Monday, September 26, 2016

Damages for destroying assembly furniture yet to be recovered from MLAs

Indian Express‎‎‎‎‎‎: Kerala: Monday, September 26, 2016.
Though it has been 18 months since furniture and fixtures were destroyed in the commotion during presentation of the State Budget by the previous UDF Government, the `2.20-lakh loss to the exchequer is yet to be recovered from MLAs.
With the second session of the 14th Kerala Assembly beginning on Monday, NCPRI-Kerala (National Campaign For People’s Right To Information) state committee member M T Thomas has urged the Assembly Speaker to take immediate steps to recover the amount.
According to him, an RTI reply on the issue had stated that the estimated cost of the furniture and fixtures destroyed by the MLAs during the Budget session on March 13, 2015, was `2,20,093.
“The amount is neither recovered from the MLAs and others concerned so far, nor is it written off. In this context, it may please be noted that had it been a case involving an ordinary citizen, the amount would have been recovered long ago. No attempt has been made to recover the amount even one-and-half year after the incident as ‘VIPs’ are involved in the case. Does it mean that the rules of the country are not applicable to MLAs. As far as the common man is concerned, there is no constitutional exemption for MLAs from criminal cases,” Thomas said in a statement.
Six LDF MLAs of the previous Assembly were chargesheeted by the Crime Branch in the case, including CPM MLAs E P Jayarajan, V Sivankutty, C K Sadasivan and K Kunjahmed Master; K Ajith of the CPI; and Left Independent K T Jaleel.
Thomas said that as per the RTI reply, a case was registered at the Museum Police Station in Thiruvanthapuram (crime number 236/15 under Section-427,447 & 34 of the IPC and Section-3(1) of the PDPP ACT).   “The Assembly Secretariat has not furnished information as to the present status of the case. It is learnt that the case is currently being investigated by the Thiruvanthapuram DySp (CBCID EOW-1,” said Thomas quoting the RTI reply.

Inquire fake birth certificates racket in NDMC: CIC

Business Standard‎‎‎‎‎: New Delhi: Monday, September 26, 2016.
The Central Information Commission has ordered inquiry into "gross irregularities" in issuance of fake birth certificates by North Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) after 49 forged certificates came to light.
Information Commissioner Yashovardhan Azad noted in his order that practices and procedures devoid of transparency end up being a "breeding ground" for malpractices of fraudulence, manipulation and corruption.
"Upon perusal of the aforementioned facts and submissions of the case, gross irregularities have surfaced in this case, showcasing over 49 fake birth certificates has come as a shocking revelation.
"It is appalling that such a heinous crime is being committed in an unbridled manner, right in the capital where maximum legal checks and safeguards are expected to be in place for smooth governance and providing best of civic amenities to the citizens," Azad said in his order.
The Commissioner, a former IPS officer, found that the birth certificates were issuedby the NDMC merely on the basis of hard copies of certain orders purportedly issued by the SDM office, and for all the 47 birth certificates issued, there is no corresponding soft copy of the same SDM orders available online on the Delhi Government website.
"As is evident from the facts of the case at hand, 49 fake birth certificates indicate that the procedures were twisted and rules/policies and laws violated for creating fabricated documents.These forged documents, 49 in all, which have been dealt with in this case, were created without any cross linking or cross referencing," he said.
Azad said the RTI Act was enacted to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority in order to strengthen the core constitutional values of a democratic republic--keeping in mind rights of an informed citizenry in which transparency of information is vital in curbing corruption andmaking the Government and its instrumentalities accountable.
"Practices and procedures devoid of transparency end up being a breeding ground for malpractices of fraudulence, manipulation and corruption.
"Democracy, therefore, demands openness which is a concomitant of a transparent system of governance, disinfected of the malpractices by the light of openness and transparency," he said.
Azad said he was reminded of a press report, not so long ago, about a CBI inquiry conducted in Civil Lines Zone of MCD on account of some fake birth certificate racket.
"One cannot surmise the numbers of such forged documents already issued and the amount of harm it is causing to the entire system at large. This menace of forgery and corruption can be tackled only by making all such documents open to the public and issued only after multiple levels of cross linking," he said.
The Information Commissioner said public authorities should exercise due caution and issue hardcopy of such vital documents only after due verification and crosschecking.
"The Commission directs that the 49 fake birth certificates, which have been unearthed in this case, should be rescinded.
"An inquiry should be initiated so that such acts of offence against the society at large can be investigated appropriately by an independent and capable security agency, criminality of the delinquent officer/s investigated and exemplary punishment awarded to the wrongdoers - as a deterrent in future from abuse of public office," he said.
Lauding the efforts of RTI applicant Rajnish Kumar Dhingra, who brought this case before the Commission through persistent RTIs to NDMC, Azad said it is necessary to send the right message and to check the menace of fake certificates being issued by such an important and almost sole public agency responsible for authentication of birth/death of citizens.
"An Action Taken Report shall be submitted before the Commission within four weeks with a copy provided to the appellant, at whose behest the entire scam has come to light," he said.

