Friday, September 19, 2014

State, employers turn blind eye to disease-afflicted labourers

Mid-Day: New Delhi: Friday, 19 September 2014.
The Maharashtra government seems to care little about the lives of the poor industrial labourers even as it gloats about the state’s economic clout. Neither the government nor their employers have bothered to give compensation or medical help to the first 13 confirmed cases of deadly occupational diseases like silicosis, asbestosis, and toxic nephritis reported across the state.
These labourers, who worked at factories in Kalyan, Raigad and Ratnagiri, are struggling to carry on with their lives amidst deteriorating health and hope, even as the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has taken note of a mid-day investigation highlighting their plight.
The latest health audits of the workers obtained by mid-day under RTI show that four of them, in Raigad’s Dhatav village, are suffering from ‘end-stage’ renal disease, four others have been diagnosed with toxic nephritis, and five are suffering from asbestosis.
 All of them are undergoing dialysis and other medical treatments without any help from their employers or the government. Activists and experts fear the worst for these workers if they are not given help at the earliest.
“There are hundreds of cases in which workers are suspected of having asbestosis, but the certifying surgeons never confirm these. The contract workers then languish for years, awaiting compensation from the government or factory owners.
Our organisation fought for one such woman worker for ten years in the 90s, but she succumbed to her disease without getting any compensation,” said S Shekhar, a Mumbai-based activist fighting for the rights of factory workers suffering from asbestosis.
A mid-day investigation (‘Danger, factory ahead’/ ‘They lied to me for 15 years of my life, says asbestosis-afflicted labourer’), which appeared on July 21, had revealed how 13 cases of industrial diseases had been reported in Mumbai and the surrounding regions. This was the first time that industrial diseases had been reported in Maharashtra and they had come to light after an inspection was carried out by a Gujarat-based Central agency. mid-day had also reported how Yogesh Sawant, a worker who was being exposed to asbestos on a daily basis and was repeatedly assured by factory owners and doctors that everything was fine, had been diagnosed with asbestosis by the National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH). Sawant and Manoj Saroj, from the same unit in Kalyan, turned out to be the first confirmed cases of asbestosis in Maharashtra.
Sawant continues to live in neglect at his Kalyan home, and is forced to pay his own medical bills. Following the mid-day story, he was approached by the factory owner for treatment and taken to various hospitals for check-ups, but he hasn’t been paid any monetary compensation. Officials from the state’s Directorate of Industrial Safety & Health (DISH) also approached him, promising help, but to no avail.
“I have been taken to one hospital after another in Mumbai, but they are not giving me a clear picture of how my health is or whether I will get my compensation. This only looks like an attempt to hush-up my case so that no compensation has to be paid,” Sawant told mid-day.
'Serious matter'
The four workers diagnosed with toxic nephritis have to undergo dialysis twice a week. Certifying surgeons reported that 32-year-old Mangesh Malusare was a patient of end-stage renal disease. “He was working as a contract worker at a chemical plant in Ratnagiri for more than eight years.
He complained of loss of appetite and uneasiness, and was diagnosed with grade 3 renal parenchymal disease. He has been on dialysis since and, being a contract worker, no treatment facility or compensation was provided to him,” said Dr Parag Gaiki in his report.
Gaiki told mid-day that the seriousness of this particular “matter” cannot be ignored. “We need to conduct fresh inspections and see if there is any improvement in the condition of these four workers at all,” he said.
Gaiki had inspected a unit at Dhatav in Raigad district last year and diagnosed Dhanaji Khandekar, 39, Bharat Lad, 38, Suresh Chavan, 57, and Malusare with acute toxic nephritis.
“Most of them were exposed to hazardous chemicals regularly for 7-8 years. When we conducted a check-up, they were found with high blood urea and creatinine as high as 20 mg/dl,” said Gaiki in his report.
Four others detected with silicosis are all contract workers at a unit in MIDC, Ratnagiri. They are 45-year-old Pravin Shinde, Pandurang Juwle (45), Uday Pawar (39) and Amarjeet Rajbhar (39).
“These cases were found during my inspection at the scouring department of the factory, where there was clear presence of crystalline silica dust,” said Dr Vaishali Jadhav, who had conducted the inspection in March 2014.

Govt mulling extension of e-IPO to state governments.

I Government: New Delhi: Friday, 19 September 2014.
RTI users may now use the facility of electronic postal orders, e-IPO to file their applications for seeking information from public authorities under the state governments also, if a proposal from the Centre is accepted by the states.
The Department of Personnel and Training, nodal ministry for RTI matters, has written to state governments to explore the option of providing e-IPO facility to citizens to pay the fee of their RTI application.
The facility which helped Indians living abroad to file RTI applications during e-IPO was extended to citizens residing in India on February 13, 2014.
"Department of posts has now proposed that the feasibility of extending this facility to the state government(s) also, where IPO is one of the of the modes of payment of RTI application fee, may be explored," the DoPT wrote to all the Chief Secretaries of states recently.
RTI activist Commodore (Retd) Lokesh Batra has given number of representations for extending the facility for public authorities under state governments.
"I humbly propose Secretary (Posts) and Secretary (P) to consider extending e-IPO Facility to the states whose RTI rules permit payment of RTI fee through Indian Postal Order (IPO)," he had said in one of the communications on the issue.
The e-IPO facilitates RTI applicants seeking information from Central Public Information Officers (CPIOs) under the RTI Act, 2005.
Debit or Credit Cards of any bank powered by Visa or Master can be used to purchase e-IPO. This facility is only for purchasing an Indian Postal Order (IPO) electronically.
An e-IPO so generated must be used only once with an RTI application. To check any multiple use of an e-IPO, the public authority shall maintain a record of those received by it.
To use the facility, a user needs to get registered at the website - www.epostoffice.gov.in. He has to then select the ministry or department from whom he desires to seek the information under the RTI Act and the e-IPO so generated is to be used to seek information from that particular office only.

