Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Man’s battle for info adds to cop-bootlegger nexus talks

Ahmedabad Mirror: Ahmedabad: Tuesday, 30 September 2014.
The struggle of an alert young citizen to get the details of a police raid only adds to the speculations on police-bootlegger Kamlesh Bhaiya nexus that are doing the rounds in the city. Twenty-two-year-old Saraspur resident Sagar Patel, who filed an application under RTI Act at the police commissioner's office on August 27, has been made to run from one office to another to get reply. But far from being demotivated, he has resolved to pursue the matter and take it to conclusion. According to a police source, Patel, who has studied only till class 8, had filed the application on August 27 at the police commissioner's office. The commissioner's office told him he would get the reply from Shaherkotda police station. However, the police station told him on September 22 that reply can be provided to him only by the police commissioner's office."
DETERMINED TO GET DETAILS
Despite being directed from one place to another, Patel is determined to get details. He will once again visit the police commissioner's office and seek reply. "I had gone to the police commissioner's office on August 25. However, the persons concerned were not there on that day. So, I went again on August 27. I did the RTI then," Patel told Mirror. "In the application, I had asked several questions - first, in 2013, Saherkotda police had raided a liquor den run byKamlesh Bhaiya. A local channel had telecast the raid live. A lot of wine and beer bottles was seen during the raid.
After that, did the police take any action against the PSI of the police chowky (Amdupura), N R Makwana? A large number of bottles was recovered during the raid and it was evident that the police chowky concerned had not acted earlier," said Patel. The second question was if any offence was registered against the Amdupura PSI (for failing to close the liquor den earlier). The third question was - a few days back, in Vadaj a police inspector was suspended in connection with the murder of a bootlegger.
On the other hand, a bootlegger had killed an innocent citizen, Dipak Zala, in Shaherkotda some time back. Was any action taken against the Saherkotda PI, Patel wanted to know through his RTI application. Patel's application was forwarded to Shaherkotda police station by the commissioner's office on August 30. However, Shaherkotda police told Patel on September 22 that the answers to the questions could be provided by the commissioner's office only. Patel suspects police officials at Saherkotda to be under pressure from Bhaiya and feels there could be some nexus between them.
PASSING THE BUCK
Patel added, "The second PI at Shaherkotda police station, B G Bhatt, told me I would get the replies from the commissioner's office. They seem to be passing the buck. However, I am not put off. I will again go to that office." Before filing the RTI, Patel had given another RTI application to Saherkotda police station on June 24. He had asked as to how many people were murdered in Shaherkotda police station area between 2012 and 2014. He was told there were four murders in 2012, five murders in 2013 and three murders in 2014 (till then). He had also asked in the same RTI as to how many bootleggers were booked under Prevention of Anti-Social Activities (PASA) between 2012 and 2014. He was given the answer: 19 bootleggers in 2012, 21 in 2013 (including Kamlesh Bhaiya) and 10 in 2014.