CIC order on MLA funds violated: NGO

Times of India‎‎‎‎: New Delhi: Monday, September 26, 2016.
At a time when the Delhi government is proposing a hike in the annual MLA Local Area Development Scheme (MLALADS) funds from the current Rs 4 crore to Rs 14 crore for speeding up development work, it has come under scrutiny for lack of transparency.
Voluntary organisation Satark Nagrik Sangathan's Anjali Bhardwaj filed a complaint with the Central Information Commission on September 14 stating that "the Delhi government is violating Section 4 of the RTI Act and the specific order of the CIC dated February 10, 2011, to proactively disclose details of utilisation of the MLALAD scheme through a board in each constituency and through the internet."
It has sought an inquiry into the violations and wants action against officials responsible for obstructing information. AAP rode to power on the plank of bringing transparency in governance. Lack of adherence to CIC guidelines has been brought out through ground audits and data analysis submitted by the complainant to CIC.
RTI responses from the state have been submitted to illustrate how things have gone wrong. "On June 11, 2015, an RTI application was filed with the UD department. Information was sought on each board displaying details of MLALADS and the url/web address of the website. In reply to the RTI application, instead of providing the location and addresses of the boards, the department forwarded the application to all the executing agencies, including, PWD, SDMC, EDMC, NDMC, BSES, DDA, Delhi Cantonment Board, DJB, NDPL, DUSIB etc. Despite receiving about 250 pages from these various agencies/departments, the relevant information sought about the boards displaying details of MLALADS was not provided," says the complaint.
The UD department had issued directions to 16 executing agencies on January 27, 2015, stating that, "now the information pertaining to 2011-12 onwards is to be installed on a board in each constituency. The UD department, which is the nodal department for works under MLALADS, is not equipped for handling such issues. Hence, it has been decided that each executing department will mention the information regarding work executed under MLALADS on a board having maximum public view in each constituency. The space for installation of the board will be decided by the municipal corporation..." The complainant has noted that these directions clearly indicate that the boards have not been updated since 2011-12.
"Further, the UD department's attempt at abdicating its responsibility in terms of collecting details of fund utilisation and displaying them on boards by directing each agency to put up separate boards is without jurisdiction," it is emphasized. The CIC order had clarified that all the information of how a MLA utilised the MLALAD funds was to be updated on "a signboard".
As far as displaying information on a website in conformity with the CIC order is concerned, in reply to the RTI application, the UD department stated that the details of utilization of MLALADS are available at www.ud.delhigovt.nic.in. The complaint then goes on to show how multiple links lead to a web of information that is of little help to understand the status of fund utilization.
The complainant refers to an order dated September 24, 2015, by the special secretary (UD) stating that 'MLA Local Area Development Fund online processing and monitoring' is hosted at mlalad.delhi.gov.in. As per the order, the credentials for the application have been provided to MLAs and that they are required to update information.
An analysis of the information on this website on September 12 this year by a Satark Nagrik Sangathan team revealed that for more than 75% of the constituencies, no details of projects had been provided and the web pages were blank. "Whether this implies that the MLA has not recommended any works or has recommended works but details have not been uploaded is unclear. Only for 15 MLAs is any kind of information available on the website," it has been pointed out.
"Even for constituencies where projects are displayed, more than 70% do not provide the exact location of the project," it is stated in the complaint.
Since the formation of District Urban Development Agency (DUDA), the MLALAD scheme is being executed through it. Each of the 11 districts of Delhi has its own website, which has a link to DUDA. The complainant points out that on these links, letters detailing release of funds from MLALADS by the MLAs of that district were available. "As the information is disclosed in the form of individual letters for release of funds, it is not possible to view all the details of utilization of MLALADS for a constituency at one go," says the complaint.

Info on sand mining denied citing postal order expiry

Bangalore Mirror‎‎‎: Bangalore: Monday, September 26, 2016.
Denial of the data points to police-mafia nexus, says activist.
It seems the police department is determined to ensure details about illegal sand mining are kept away from public purview as it has tried every tactic to dodge sharing of information about the illegal sand mafia and the quantity of sand seized in the state.
However, when the applicant remained persistent on getting a reply to his RTI questions, the department responded saying that the Indian Postal Order ('IPOs' - payment of RTI fee) attached with the application had expired since it was six months old; IPOs are actually valid for a period of two years.
Activists are crying foul and are attributing the incident to the unholy nexus between the sand cartels operating across the state and a section of enforcement authorities.
The applicant in the case also alleges that the police were conducting occasional raids to seize illegal sand-laden trucks but were silently releasing the seized sand back to the smugglers without following subsequent procedures to ensure legal action against the accused individuals.
Sand mining is rampant in parts like Mysuru, Chamrajnagar, Mandya, Madikeri, Chikmagalur, Mangaluru, and Chitradurga, besides Tumakuru. Bhaskaran has also sought information from all 28 districts. Though earlier the officials used to evade furnishing information by claiming that the details sought were 'personal' and ''of no public interest'', this time, the applicant was denied information stating that the IPO attached with his application had 'expired' since it was six months old. Recently, even information pertaining to pension received by information commissioners had been categorised as 'of no public interest'.
The RTI application
RTI activist S Bhaskaran had sought information through RTI on the quantity of sand seized, first information reports (FIRs) registered and the subsequent storage and disposal of the seized loads of sand pertaining to Kora, Kallambela and Sira in Tumakuru district - infamous for its sand mafia. He had sought specific details about FIRs registered against the sand smugglers, illegal mining of sand, storage of seized sand and action taken against vehicles used for smuggling sand during raids conducted from 2013 to 2016.
"When sand is seized, it has to be handed over to mining and geology department and that department should issue public notice and then auction it. However, we haven't witnessed such a process here. So the question is where did all this seized sand go? Who let it off? Who is involved? A reply to my RTI pleas alone will throw light on these questions. However, by the way information is being denied, something seems amiss," Bhaskran told Bangalore Mirror.
Passing the buck
Responding to the RTI application, the SCRB (state crime record bureau), instead of providing information about the FIRs registered in the cases, transferred the application to the Tumakuru police superintendent's office. The applicant pointed out that the SCRB itself was set up to compile the list of FIRs registered across the state to keep a track on the crime trend and graph in Karnataka.
"Interestingly, the SCRB transferred the application to the superintendent's office instead of encashing the IPOs attached with the application. If they had encashed the postal order then it would have been their responsibility to furnish a reply as per the norms in the RTI Act," Bhaskaran added.
However, the superintendent's office furnished a reply claiming that the IPO attached with the application had expired. But the postal order with the application was dated November 9, 2015, and is valid till November 9, 2017. The IPO is a method of paying the application fee of Rs 10 while seeking information under the RTI Act.
One can also seek information using DD (demand draft) of the same value. Further, based on the information sought, an additional fee has to be paid per page to get desired information.
"The denial of information points to a den of irregularities like facilitating illegal sand mining. No one knows what happens to people involved and the sand recovered," Bhaskaran alleged.
The mines and geology department, empowered to issue licence for mining sand in the state, maintained that though they were responsible for maintaining records about the load numbers and quantity of sand seized, the police was in charge of the enforcement process starting with the registration of FIRs against those caught smuggling sand. They claimed that even they were not aware about the status of the sand seizure raids conducted periodically by the police department.
As per the 2013 illegal sand policy, all stakeholder departments after registering an FIR, compound the value of seized land.
WILL CONTINUE TO SEEK INFORMATION
Meanwhile, as even information on the FIRs registered has not been provided over flimsy grounds, the same will be challenged before the first appellate authority, Bhaskaran added.