HC Changes Rules of RTI game, wants Purpose Specified

The New Indian Express: Chennai: Friday, 19 September 2014.
Redefining the scope of the Right to Information Act (RTI), Madras High Court has held that anyone seeking information under the statute must show that the purpose is either personal or of public interest. Under both circumstances, the RTI applicant must disclose at least the minimum details as to what is the personal or public interest requiring such information. If such details are either absent or not disclosed, such query cannot be construed as the one satisfying the requirement of the RTI Act, the Court further ruled.
A Division Bench of Justices N Paul Vasanthakumar and K Ravichandrabaabu made the observation, setting aside an order of the CIC, directing the High Court Public Information Officer (PIO) to furnish information to an applicant, refused on the ground that it fell under the restricted category.
The Bench was allowing a writ petition from the PIO, seeking to quash January 23, 2013 order of the CIC. The order directed the PIO to furnish answers to a set of umpteen number of questions, raised by one B Bharathi with regard to the fate of his complaint against the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate in Egmore and appointment of Registrar-General to the High Court. Holding that the information sought for by the applicant fell under the restricted category, the PIO refused to furnish the reply and Bharathy moved the CIC.
Setting aside the order of the CIC, the Bench observed on September 17 that the word ‘Right’ is not defined under the RTI Act. In the absence of any definition of ‘right’, it has to be understood to mean that such a right must have a legal basis. Therefore, the ‘right’ must be coupled with an object or purpose to be achieved. Such object and purpose must, undoubtedly, have a legal basis or be legally sustainable and enforceable. It cannot be construed that a request or query made ‘simpliciter’ will fall under the definition of ‘right to information’.
“Therefore, we are of the view that the impugned order of the CIC is bereft of any material particulars in so far as those applications referred to in the order and the direction issued to the PIO in that regard is also not sustainable,” the Bench said.
The Bench also pulled up Bharathi for overloading the HC Registry by making several queries or complaints under the RTI Act. It cannot be the way to redress his grievances. He cannot overload a public authority and divert its resources while seeking information and the dispensation of information should not occupy the majority of time and resource of any public authority, the Bench added.

RTI query on Santosh Mane’s ‘medication’ in jail draws blank.

Indian Express: Pune: Friday, 19 September 2014.
The lawyer of the State Transport bus driver, Santosh Mane, who has been awarded capital punishment for mowing down nine persons in Pune two years ago, has alleged that an RTI application seeking details about the medication of his client while in jail remained unanswered by the Yerawada Central Prison authorities.
Stressing that the desired information could have substantiated Mane’s insanity plea, his lawyer Dhananjay Mane said the death penalty awarded by the Bombay High Court would be soon challenged in the Supreme Court.
Mane, who had ran over nine persons while driving a State Transport bus on January 25, 2012, was handed out death sentence by a local court in April last year. The Bombay High Court, on September 9, confirmed the punishment, turning down his insanity plea.
Speaking to Newsline, Dhananjay Mane said his client’s brother had filed an application under the RTI Act with the jail authorities seeking what medication Mane was receiving in the jail.
“Janak Mane, Santosh Mane’s elder brother, had filed an RTI application on September 17 last year. He received an acknowledgment receipt but never got desired information. The applicant could not follow up his application as per laid down procedure in the RTI Act due to personal commitments,” he said.
The lawyer, while quoting Janak, said Mane was being given “a minimum of three-four tablets” on a daily basis in the Yerawada jail during his trial.
“Santosh Mane was given medication for mental illness during trial, but this information was concealed despite filing an RTI query, simply to avoid potential impact on the court proceedings. We even tried to bring this fact before the judiciary but to no avail,” said Dhananjay Mane.
He said the response to the RTI query considered together with other two medical reports would have added weight to the insanity plea. One of these reports was based on an examination conducted on the day of the incident that observed Mane needed psychiatric observation as he complained of hallucinations and a feeling of persecution. The other report was submitted by a panel of psychiatrists from the Yerawada Mental Hospital after 10 days of observation, stating that the “possibility of a psychiatric illness could not be ruled out”.
Yogesh Desai, superintendent of the Yerawada Central Prison, said he had no knowledge about any RTI application being filed made by Santosh Mane’s brother.
“The public information office primarily looks after the disposal of RTI applications received. Since no first appeal was said to have been made, senior authorities do not have any knowledge about the application made by Mane’s brother. Also, we just had routine transfers at the information office. We need to check details of the RTI application concerned,” he added.
Additional Director General (Prisons) Meeran Borwankar could not be reached for comments.
Meanwhile, Mane’s lawyer said he was hopeful of getting “justice” for his client in the apex court. “No doubt he committed the gory crime, but Santosh Mane did it because of his unsound mind. The killing of unknown people was an act of insane mind. It would have been a different case if he had killed his duty bosses or known colleagues out of rage,” he argued.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Mobile tower gives residents the jitters