Kavi sammelans, golf rounds: Why some Governors go abroad

Indian Express: New Delhi: Tuesday, 30 September 2014.
Residents of India’s Raj Bhavans, generally expected to be inactive politically, seem, however, to be fairly active in matters of culture and community sometimes pursuing these interests beyond national boundaries.
Information given to The Indian Express by the Ministry of Home Affairs under the Right to Information (RTI) Act shows that in the last five years, at least three Governors sought permission to travel abroad to attend kavi sammelans.
One went to play golf, another to attend the graduation ceremony of a granddaughter.
Other Governors travelled overseas to attend Marwari, Maratha, or similar sammelans. Admittedly, several of these Governors’ trips abroad were personal, or “private” visits.
Between 2009 and now, only 17 Governors sought a no-objection certificate from the government to travel abroad. Ten of them went overseas on one occasion; seven Governors travelled more than once, records show.
According to the data, Gen (retd) J J Singh, who was Governor of Arunachal Pradesh from 2008 until May 2013, was the most frequent flier, making nine trips abroad during his tenure, six of which have been described as “private” in the Home Ministry’s reply.
Five of these private visits were to UK-France; one to the US-Canada. He spent a total 73 days abroad on these trips, according to records.
One of Gen Singh’s trips abroad was to Dubai for eight days in 2011 “to participate in the Dubai Desert Classic Golf Tournament”. This trip has not been marked “private” in the RTI reply; however, reached for a comment, Gen Singh said this was not an official visit.
Two of the former Governor’s official trips were to Singapore, the details of one of which he was unable to recollect. About the other trip to Singapore, and his personal visits abroad, Gen Singh said, “My trip to Singapore was to address the Singapore International Water Week in June 2009, and to deliver a talk on the water resources of Northeastern India. The details of the event, in which the Prime Minister of Singapore participated as the chief guest, are available on the Internet.
“Regarding my private visits abroad during my tenure of over five years, they were primarily to spend time with my son and his family in Normandy. We consider it a duty and an obligation to spend a week or two with our children and grandchildren at least once a year. Besides that, I visited UK, USA and Canada in connection with the release of my autobiography, ‘A Soldiers General’, which was launched in Delhi in 2012.
” D Y Patil, who is currently Governor of Bihar, had, as Governor of Tripura in 2011, visited Bangladesh for four days on an “invitation from the Bangladesh Foreign Minister”, according to the reply. Between May 1 and May 5 last year, Patil visited Mauritius “to attend Maharashtra and Shivajee Day”.
The D Y Patil Group, founded by Patil, runs a medical college in Mauritius. A senior officer at Patna’s Raj Bhavan said, “Patil does not take any money from the government. He visited Mauritius at the invitation of the Marathi community there, and attended a function at his college. The government bore the expenses of some members of the Governor’s staff who travelled with him.
” About a month after being sworn in as Governor of West Bengal on July 24, Keshari Nath Tripathi went to the UK for eight days to “participate in the Virat Kavi Sammelan”.
The Home Ministry received a letter from the Ministry of External Affairs, saying “It is recommended that a formal financial sanction may be issued to enable the High Commission of India, London, to cover the expenditure for the above visit as Shri Tripathi holds the position of Governor.”
Tripathi has attended kavi sammelans in London before being appointed Governor as well. Raj Bhavan, Kolkata, did not respond to requests for a comment. M C Bhandare, who was Governor of Orissa until March last year, spent 56 days abroad in the course of six personal trips. Four of these visits were to Singapore, and one each to South Africa and the UK. He visited Singapore thrice in 2009.
Bhandare’s trip to London was to “attend the graduation ceremony of granddaughter”. Reached for a comment, the former Governor said, “I visited South Africa to pay homage to Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. My private visits to Singapore were to be with my son, who has an office and home there.”
Uttarakhand Governor Aziz Qureshi sought Home Ministry clearance to visit Dubai twice last year to participate in poetry recitation programmes. “Yes, I took permission to attend a kavi sammelan and a mushaira organised by the Indian community there, but was ultimately unable to go,” Qureshi told The Indian Express.
The Home Ministry must clear, and the President must approve, all visits abroad by Governors. The Indian Express’s RTI application was sent to the President’s Secretariat, which forwarded it to the Home Ministry. The information provided by the Ministry is for cases “for which the MHA has conveyed its no-objection”.
M K Narayanan, who resigned as Governor of West Bengal on June 30, spent a total 35 days abroad, spread over eight official trips, during his tenure. One of Narayanan’s trips was “to accept Gusi Peace Prize” in the Philippines, and another to Bhutan to attend the “wedding ceremony of His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, King of Bhutan”.
Narayanan said: “All the trips were officially approved and sanctioned by the President of India and the central government.”
N D Tiwari, who had to resign as Andhra Pradesh Governor in 2009 after a sex video of him surfaced, had, barely a month earlier, spent 23 days in the USA “to study critical academic and administrative aspects with a view to develop higher education system in Andhra Pradesh”. He returned on November 23, 2009, and resigned on December 26.
Jagannath Pahadia, who was Governor of Haryana until July, visited Nepal in 2012 for four days to be the chief guest at “Nepali Marwari Community Social Gathering and Maharaja Agrasen Jayanti Celebrations”.
The octogenarian Pahadia told The Sunday Express, “Yes, I visited Nepal along with some officials in October 2012, but I no longer remember the details of the programme.” Tamil Nadu Governor K Rosaiah visited Malaysia last year for three days to attend the “International Conference of World Telugu Federation”.
According to the Home Ministry, Governors who sought no-objection certificates for more than one trip were: Gen J J Singh, M C Bhandare, K Sankaranarayanan, M K Narayanan, S C Jamir, Margaret Alva, D Y Patil and Aziz Qureshi.

Resident wrath triggers a signal jam : Two senior citizens in Koramangala freeze activation of an illegal mobile tower with nothing more than RTI pleas, pluck.

Bangalore Mirror: Bangalore: Tuesday, 30 September 2014.
When residents of Koramangala 4th block woke up one morning to see the construction of a mobile tower very near their homes, they did not dismiss it as just another ugly concrete structure that dot building terraces in the city. They wanted to make sure that the telecom had obtained approvals from the civic agencies. As expected, it was not easy as the bureaucracy gave them the cold-shoulder.
After a series of applications filed under the Right to Information Act (RTI) and back-and-forth mails, finally BDA (Bangalore Development Authority) and BBMP (Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike) authorities confirmed in writing that neither agency had sanctioned the construction.
So that left the tower, nine-metre tall, all 800 kg of steel and concrete, atop the fourth floor of a residential building on a 30 x 40-square feet site, exactly No. 364, 8th main road, ST Bed Layout. Residents were also aghast when they came to know that there was no law guiding the erection and operation of mobile towers. Despite these setbacks, they were able to salvage something: armed with the civic agency replies, and a little help from the police, they ensured the antenna wasn't mounted and the tower wasn't activated.
HEALTH WORRIES WERE A TRIGGER :
C H Ram, a resident, narrated the sequence of events, "We were agitated when construction began in a residential area. Studies have shown that in the long run, radiation is a health hazard. We were quite sure it was illegal as it was coming up on the fourth floor of a house on a 30 x 40-square feet site." Ram and another neighbour, K Vaidyanathan, then decided on the RTI route.
Their persistence paid off when in July last week, BBMP's executive engineer (OFC Cell) gave it in writing that the said telecom had not obtained a licence. The BDA too replied stating the firm had not applied for commencement certificate for erection of the base transceiver station. In 2005, the Urban Development Department had sent out a loosely-worded circular with a few riders for telecoms to follow, which no one is aware of. In fact, in December 2013, chief minister Siddaramaiah had said in the assembly that installation of terrace-mounted mobile towers won't be allowed in school and hospital premises.
"Initially, the authorities didn't respond. So we took the RTI route. Once we were sure about the status, we approached the police. Though the tower construction was completed, its commissioning was stopped," explained Vaidyanathan.
The RTI reply said there are about 5,000 mobile towers in the city, and their numbers are on the rise due to the 4G rollout. As per rules, BBMP has to issue the licence based on the commencement certificate issued by BDA for constructing the base station.

