is really not traceable, it reflects the inefficient and pathetic management of files by the public authority.  If the file could not be traced in spite of best efforts, it is the duty of the respondent authority to reconstruct the file or develop a mechanism to address the issue raised by the appellant.
The Central Information Commission feels that lodging of FIR is not the remedy in such cases, as one cannot expect the police to come to the office and trace the file.  According to law, police does not have any responsibility to trace the missing files, as they will come into picture only when there is theft of files. It cannot be said that police should come to office and search for the files or things misplaced due to negligence or deliberate action or by mistake etc. It is the duty of the PIO to make necessary efforts to trace the file and inform the same to the appellant in the form of an affidavit.
The public authority has a duty to designate “Public Records Officer” as per Public Records Act 1993. This Act is made to regulate the management, administration and preservation of public records. The definition of “Public Records” U/S 2(e) of Public Records Act, 1993 (PRA 1993) is almost identical with the definition of Records under the RTI Act 2005.

Monday, April 24, 2017

HC seeks govt’s reply on capping airfares

The Hindu‎‎‎‎: New Delhi: Monday, April 24, 2017.
The Delhi High Court has asked the Central government to respond to a petition seeking capping of airfares.
A Bench of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal asked the Centre to file its reply and posted the matter for September 15.
The petitioner informed the Bench that the earlier direction by the court to decide the issue was not complied with.
Meanwhile, the Centre told the court that airfare were beyond the control of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation.
The petitioner said an RTI response from the Civil Aviation Ministry had stated that airfares were not controlled by the government.
Citing the Jat agitation in Haryana last year, when road and rail traffic was blocked, the plea said the airlines wouldn’t have escalated fares in such an emergency situation had there been a cap on airfares.
“Private airlines have fleeced people even in emergency situations and the government has stood as mute spectator,” the plea said, adding there was an “urgent need to regulate the upper limit of airfares so that private airlines cannot fleece their customers as per their own wish”.
Capping of airfares in the backdrop of passengers’ complains of arbitrary tariff hikes was recently ruled out by the government, which had said that competition among airlines would take care of the problem.

Network lack between banks, hospitals led to wastage of 6 lakh litres of blood in 5 years

India TV‎‎‎: New Delhi: Monday, April 24, 2017.
In an alarming revelation through an RTI query, which exposes serious loopholes in the nation’s blood banking system, it has been found that in the last five years, over 28 lakh units of blood and its components were discarded by banks across India.
The cumulative wastage of 6 per cent translates to over 6 lakh litres a volume enough to fill up 53 water tankers, says a Times of India report.
India, on an average, faces a shortfall of 3 million units of blood annually. This scarcity of blood, plasma or platelets leads to several cases of maternal mortality and deaths in cases of accidents.
In reply to the RTI query filed by petitioner Chetan Kothari, the data provided by the National Aids Control Organisation (NACO), it was found that Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu were the top four states which discarded not just the whole blood but even red blood cells and plasma as they could not be used before their expiry date.
In 2016-17 alone, over 6.57 lakh units of blood and its products were discarded.
The alarming part is that 50 per cent of the wasted units were of plasma, which has a life of one year, much longer than the 35-days deadline in case of blood and RBCs.
Maharashtra, which is the only state to have crossed the one-million mark vis-a-vis collection of blood units, also accounted for the maximum wastage of whole blood, followed by West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh.
In terms of wasting the RBCs, Maharashtra, UP and Karnataka stood at the top three positions. UP and Karnataka also wasted the maximum units of fresh frozen plasma.
It was also found that over 3 lakh units of fresh frozen plasma were discarded in 2016-17, which is surprising as the product is imported by several pharma companies to produce albumin.
According to the report, supporters of safe blood blamed the crisis on the absence of a robust blood sharing network between banks and hospitals. Donation camps involving thousands of participants have also come under fire, with many blaming local politicians for using them as a tool to please constituents.
Dr Zarine Bharucha of the Indian Red Cross Society pointed out that a collection of up to 500 units was acceptable and manageable.
“But we have seen and heard of camps where 1,000 to 3,000 units are collected... Where is the place to store so much blood?" she added, "Why can't people walk into regular banks and donate once every three months?” Dr Zarine was quoted by Times of India as saying.

30 years on, Trust shirks payment,Bhai Randhir Singh Trust encroached govt land, committed other irregularities, reveals RTI info.