Times of India: Bangalore: Thursday, 18 September 2014.
The mushrooming telecommunication towers in the city are setting off alarm bells, literally. Residents living near such radiation-emitting installations are wary of the health hazards they pose. Shobha Amethyst, a gated community in Kannamangala village, Hoskote, East Bangalore, is a case in point.
The well-heeled residents of this community have been losing sleep over a mobile phone tower that was installed in the vicinity in November 2013. The tower, barely 50 metres away, is turning into a major headache for the 1,400 dwellers.
Says Abhishek Saxena, secretary of the residents' association: "Initially, we thought a telecom company must have set up the tower. Later, we got to know it was illegally installed by some other company, and that too on land meant for agriculture and residential projects."
In the absence of any concrete information, the residents' association filed several RTI applications seeking details about the structure from the gram panchayat , BBMP, BDA, KSPCB and the ministry of communications, New Delhi. However, replies from each of these stakeholders only confirmed that none of them was aware of this structure being installed, so granting approvals was out of the question.
The department of telecommunication's reply to the RTI query on August 11 categorically says it hadn't issued any clearance for setting up a tower in the mentioned address. The gram panchayat too said no permission was sought from it either. The BBMP and the BDA are no better informed.
Says Abhijit Bhattacharya, a resident association member, "Over 700 children and 100-plus senior citizens live here. They are the ones who are most susceptible to harmful radiation, which at its worst can lead to certain types of cancer An over-exposure to electromagnetic fields, as suggested by many reports worldwide, can be highly hazardous in the long run.''
NOTICE SENT
No permission was granted by the gram panchayat. We have received complaints from residents living nearby, and I have inspected the apartment. A notice has been sent to the tower company seeking information about their networking clientele. We had sought a response by September 2, but haven't heard from them yet. We are trying to find out how they installed this tower without obtaining permission from the authorities concerned. We know for sure that different telecom services are using this tower.

Naidu, KCR to lobby for favourite babus

Times of India: Hyderabad: Thursday, 18 September 2014.
The allotment of All India Service (AIS) officers between Andhra Pradesh and Telangana is getting murkier with the chief ministers of the two states deciding to petition the Centre seeking retention of certain key IAS officers in their respective cadres. While Chandrababu Naidu is batting for Ajay Sawhney, Ajay Jain and JSV Prasad, to be retained in the AP cadre (they were allotted to Telangana in the revised exercise by the Pratyush Sinha Committee last Monday), K Chandrasekhar Rao is to take up the case of B P Acharya (allotted to AP) and a few other officers to be retained in the Telangana cadre.
According to sources, Naidu discussed the issue with chief secretary IYR Krishna Rao on Wednesday and asked him to explore the possibilities of retaining these three senior officers in the AP cadre. "The CM has volunteered to write to the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with a request to continue these officers in the AP cadre. In case, it is not considered, then we would seek their inter-state deputation from Telangana to AP," said the sources.
Krishna Rao has been asked to speak to his Telangana counterpart Rajiv Sharma and seek a 'no objection' letter from the latter for inter-state deputation of Ajay Sawhney, JSV Prasad and Ajay Jain in case DoPT does not change their cadre. The three officers concerned too were told to lodge a formal appeal with the DoPT as that would give them three months time (needed to address the appeal) and insulate them from being forced to join the cadre allotted to them. On his part, KCR is seeking the inter-state deputation of planning department principal secretary BP Acharya and at least two other officers who were shifted from Telangana to AP in the changes made in the September 15 meeting in Delhi.
Meanwhile, some IAS officers who were allotted a particular cadre without their consent have decided to complain to DoPT stating that the AIS cadre allocation is flawed. Another officer who too was allotted AP while his preference was Telangana is all set to petition the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) perhaps by Thursday.
"The Pratyush Sinha committee has messed up the entire cadre division by changing the cadre of those officers who did not seek any change in their cadre. This, after the committee had assured us that any changes would be limited to a particular case but would not affect the entire batch or any other officer," said a senior officer. Some other officers have filed applications under the Right to Information (RTI) Act seeking the minutes of the meetings that the Sinha committee held since July 10. The AIS allocation fiasco is far from over, asserted the disgruntled officers.