राजस्थान में सूचना के अधिकार कानून के बुरे हाल

Nai Dunia: Jaipur: Tuesday, 30 September 2014.
पूरे देश में सूचना के अधिकार कानून को सबसे पहले लागू करने वाले राजस्थान में इन दिनों इस कानून का पालन नहीं हो पा रहा है। राज्य में सिर्फ एक सूचना आयुक्त काम कर रहा है और सूचना आयोग में आने वाली दूसरी अपील के लगभग 16 हजार आवेदन लंबित हो गए हैं। अपील की सुनवाई के लिए लोगों को जनवरी 2016 तक की तारीख दी जा रही है।
यह स्थिति तो तब है, जबकि सरकार के पास सूचना आयुक्त के रूप में नियुक्ति के लिए 118 लोगों ने आवेदन किया हुआ है और हाई कोर्ट ने सरकार को सूचना आयुक्तों के रिक्त पद भरने के लिए 14 अगस्त तक का समय दिया था। यह समय सीमा खत्म होने के सवा महीने बाद भी प्रदेश में सूचना आयुक्तों की नियुक्ति का काम नहीं हो पाया है।
राजस्थान देश में पहला राज्य था, जिसने सूचना का अधिकार कानून लागू किया था, लेकिन सूचना आयुक्तों की नियुक्ति के मामले में यहां हालत बहुत खराब है। राज्य में दस सूचना आयुक्त हो सकते हैं। लगभग तीन चार साल से यहां एक ही सूचना आयुक्त टी. श्रीनिवासन काम कर रहे हैं।सूचना आयुक्तों की नियुक्ति के बारे में सुप्रीम कोर्ट के नए निर्देशों के कारण उन्होंने छह माह से ज्यादा समय तक काम नहीं किया। इससे अपीलों की संख्या बहुत बढ़ गई। अब वापस काम शुरू तो हो गया, लेकिन दूसरे सूचना आयुक्त नहीं होने के कारण अपीलों की सुनवाई नहीं हो पा रही है।
समय सीमा तय नहीं:
दरअसल सूचना के अधिकार कानून के तहत पहली अपील में तो एक माह में सुनवाई का प्रावधान है, लेकिन दूसरी अपील जो सूचना आयुक्त के यहां होती है, वहां सुनवाई के लिए कोई निश्चित समय सीमा नहीं है। ऐसे में अपीलों की सुनवाई पर डेढ़ साल तक का समय दिया जा रहा है। जानकारों का कहना है कि सूचना आयुक्तों की नियुक्ति में कोई बड़ी समस्या भी नहीं है, क्योंकि मुख्यमंत्री, विधानसभा अध्यक्ष, नेता प्रतिपक्ष और एक कैबिनेट मंत्री की समिति इनका चयन करती है।

HC stays CIC's decision asking CBI to disclose info on graft

Business Standard: New Delhi: Tuesday, 30 September 2014.
The Delhi High Court has stayed a CIC decision that organisations like the CBI, which are exempted from sharing information under transparency law RTI, will have to respond to queries relating to alleged corruption within the agencies.
"The operation of the order passed by the Central Information Commission on June 4, 2014 will remain stayed," Justice Vibhu Bakhru said after hearing brief arguments from the counsel for the CBI.
The probe agency has challenged the order of the apex transparency panel asking it to provide information to RTI activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal on the ground that the queries pertained to allegations of corruption.
"Section 24 of the Right to Information (RTI) Act has exempted certain organisations from the purview of the RTI Act, including the CBI. However, information pertaining to allegations of corruption and human rights violations have been excluded.
"The appellant's contention that he was seeking information relating to corruption within the organisation, has merit and the response provided by DIG CBI AC-III, dated 26.6.13, is misplaced and based on an erroneous interpretation of Section 24," Chief Information Commissioner Rajiv Mathur had said.
The CIC had also directed the CBI and its officers to provide "a point-wise response" and "free of cost" replies to Agrawal within three weeks.
It had also taken note of the fact that if the queries under the RTI relate to various offices of the CBI, then there was no system in place to ensure that they all are responded to.
"Under the provisions of Section 25(5) of the RTI Act, we direct the public authority to evolve a mechanism which would ensure that a consolidated response is provided to the appellant under the provisions of the RTI Act and the representative of the CBI attending the hearing before the Commission is able to respond to the status of the entire RTI," the panel had said.

Monday, September 29, 2014

A struggle for livelihood : The current disaster in the valley has created a huge challenge in front of the affected people. Challenge to get their livelihood back on track.