The Tribune‎‎: Ludhiana: Monday, April 24, 2017.
A Trust set up in the name of great patriot, freedom fighter and Sikh theologian Bhai Randhir Singh, after whom the Ludhiana Improvement Trust (LIT) named its 550 acre colony Bhai Randhir Singh Nagar, has courted controversy over land allotted some 30 years ago.
The Trust has not only defaulted in the payment of cost of 1.89 acre land to LIT, but has also allegedly encroached upon 1,324 square yard government land, including 79 square yards from out of a public street.
It is also charged with using land for other purposes than those for which land was allotted and violation of building bylaws.
Information obtained under the Right to Information Act by a city-based RTI activist Baljeet Singh made startling revelation that Bhai Randhir Singh Trust had failed to make payment of balance 75 per cent amount towards the cost of 1.89 acre land allotted by LIT at a reserve price of Rs 65 per square yard for more than 30 years now.
According to LIT officials, notices were repeatedly issued to the said Trust for payment of outstanding amount of around Rs 24.70 lakh, which includes 75 per cent cost of land, penalty and interest on default amount, which evoked no response.
Information provided by LIT says that as far back as in 1995, through a official memo (no 1387 dated March 29, 1995), the Director, Local Government, Punjab, was intimated that after the allotment of 1.89 acre of land, Bhai Randhir Singh Trust had deposited only 25 per cent of the total cost of land.
The government was also informed that the Trust had commenced construction work of building without any approved building plan and further that 1,324 square yard land, including 79 square yard part of a 60 feet wide public street, had been encroached upon by the said Trust. As per LIT record, the land was allotted to the Trust for running a Kirtan Vidyalaya, a Senior Citizen Home, a community langar hall, a gurdwara, a sarovar and a printing press.
“However, none of these activities are being carried out by the Trust and instead, a senior secondary school, a tennis academy and other educational institutions which are commercial in nature are operating from the building. Moreover, building constructed without an approved plan is illegal,” says a notice issued by LIT to the said Trust.
In a representation to the state government, Baljeet Singh demanded that the allotment of land to the Trust be cancelled for default in payment, illegal change of land use, violation of building bylaws and other irregularities. At the same time, government land and part of public street under encroachment by the Trust, be also cleared in the larger public interest, he said.

सूचना के अधिकार में गुम फाइलें बड़ा रोड़ा : सीआइसी

दैनिक जागरण: नई दिल्ली: Monday, April 24, 2017.
केंद्रीय सूचना आयोग (सीआइसी) ने कार्मिक और प्रशिक्षण विभाग से कहा है कि सूचना के अधिकार (आरटीआइ) अधिनियम को लागू करने में गायब हुई फाइलें बड़ा रोड़ा बन गई हैं। आयोग ने केंद्र सरकार को यह भी स्पष्ट किया कि फाइल गुम जाना कोई बचाव नहीं है। सूचना देने से इन्कार करने में इसे बहाना नहीं बनाया जाना चाहिए।
केंद्रीय सूचना आयोग ने श्रम मंत्रालय के अफसरों को भी फाइलें गायब हो जाने को लेकर कारण बताओ नोटिस जारी किया है। आयोग ने कहा कि यह सरासर किसी जानकारी को देने में देरी करना या फिर असहज सवालों को टालने की कोशिश है।
सूचना आयुक्त श्रीधर आचार्युलु ने कहा कि भारत सरकार की या संबंधित राज्य की लापता फाइलों को लेकर क्या नीति है? आरटीआइ अधिनियम की धारा 4(1)(सी) के तहत सभी संबंधित तथ्यों की जानकारी देना आवश्यक है। इसमें वह सभी अहम नीतियां और घोषणाएं भी शामिल हैं, जिसका सीधा असर आम जनता पर पड़ता है। आयोग बलेंद्र कुमार की आरटीआइ याचिका की सुनवाई कर रहे थे जिसने श्रम और रोजगार मंत्रालय से जानकारियां मांगी थीं। जवाब में मंत्रालय ने कहा था कि फाइलें मिल नहीं रही हैं।

Coming soon, a new weapon against corruption, Good governance has been a mantra that the BJP has been repeating in Goa since the party formed its first government in the State.