5 top schools get notice for principals past retirement age

Indian Express: New Delhi: Thursday, 18 September 2014.
Following a complaint from an NGO, the state school education department has issued notices to five elite schools in south Mumbai for appointing and allowing principals and teachers to continue to hold their posts in violation of the retirement age regulations.
A complaint filed by NGO Buland Chhawa has alleged that the principals and teachers of the five south Mumbai schools continue to hold their posts despite having crossed the stipulated retirement age of 58 years.
The complaint states that the five schools Cathedral and John Conon at Fort, Activity High at Peddar Road, Bombay Scottish at Mahim, St Mary’s ICSE at Mazgaon and Diamond Jubilee school at Mazgaon have flouted the norms of the Maharashtra Employees of Private Schools (MEPS)(Conditions of Service) Regulation Act,1977, which is applicable to all private schools.
Nana Kute Patil of Buland Chhawa, who filed the complaint, said, “Many non-state board schools are in the practice of appointing retired people as principals. I had filed an RTI query on the same with 39 private non-state board schools. The education department sent the first notice to them on January 14. However, no action was taken against the school thereafter. Now, they have sent a fresh notice to them on August 4.”
As per the details provided by the education department to an RTI query, the current age of Meera Isaac, principal of Cathedral and John Connon school, is 67. Perin Bagli, principal of Activity High School, is 65 years old while and Shobha Dove, principal of Diamond Jubilee High School, is 59. “The principal of Bombay Scottish has retired now, so the notice is no more applicable to them. However, we are still verifying the details of three teachers of Bombay Scottish who have crossed the retirement age,” said B B Chavan, education inspector of south zone.
The schools says the MEPS Act is only applicable to the state board schools, and not to them “We are an unaided private minority school affiliated to ICSE board and hence MEPS Act is not applicable to us. This seems to be a case of vested interests. In fact, there are many schools across the city which have principals over 58 years of age,” said the principal of one of the five schools on the condition of anonymity.
Bagli said, “We have already approached the school education minister and senior officials. The MEPS is a very old Act and and its rules are outdated. It cannot be applied to unaided private minority schools. There are several High Court and Supreme Court orders that say that the state government cannot interfere in the functioning of private schools which do not get any aid or assistance from the government.”
However, Chavan maintained that all the schools in Maharashtra were supposed to follow the rules under the MEPS Act.

Government mulling extension of e-IPO to state governments

Economic Times: New Delhi: Thursday, 18 September 2014.
RTI users may now use the facility of electronic postal orders, e-IPO to file their applications for seeking information from public authorities under the state governments also, if a proposal from the Centre is accepted by the states.
The Department of Personnel and Training, nodal ministry for RTI matters, has written to state governments to explore the option of providing e-IPO facility to citizens to pay the fee of their RTI application.
The facility which helped Indians living abroad to file RTI applications during e-IPO was extended to citizens residing in India on February 13, 2014.
"Department of posts has now proposed that the feasibility of extending this facility to the state government(s) also, where IPO is one of the of the modes of payment of RTI application fee, may be explored," the DoPT wrote to all the Chief Secretaries of states recently.
RTI activist Commodore (Retd) Lokesh Batra has given number of representations for extending the facility for public authorities under state governments.
"I humbly propose Secretary (Posts) and Secretary (P) to consider extending e-IPO Facility to the states whose RTI rules permit payment of RTI fee through Indian Postal Order (IPO)," he had said in one of the communications on the issue.
The e-IPO facilitates RTI applicants seeking information from Central Public Information Officers (CPIOs) under the RTI Act, 2005.
Debit or Credit Cards of any bank powered by Visa or Master can be used to purchase e-IPO. This facility is only for purchasing an Indian Postal Order (IPO) electronically.
An e-IPO so generated must be used only once with an RTI application. To check any multiple use of an e-IPO, the public authority shall maintain a record of those received by it.
To use the facility, a user needs to get registered at the website epostoffice.gov.in. He has to then select the ministry or department from whom he desires to seek the information under the RTI Act and the e-IPO so generated is to be used to seek information from that particular office only.

Techfest RTI awareness campaign workshop at ITER

OdishaChanne: Bhubaneswar: Thursday, 18 September 2014.
Techfest will organise a two-day RTI awareness campaign workshop at the Institute of Technical Education and Research (ITER) in Bhubaneswar on September 18 and 19.
The campaign is a national outreach program, to make government more accountable, and to make youth aware about RTI and its uses, where Techfest will reach out to more than 50 colleges in 20 cities throughout the nation.
The campaign at ITER will constitute a workshop on online and offline filling of an RTI by Pradeep Pradhan, a leading RTI activist from the city of Bhubaneswar.
The workshop will be held on September 18 from 12 PM to 2 PM. The workshop then will be followed by an event where through following easy steps, a student will learn how easy it is to fill an RTI application.
Techfest has also collaborated with NCPRI (National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information) to make the event successful.
On the line of its Anti-Smoking Campaign ISMOKE last year, Techfest this edition launched an RTI Awareness Campaign by the name of ASK (Anxious? Seek Know) aiming to make government more accountable to the citizens.
The campaign was launched at FC Kohli Auditorium in IIT Bombay on August 15, 2014. Logo and name was revealed by Shailesh Gandhi, former Information Commissioner with Central Information Commission), and Bhaskar Prabhu, convenor of NCPRI, while the website was launched by actress Prachi Desai.
The campaign has also the support of Nikhil Dey, Anjali Bhardwaj, Venkatesh Nayak and Subhash Agarwal.
Born in 1998 with the motto of promoting technology, scientific thinking and innovation, Techfest has surpassed 17 golden years of creating an unmatched aura of a science and technology spectacle year after year at the campus of IIT Bombay at Powai, Mumbai.
Today it is well established as Asia’s largest science and technology festival, with more than 135,000 people in attendance and a reach of over 2,500 colleges across India and over 500 overseas in its most recent edition.
In its endeavour to provide an international platform to the youth to showcase their talents and skill sets in fierce competitions, display cutting edge technology and research from all over the globe, have world renowned personalities motivate the youth and promote solutions to alleviate the common man of his banal yet significant problems, Techfest strives for one and all to get inspired and look up to.