GreaterKashmir.com: Srinagar: Monday, 29 September 2014.
“The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act aims at enhancing the livelihood security of people in rural areas by guaranteeing hundred days of wage-employment in a financial year to a rural household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work.”
The current disaster in the valley has created a huge challenge in front of the affected people. Challenge to get their livelihood back on track. As per initial estimate, floods have caused a loss of around Rs.5, 700 crore, with heavy damages to trade, hotels, restaurants, horticulture and handicraft. In the aftermaths of floods, people will actually have to start a new life.
But struggle for livelihood is not new in the valley especially for the economically weaker sections of the society as it has never been in any part of our country. According to a recent Indian Government report, nearly 38% of India’s population is poor and more than 75% of poor people reside in villages. Rural poverty is largely a result of low productivity and unemployment.
Huge amount of money will now be spent in the name of relief and rehabilitation but how, and with what ease it is implemented on ground, will make all the difference. In past, in order to alleviate rural poverty by generating employment and creation of sustainable assets in Rural India, Government of India had brought in the flagship programme called Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), 2005. However, it’s been close to a decade since its inception but this programme has suffered a huge setback on account of many flaws at the administrative level. There are many stories which lay hidden among the rural parts of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. It is very evident when we take a closer look at the houses here in Kupwara District and see how desperate, people eligible to benefit from the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act are.
“If our father would have been alive, we would have had at least two meals a day” cries out Tabassum, Rafeeeqa’s daughter. Rafeeeqa hails from Dard Haire village in Kralpora block of Kupwara district in Jammu and Kashmir. The helplessness is clearly visible in Rafeeqa’s eyes who lost her husband and have a daughter and two sons to take care of after him. Her elder son Zakir was forced to leave his studies after the seventh standard and take up a job to support his family. Though Rafeeqa holds a job card under the act in 2009, she was employed only for two days and has been jobless since then. The flaws that lay within the system, and the huge corruption at the administrative level have totally failed individuals like Rafeeqa at the grass-root level.
The 100 days Rozgar (employment) under this Act has now become an easy profit-making business for the various govt officials within the system. Rafeeqa strongly believes that the insensitivity of the system and the nexus between the corrupt officers, politicians and the contractors has been a big hurdle for her to get work.
The rain acts havoc during the monsoon as her house leaks. “I do not have money to feed my children, how I will renovate the house. I am forced to send my youngest son Mehraj to JK Yateem Foundation at Bail-ul Hilal,” she adds. Another NGO that helps her with her monthly ration is the Sayeedus Sadaat Islamic Falahi Trust.
Statistics on the State government website reveal that the J&K government has spent over Rupees 2000 crore on MGNREGA till April 2014, of which Rupees 78 lakhs has been allotted to Kupwara alone. One may like to understand where are the funds going?
A month ago during a meeting of the 4th State Employment Guarantee Council meeting was held under the chairmanship of Minister for Rural Development, Panchayati Raj, Law Justice and Parliament Affairs, Ali Muhammad Sagar, the govt had increased the wage rate of unskilled workers under MGNREGA from the present 131 rupees a day to 157. It also decided to hike the emoluments of the supporting staff being engaged under the scheme. It was also given out that the labor budget of the State for the 2014-15 has been approved as 288.20 lakh man-days.
The minister had further stressed and directed the officers to prepare a comprehensive Detail Project Reports (DPRs) well in time before the start of the financial year and all modalities of the expenditure on the labour part would be provided out of the MGNREGA funds.
The Gram Sabhas fails to release such information in the villages and the villagers are unaware of any such announcements and entitlements. The information does not reach the eligible individuals who actually deserve it. Hence, people like Rafeeqa remain in the dark for the amount of money being accounted on their behalf.
The loopholes in paper work brings into notice that there is no concrete documentation as to how many people have actually benefitted from this Act.
Ironically, as per section 4(1) b of the RTI Act, such information needs to be disclosed at the Panchayat level and should further be disseminated widely through media. The information should be painted on walls in the village or to be read out in the Gram Sabha. But nothing has been done so far.
The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) had criticized the Jammu and Kashmir government over lapses in MGNREGA implementation, including delayed release and mis-utilization of funds last year in its report. The auditor had clearly directed the state government to scrupulously follow modalities prescribed in the act. The auditor zeroed in facts like unauthorized retention of funds, delayed release and diversion of funds, execution of unapproved works, delay in payment of wages to workers, faulty estimates, shortfall in engagement of staff and their inadequate training.
Though the stories of illegal practices and corruption have made way to the newspapers, the administration seems to have turned a deaf ear to people like Rafeeqa. Rather than ensuring greater transparency, accountability and good governance looks like the officials have settled for personal goals. The ghost of poverty & unemployment still haunts rural J&K and many people in rural India wait for promises to be fulfilled, something that has become a far-fetched dream. Based on the past experiences, Kashmiris can only hope that the relief and rehabilitation funds do not fall in corrupted hands.
PIR AZHAR
(Charkha Features, exclusively for Greater Kashmir)

Higher CIC bench to decide disclosure of loan defaulters names

Business Standard: New Delhi: Monday, 29 September 2014.
An issue of disclosing names and details of big bank loan defaulters will be decided by a larger bench of the Central Information Commission due to complexity of issues involved in making such names public.
NPAs or bad loans of PSU banks rose by 28.5 per cent from Rs 1.83 lakh crore in March 2013, to Rs 2.36 lakh crore in September 2013.
The case relates to a plea of activist Subhash Agrawal who sought disclosure of names of loan defaulters with outstanding of over Rs one crore with public sector banks.
After being denied information by Reserve Bank of India, Agrawal pleaded before Information Commissioner Manjula Parashar that the information should be provided because it is in larger public interest that defaulters of bank loans may be highlighted (and made to face embarrassment) by putting their names in public domain.
"Otherwise also RBI gets all such information from banks in its role as supervisory and controlling authority with no question of treating sought information as fiduciary in nature," Agrawal claimed before the Commission.
The RBI cited a high court stay order, without producing a copy, saying information cannot be disclosed. They also cited privacy clause of RTI Act which exempts disclosure of personal information.
Parashar said it appears that similar issues are under adjudication by the Delhi High Court and an interim stay against the decision of the Commission has been granted by the high court.
"There has been contradictory views expressed in the decisions of the Commission regarding application of exemption under section 8(1)(e) to the details regarding NPA accounts," Parashar said while ordering the case to be dealt by higher bench of the Commission.