Oherald: Goa: Monday, April 24, 2017.
Good governance has been a mantra that the BJP has been repeating in Goa since the party formed its first government in the State. While the party and its governments have prided themselves on delivery of governance, the big step towards achieving this will only be happening next month and be driven by an alliance partner, rather than the BJP itself. Speaking about the implementation of the Time Bound Delivery of Services Act, Revenue Minister Rohan Khaunte said that once it is implemented, government employees will be held accountable for failing to comply with the norms set. The Act aims towards ensuring a no-nonsense policy and zero-tolerance to corruption, features in government service that have been long awaited.
The State government has targeted early May by when to enforce the Act that will ensure that the common man will be assured that he will get the certificate he has applied for in time, that the government service sought will be delivered without delay. Strange as it may appear to the world outside, here in Goa and most of India there is actually need of an Act to ensure that government servants work and deliver within the timeframe they are expected to. This is an Act that is meant to revolutionise government working and alleviate the number of trips that the ordinary citizen will have to make to the government office. After the Right to Information Act, this is the major piece of legislation that will empower the citizen. Ironically, while Goa was a pioneer in the RTI arena, it is lagging far behind in the implementation of the Right to Services Act.
Madhya Pradesh was the first State in the country to enact such a piece legislation in August 2010. A year later, on Independence Day August 15, 2011, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar implemented the Act in that State. It aimed to reduce corruption, bureaucratic inefficiency and bring about transparency in government service. Within months results were visible in Bihar, as trips to government offices, the need to bribe to get a job done and the number of lost files were reduced. Punjab followed Bihar, and a large number of State have enacted similar Acts since then.
The Goa (Right of Citizens to Time-Bound Delivery of Public Services) Act, 2013 was passed by the Goa Legislative Assembly on May 2, 2013, and assented to by the Governor on June 19, 2013 and notified immediately after. The Act specifies the time limit within which designated officers of government departments or public authorities must provide citizens the service requested. Finally, the Act is being enforced in the State, and with this hopefully there will come a change in the way bureaucrats function, bringing in discipline in offices.
Yet, merely implementing and enforcing it may not be enough. The government must also create awareness of the Act so that people know what their rights are under the Act. There is a school of thought that merely implementation of the Act will not reduce pendency in offices and delays in citizens getting services, but awareness of the Act will, and in turn also reduce corruption in government offices. In the weeks ahead, it is not only how the government implements the Act that will change how bureaucrats work, but how people make use of the provisions of the Act to benefit from it that will make the difference to bring about the change in the system.
Goa has been able to make good and effective use of the Right To Information Act, there is little doubt that the Time Bound Delivery Of Services Act will also be a weapon in the hands of the people, as long as they are educated as to how to use it.

The fate of Information Commission hangs in balance : Rahul Devulapalli

The Hindu: Hyderabad: Monday, April 24, 2017.
SC nullifies appointment of 4 information commissioners.
The fate of the AP State Information Commission hangs in the balance after a recent Supreme Court ruling declaring the appointment of four information commissioners invalid.
Currently, only one information commissioner, Vijaya Babu, is active and he too will demit office next month. Legal experts are concerned that the information commission is heading to be a defunct body unless both state governments take a decision soon.
“The law does not provide for absence of information commissioners,” said a reputed lawyer well versed with the RTI Act. “A commission without a chief information commissioner is almost equal to a court without a judge. There are no alternatives mentioned in the act as no caretaker or incharge chief commissioners are allowed to run the show.” However, he said that the orders passed by the information commissioners whose appointments were struck down were still legal. RTI activists want to put pressure on both state governments to appoint the right candidates.
“We have written to AP and Telangana governments to fill up the posts of state information commissioners,” said Padmanabha Reddy, Secretary of Forum for Good Governance. “In case both state government decide to constitute their own information commissions, the process might take a few months as appointment of search committee and other procedures have to be followed.” Mr. Reddy said that if the state governments failed to act then they would approach governor and also consider legal course of action.
Meanwhile, RTI applicants and activists are worried that pendency rate would increase if the situation continued. “The public information officers in various state government officers are not taking the RTI applications. The reason is that they know that the commission’s functioning has become weak. This is not good for the transparency of the system,” said G. Srinivas Rao, an RTI activist from the city.

CIC decides 1,288 appeals by a person in one order

PTI: New Delhi: Monday, April 24, 2017.
The Central Information Commission has decided a whopping 1,288 appeals filed by a retired air force official in one go.
Retired Wing Commander Sanjeev Sharma filed these appeals before the CIC after not getting information on issues ranging from gifts given on farewell parties of the officers, felling of trees, working of AFWWA to contingency funds among others.
Sharma had filed 6,443 RTI applications with various wings of the Indian Air Force.
In his order, Information Commissioner Divya Prakash Sinha chided the Indian Air Force for poor management of Right to Information-related matters.
"The lack of sufficient number of CPIOs/APIOs in one of the three largest wings of Ministry of Defence raises a serious concern regarding the kind of importance that is accorded to the RTI Act provisions," he noted.
Central Public Information Officers (CPIOs) and Assistant Public Information Officers (APIOs) are deputed to handle Right to Information applications in a public authority.
Sinha said the dismal rate of disposing first appeals by the officers concerned of Western Air Command and Central Air Command is "alarming".
He gave a four-point advisory to the IAF from posting a Central Public Information Officer and Assistant Public Information Officer at every unit, conducting sensitisation exercises for them, bringing details of non-public fund ventures in public domain and maximum disclosure of NPFVs.
"A copy of this order is marked to the Chief of Air Staff and the Defence Secretary to take note of the observations made above as well for appropriate action as may be deemed fit for translating the advisory into effective implementation," he said.
Justifying his decision to adjudicate 1,288 appeals in one go, the Information Commissioner said this has been done after taking into consideration the fact that these RTI applications are seeking the same information but in the context of different air commands.
"...the basic contentions and relief sought in appeal would be suited for a composite listing of the matters in order to cut down on the time and resources invested in adjudicating on each appeal separately," he said in the order.
During the hearing, applicant Sanjeev Sharma said he had filed these applications as there is a parallel economy running inside the IAF fraternity and there are different sources of corruption.
Sinha appreciated the efforts of Sharma to expose alleged corruption but cautioned him that he should be aware of the spirit of the RTI Act.
"...however noble the end of this vociferous attempt of bringing about probity in the functioning of IAF would have been, fact remains that the means adopted by the appellant regrettably speaks volumes of his ignorance of the spirit of the RTI Act," he said.
Sinha, a former senior officer of Intelligence Bureau, said commission is of the opinion that the kind of time and resources spent by Sharma in filing these RTI applications and appeals do speak of certain kind of accountability which appears to be lacking in the IAF.
Commenting on the development, RTI activist retired Commodore Lokesh Batra said it is a landmark order covering a comprehensive reading of the excerpts, analysis and submissions of both the parties and other Commissioners need to emulate the practice of such a well-drafted order.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Delhi: Mystery of 400 police personnel quitting in last three years