CIC reserves its order after govt messes up procedure

Hindustan Times: Bhopal: Thursday, 18 September 2014.
The state general administration department (GAD) has messed up with the right to information (RTI) procedure in regard to an application to get details of appointment process of chief secretary Anthony de Sa. In contravention of rules, the department conducted the first appeal hearing on the RTI application 11 months after the it was filed and six months after the applicant filed a complaint with State Information Commission (SIC) that the first appeal hearing was not being conducted.
More interestingly, the first appeal hearing came three days after the first hearing date of the complaint at SIC was already over and the general administration department  officials had failed to attend the hearing.
After going through the matter and hearing out the applicant Ajay Dubey who took major objection to the violation of rules, the chief information commissioner (CIC) KD Khan reserved his order on the matter on Tuesday.
According to rules, the reply of RTI application is to be given within a month. If the applicant does not receive this reply and files first appeal, this has to be disposed by the appellate authority within a month too. However, in this case, the RTI application was filed by Dubey at the GAD on September 19, 2013 and the first appeal was filed on October 24 the same year.
After not receiving any response from the department for five months, Dubey filed a complaint under Section 18 of RTI with SIC on March 12 this year.
Documents available with HT show that this complaint hearing at SIC came up on September 8, 2014 but the GAD public information officer failed to attend.
Another hearing was then scheduled for Tuesday (September 16), when the GAD official submitted before the commission that the first appeal hearing was conducted by GAD appellate authority (principal secretary Ashwani Kumar Rai) on September 12, 2014 and it was decided that the information could not be provided to RTI applicant because it was not an issue of public interest.
Interestingly, the first appeal order also mentions that if the applicant was not happy with the order, he could file a second appeal with the SIC according to rule.
During the hearing, Dubey objected to the fact that the first appeal hearing came a long time after the passage of one month duration and after the complaint had been filed with SIC and was thus irrelevant.
After listening to the complainant as well as looking at reply of the public information officers (PIO), the CIC reserved his final order on the issue.
The principal secretary of GAD Ashwani Kumar Rai could not be contacted for comments as he has proceeded on leave and his cell phone remained switched off.

RTI query on CS appointment: GAD caught in a bind

Free Press Journal: Bhopal: Thursday, 18 September 2014.
The General Administration Department is trying its best to ensure that it doesn’t have to part with the papers relating to the appointment of Chief Secretary Antony De Sa.
RTI activist Ajay Dubey had sought the information about a year back through an RTI application. When it was not provided, he filed an appeal in the State Information Commission on August 13 this year.
The Commission fixed September 8 as the date for hearing. However, no one appeared on behalf of GAD on that date. The commission then posted the matter for September 16. On that date, the GAD submitted its reply. The reply was appended with an order dated Sep 12, issued by Principal Secretary GAD (Personnel) Ashwini Rai, disposing of the first appeal. Now, the interesting question that arise is that why the first appellate authority decide the matter after an appeal had been filed in the Information Commission? This may create problems for Rai.
Dube had filed an application under the RTI on Sepember 18, 2013 seeking the appointment order of the Chief Secretary. In its reply to the Commission, GAD Deputy Secretary Anubha Shrivastawa has stated that the reply to the query was given on 4 March. Here, there is another discrepancy. Dubey had filed an appeal with the first appellate authority on October 23, 2013 itself, which was disposed of on September 12, 2014 i.e. almost a year later.
After the applicant moved the Information Commission, the GAD hurriedly disposed of the first appeal so that the information can be kept under wraps. In the RTI application, information on the orders of the GAD appellate authority and rules governing the appointment of Principal Secretaries and Secretaries in the CM Secretariat was also sought.
Dubey wonders why the state government was dithering in providing this information. He said that once the Commission disposes his appeal, he would move the High Court.

‘Parrikar denying RTI info to hide corruption’

Times of India: Panaji: Thursday, 18 September 2014.
It is almost impossible to get information under RTI under the present Manohar Parrikar-led BJP government, proving that the government is scared that its rampant corruption will be exposed, alleged Curtorim Congress MLA Aleixo Reginald Lourenco on Wednesday.
Briefing mediapersons at Congress House in Panaji, Lourenco said that his RTI applications to various government departments are gathering dust and the public information officers (PIOs) are giving all kinds of excuses to deny the information. PIOs say the information is voluminous, or that it is there on the websites which have not been updated or that the pertinent file is missing, he said.
Lourenco said that even the state chief information commissioner Leena Mehendale has openly told mediapersons that the PIOs in various government departments are not giving information to RTI applicants and also do not appear before her if she issues notices to them. Mehendale has openly claimed that the BJP government is non-supportive of the information commission, Lourenco said.
"This is the Parivartan of the two-and-half-year-old government of Manohar Parrikar. If the government is not corrupt, why is it afraid to give information under RTI?" Lourenco questioned.
Asked if the previous Congress government in its first two and a half years was not corrupt, Lourenco said that Congress corruption was a hype created by Parrikar, and at least the Congress government had not blocked any information under RTI. "In the remaining two and a half years, we will prove that his government is corrupt and no where near to what he had promised before the elections," Lourenco said.
The Curtorim MLA also blamed Parrikar for shielding chargesheeted minister Ramesh Tawadkar. Lourenco said that the previous Congress government of Digambar Kamat had stripped its minister Dayanand Narvekar after he was chargesheeted in a case. "But though the Supreme Court has opined that ministers should not have cases against them, Parrikar has kept a chargesheeted minister," he said.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Plaint against minister, CPS, MLA for influencing teachers' transfers