How Tosamaidan was reclaimed

The Hindu: Ahmedabad: Monday, 29 September 2014.
The Army is now cleaning up the Tosamaidan firing range in
Budgam district of Jammu and Kashmir. File Photo: Nissar Ahmad
The firing range in Pir Panjal had become a death trap. Since 1984, 65 people had been killed and over 150 disabled in Budgam district in Jammu and Kashmir by an avoidable cause. The Tosamaidan firing range a meadow nestled in the picturesque Pir Panjal mountain range had become a death trap for cattle-grazing communities because of the unexploded shells and their residual material spread over the area.
After nearly five decades, the people can heave a sigh of relief. They are set to get back the Tosamaidan for public use, after the State government decided not to extend the lease given to the Army after it expired on April 18.
During his visit to Gujarat, Shaikh Ghulam Rasool, who heads the J&K RTI Movement, highlighted how simple queries made under the Right to Information Act changed the fate of Tosamaidan and the people living in its neighbourhood.
“We asked for data on deaths, disability and lease details. A told of 52 villages were affected by the firing range. Among these, 16 were severely affected. The village panchayats had even passed a resolution calling for a ban on firing at Tosamaidan. Based on the RTI replies, we launched the Tosamaidan Bachao Front and petitioned the State government,” Mr. Rasool said. The Army is currently carrying out cleaning operations in the area. The RTI Movement is now pressing for development of rural tourism in the region managed by the local people, as against corporate players.
‘J&K Act is stronger’
Citing Tosamaidan’s example, Mr. Rasool said the State RTI Act was stronger than the Central Act in two aspects. It gave the first appellate authority the power to recommend disciplinary action and penalty against a public information officer for repeated failure to give information. The State Act also provided for a time-bound delivery system, whereby the second appeals too have to be decided within 120 days.
“The Centre should incorporate these provisions in its Act. The National Campaign for People’s Right to Information is already making that demand. Pendency of appeals is a big challenge,” Mr. Rasool said.

Out here, the ambit is to have more than just a position

DNA: Mumbai: Monday, 29 September 2014. 
After debating for over one-and-a-half hour, 10-odd right to information (RTI) activists took up issues discussed with information commissioners. "I think we should keep non-compliance of the state information commission's (SIC) order at the top of the list. It is a crucial matter and needs to be taken up on a priority basis," said Shailesh Gandhi, former central information commissioner.
On August 16 and September 20, a group of RTI activists gathered at Shailesh Gandhi's home for what is called, the RTI Samvad. A recent phenomenon, this group meets to discuss everything and anything concerning the RTI Act.
"The idea was to start a dialogue and to understand various aspects of the law. We felt that instead of one RTI activist taking one position and another a different one, we should have a dialogue about it first. Many times there are debates but no dialogues. It does not mean that we agree with it. There can be differing views. The idea is to discuss and keep an open mind and learn to take things forward," said Gandhi.
The idea was nurtured with the desire to understand the RTI Act and those laws that aid it. "No one really knows the law (enough). We hear various views and have a dialogue on them. It is done with a hope that maybe we will come to a common understanding of the law. There are times when there is a difference between what law says and what people think it should be. But, what the law actually means and the reasons why it does so is hardly discussed. The idea is to understand this," added Gandhi.
During discussion of these laws, new impediments that are being created in the implementation of the law are also brought into focus. One of these, as pointed out by RTI activist Mahendra Dharod in the meeting, was public information officers asking the applicants to come and inspect documents.
"Even when inspection is not sought, recently this is one of the most common means through which information is been denied to an applicant. They do not even keep the index ready," said Dharod. On the above issue, the activists gathered agreed and decided to oppose it by taking it up with the commissioners.
While educating activists is one thing, thought is also given on how to work out a problem by addressing it in a different way. How to improve the quality of answers given by the public information officers is one such issue.
"We are thinking of awarding PIOs with best practices so that they stand out among the rest. Conducting seminars for them could also be helpful," said Narayan Varma, another activist who was present at the meet.
"It is a far-fetched thought, but may be one day we will invites officials to join us too. It will just help us see their point of view. It will also create more opinions and understanding of the law through proper discussion," said Gandhi.

Appointment of political advisor in Himachal Pradesh raises RTI query

Times of India: Shimla: Monday, 29 September 2014.
Appointment of senior Congress leader Rangila Ram Rao as the political advisor of Himachal Pradesh chief minister Virbhadra Singh with cabinet rank has invited an RTI query as a RTI activist raising question over his appointment has now sought information about appointment, salary and other remuneration being given to him and details of advices being given by Rao to chief minister.
RTI activist Dev Ashish Bhattacharya has sought information under RTI claiming that Himachal Pradesh government is doling out political appointments recklessly thereby creating immense pressure upon the already cash starved public exchequer.
He said that why Rangila Ram Rao should be paid from the public exchequer for giving political advise to chief minister. If at all the CM needs a political advisor then let the state Congress committee pay for the same, he added.
"Earlier the corporations were handled by different ministers with whom the departments related to the corporations were attached. But now so many political appointments are made to run the different corporations and departments resulting into the huge money spending," he said. He said that such kind of spending are totally unwarranted and goes against the basic reasoning of the decision of the ministry of home affairs restricting the size of the minstries through a formula.
"Now i have taken up the issue with the state government by shooting 2 RTI applications to get the relevant information on such appointments," he added.