India Today‎‎‎: New Delhi: Sunday, April 23, 2017.
Is it the work pressure or long work schedule that is forcing Delhi Police personnel to quit their jobs or take voluntary retirement for a better future or to join any other force?
In last three years, more than 400 cops have quit their jobs and taken voluntary retirement, said Delhi Police data. In an RTI filed by Aniket Gaurav, it has been learned that as many as 106 personnel posted in the security unit have quit their jobs since 2014.
It is more shocking to know that the number of personnel quitting job in the security unit has been increasing. About 25 per cent of Delhi Police's strength is earmarked for VVIP security.
The RTI in possession with MAIL TODAY reveals that in 2014, as many as 21 cops, including, nine constables, five head constables, four sub-inspector and one inspector, have resigned.
A total of 29 cops, including 13 constables and 13 sub-inspectors, have quit in 2015. In 2016, 45 police personnel, including 17 subinspectors, 15 constables, seven assistant sub-inspectors, two ACPs, have left their job. Till March this year, 11 cops, including four sub-inspectors, have left the job of Delhi Police.
Despite the number of cops quitting their jobs is high, the department has not conducted any study to ascertain the reasons. However, when the concerned official of the security unit was contacted, he remained unaware of such a huge number.
Whereas, Sunil Garg, JCP (security) told MAIL TODAY that the large number is mainly because of the factor that this unit has one of the largest number of police strength as compared to any other district police unit. "We have strength of around 8,000 police personnel in security unit and similar strength is shared by police control room unit. The third largest strength is of the traffic unit," said Garg.
According to the RTI and the Delhi Police data, since 2014, of the strength of 8,000 cops, as many as 106 have quit their jobs in the traffic unit, whereas the traffic unit that has around 5,500 personnel witness only 17 personnel leaving till March 2017.
When MAIL TODAY tried to unearth the reason behind quitting of Delhi Police job in such a large scale in the security unit, it was learnt that most of them have resigned to join UP Police. "I have prepared for the exam while doing my duties and I got shortlisted and cleared the medical test along with physical test. I joined UP Police," said a policeman requesting anonymity.
Like him, some other cops said they had to be on an alert mode all the time and the duty time often extended to more than 12 hours in Delhi Police. Also, the non-availability of basic facilities like washrooms, food and water makes the duty tough for the men deployed in the security unit.
On an average, 450 policemen are deployed along a VVIP route, which essentially requires many hours of stationed duty with continuous attention but lack of basic facilities make their work harder. Senior cops said the security unit facilitates their men to do shifthour duty.
A few months ago, Delhi Police had submitted proposals for sanction of additional strength of 52,886 police personnel to MHA.