Official fails to answer RTI plea, fined Rs 25,000

Times of India‎‎: Chennai: Monday, September 26, 2016.
In what can be called a rare order of penalizing under the RTI Act, the State Information Commission (SIC) in a recent order has fined a former Ambattur sub-registrar 25,000 for failing to send proper replies to an RTI petition. The SIC has also directed the inspector general (IG), registration to initiate disciplinary action against the sub-registrar.
The officer in question is K Vijayalakshmi who is now posted as the district registrar, Tiruvannamalai.
In his RTI petitions filed in July and September 2014, SR Venkatraman, of Varadarajapuram in Ambattur, claimed to have obtained a stay order against registration of any transaction on his land, which, he said, was communicated to the district registrar. Despite that, a registration was carried out in December 2013. Using RTI, he sought to know the action taken on his intimation of the stay order and request for cancellation of the registration.
He received a reply in November, 2014 from the Public Information Officer that there was no record of the stay order in question.
After this, he filed two appeals with the SIC. During the enquiry, Vijayalakshmi submitted that she had received a letter from Venkatraman's lawyer, but the stay order was not there in it. She also said she had arranged to send a reply to the RTI through her assistant.
The information commissioner, K Ramanujam ruled that her explanations were not corroborated by any evidence. "There is no record either to show that she handed over the RTI file to her successor to enable him to send a reply," Ramanujam noted in the order.
During the enquiry, Ramanujam also sought to check the registers in the Ambattur sub-registrar's office and noted that it was maintained in an improper manner. "This will negate the ideal of accountability which is a corner-stone of RTI Act. It is suggested that IG, registration may issue suitable instructions to all officers on this," he noted.

‘Official apathy’ irks RTI Commissioners

The Hindu: Vijayawada: Monday, September 26, 2016.
Right to Information (RTI) Act Commissioners Lam Tantiya Kumari and P. Vijaya Babu have said some officials are non-cooperative and acting leniently in the implementation of the Act.
The Commissioners have felt that the heads of some districts and the Appellate Authorities are not taking measures for spreading message on the importance of the Act which is aimed at preventing corruption.
Violating RTI Act will be treated as crime and criminal cases can be booked against violators and can be prosecuted, the Commissioners have warned. Mr. Vijaya Babu, while receiving petitions during his recent visit to the city, said some officials issued GOs on RTI Act in the State which were not valid. The Commissioner said the Appellate Authorities were deputing their subordinates for hearings which was not correct. “The Appellate Authorities cannot depute their staff for arguments and the concerned should attend the hearings,” he said.
“Some bureaucrats are deliberately neglecting the Act and ignoring the petitioners. It is the duty of the officers to maintain transparency while implementing the government schemes to uphold the reputation of the government,” said Mr. Vijaya Babu.
Clearance of petitions
Ms. Tantiya Kumari said as many as 12,000 petitions were received and of them 10,000 were cleared. But, it has come to the notice of the Commission that some officers were reportedly demanding money for giving information to the petitioners, she said while attending a programme at Nuzvid in Krishna district.
“Only those who do mistakes fear about the RTI Act. All the departments come under the Act and the officers should ensure that RTI Act is implemented property,” the Information Commissioner said. “If a mandal court serve summons, the officer will present promptly. But, when the RTI directed the officers to submit some information during hearings, the officer is deputing some lower rung staff which reflects the negligent attitude of the bureaucrats towards the Act,” they remarked.
Some bureaucrats are deliberately neglecting the Act and ignoring the petitioners
It has come to the Commission’s notice that a few officers are demanding money to part with information.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Tribal Development Dept: Rs5,000 crore allocation, no accountability

DNA‎‎‎: Mumbai: Sunday, September 25, 2016.
Who is accountable for the deaths of such a large number of tribal kids due to malnutrition in Palghar, Melghat and other districts of Maharashtra? Perhaps nobody!
This can be understood from the Women and Child Development Department (WCD), which claims 208 kids died in Palghar from April to August. While health department data points out more than 340 children lost their lives in the same period.
None of the two departments have any specific data pertaining to malnutrition deaths. Nonetheless, the tribal development department doesn't compile any figures. Minister Vishnu Savara quoted the figures of WCD, when he was cornered on the issue.
The Tribal department's apathy is despite the fact, that malnutrition has been a perennial issue for Palghar with an alarming number of kids below the age of five dying due to severe undernutrition for many years.
Ideally, the Tribal Development Department (TDD) should have been an umbrella body to spearhead various welfare schemes for Tribals. But, unfortunately, that is not the case.
The department that had an annual allocation of Rs5,170 crore in 2015-16 merely functions as "funding body" as most schemes are implemented by other departments, claim officials.
When asked about kids deaths in his area, Babasaheb Pardhe, project officer of Integrated Tribal Development Project (Jawhar, Mokhada, Wada and Vikramgad), said, "Nutritional schemes are implemented by Integrated Child Development Project through aanganwadis, which come under WCD. Treatment of malnourished kids is taken care of by Public Health and Family Welfare departments. We provide them funds from time to time. None of these departments' report to us."
This means that despite being on ground and working in the same tribal project area, WCD and Health and Family Welfare departments don't share data and information with the tribal development department.
Aanganwadis not only cater to children under six, but also pregnant mothers (Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Amrut Ahaar Yojna). They also take care of immunization and health screening of kids with the help of ASHA and ANM.
Two other main schemes are implemented by health and family welfare department, say officials. Janani Suraksha yojna to promote institutional delivery and offer financial assistance to mothers for two kids and Rashtriya Bal Swasthya Karyakram (RBSK), which aims at early identification and intervention for children from birth to 18 years to cover four 'D's viz. defects at birth, deficiencies, diseases, development delays including disability.
What does the tribal department do then with 15,000 plus staff? "We manage 530 ashrams, schools and hostels for youths," said tribal officials. Incidentally, ashram schools are accused of large scale irregularities and highest number of deaths across India. As many as 684 tribal children died in Maharashtra state-run residential schools in the last five years out of total 883 deaths in India, revealed a media report early this year quoting RTI response.
"Malnutrition has a complex set of political, social and economic causes. Unfortunately, there are no easy solutions that fit entire state and complete within a single deadline," says Mahesh Raut, tribal activist from Gadchiroli.
While minister and secretary remained unreachable, a top official defended: "Governor had recently pulled up the three departments on lack of coordination. We are now seeking to collaborate for better implementation of schemes."