In startling precedent, Madras High Court rules that RTI Act does not apply to itself

Scroll. in: Madras: Monday, 29 September 2014.
A Madras High Court judgement last fortnight setting aside an order of the Central Information Commission and granting sanctity to the actions of one of its Public Information Officers is an example of the judiciary commitment to the principle of transparency in administration just as long as it applies only to the other organs of the state.
On January 23 last year, the Central Information Commission heard the appeal of an aggrieved RTI applicant whose requests for information had been turned down by the High Court's Public Information Officer. The applicant’s query related to the selection procedure for appointing the Registrar General, and the action taken, if any, on complaints against the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, Egmore.
The applicant had been persistent. He knocked the doors of the high court 47 times, undeterred by every refusal.
The State Information Commission found no fault with the High Court officials' actions, and instead castigated the applicant for his "offensive and intimidatory acts", which were "calculated to bring embarrassment and ridicule" to the institution of the judiciary.
The High Court's judgement will provide every public authority with a judicially-sanctioned right to question an applicant's motives, and refuse disclosure of information on the ground that the request was made in bad faith.
There are no explicit provisions in the RTI Act on which judges can rely to deny an information request. The court held that since the right to information is a fundamental right, it must also be restricted by those very parameters by which the state is permitted to curtail the right to freedom of expression. A distinction must be drawn between the right to information and the right to seek information, and it is the latter that should prevail. But who will be the final arbiter upon this right? The very same judiciary, which the constitution entrusts with the mantle of being the custodian of Fundamental Rights.
Not only should a citizen exercise the right to seek information in utmost good faith, but it must be "legally sustainable" too, the court ruled, while remaining silent as to under which law(s) shall this sustainability be judged.
The court found that the applicant's requests for information regarding if the repeated complaints against the Egmore magistrate had been acted upon, were vexatious and bore the imprint of malice and lack of faith in the judicial system.
As regards the appointment of the Registrar General, an administrative position that involves quasi-judicial functions, all that the applicant sought to know was if there were any standard rules which were followed in setting up the selection committee. He did not seek to pry into how judges discharge their judicial functions, but only to know how the judiciary fulfils its administrative responsibilities. This is something the public has an inalienable right to be informed about.
This right suffered a big blow with the court's ruling that the Registrar General's post is a "sensitive" one, hence providing a valid ground to decline an information request.  Questioning or seeking to know the details of the appointment procedure was tantamount to casting aspersions on the judiciary's impartiality and integrity, the court held.
While court decisions provide a clear insight into how judges proceed with the task, the manner in which the judiciary performs its administrative functions remain shrouded in mystery. It would be facile and disingenuous to segregate the administrative functions from the judicial ones, because both are integral to the process of delivering justice.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

E-governance? Email ids of MP CM, ministers refused under RTI

Hindustan Times: Bhopal: Sunday, 28 September 2014.
The MP government might be harping on e-governance, but the general administration department (GAD) has expressed inability to share email details of the chief minister, ministers and government officials under right to information (RTI). During a recent hearing at the State Information Commission (SIC), the public information officer of the GAD said the details could not be provided as they were not available in a compiled format. Following the reply, the chief information commissioner KD Khan reserved the order in the case.
Interestingly many of these email details are available in the annual diary published by the state government.
RTI activist Ajay Dubey had filed an application in February 2012, seeking details of these email ids, the details of the anonymous complaints received by the chief secretary’s office and the details of the monthly online diaries (reports) submitted by the government officials to the government.
After the information was not given by the GAD, a first appeal was filed with the appellate authority at the department. However, the information was refused on the grounds that the department did not have compiled information on e-mails. The applicant then filed a second appeal with the SIC and the hearing in this matter was held last week.
During the hearing, the public information officer (PIO), Rajesh Kaul (deputy secretary of GAD) verbally filed a reply mentioning unavailability of the compiled email id details as well as the other information sought in the original application. When contacted, Kaul confirmed to HT that details were refused under RTI because of lack of compiled data.
The applicant Ajay Dubey, however, has pointed out that much of the email details were available in public domain (in form of government diary) and in era of e-governance it was inexplicable that e-mail id details were not available with the GAD. He has decided to submit copies of the government diary pages to the commission before the final order in the matter is issued. He also pointed out that the records of anonymous complaints were properly compiled by the Prime Minister’s office.
Speaking to HT, Dubey also alleged that the information was probably not being given officially as many of the officials were using email ids of private foreign web hosts rather than the ids created by government agencies the National Informatics Centre (NIC) as apparent by government diary details. Pertinently, recent reports suggested that use of email providers with foreign servers for official communication would be banned by the Union government.

J-K govt failed in flood rescue: Dr Sheikh Ghulam Rasool

Indiatvnews.: Ahmedabad: Sunday, 28 September 2014.
Jammu and Kashmir Government has failed to respond to the recent natural calamity with alacrity and rescuing VVIPs and tourists, and not the common people, remained its priority, an RTI activist claimed here today.
‘J and K Right to Information (RTI) Movement’ chairman Dr Sheikh Ghulam Rasool told reporters that even Army was not seen in the first few days of the calamity and that the responsibility of rescuing people was mainly shouldered by local volunteers.
“The state government failed and remained destabilised for the first four days (after flood)... No pre-flood measures were taken. Whatever rescue operations had been done were only by local volunteers,” he said.
Rasool alleged that rescuing tourists and VVIPs remained “priority” of the state government at the expense of citizens of Jammu and Kashmir.
Rasool, who had earlier served as doctor in the border area development programme in the Valley, is in Gujarat, along with his six other colleagues, to share their experience on implementation of RTI Act in Jammu and Kashmir.  “Even Army was not seen for the first few days. There is an instance when one Central Reserve Protection Force (CRPF) team was rescued by locals in Indiranagar area in Srinagar,” Rasool said.
At least 280 people lost their life and thousands of houses were damaged during the recent flood in Jammu and Kashmir. The flood in the state was considered to be the worst in 109 years.