13% trees chopped for Mumbai’s Metro-3, none replanted yet: RTI

Hindustan Times‎‎: Mumbai: Sunday, April 23, 2017.
Of the 1,074 trees that will be cut to make way for the Colaba-Bandra-SEEPZ metro project , 136 have already been cut so far.
But, not a single tree has been transplanted or replaced.
The Maharashtra (Urban Areas) and Preservation of Trees Act, 1975, says three new saplings must be planted within 30 days of a tree being cut, or the tree can be transplanted in another spot.
Activists, however, have pointed out that neither one has been done by the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation (MMRC) anywhere in the city. The details came to light after they were shared by MMRC, in response to a Right to Information (RTI) query by the Mumbai-based NGO, Watchdog Foundation.
HT reported last month the civic body’s tree authority allowed MMRC to cut 1,074 trees and transplant 1,727 trees a total of 2,811 trees will be affected for the construction of 27 stations for the project.
While the cutting of trees was stopped on February 9 after the Bombay high court imposed an interim stay, acting on two PILs filed by residents, MMRC’s RTI response showed that its plan to replace the trees and what it may actually do are quite different.
In its RTI response, MMRC revealed the four locations and the exact area 8.6 hectare (ha) at Aarey Colony, 8 ha in Mandala, Mankhurd, 8 ha in Wadala and on an open land next to the World Trade Centre building in Cuffe Parade.
However, Zoru Bathena, one of the petitioners in the Bombay HC matter said MMRC officials told him transplantations will only be done at Aarey Colony, Goregaon.
“After we told MMRC that except Aarey, the other locations did not have any space for transplanted trees, senior officers told us it would take place only at Aarey along with new plantations,” he said.
“As a responsible corporation that claims they have a responsibility towards the environment, MMRC’s actions on the ground prove otherwise. An international consultant has been appointed at a huge cost (Rs 1 crore) for tree plantation and transplantation purposes. This is being spent from the tax payer’s money, but it seems the services are not utilised at all,” said Godfrey Pimenta, trustee, Watchdog Foundation.
Despite repeated attempts to reach MMRC officials, they remained unavailable for a comment.

RTI: President gives people access to Cabinet decisions

Sunday Times: Sri Lanka: Sunday, April 23, 2017.
In a note presented by President Maithripala Sirisena and approved by the Cabinet recently, the President has informed all Ministers that all Cabinet decisions and Memoranda not falling within excepted categories under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, No 12 of 2016, have to be made available to a citizen upon request.
In terms of this note, the Cabinet has also been formally apprised of the appointment of an Information Officer (IO) and a Designated Officer (DO) for the Cabinet in terms of the RTI Act. The President has stated that previously, all Cabinet decisions were considered as confidential documents, conveyed only to the Secretary to the relevant Ministry, the parties who are directly involved in the implementation. These decisions were also informed to a limited number of others, including the Attorney General when required in regard to legal matters.
However, with changes brought about by the passing of the RTI Act, President Sirisena has noted that when requests are received from a ‘citizen’ in accordance with RTI Regulations and Rules, necessary action needs to be taken by the Secretary to the Cabinet. He has also pointed out that in conformity with proactive disclosure obligations under the RTI regime, Cabinet decisions and other facts required to be published therein are carried on the website of the Cabinet Office.
Sri Lanka’s RTI Act, along with Regulations and Rules on Fee and Appeals of the independent RTI Commission, was operationalised on February 3 this year. According to Section 23(1)(a) of the RTI Act, every Public Authority must appoint within three months of the date of operationalising the Act, one or more IOs as well as a DO to hear the first appeal. Where an IO and a DO are in place, it is mandatory that a citizen seeking information should approach those officers first and then only appeal to the RTI Commission and thereafter, to the courts.
In terms of a government policy decision, in instances where a Public Authority has appointed an IO but has failed to appoint a DO, the relevant administrative superior will become the DO. The Act, meanwhile, provides that if an IO is not appointed, then the Head or the CEO of the Public Authority is deemed to be the IO. In this case, appeal from a decision of the IO will lie directly to the Commission.
Following inquiries made to the Mass Media and Parliamentary Affairs Ministry which is the implementing nodal agency, the Sunday Times learns that a considerable number of Public Authorities and other private entities falling within the Act have complied with the mandatory requirement to appoint IOs and DOs. However, Public Authorities still failing to comply include the University Grants Commission (UGC), the Higher Education Ministry, ‘all courts, tribunals and institutions created for the administration of justice’ and the Judicial Service Commission (JSC). Other independent constitutional Commissions and Commissions created under written law have also complied with the requirements of the RTI Act.