RTI activists slam new CIC website

DNA‎‎‎: Mumbai: Sunday, September 25, 2016.
The new Central Information Commission (CIC) website has come under the criticism of the Right to Information (RTI) applicants and activists. Calling it a bowing down of sorts, activists said it was a way of showing "indebtedness" to political masters.
The homepage of new website, which has been launched just days ahead of the RTI anniversary, has pictures of prime minister Narendra Modi, former central chief information commissioner greeting Modi, picture of convention and Arun Jaitley speaking at the convention, followed by the commission's new building. Many opined that this last picture would have sufficed.
"The new website gives a very wrong signal. The CIC is an independent body. What will an applicant think when he or she approaches the CIC? Imagine if the Supreme Court and High Court websites start having pictures of politicians on their homepage. This is not the fault of the PM but the central information commissioners, who seem to be showing their gratitude and indebtedness for having been appointed," said RTI activist Vihar Durve.
Echoing Durve's view, Commodore Lokesh Batra (retired), another RTI activist, said, "The new website is like the prime minister's website. That is objectionable because CIC is supposed to be neutral. Even if they wanted to put pictures of the convention, they could have put them as a separate thing in the photo gallery. That is how it happens in most constitutional websites. None of the other commission websites have photos of him."
Besides this issue, applicants and activists said the site was also not viewer-friendly. "In the old website, decisions were catergorised quarter-wise. It was easier to sort through important decisions without knowing the file numbers. Now, it has become tiring to look at orders. They have also introduced file number options, which will make it difficult for people to see the decisions if they do not have any information about them. Some links do not open as well," Batra said.
Durve added, "The Opposition, including Rahul Gandhi, is not objecting because they feel that people will question them on political parties coming under the RTI Act. Instead of pictures of politicians, the site should have pictures of those who have worked to ensure that the Act was implemented and those killed for using it."
Meanwhile, central chief information commissioner Radha Krishan Mathur did not respond to calls or messages from dna. A senior official said the site was created with the help of the commission and any suggestions or observations by citizens could be sent on the feedback section.

Rajasthan Technical University promoted teachers without consent of govt

Times of India‎‎‎: Jaipur: Sunday, September 25, 2016.
Rajasthan Technical University had granted promotions to 35 teachers in July 2015, under the career advancement scheme allegedly without seeking permission from the state government. After the matter came to light, the government formed a committee two months ago to look into it. A RTI report clears that state was not informed and hints at irregularities in promotions. The committee held one meeting and sought relevent documents from the RTU. The matter is also pending before the ACB.
The CAS norms say that every faculty member is required to have a certain number of research papers to publish in reputed journals. Most of the persons, promoted under the scheme, do not have the requisite number of published research articles. TOI has a copy of RTI report which says that no permission was granted to RTU for holding CAS.
"No permission was gran ted for CAS by the state from May 13, 2013 till December 3, 2015," says a RTI reply by the state technical education department. While the CAS interviews took plave in July 2015. Gajanand Soni, the finance officer of RTU, has cautioned the RTU VC to take prior permission for holding CAS from the state government on July 1, 2015 but was ignored.
Panel of experts for CAS interviews were not approved by the academic council, say documents. These panelists review the documents of the candidates to decide whether the person is eligible for CAS or not. Particulars of the meeting say that then VC Vinay Phatak had not read the names of panelist in the meeting held on June 4, 2015. He merely read out names of the department of panelist leaving the scope of ambiguity . At that time CP Gupta, a member, had objected for not reading out the names of panelists. He mailed to all the members of the board and TOI has a copy of the mail objecting the meeting.
It also violates the three child norm of the state government which required for can didates to appear in CAS at that time. Professor R C Bohra and V K Gorana, with more than two children, had violated this norm. Provisions of CAS say that each candidate is required to have a certain score on academic performance indicators (API). This provision is also completely violated, say sources. A RTI report, seeking this information, was not provided by the RTU repeatedly.
Report also said that four professors have been holding two posts simultaneously . R Shringi, A K Dwivedi, Sanjeev Mishra and J K Sharma were selected as professors in 2013 and have been confirmed on the same on September 23, 2014. Having confirmed, they were no more eligible to appear for CAS, as per the ordinance of university of Rajasthan.