Times of India: jalandhar: Wednesday, 17 September 2014.
Based on information procured under RTI Act from state education department, which revealed that "sifarish" (recommendation) by political leaders was instrumental in transfers of teachers of government schools, two social activists have filed a complaint on Tuesday before Punjab lokpal against nine politicians, including a minister, a chief parliamentary secretary, three MLAs and two former ministers.
Activists Balwant Singh Khera, chairman, Malta Boat Tragedy Probe Mission, and Parvinder Singh Kitna of Human Empowerment League Punjab (HELP) have also attached information procured under RTI Act from the education department to support their complaint, besides the affidavit.
The lists of transfers provided by the education department included names of politicians on whose recommendation teachers were being transferred. Khera and Kitna have demanded action against the politicians for misusing their official positions to seek transfer of teachers.
Politicians against whom complaints have been lodged included jail minister Sohan Singh Thandal, CPS Pawan Kumar Tinu, MLAs Surinder Singh Bhulewal Rathan (Hoshiarpur), Bibi Jagir Kaur (Bholath) and Sukhjit Singh Sahi (Dasuya), former minister and chief minister's adviser Tikshan Sood, former minister Arunesh Shakir, Hoshiarpur zila parishad chairman Sarabjot Singh and SAD's Tanda Urmur assembly constituency in-charge Arvinder Singh Rasoolpur.
Information procured by activists from the office of Hoshiarpur district education officer (secondary) had revealed that, besides sending names of teachers to be transferred, the department also mentioned elected representatives or political leaders, who recommended the postings, in a separate column. Names of office-bearers of SAD and Youth Akali Dal, who do not hold any public office, also figure in the lists received by Kitna.
The lists provided by the DEO not only had the names of teachers with details of the station of their posting and where they wanted to be shifted, but also names of political leaders in a separate column titled "vishesh kathan" (special comment).
Thandal made maximum recommendations. The complaint also mentioned that Hoshiarpur MLA Surinder Singh got a teacher couple transferred 100km away from each other and the duo had to move the Punjab and Haryana high court to get their posting orders cancelled.

PSEB secretary made chief engineer in 2011 without CM nod: RTI

Times of India: Chandigarh: Wednesday, 17 September 2014.
Punjab School Education Board (PSEB) secretary Gurinderpal Singh Bath, whose masters degree in civil engineering was found invalid, was first made superintending engineer (SE) and then chief engineer (building and maintenance, PSEB) in 2011 without the mandatory approval of chief minister Parkash Singh Badal.
On both occasions, there was no necessary approval by the chief minister to create these posts, which did not even exist in school education board in 2011. This has been revealed from the official documents procured under the Right to Information (RTI) Act from PSEB.
There are allegations against Bath that he was favoured due to his proximity to senior Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leaders, including the two past education ministers. Both Bath and the ministers have categorically denied this.
According to RTI documents, Bath was first given the pay scale of SE on July 5, 2011 and then made chief engineer within a week on July 12. He was made SE through an order sanctioned by then education minister Sewa Singh Sekhon.
According to reorganisation restructuring committee rules, CM is the only competent authority to create such tops posts in the state corporations and boards.
The RTI documents further reveal that Bath was in fact designated as SE on February 13, 2008, whereas his probation as executive engineer was confirmed and cleared only a year later on April 20, 2009.
It also reveals that he bypassed several posts during his promotion to SE in 2011.
Bath, however, said the Akali Dal government must answer why he was given these top posts all along.
"The government and ministers must reply why they approved my posts. I myself did nothing wrong," he said.
Bath's appointment as secretary, the third highest post in the state education board, has already been challenged in the Punjab and Haryana high court through three writ petitions.
A nine-month inquiry had recently found that Bath's MTech degree in civil engineering was obtained in 2013 through a distance learning programme from Karnataka State Open University in Mysore and it is not recognized by the All India Council for Technical Education.

RTI reveals MPs, MLAs defaulter in payment to HPTDC

Times of India: Shimla: Wednesday, 17 September 2014.
Fund starved Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (HPTDC) has failed to recover Rs 180 lakh outstanding from the VIPs who after availing boarding lodging or transportation facilities had failed to make the payment. An RTI information has revealed that many VIPs including MPS and governor have not paid the HPTDC since long.
RTI Activist Dev Ashish Bhattacharya on June 5 this year had sought information about MPs, ex-MPs, MLAs, ex-MLAs besides members and board of directors of HPTDC who had not cleared their dues. In response to his application, PIO of HPTDC informed that out of total number of payment defaulters, so many are MPs, ex-MPs, MLAs and a sitting minister.
RTI documents shows that former BJP MP Rajan Sushant ows Rs 53,200 since 2009, Chander Kumar, ex-MP Congress Rs.30,150 since 2005, BJP's Rajya Sabha MP Bimla Kashyap Rs 57,056 since 2010-11 and Suresh Bhardwaj, ex-MP BJP and sitting MLA Rs 6230 since 2006. They all owe the money to HPTDC due to the boarding and lodging facility being availed by them at Himachal Bhawan, Delhi.
BJP MP Anurag Thakur ows Rs 1,07,650 to HPTDC since 2010-11 as boarding and lodging charges in Himachal Sadan Delhi. Same is the case with BJP MP Virender Kashyap who owns Rs 9350 since 2009-10, BJP's Rajya Sabha MP J P Nadda ows Rs 46,700 since 2012-13 they too had availed the boarding and lodging facilities at Himachal Sadan Delhi.
Mani Shankar Aiyyar, Congress MP also failed to pay Rs 11,603 since 1995 for availing boarding and lodging facility at Himachal Bhawan Delhi. transport minister of Himachal Pradesh G S Bali also ows Rs 36,403 as the cost of boarding and lodging at Dharamsala. Kuldeep Kumar, Congress MLA, ows Rs 11,846 for availing boarding and lodging facility at Peterhoff, Shimla since 2013. Lat Sat Mahajan, Congress leader, ows Rs 7280 for boarding and lodging charges being availed at Himachal Bhawan Delhi in 1996.
"Matter of concern is this that one of the members of the Board of Directors of HPTDC Surender Sethi also ows Rs 9315 to HPTDC for availing Transport Facilities and is not bothered to pay back the dues despite the media disclosure earlier," said Dev Ashish Bhattacharya who obtained the information under RTI.
He said that as on December 31, 2013 accumulated debts of HPTDC has risen to 180.37 lakh. He said that a letter from HPTDC managing director dated February 22, 2014 further revealed MD has put the entire blame on the Junior officers and did not have the courage to issue the reminders to these politicians through his hand and seal. "It is also found from the records provided to me that the reminders were only issued to Kuldeep Kumar and not to any of the MPs and the transport minister," he claimed.
He said that latest information prior to this because of the constant follow up and media revelations, the payments were realised from Shanta Kumar, Pratibha Singh, Harsh Mahajan and part payment from GS Bali and Virender Kashyap.