Bhonsla’s Court of Wards now under RTI ambit

Times of India: Nagpur: Sunday, 28 September 2014.
Established 89 years ago, the Court of Wards for Senior Bhonsla Estate has been brought under the Right to Information (RTI) Act ambit. The state information commissioner DB Deshpande (Nagpur Bench) pronounced the verdict on the appeal filed by RTI activist TH Naidu. The decision comes 27 months after he submitted the application.
On February 12, 1925, the then Central Provinces and Berar government had constituted the Court of Wards as caretaker to the hundreds of acres property belonging to the city's royal family. Properties of Raje Bahadur Raghuji Rao Bhonsle, Kunwar Fattesingh Rao Bhonsle and Kunwar Jaisingh Rao Bhonsle were brought under its jurisdiction.
Naidu had submitted an application on June 2, 2012 under RTI Act 2005 seeking information about Sonegaon lake which was under the jurisdiction and also auctioned by the Court of Wards. It was turned down as the Court of Wards did not come under the RTI ambit.
In Naidu's first appeal, deputy collector Nishikant Sukhe had passed an order on April 2, 2013 directing the manager of Court of Wards to provide information. But the information was again denied. The Court of Wards office said that the information could not be provided as it had been barred by Raje Raghujirao Bhonsale and Raje Mudhojirao Bhonsale.
In his order, Deshpande directed collector Abhishek Krishna to provide information to Naidu within 45 days. "Information sought by applicant seems to be in public interest. Property related to which applicant sought information comes under collector's jurisdiction. Government is payable of taxes related to this property. Therefore, RTI Act 2005 is permissible for Court of Wards," he ordered.
Naidu told TOI now various issues related to properties auctioned or released giving no-objection-certificates by Court of Wards can be brought before public. "Sonegaon lake was auctioned by the Court of Wards on June 21, 1974 in a controversial manner. No-objection certificate issued by Court of Wards in case related to Rajiv Nagar, Somalwada was also controversial. NMC had to lose the precious land due to it. Many such skeletons are likely to tumble from the Court of Wards' cupboards," he said.

'RTI helps public welfare in J&K’

Indian Express: Ahmedabad: Sunday, 28 September 2014.
Jammu and Kashmir Right to Information Movement (JKRTIM) activists, who are on a week-long trip to Gujarat, said here on Saturday that the RTI provisions had helped a lot in getting things done for public welfare there. Addressing mediapersons at the premises of NGO Janpath, JKRTIM chairman Dr Ghulam Rasool Sheikh said that it was by securing information through RTI that he and his colleagues got the Army’s artillery firing range in Tosa Maidan in Budgam district  closed down in April this year.
Giving details, he said that a total of  64 people had died and 250 others had become permanently disabled due to accidents related to unexploded shells scattered in different areas of the maidan or meadows  when the locals from 52 surrounding villages went there to graze their cattle. He said that he collected these and several other details like how firing was adversely affecting the local environment and having psychological impact on children, forcing the villagers to remain confined to their homes most of the time during firing season between May and October every year. “The information culled through RTI was presented to state government and Army authorities and it yielded results,” said Dr Sheikh, adding that the state government, under pressure from the local villages, had now cancelled its lease with the Ministry of Defence which was using the meadows as firing range since 1964.
He said that while the Army had now launched “Operation Falah” to clean up the area from unexploded shells, JKRTIM planted 8,000 deodar trees in the meadows  to restore its ecology and environment.
Another RTI activist Bashir Ahmed Ganai, said that  R & B authorities constructed only a particular portion of a road in Budgam district every year and left the rest, but on paper they showed that they had constructed or repaired the entire stretch of the road. “I filed an application seeking details about the construction of the same portion of  road again and again. The result: R&B department built the entire stretch within three days,’’ Ganai said.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Karnataka government spent Rs 775 on per plate buffet lunch

Times of India: Belgaum: Saturday, 27 September 2014.
Karnataka government spent Rs 775 on per plate buffet lunch, arranged for legislators, bureaucrats and media persons at Banquet Hall of Bangalore Vidhana Soudha, during last legislature session.
The Speaker Kagodu Timmappa had arranged lunch for 2,300 VIPs including MLAs, MLCs, bureaucrats and media persons on 23rd July 2014. The contract had given to Rajajinagar based M/s Swati Hospitality Services Prive Limited. The company had charged Rs 775 per plate, which served both veg and non-veg food for the members.
RTI information revealed that, government has made payment of Rs 19,50,340 to the company including tax. Company charged 12% service tax, 2% service charge, 2% education cess and 1% secondary higher education cess. This apart, Rs 4, 44,609 has been spent on decoration, light music and to arrange furniture at lawn beside Banquet Hall. This contract had given to M/s Thibbadevi Tent House.
Gokak based RTI activist Bhimappa Gadad had sought information about the expenditure made on the buffet lunch. "This is the evidence how our political representatives and bureaucrats sitting in Vidhana Soudha are irresponsible about spending public money. Interesting thing is, contract had given after the quotations cleared by the finance department", Gadad said speaking to the TOI.

18 साल की सूचना 30 दिन में कैसे दें?