RTI Act not being implemented in true spirit : By DIBYENDU MONDAL

The Sunday Guardian: New Delhi: Sunday, April 23, 2017.
The Right to Information Act (RTI), which was brought in to ensure transparency in the functioning of various government departments both at the Centre and state levels, does not seem to be working efficiently, as more and more RTIs are now being rejected under the excuse of national security and many are being allowed to lapse so that the applicant is forced to personally visit the Central Information Commission (CIC) for hearing, according to several RTI activists.
“It is surprising that a large number of RTI applications have been rejected under the “Others” category that does not even exist in the RTI Act. This is perhaps a tool that the Public Authorities have adopted to reject information that they do not wish to bring out in the public domain,” Venkatesh Nayak, an RTI activist and programme coordinator of the Access to Information Programme of the NGO Commonwealth Human Right Initiative told The Sunday Guardian.
Nayak also raised questions on the inordinate delays in providing information to RTI applicants. “It has become a common practice for the Public Authorities not to provide replies on RTI applications according to the prescribed deadline of 30 days. This poses the serious question about compliance with the RTI Act by the Public Authorities and I believe they sit on RTI applications under the garb of long pendency of applications. They know they would be able to get away with it. At times, Public Information Officers also deliberately delay RTI replies, waiting for the applicant to make appeals to the commission following which they start acting,” Nayak said.
Several journalists who have been filing regular RTIs have also complained about the inordinate delays in providing replies to their RTI applications. Not just this, some have also said that their first appeals have also been pending for months.
A journalist, who did not wish to be named and specifically files RTI applications, said, “A government official told me that they do not reply to many RTIs knowingly so that people lose interest in them. The official said that they know that very few will appeal before the CIC to pursue their RTIs.”
The CIC’s annual report for 2015-2016 also projects a gloomy picture about the disposal of RTI applications by various government departments. A whopping 11.65 lakh RTI applications are pending with the various Public Authorities for disposal as on 2016-end, while over 64,000 RTI applications have been rejected by the various Public Authorities last year alone, according to the CIC’s annual report published recently.
The CIC’s report further says that 47% of the RTI applications rejected was under Section 8(1), which exempts from disclosure such information which affects the sovereignty and integrity of the country and its security and strategic, scientific or economic interest, commercial confidence, trade secrets, or intellectual property. Of the RTI applications, 1% was rejected under Section 9 (Private copyright), 2% under Section 9 (Third party information) and Section 24 (Intelligence and Security Organisations) was invoked to reject 7% of the RTIs. Surprisingly, 43% of the applications were rejected under the “Others” category, which does not find a mention in the RTI Act.
Raising questions about the poor compliance with the RTI Act, Shailesh Gandhi, former Central Information Commissioner, said, “Non compliance of the 30-day window for providing information is an acute problem that has developed with the Public Information Officers and this has been increasing because the penalty provision of the Act is not being implemented strictly by the Commission. The CIC should ensure that the RTI provisions be implemented in their true spirit and applications be disposed of quickly, thus reducing the pendency and the huge backlog.”
Gandhi also raised concern about the “gross misinterpretation” of certain provisions of the RTI Act, which, according to him, is diluting the Act. “India ranks really low in terms of implementation of the RTI Act compared to other countries. The Public Authorities have also been misinterpreting several provisions of the Act, particularly the exempting provisions. Such misinterpretations also lead to ‘amending’ the law without actually being legally amended, leading to its dilution,” Gandhi said.
The Department of Personnel and Training’s “Withdrawal/Abatement of appeal” clause under Draft RTI rules 2017, has also drawn flak from RTI activists.
The “Withdrawal/Abatement of appeal” clause says that the proceedings pending before the Commission shall abate on the death of the appellant and also that the commission may allow the appellant to withdraw an application made before the commission if the appellant wishes to.
Commenting on this, Shailesh Gandhi said that the death provision included in the Draft rules is “flawed”. “The information does not belong to a particular person, it belongs to the public and it seems that the Draft Rules are not well thought out. Even after the death of the applicant, the information sought should be put out in public domain, irrespective of the cause of death of the applicant.”
Venkatesh Nayak said that this provision could be misused by notorious elements to either pressurise the applicant to withdraw the application or threaten him/her with death.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Flooded with RTI queries, info panel debars applicant

The Tribune‎‎‎‎‎: Chandigarh: Saturday, April 22, 2017.
More than 500 applications moved under the Right to Information (RTI) Act by a ‘habitual’ Ludhiana-based activist have irked the State Information Commission (SIC) to an extent that it has directed the Municipal Corporation, Ludhiana, to ignore the RTI queries by the applicant, who is “running riot by filing repeated applications seeking inane information.”
Delivering an unusual order, the commission observed that RTI activism of this man had “drastically hampered” the routine work of the MC, Ludhiana, as a large number of employees and officials remained busy either in dealing with his RTI queries or to prepare replies in response to appeals filed by him to appellate authorities.
Otherwise mandated to facilitate information to RTI applicants, the commission took the decision today while hearing cases pertaining to RTI applications filed by Amarjit Singh Dhamotia of Ludhiana, who has filed more than 500 applications under the RTI Act.
While disposing of pleas filed by Dhamotia, State Information Commissioner Yashvir Mahajan observed, “The duty of the commission is to see that such blatant misuse of the RTI Act should not be allowed further and such situation needs to be appropriately dealt with to secure the faith of the public in the ‘sunshine Act’ and remove obstacles in functioning of public authority, which would eventually prevent public authority from focusing on transparency.”
The SIC further observed, “the applicant’s act of running riot by filing repeated applications seeking inane and voluminous information has become counter-productive of public interest. The commission cannot allow such fishing operations of the appellant. We see his act as misuse rather abuse of the RTI Act with unsavoury motives. The commission accordingly disposes of all appeals in hand in terms of Section 7 (9) of the RTI Act and allows the public authority to ignore his applications in future.”
It was held that the RTI applications filed by the person had drastically hampered the routine work of the MC, Ludhiana. The SIC said many MC officers were all day busy in dealing with his RTI queries, whereas other officers had to visit the SIC to file reply in the commission on the appeals filed by Dhamotia.