RTI: Mahama’s lack of commitment attitude – Coalition

News Ghana‎‎: Ghana: Sunday, September 25, 2016.
President John Dramani Mahama has been chosen to deliver the keynote address at the first International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI) on 26 September 2016.
This has renewed the advocacy by the Coalition of the Right to Information Law in Ghana for the country’s parliament to pass the Right to Information bill. In the group’s estimation, Mr Mahama and his government have not shown much commitment to pushing the bill.
Mr Mahama is scheduled to speak on ‘Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions’, specifically elaborating on the role of media and access to information in promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, promoting access to justice for all and on building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.
The event, which is aimed at highlighting the key importance of access to information in the success of implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), will bring other guest speakers including journalists, non-governmental organisations, workers, entrepreneurs, academics, and several others to share their experience and ideas on 11 SDGs with emphasis on how access to information will help in achieving them.
The RTI Coalition, in a statement, said it “believes that the selection of President Mahama to speak on such a day as the IDUAI and on such a topic, even though ironic, given that Ghana has failed for more than a decade to put in place an access to information legislation, presents an opportunity for the president to make concrete commitments on the passage of an effective and efficient RTI legislation before the current parliament lapses in 2017”.
It added: “The Coalition would like to remind President Mahama that the progress to secure the review and passage of the RTI Bill since 2013, when H.E resubmitted the Bill before parliament, has been very slow. In June 2016, the consideration of the Bill was stalled due to the lack of political will by the current parliament to prioritise the consideration of the Bill as they promised.
“As a Coalition, we are concerned that President Mahama has not demonstrated strong commitments to the passage of the RTI Bill despite his party’s commitment to same in their 2008 and 2012 manifestos. Being an election year, the failure by the sixth parliament to pass the Bill before its tenure lapses would mean that the process will have to commence all over again with the new government and the new parliament. As a result of this, the Coalition sent a petition to President Mahama through the Chief of Staff on August 18, 2016, asking him to deliver on his party’s previous manifesto promises on the RTI Bill. Till date, the Coalition has not received any response to the petition.
“It is interesting to read the NDC’s 2016 manifesto promising as part of its 2017-2021 commitments to ‘implement the Right to Information Bill when passed by Parliament, same promise that was made in 2012. However, the 2016 manifesto omitted the very relevant part of the 2012 manifesto on the passage of the Bill as follows: ‘The next NDC administration will…work with the legislature to prioritise the passage of the Freedom of Information Act’, meaning that government is not committed to engaging parliament to ensure the passage of the Bill before and even after the elections. Does this mean that Ghanaians should wait for another four years before this law is put in place? As the Co-Chair of Eminent persons on the SDGs and given that UNESCO’s celebration this year is focused on ‘powering sustainable development with public access to information’, shouldn’t the passage of an RTI law in His Excellency’s own country be a priority now?
“We would like (President Mahama) to know that Ghana as the beacon of democracy in Africa, as he emphasised at the recent UN General Assembly (UNGA), is behind in terms of promoting access to information for citizens to effectively participate in governance and make informed choices. Several other African countries including countries in transition have successfully passed the law. For example: South Sudan, Guinea, Niger, Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Togo, Nigeria, Rwanda and most recently Kenya and Tanzania to mention but a few, have all passed the law.”

Decennial celebration of RTI Act by APIC

The Arunachal Times: Itanagar: Sunday, September 25, 2016.
Arunachal Pradesh Information Commission (APIC) will celebrate the 10th years of implementation of Right to Information Act enacted in 2005 by honouring the best RTI activists on October 19.
Central Chief Information Commissioner of India (CIC), Chief Information Commissioners and information Commissioners of North East States will attend the celebration.
Renowned RTI activists, representatives of various NGOs would also attend it.
APIC has invited the interested RTI activists or any individuals to submit their success stories to the Commission on or before October 10 for the selection.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

nformation panel seeks probe into RTI complaint

DNA‎‎‎‎: Mumbai: Saturday, September 24, 2016.
The state information commission, which flayed the Brihanmumbai municipal commissioner's office for treating an RTI application in a "casual manner", has directed the civic chief to probe the matter.
The order was given after an RTI application, which sought information on the complaint against a deputy municipal commissioner, arrived at his office before being forwarded to a junior official. The order, which was served on September 19, was given after a second appeal filed by Kandivali resident Bhavesh Kalia. Kalia had filed a complaint against deputy municipal commissioner Ashok Khaire for threatening him and not taking action on the illegal encroachments by row houses at Thakur Complex in Kandivli (East).
In his application to the municipal commissioner's office, he sought a detailed report from the department on his complain and with copy of action taken against the deputy municipal commissioner (R/South ward).
Instead of furnishing information, the application was sent to the public information officer of the additional municipal commissioner's office. It was then transferred to the PIO of deputy municipal commissioner's (DMC) office, western suburbs. The PIO of DMC's office (western suburbs transferred it to DMC's zone 7's office, who then transferred it to the assistant municipal commissioner of the R/south ward.
Noting that the application was sent to the same person's office against whom the complaint was made, the order by state chief information commissioner Ratnakar Gaikwad stated that the conduct of municipal commissioner's office was "laughable" and "serious". It stated that the application was treated in a "casual manner".
Such information, it stated, should have been put up on the public domain suo motu as per section 4 (c) and (d), which states that all relevant facts while formulating important policies or announcing the decisions which affect public along with reasons for its administrative or quasi-judicial decisions to affected persons should be put out on public domain.
When contacted by dna, Kalia said that he had complained against rampant illegal construction in the area. "A number of row houses that are supposed to be for residential use, and has ground plus one floors, were changed to commercial properties and turned into two to three storeyed structures without permission. I had complained about them and instead of taking action, they told me to settle the matter," alleged Kalia.
Kalia added, "I was even threatened and hit a person. I have filed a police complaint and have CCTV proof. I have even lodged a complaint with the Lokayukta.". When contacted by dna, municipal commissioner Ajoy Mehta did not respond.

President Mahama To Deliver A Key Note Address At A UNESCO Event To Mark The Right To Know Day - Really!!!