Yograj kin sniff police bias, file RTI plea

Times of India: Chandigarh: Wednesday, 17 September 2014.
Kuljit Kaur, the NRI cousin of Yograj Singh, on Tuesday filed an RTI application, seeking a copy of the police report in the brawl case involving the former cricketer and a former DSP.
She has sought document of her and her daughter Tanya Kaur's statements, suspecting the officials might have changed them from English to Hindi. According to her, police have got the Hindi complaint of Tanya as told to her by DSP Mamta Sodha, the investigating officer. According to Kaur, Tanya cannot read the language and neither write her statement in Hindi.
"The police are favouring former DSP Ashanand fully as no one is ready to listen to us and is just focusing on the parking brawl. I have asked them to look into the aspect of molestation too. As the police are not cooperating, and I am suspecting that they have changed the language too, I have filed an RTI seeking those statements," said Kuljit.
In the RTI application, she has even asked for document of the complaint given by Sunil, son of the retired DSP, after which an FIR was lodged. She has also asked for the complete police file, including statements and documents pertaining to arrest of both the parties.
"I have also asked for photographs/videos lying in the file of Mamta Sodha. I have also submitted photographs of our bruises to her on Tuesday. I do not understand why they are not lodging an FIR in the case as they can continue with their investigations later," said Kaur.
Kaur along with her daughter and Bhupinder Pal Singh, who was also booked in the case, met DCP Rahul Sharma and Sodha on Tuesday.
"We are still analyzing many angles in the case. The action would be taken after a proper probe in the case," said Sodha.

Gaps in RTI replies, flat owners file appeals

Times of India: Noida: Wednesday, 17 September 2014.
Noida Extension Flat Owners Association (NEFOWA) filed 35 "first appeals" with the Greater Noida Authority on Tuesday, claiming that replies to most of the 100 RTIs they had filed in August seeking information from builders on several issues were "unsatisfactory".
A letter highlighting the issue was also sent to the Prime Minister.
"We filed 100 RTIs on August 8, asking GNIDA to share information on maps of various housing projects, their layout plans, deeds of declaration, true disclosure forms, etc. But we didn't get any of these in their responses," said NEFOWA general secretary Shweta Bharti. The body had also asked queries about the quality of building materials being used at various projects.
"We're surprised true disclosure forms and deeds of declaration were not submitted, as, according to the UP apartment act, 2010, these two documents are the most important information on a project, which builders need to submit with the authority," Bharti said.
"Realtors who haven't submitted true disclosures with GNIDA but are selling flats are violating section 4(1) of the UP apartment act. Those who haven't submitted deeds of declaration are violating section 12 of the act. We've been forced to file the first appeal as GNIDA hasn't been able to furnish these," said NEFOWA co-founder Indrish Gupta.
"When an RTI response is incomplete, "first appeal" is the next bonafide action an appelant can take. They also carry a monetary penalty for the respondent if they fail to respond within the allotted time," said Gupta.
"The authority said they don't have a system to check quality of materials used. This is a potential danger. How can we be sure flats are going to be safe in future?" Gupta added.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Wayanad ryots left out of loan scheme