अमर उजाला: शिमला: Saturday, 27 September 2014.
प्रदेश सूचना आयोग ने लगभग 54 हजार लोगों से जुड़ी सूचना को एक अपीलकर्ता को देने से इनकार कर दिया है। आयोग ने यह निर्णय एक आवेदक की 18 अपीलों का एक साथ निपटारा करते हुए सुनाया है। इसी के साथ आयोग ने सभी अपीलों को भी खारिज कर दिया है। राज्य सूचना आयुक्त केडी बातिश की अदालत के समक्ष राजेश कुमार शर्मा पुत्र उमराव शर्मा निवासी दिल्ली की तरफ से 18 अपीलें दायर की गईं।
इन सभी अपीलों पर एक सिंगल ऑर्डर से निर्णय हुआ। अपीलकर्ता ने तहसीलदार मंडी सदर के समक्ष 18 वर्षों की सूचना लेने के लिए इतनी ही आरटीआई दरख्वास्तें दी थीं। यह सूचना प्रत्येक साल में हुई कुल सेल डीड्स पर मांगी गई। प्रत्येक विक्रेता और क्रेता के कृषक प्रमाणपत्र की प्रतियां भी अटैच करने को कहा गया।
आवेदक को मंडी सदर के तहसीलदार ने सूचित किया कि यह जानकारी बहुत ज्यादा मांगी गई है। 18 साल की यह सूचना एक साथ 30 दिन के समय में नहीं दी जा सकती है। कम से कम 54 हजार थर्ड पार्टियों से इस पर कमेंट लिए जाने जरूरी हैं।
आरटीआई के दुरुपयोग का मामला है यह:
वर्तमान मामला आरटीआई एक्ट के दुरुपयोग का है। सूचना को लेने में कोई अरजेंसी नहीं है। इसका मकसद विवाद को लंबा खींचना लगता है। ऐसा प्रतीत होता है कि बिना बताए कारणों से इसके लिए पब्लिक अथारिटी को निशाना बनाया जाया जा रहा है।
आयोग ने इसे आरटीआई के दुरुपयोग का मामला करार देते हुए कहा कि सिविल और आपराधिक मामलों की छानबीन संवैधानिक इकाइयों का काम है। एक नागरिक को अन्य नागरिकों के मामलों की छानबीन का कोई अधिकार नहीं है।

Delhi HC upholds Rs25,000 penalty against Railway Board CPIO

Moneylife: New Delhi: Saturday, 27 September 2014.
The HC dismissed the CPIO's petition at the admission stage itself against CIC's decision to impose a penalty of Rs25,000. This ruling is important because several times, public authorities have been found approaching courts at the drop of hat and at the cost of the tax payer.
In a landmark decision, the Delhi High Court dismissed the appeal filed by Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) of the Railway Board against the decision of Central Information Commission (CIC) to impose maximum penalty of Rs25,000. The verdict is laudable, because the Court dismissed the petition at the admission stage itself.
An official handling Right to Information (RTI) application cannot 'escape' his responsibility of answering queries by simply forwarding the application to other officials, the High Court ruled while upholding the penalty imposed by the CIC.
I had filed an appeal under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, before the CIC after the CPIO of Railway Board repeatedly denied providing information. The Commission held multiple hearings and in an exhaustive, reasoned order, directed the CPIO to provide information as well as imposed penalty on him on 11 March, 2013. The CPIO, knowing very well that there is no provision in RTI Act, 2005 to review order, approached the CIC to review its own order. The review was denied by CIC vide its letter dated 11 April 2014.
The CPIO of Railway Board then approached Delhi High Court, which upheld the decision of CIC on 12 September 2014. Few important legal points are settled by this decision of Delhi High Court:
a)    CIC does not have powers to review its own decisions.
b)    Section 6(3) of the RTI Act cannot be read to mean that the responsibility of a CPIO is only limited to forwarding the applications to different departments or offices.
Forwarding an application by a public authority to another public authority is not the same as a Public Information Officer (PIO) of a public authority arranging or sourcing information from within its own organisation. The PIO cannot escape his responsibility to provide information by simply stating that the queries were forwarded to other officials.
c)    It is not necessary that the penalty be imposed by the CIC only while considering an appeal; penalty can also be imposed by the CIC if on inquiry made pursuant to a complaint, it is found that a CPIO has not furnished the information within stipulated time or has knowingly given incorrect or incomplete information.
According to the section 6(3) of RTI Act, if a CPIO receives an application, the subject matter of which is more closely related to another public authority, he must transfer the application or the portion of it to the concerned authority within five days of receiving the application.
However, when the matter is concerning their own public authority, CPIOs can seek help of fellow officers under section 5(4) of the RTI Act. The law mandates the officer, whose assistance has been sought by the CPIO, to render all the assistance.
It is unfortunate that public authorities are openly flouting the decisions of Central Information Commission and State Information or approaching the courts at drop of hat at the cost of tax payer. It has been revealed through RTI that some public authorities have up to Rs5 lakh per hearing to some counsels in RTI matters.

Students filed RTI but got no response

Times of India: New Delhi: Saturday, 27 September 2014.
Caught between the Faculty of Law, Delhi University and Bar Council of India, students of Campus Law Centre, Law Centre-1 and Law Centre-2 are looking at an uncertain future. Most students say it is their faculty's fault and it should have applied on time. In fact, some students took the RTI route to find out whether the faculty had been following BCI rules, but they are yet to receive a response.
Terming this a major concern, first-year student of Campus Law Centre, Mohit Kumar, said, "Actually it is a big concern for us. The final-year students should be concerned".
Tarun, another first-year student, said the faculty lacks infrastructure and other facilities. "I know of the BCI rules of 2008 implemented in 2010. Therefore I filed an RTI asking the faculty about these. I am yet to receive any reply on this and now we got to know that our institution is not even recognized. They are playing with the future of students."
The students are upset over the fact that no official came forward to make a statement on the issue. Some are planning protests while others are wondering if they have done the right thing by enrolling in DU.
Shivani Gupta (name changed) said, "Now I am wondering whether I should have opted for some other university. The facilities and infrastructure here are pathetic. But I joined because of the DU tag, which I now feel is a myth. Feeling completely cheated".