Peace FM Online‎‎‎‎: Ghana: Saturday, September 24, 2016.
The Coalition on the Right to Information (RTI), Ghana has observed with interest the selection of His Excellency, President John Dramani Mahama by UNESCO to deliver the keynote speech at an event scheduled for September 26th to mark the first International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI) (officially September 28), at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris. September 28 was previously called the ‘Right to Know Day’ before it was declared by UNESCO member States in November 2015 as an international day to be celebrated as the ‘IDUAI’
Will the selection of President Mahama to speak at the September 26th event mark a new dawn for access to information in Ghana? Should we expect that after this international event, H.E will be motivated to, upon his return, engage Parliament to secure the passage of the RTI Bill with the critical amendments, as his government committed to do under the 2012-14 and 2016-17 Open Government Partnership (OGP) Action Plans?
President Mahama is scheduled to speak on Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions specifically elaborating on the role of media and access to information in promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, promoting access to justice for all and on building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. The event which is aimed at highlighting the key importance of Access to Information in the success of implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will bring other guest speakers including journalists, NGO workers, entrepreneurs, academics etc. to share their experience and ideas on eleven SDGs with emphasis on how access to information will help in achieving them.
The RTI Coalition believes that the selection of President Mahama to speak on such a day as the ‘IDUAI’ and on such a topic, even though ironic given that Ghana has failed for more than a decade to put in place an access to information legislation, presents an opportunity for the President to make concrete commitments on the passage of an effective and efficient RTI legislation before the current Parliament lapses in 2017.
The Coalition would like to remind President Mahama that the progress to secure the review and passage of the RTI Bill since 2013 when H.E resubmitted the Bill before Parliament, has been very slow. In June 2016 the consideration of the Bill was stalled due to the lack of political will by the current Parliament to prioritize the consideration of the Bill as they promised.
As a Coalition, we are concerned that President Mahama has not demonstrated strong commitments to the passage of the RTI Bill despite his party’s commitment to same in their 2008 and 2012 manifestos. Being an election year, the failure by the 6th Parliament to pass the Bill before its tenure lapses would mean that the process will have to commence all over again with the new government and the new Parliament. As a result of this, the Coalition sent a petition to President Mahama through the Chief of Staff on August 18 2016 asking him to deliver on his party’s previous manifesto promises on the RTI Bill. Till date the Coalition has not received any response to the petition.
It is interesting to read the NDC’s 2016 manifesto promising as part of its 2017 – 2021 commitments to ‘implement the Right to Information Bill when passed by Parliament, same promise that was made in 2012. However the 2016 manifesto omitted the very relevant part of the 2012 manifesto on the passage of the Bill as follows - ‘the next NDC Administration will … and work with the legislature to prioritise the passage of the Freedom of Information Act’, meaning that government is not committed to engaging Parliament to ensure the passage of the Bill before and even after the elections. Does this mean that Ghanaians should wait for another four years before this law is put in place? As the Co-Chair of Eminent persons on the SDGs and given that the UNESCO’s celebration this year is focused on ‘powering sustainable development with public access to information’, shouldn’t the passage of an RTI law IN HIS EXCELLENCY’S OWN COUNTRY be a priority now?
We would like H.E to know that Ghana as the beacon of democracy in Africa, as he emphasized at the recent UN General Assembly (UNGA), is lagging behind in terms of promoting access to information for citizens to effectively participate in governance and make informed choices. Several other African countries including countries in transition have successfully passed the law. For example: South Sudan, Guinea, Niger, Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Togo, Nigeria, Rwanda and most recently Kenya and Tanzania to mention but a few, have all passed the law.

CIC calls father for hearing eight months after comatose son dies

Moneylife‎‎‎: Pune: Saturday, September 24, 2016.
On 1 February 2013, Parag Ingle, an 8th standard student from the prestigious Loyola High School of Pune, was hit on the forehead with a bullet that came from the rifle of a junior officer of National Cadet Corps (NCC) who was training him and his classmates on NCC grounds. His family was crushed with grief. Parag, who was a wizard at elocution and drama competitions in school, sunk into a coma at the Command Hospital. And that lasted for two years from 1 February 2013 until he breathed his last on 6 January 2016.
His father, Devendra Ingle, an engineer at the Pune Municipal Corp, knocked at the NCC Headquarters wanting to know was how his son died and what were the circumstances that led to his death as well as what action was been taken against Amod Ghanekar, the junior officer, who shot Parag? He did not get any answers nor was any action taken against Ghanekar, who instead went to court, claiming his innocence.
The Pune Police report categorically nailed Ghanekar. The report states “Without having any revolver license or having any authority to conduct firing, Amod Ghanekar stood behind the boys, handled the .22 rifle in an irresponsible manner, loaded and despite the knowledge that it would be grievous or fatal if a student suddenly gets up, he fired. A bullet hit Parag on his forehead and he was grievously injured. Thus, it is an attempt to kill, by Ghanekar.”
Ingle, came with the Central Information Commission (CIC) notice to this author. He said, “See, I kept waiting for justice by CIC since the time I filed my second appeal on 7 October 2014. Since my son was battling for life, I filed RTI application with the Additional Directorate General of Army Education, New Delhi, in mid-September 2014, seeking information on the following. On 1 February 2013, at NCC Headquarters, Pune, my son NCC Cadet Master Parag Devendra Ingle was gravely injured when he was shot with five bullets by a .22 Rifle. He is still unconscious. I would like to get all the information and papers regarding the action taken by the Army on all the Army Officers and In-charge person connected to this incident. I would also like to know the nature of punishment was given to the person responsible for this incident.”
Since he got no information, he filed second appeal way back in September 2014 with CIC and now he says, “I have got notice for hearing on 28 September 2016, which I have to attend, via video conferencing, when I have already lost my precious son.’’
In what can be called as complete apathy by the CIC, his second appeal was simply filed away. Could the CIC not have shown some sensitivity towards such a shocking case, that even a stranger would feel the pangs of pain? Should the CIC not have considered an out-of-turn hearing? Should all second appeals be treated in a nonchalant manner?
The CIC notice dated 12 September 2016 has asked Central Public Information Officer (CPIO), in the Ministry of Defence, NCC Group Headquarters, Pune and CPIO of Head Quarter, DG NCC, West Block IV, RK Puram to be present, besides Devendra Ingle, who as complainant would be present through video conference. Despite the delay and post his son’s death, Ingle says “…does not matter if my son had died. I still want to know what were the sequence of events that led to his death. What action has been taken against other NCC officers, besides Ghanekar who has merely been suspended.”
RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar who co-petitioned the second appeal states, “This is a classic case of the CIC being totally cold and clinical towards some second appeals which may call for great urgency in disposal. It is sad that there was no one to apply balm on Ingle’s grief, not even the RTI Act, which has been enacted to empower a common man.”