Times of India: Kozhikode: Tuesday, 16 September 2014.
The government's flagship programme in the agricultural credit sector to provide interest-free loans to small and marginal farmers has drawn a naught in the state's most agrarian crisis-hit district of Wayanad, with cooperative banks failing to disburse any such loans in the last fiscal.
Documents obtained through the RTI Act from the state government show that farmers of Wayanad have failed to get even a single rupee under the scheme while interest-free loans worth Rs 115 crore were disbursed across the state in 2013-'14.
Farmer organisations say the figures reflect the attitude of banks and the government in addressing the agricultural crisis in the district, which had witnessed nearly 2,000 farmer suicides in 13 years. "The scheme for providing interest-free loans was drawn up partly as a response to the acute agrarian crisis in Wayanad. It is unfortunate that the district is left out of the scheme," said M Surendran, district president of farmer organisation Harita Sena.
He said 34 farmers had committed suicide in the district in 2012-'13 alone and many of them were victims of illegal moneylending, which had gained deep roots in the district. "The primary cooperatives are not providing agricultural loans due to non-availability of funds from Nabard."
District cooperative bank general manager P Gopakumar said only those who repay the loan amount in a year is given full interest subsidy under the scheme. The government refunds 4% interest subsidy to cooperatives and Nabard the remaining 3%, making the loan interest-free. "The moratorium on repayment of loans in Wayanad could be why farmers are not getting benefits of the scheme," he said.
Gopakumar said banks were also finding it difficult to refinance the existing loans due to the moratorium. "The primary cooperative societies are still providing interest subsidies to deserving farmers," he said.
District cooperative bank president P V Balachandran said he had urged the government to provide low-cost funds to cooperative banks. "The district cooperative bank had earmarked Rs 90 crore for agricultural loans, with Rs 60 crore from banks' own funds and Rs 30 crore from the state cooperative bank, in 2013-'14. Using own funds, sourced from deposits, for disbursing agricultural loans could hit the banks hard," he said.

Wide open invitation to danger

Bangalore Mirror: Bangalore: Tuesday, 16 September 2014.
The effort of BDA and BBMP to decongest Bangalore's busiest roads by widening them turned out to be fatal for pedestrians. Between 2008 and 2014 (March), 1,085 have died, most of them while trying to cross the roads.
Around five years ago, in an effort to decongest a few of the city's emerging busy stretches, both the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) and the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) widened the roads and upgraded them to 'international standard.' However, the result in many cases shows a scary picture of steep rise in accidents and subsequent loss of life.
According to the latest data made available by the Bangalore Traffic Police under Right to Information Act, after the expansion, 175 pedestrians were killed in road accidents on the Madivala Outer Ring Road junction on Hosur Road, 128 people on Hosur Road, 88 pedestrians lost their lives on the widened Varthur Main Road along the Outer Ring Road while 69 people were crushed to death on the Bannerghatta-Outer Ring Road Junction. Between 2008 and 2014 (March), a whopping 1,085 pedestrians have died while 3,123 people have been severely injured on city roads.
Ironically, the data revealed that it is only the widened roads that are turning out to be the nemesis of pedestrians. According to urban planning experts, the roads have not only considerably failed to deliver on the objective of decongestion, but also jeopardised the lives of pedestrians. The wide roads, while facilitating motorists and swanky automobiles, have totally cut off mobility of several hundred people across the city, experts claimed.
No Amenities for pedestrians
Prompted by the general notion that people are afraid of crossing wide roads, Vinay K Sreenivasa of Alternative Law Forum along with some other members filed the RTI to fetch the data.
"We did not know what was preventing people from using such wide roads as civic agencies claim that they are wide and spacious enough for pedestrians and motorists. However, these statistics prove that the people are indeed losing their lives by venturing to cross these wide roads."
Sreenivasa attributes the spike in accidents to the lack of amenities for pedestrians. "While some of the roads lack basic footpaths, majority of them do not have facilities like zebra-crossing, pelican lights, skywalks or pedestrian underpasses. At some roads, underpasses have been built where people hardly cross over or are found locked all the time. In the absence of these when pedestrians venture out either to cross or walk they will only be mowed down by speeding vehicles," Sreenivasa added.
Jenny Pinto, who has been fighting for pedestrian rights in Bangalore said, "What scares people is the fast moving traffic. They just race with each other on these stretches. Senior citizens, women and kids are forced to cut off their mobility and do not venture out fearing for life. Such is the situation on Bangalore roads."
'Narrow roads don't kill people'
Vinay also clarified that the statistics about pedestrian deaths and severe injuries confuted the common myth about narrow roads killing people. "All civic agencies contend that narrow roads lead to accidents and death of people. But in the details provided by the traffic police there is hardly any evidence to prove the claim as no deaths have been reported from narrow stretches of Bangalore. On the other hand, with the widening there is no place for people to cross or stand. Medians have also been shrunk to their smallest possible size. We believe that widening has been done only to help movement of cars and other vehicles," he added.

SIC pulls up MC for concealing info

Times of India: Jalandhar: Tuesday, 16 September 2014.
State Information Commission's (SIC) notice to the municipal corporation for failing to provide complete information to the applicants under the RTI Act on four different occasions has exposed the shoddy working of the civic body. The commission also ordered a penalty of Rs 5,000 each for each time, amounting to Rs 20,000.
The orders were handed by state information commissioner Narinderjit Singh on September 8. While the first three complaints were filed by Congress municipal councilor Jagdish Pal Raja, the fourth one was filed by a local shopkeeper - Subhash Jain.
On all four occasions, the SIC noted that public information officer (PIO) was given enough time to answer the deficiencies pointed out by the applicants. The applicants also contended that the information provided by the MC was incomplete. Still, the PIO failed to respond to these deficiencies.
The commissioner ordered that other than paying the compensation, the MC would also respond to the deficiencies pointed out by the applicants by November 12 - next date of hearing. The SIC also ordered that during the hearing of all four cases, the PIO should be personally present.
RTI activist Sanjay Sehgal said the MC would be paying the compensation from public money, instead the responsibility should be fixed and amount should be recovered from the guilty officials. "Attitude of the MC officials is to harass the applicants as they have several things to conceal. However, these orders have exposed the working of the civic body," he said.