Over Half Information Commission Orders Contain Deficiencies, Report Finds : By Gaurav Vivek Bhatnagar

The Wire‎‎‎‎‎: New Delhi: Saturday, April 22, 2017.
RTI activists demand penalties against public information officers, insist RTI Act being killed by ‘misrepresentation’.
A recent report, ‘Tilting the Balance of Power: Adjudicating the RTI Act,’ on the most critical challenges in the implementation of the Right to Information Act, 11 years after its enactment, has established that more than 60% of the orders contained deficiencies in that they had not recorded critical facts.
The report, brought out by by Satark Nagrik Sangathan (SNS) and Research, Assessment and Analysis Group (RaaG) and authored by Anjali Bhardwaj, Shekhar Singh and Amrita Johri, analysed 2000 orders of four information commissions (ICs) across the country, including the Central Information Commission (CIC), cited various orders of the Supreme Court that caution against the tendency to give cryptic, unreasoned orders. In Manohar s/o Manikrao Anchule Vs State of Maharashtra, the court categorically, and in great detail, laid down that judicial, quasi-judicial, and even administrative orders must contain detailed reasoning for their decisions.
Decisions in just two-three lines
Despite clear judicial pronouncements, the study found that in a large number of cases, decisions of the commissions, including those of the CIC, were provided in just two or three lines without giving any grounds or basis for the decision.
In this regard, it pointed out that the Rajasthan and Bihar state ICs were found to be the worst performers, with 74% and 73% of the orders respectively not even describing the information that was sought. Most of these orders made no reference to the background or the essential relevant facts of the case like dates, details of information sought, previous decision of the public information officer (PIO) or the first appellate authority (FAA).
According to Bhardwaj of SNS, the phenomenon of not passing speaking orders is problematic for several reasons: “First, information seekers, the concerned public authorities, and the public at large, have no way of finding out the rationale for the decisions of ICs. This leaves people in the dark and prevents effective public scrutiny and accountability of the ICs. Most importantly, orders of ICs are often challenged before courts. The tests of legality, fairness and reasonableness become exponentially more difficult to pass when the orders don’t speak for themselves and lack essential information, facts and reasoning.”
Bhardwaj said the issue becomes especially problematic as ICs are often not made a party in legal challenges to their orders before the court and therefore they have no opportunity to present any material in defence of their directions, which is not contained in the original order. “Deficiencies in IC orders therefore burden the information seekers with the task of defending orders of the ICs before courts. Vague use of language, insufficient or incorrect recording of facts and not recording basis of orders, weigh in in favour of the petitioner assailing the order of the commission.”
Orders of ICs often seem to violate the legal dictum that in appeals and complaints, the onus of proof is on the PIO and the denier of information. Perhaps the most controversial illegality found in IC orders relates to the imposition of penalties, wherein case after case penalties are waived or ignored despite being legally mandatory.
Need to initiate penalty proceedings
It is the contention of the RaaG-SNS report that in all cases where a violation of the RTI Act occurs, ICs must proceed with the procedure laid down in Section 20 of the Act to initiate penalty proceedings against errant PIOs.
Across the sample of ICs (excluding Rajasthan), the study found that an average of 59% orders recorded one or more violations listed in Section 20 of the RTI Act, based on which the IC should have triggered the process of penalty imposition. However, in only 24% of these cases did the IC issue a notice to the PIO asking him or her to show cause why penalty should not be levied. Finally penalty was imposed in only 1.3% of the cases in which it was imposable.
An analysis of 1469 orders undertaken for the purpose of the study showed that by foregoing penalties in cases where they were impossible, even at a conservative estimate, a loss of around Rs 285 crores was caused to the public exchequer, which could in fact be construed to be an offence under the IPC and other laws.
Johri of SNS added that “even more important than the revenue lost is the loss of deterrence value that the threat of penalty was supposed to have provided. This destroys the basic framework of incentives and disincentives built into the RTI law, and promotes a culture of impunity.”
Singh said there were numerous instances of non-imposition of penalties by the commissioners where they ought to be imposed. “The analysis done in the earlier RaaG report showed that, as an average, information was only provided to 45% of the RTI applicants, and that the average time taken to provide information was 60 days, while the legally mandated maximum is 30 days. The laxity in imposing penalties is also allowing PIOs to take liberties with the RTI Act, at the cost of the public,” he said.
‘CIC was setting a precedent with earlier detailed decisions’
Former chief information commissioner Wajahat Habibullah believes while in its earlier days the CIC was trying to set benchmarks that is no longer the case now and this is probably what explains the concise nature of the orders.
“So far as the quality of RTI decisions is concerned in the CIC, when I was there the cases were relatively new and so it became compulsory for the Commission to in fact deal with the cases and establish and state the law and the legal point much more comprehensively. Due to this the decisions were much longer. They were setting a precedent then. That is not so now. In an effort to speed up the disposal of orders there has been a certain kind of deterioration. Therefore it would be good for the commission to have a relook at their manner of disposal and how they can keep the pace up without actually compromising on the quality of decisions,” Habibullah said.
Citizenry, media has a bigger role to play
On what could be done about this situation, Habibullah said if the judiciary and the bureaucracy, which runs the commission, do not act as they should, it is time for the media and the citizenry to play a bigger role. “If the three arms are moved by someone, and if there is a public campaign or a movement then why would they continue to behave this way. Public debate and the media has a major role to play. If you want RTI Act to be effective, then you should do something about it.”
‘RTI Act being killed by misrepresentation’
Former central information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi, who had set a record in clearing over 20,000 cases in a short span of time, said the RTI Act was being killed by “misinterpretation”. He too advocated the need for citizens to create a discussion around the RTI Act. “In fact, I have been suggesting to people that there should be a colloquium held with judges, lawyers, information commissioners and RTI users to arrive at what the law says.
A template for orders?
The RaaG- SNS report recommended a template for the IC orders and states that it would be useful if the ICs adopt a uniform checklist of points they need to consider before they finalise their orders and uniform formats for their orders. ICs must ensure that, wherever applicable, reasons for every part of their order must be contained in the order.
“In keeping with the Supreme Court diktat that orders of judicial, quasi-judicial and administrative orders must give detailed reasoning for their decisions, orders of the ICs must be well reasoned and complete in all respects. This is critical to ensure a robust transparency regime which empowers citizens to hold governments accountable”, says Bhardwaj.
Gandhi also expressed his exasperation with the vagueness of the orders. “If a petitioner does not provide you the details, you will not even know what the case is about.”
Questioning why hyperlinks to the original petition and orders of PIO, FAA and others not provided when the entire system is computerised, he said “it is primarily due to laziness and ‘I don’t care’ attitude. When you put all this there, then your accountability becomes even higher. Right now you put out a simple order and most people would not know what the matter is about.”
Gandhi feared that attempts are being made to discourage the appellants. “The PIOs have been obstructing flow of information. So we will need to create a public opinion about it. If we will not do anything, in another 10 years it will become like the Consumer Act where the orders are there but there is negligible impact.”