Bring Vigilance under RTI purview: Activists

Daily Pioneer: Bhubaneswar: Saturday, September 24, 2016.
Civil society and RTI activists on Friday held a rally here demanding withdrawal of the notification issued by the State Government keeping Vigilance department out of the purview of the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
The State Information and Public Relations Department had issued a notification on August 11saying, “In exercise of the powers conferred by sub-section 4 of section 24 of the Right to Information Act, 2005, the State Government do hereby specify that nothing, contained in the said Act, shall apply to the general administration (Vigilance) department and its organisation.”
A large number of activists first organised a rally near Ram Mandir Square and later held a meeting in front of the State Assembly demanding immediate revocation of the “arbitrary” notification.
“The notification is against the spirit of the RTI Act. Despite our appeals to the Chief Minister and the Governor to intervene in the matter, nothing has happened as yet. Our agitation will be intensified if the Government fails to withdraw the notification,” said Odisha Soochana Abhiyan convenor Pradip Pradhan, who organised the rally.
The State Government’s arbitrary decision has also been challenged in the Orissa High Court. Civil society Global Human Rights Communication’s executive director Subash Mohapatra has filed the petition in the High Court seeking quashing of the notification.
According to Section 24 (4) of the RTI Act, only intelligence and security organisations will be outside the Act’s ambit.
The activists later submitted a memorandum in this regard to the Chief Minister.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Share info about erring invetigating officers: SIC to state

DNA‎‎‎‎‎: Mumbai: Friday, September 23, 2016.
All officers who have been pulled up for shoddy investigations leading to the acquittal of accused will now be in public domain. The decision of the committee that will be deciding criminal cases that have seen acquittals will also be made public.
The State Information Commission (SIC) has directed the home department and the city police chief to upload the action taken against such officials on their websites by October 17, 2016. The move follows a government resolution, prompted by a Supreme Court (SC) order in 2014.
In 2014, the SC had directed state governments to formulate a procedure to act against all erring investigating / prosecuting officials / officers after the accused were acquitted in the murder of a minor.
The SC, in its judgment, said: "All such erring officials / officers ...must suffer department action. The mechanism would infuse seriousness in the performance of investigating and prosecuting duties and would ensure that investigation and prosecution is purposeful and decisive."
The SC had stated that the direction be given effect within six months. However, it took an RTI application by an NGO and an SIC order in August 2015 for the government to realise that it was in contempt of the SC order. The home department came up with a government resolution that a committee be formed and action taken as per the SC directive.
When dna sought information on the cases considered and action taken, it did not get any information. Hearing a complaint in public interest, Chief Information Commissioner Ratnakar Gaikwad, who passed the order, stated that all information should be provided and also be put up in the public domain. The SIC pulled up the First Appellate Authority (FAA) for not attending the hearing and not informing the commission about its absence.
"It was literally shameful of the state to have not implemented the SC order on its own. Even after the SIC order, they came out with a circular that they have not implemented and put it on the website. The previous SIC order that directed the home department to put up details on the website also stated that all high court and SC orders of public interest should be put on the website separately. They have not even done that. More and more unrest happens because of non-transparency in administration," said Bhaskar Prabhu, who had taken up the implementation of the SC order through the RTI. K P Bakshi, additional chief secretary (home), did not respond.
What triggered the SC order
In 2003, in Gujarat, a six-year-old was found raped and murdered. The the girl was allegedly enticed with a gola (ice-ball with syrup), kidnapped, taken to a field and raped. She was later brutally murdered by the rapists. They also stole her anklets and sold it for Rs 1,000. The trial court gave death penalty to the rapists, but it was later reversed by the higher courts. The SC "crestfallen, heartbroken and sorrowful" upheld the order of acquittal and stated that the prosecution had failed to establish its case. It also highlighted several serious lapses in the investigation by the Ahmedabad police. It then directed state governments that all acquittals should be studied by a committee, so that erring officials can be punished.

FIA ordered to provide details of enquiries to petitioner

The News International‎‎‎‎‎: Lahor: Friday, September 23, 2016.
Rejecting the FIA’s claim that providing details of total number of enquiries and cases registered during the last six years to a complainant falls under Official Secret Act 1923, the Federal Ombudsman has ordered the Interior Ministry to direct the agency to provide the details to the complainant within 30 days.
This correspondent had filed a request under Right to Information Act 2002 and sought year-wise details of total number of enquiries and cases registered in all zones of the FIA during the last six years from 2010 till 2015.
The correspondent had also sought details of total amount allocated in the annual budget for investigations during those years.
Responding to the RTI request, the agency through its Assistant Director Legal (Admin) Munawar Iqbal Ranjha stated that the complainant had no nexus with the FIA’s enquiries, most of which were of quite important and sensitive nature, information whereof could not be disseminated to any unconcerned agency or person. The information cannot be shared with the complainant in terms of the provisions of the Official Secret Act 1923, he further stated.
The complainant filed a complaint with the Wafaqi Mohtasib (Federal Ombudsman) on August 8, 2016.
During the hearing held on August 25, 2016, the ombudsman rejected the claim of the FIA that the complainant was seeking secret information which fell in the domain of Official Secret Act and could not be shared with him.
The ombudsman further explained to the representative of the agency that complainant was only asking for year-wise number of enquiries registered and the budget for investigations.
In his findings, the ombudsman observed that the information sought by the complainant was neither sensitive nor secret as no details of the enquiries being conducted had been asked.
“Only total number of enquiries and the allocated budget for investigations, year-wise, have been asked,” he said and observed that they clearly fell in the public domain and are thus required to be provided under the law in force.
The Interior Ministry is, therefore, advised to direct the Federal Investigation Agency to provide the requested information to the complainant.
“Compliance with the above recommendations should be reported within 30 days of the receipt of a copy of these findings”, the order, dated Sep 8, 2016, reads.