Rejected a candidate on medical ground, put reasons on your website, HC tells defence forces

Hindustan Times‎‎‎‎: Chandigarh: Saturday, April 22, 2017.
The Punjab and Haryana high court has advised defence forces to put reasons for rejection of a candidate on medical ground in the process of recruitment, on its website.
The high court bench of justice RN Raina observed that defence services being all India services, candidates apply from far flung places. It is an arduous endeavour to seek justice from Delhi and other parts of India where candidates are medically checked up, the bench said.
“This will instill faith in information available in public domain by putting parties to advance notice after the final results are known to the authorities,” it said.
The high court was hearing a plea of a Hoshiarpur resident, who was a candidate for recruitment of sailors in Indian Navy in 2016. He was declared medically unfit at the first stage for tachycardia (an abnormally rapid heart rate) and impacted wax (buildup of layers of earwax within the ear). In the review, the candidate was declared fit on these two counts but diagnosed with chronic otitis media effects of bilateral (inflammatory diseases of the middle ear).
Since no document was supplied to him, he procured the review board record through right to information (RTI) and as the opinions differed, he got himself examined at Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), Chandigarh.
The PGIMER termed him fit on all counts. Following this, he approached the high court in October 2016. The court referred his case to Army Research and Referral Hospital, Delhi Cantt, which termed him fit.
While asking the navy for his induction, the HC also took note of the petitioner’s counsel, who had argued that forces should consider that in cases where candidates are rejected on medical grounds, the gist of the reasons for rejection, if not provided to the candidate, should at least be put on the website so that they can easily access it. This will save time and expense of contestants pursuing requests under the Right to Information Act, 2005 and other legal means, the petitioner had argued.
“Information put timely on the official website in such cases will help the interested persons to notice their shortcomings and deal with them. The suggestion commends itself to me as a transparent process. This court trusts the authorities, which must already be seized of this problem, and if not, they may consider putting a rational system in place,” justice Raina said, expressing hope that authorities would take appropriate measures.