Hearing impaired on indefinite hunger strike against corruption

Free Press Journal‎‎‎‎: Mumbai: Friday, September 23, 2016.
Over 200 hearing impaired persons have gone on an indefinite strike outside the Ali Yavar Jung National Institute for Hearing Handicapped in Bandra alleging corruption and malpractices the institute’s working.
The institute is one of the seven national institutes dedicated to persons with disabilities and established under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment.
“There are such people teaching in the institute who do not have a B.Ed or M.Ed. how can they be recruited,” asked Umakant Rai of India Deaf Society. “I have proof that these people have got in with fake caste certificates,” he added.
A press release from the India Deaf Society said that they were denied information they had sought under the Right to Information Act. “Very basic information we had sought, such as how many deaf persons there are in the state, was not given,” Rai said, alleging a lack of transparency. He also said that an RTI query on how the institute’s director was recruited was not answered.
Puneet Gustav of the organisation said that the institute does not teach sign language to students, which is essential in teaching the hearing impaired. Instead, an old Desktop Publishing course is taught.
“Ask them how many deaf persons they have managed to employ with that course,” Rai asked.
They alleged corruption in providing Cochlear implants, a medical device that replaces the function of the damaged inner ear. “While it is supposed to be provided free of cost, the employees charge say, Rs 3 lakhs, saying that it would cost them 7 lakhs outside. Since people are not aware, they pay for it,” said Rai.
The press release also said that the institute receives grants in crores of rupees but is it not used to benefit the target group.

Parties spar over national project status to Polavaram

Odisha Television‎‎‎: Bhubaneswar: Friday, September 23, 2016.
Soon after Odisha Television’s report on how guidelines were flouted in granting national project status to Polavaram project, mudslinging has ensued between the political parties in Odisha. While BJP argued that it was the UPA-led central government which made Polavaram a national project as per the terms of Andhra bifurcation, Congress refuted the allegations claiming that the granted status was conditional during its government and it was the current BJP-led  NDA central government which flouted the guidelines and approved assistance for the project.
According to BJP, its NDA government at the Centre has only ‘honoured’ what the outgoing UPA government had agreed during the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh State. In retaliation, Odisha Congress clarified that the national project status was granted on the condition that the project should not adversely affect the interest of Odisha and Chhattisgarh. However, the current BJP-led NDA government violated the norms by granting financial assistance to the said project.
“The NDA government which is at the Centre is only carrying out the sovereign agreement made by the UPA government. However, if there are any prescribed norms which have not been followed then they should be adhered to strictly,” said Odisha BJP’s legislature party leader KV Singhdeo.
“The UPA government had made a condition the project should not hurt the interests of the Odisha at any cost. The NDA government has blatantly violated all the rules and regulations and has granted financial assistance to the project,” said Taraprasad Bahinipati of Odisha Congress.
Meanwhile, the BJD has taken this opportunity to take a swipe at both BJP and Congress arguing that none of the parties are concerned about the interests of the people of Odisha.
“There are possibilities that the project will submerge villages, forest land and will adversely affect tribal people in the nearby areas. The NDA government like that of its predecessor UPA-led central government has totally turned a blind eye to the interests of Odisha,” said Transport Minister Ramesh Majhi.
Notably, information obtained through RTI Act revealed that the Polavaram project was awarded national project status by sidestepping the prescribed guidelines of the Union Water Resources department.
As per the prescribed guidelines, in order to grant a national project status, a project should fulfill the eligibility criteria required for funding under Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Program (AIBP) including the investment clearance of the Planning Commission. However, no such clearance has been obtained in case of Polavaram project.
Moreover, as per the guidelines “On receipt of a proposal from the State government for inclusion of a project as National Project, the ministry of water resources may send a team of officers to the project site with a view to make assessment of the present status of the project and to firm up the plans for its completion in a specified time frame.” Furthermore, the guidelines prescribe that a team should also review the losses that could be on account of the project.
However, in case of Polavaram no such visit and review were carried out by any team.

Head constable, family accused of creating bogus land documents

Bangalore Mirror‎‎‎: Bangalore: Friday, September 23, 2016.
It's not just storm water drains that have been encroached upon in the city, but a lot of bogus khata cases are also being reported.
In one such instance, it is alleged that around 15,000 sq ft gram thana land belonging to the civic agency has been encroached by creating false khata documents.
The civic officials are yet to act upon the several complaints filed with them.
It is alleged that N Raju, a resident of Jyotinagar in Kacharakanahalli village ward No 29, who is a head constable with Bharathinagar police station, along with 12 family members has created bogus 'B' khatas also called B registers, land record kept by the BBMP for collection of property tax purpose, for the land.
Not just that, the sketch of the area prepared by the tahsildar office has also been allegedly forged.
This came to light after local resident P Manjesh came to know that khatas had been prepared for the gram thana sites.
He filed an RTI application with the HBR Layout sub-division of BBMP's revenue department seeking the property details of L Narasima Murthy (1155 sqft), Kadireppa (860 sqft), Krishna Murthy (1018), N Raju (2080), Kumar (1254), Ashwathappa (800), Papaiah (1518), Narasimha Murthy (1218), Manjula (1443), Lakappa (14430, Kasappa (576), Lakappa (1351), Muniraju (1462), a total of 15,391 sqft land.
Speaking to Bangalore Mirror Manjesh said: "One of Raju's relatives informed me that they have registered several properties with the Ganganagar sub-registrar. I obtained several documents under RTI act and in which there were several B Khatas. Our area falls under the east zone of BBMP but on the khatas, the name west zone was printed. Then, I asked the revenue officer to provide certified documents of the khatas but the office informed me that they have not issued any such thing. Similarly, I filed an RTI with the tahsildar's office seeking the area sketch, but they said that they haven't issued such a thing."
Interestingly, the assistant revenue officer, on February 11, 2016, replied that his office had not issued any B khatas to the above mentioned properties. On June 27, 2016 the north Tahsildar also replied that his office did not issue any sketch of the area.
No action
Meanwhile, Manjesh alleged that since it was revealed that the government documents were forged he filed around four complaints, but none of them had got a reply. On September 16, another complaint was filed with the HBR layout assistant revenue officer for action to be initiated.
Narayan, assistant revenue officer (HBR Layout) confirmed that his office has not issued any B khatas and it doesn't have any entries for the same. "My office has received several complaints about this and after obtaining permission from senior officers, I will file a complaint with BMTF cops," he added.
'I have not doneanything wrong' Head constable Raju, however, said that the properties have been under their family's possessionsince 1947.
"If the documents are forged, then the complainant has to justify it. But the complainant Manjesh himself has buried a government well in the area and constructed a house on it. I had asked him about the same, and may be to take revenge he is filing the complaints against us," he said.