Tuesday, May 24, 2016

HC summons Health secy , Anomalies in issuance of birth/death certificate.

The Shillong Times‎‎‎‎‎: Shilong: Tuesday, May 24, 2016.
The High Court of Meghalaya has summoned secretary health department and asked the Additional Chief Secretary to file specific affidavit on the PIL related to the harassment to the people as registrars of births and deaths in the district insist for a court order for birth/death certificates when approached after one year of the births or deaths.
A law student Aneeta Synrem of Polo Hills had filed the PIL seeking the intervention of the High Court following the findings of RTI query which revealed that as many as 58,716 birth certificates and 2115 death certificates were issued from 01/01/2010 to 22/09/2015 by different registrars of births and deaths under East Khasi Hills on the basis of court order.
As the High Court was not happy with the response of the health department during the previous hearings on May 11 and 16, the Court wanted further clarity from the state government and hence asked the Additional Chief Secretary in-charge  health to file a specific affidavit.
According to the recent order on May 20, the High Court said that  in the petition filed as PIL, the petitioner had brought forth several of the shortcomings in the operation of Registration of Births and Deaths Act, 1969 (‘the Act of 1969’) and the Rules framed thereunder in Meghalaya, causing hardship to the common people.
During the hearing on May 11 after prima facie noticing that the Act of 1969 and the Rules framed there under are not being properly applied in Meghalaya, the High Court had posted a few queries to be answered by the health department. However, the affidavit filed by the Secretary, Health and Family Welfare department was rather cryptic and even questionable.
Later, another specific affidavit filed by the Secretary was also not found satisfactory.
The High Court hence observed that having given the chance twice to the Secretary concerned to come out forthright, when the response was still not categorical and the issues raised in the matter were not properly attended at, “we are left with no alternative but to consider summoning the Secretary concerned in the Court with all the records including the record relating to enquiry proceedings, at least concerning the 39 cases referred in the affidavit of the Shillong Municipal Board”.
The Court also insisted that the Additional Chief Secretary should file a specific affidavit in this regard. The matter will come up for hearing after two weeks.

'Sarbjit' 8th film in 2 years to become tax-free even before release in UP

Times of India‎‎‎‎: National: Tuesday, May 24, 2016.
Uttar Pradesh administration has been actively selling the state as film-friendly under its Film Policy. And over the last two years, it has managed to draw over 100 filmmakers to shoot in the state. Apart from giving sops and freebies to filmmakers, the government has also exempted a number of films from entertainment tax. In response to an RTI two months ago, the state government revealed that it had granted tax-free status to 29 films in the last four years. In 2016, the number stands at eight in five months, with 'Sarbjit' being the latest one to join the list.
But merely declaring a film tax-free isn't enough anymore; being one of the first to do so is what matters now, it seems. The last two tax-free films in UP - 'Nil Battey Sannata' and 'Sarbjit' - were both accorded this status prior to their release, a deviation from the earlier norm, when films were considered for tax exemption after their release. So has the UP administration adopted a different approach to declaring films tax-free? Officials from the entertainment tax department attribute it to the CM Akhilesh Yadav's bid to promote the state as film-friendly in even newer ways.
Real-life stories and biopics preferred
The first film to be granted exemption from entertainment tax in UP before its release was Priyanka Chopra's 'Mary Kom', which was declared tax-free almost a week before its release date of September 5, 2014. Ayushman Khurana-starrer 'Hawaizaada' followed suit in January 2015. But for almost a year, these films were the exceptions. In the same period, films like 'PK' and 'Drishyam' waited 12 days after their release to get a tax exemption, and other films like 'Mardaani', 'Masaan' and 'Tevar' were all given the exemption a week after their release. In August 2015, the trend changed visibly, as two films were declared tax-free, both a few days before their release. While 'Jaanisaar' earned the status 17 days prior to its release, 'Manjhi - The Mountain Man' became tax-free a week before its release. The trend has continued this year with 'Chalk n Duster', 'Nil Battey Sannata' and now 'Sarbjit'. The common thread between these films has been that most of them have been based on real-life figures or incidents. 'Mary Kom', 'Manjhi' and 'Sarbjit' are all biopics, while 'Hawaizaada' and 'Chalk n Duster' were inspired by real-life incidents.

High-flyer in third stint: Chouhan remained in air for 2 hours daily

Times of India‎‎‎‎: Bhopal: Tuesday, May 24, 2016.
Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan seems to be a 'high-flier', not just in terms of his achievements but for his penchant for air travel. In to his third term as chief minister of the state Chouhan has remained airborne for two hours daily. Up from one and half hour daily during his second term.
This was revealed in reply to an RTI query by TOI by directorate of aviation, of the state government that between January 1, 2013 and March, 28, 2016 Chauhan flew for about 1708 hours-an average of more than 2 hours a day.
Couhan's penchant for air seems to increase with his terms as chief minister, during his second term, between 2008 and 2013, he flew for around 3,000 hours in state-owned aircraft and his average flying hours per day was 1.5 hours which has increased to 2 hours a day, in his 3rd term. Of the total usage of state-owned aircraft, CM alone has used 55%.
Besides, chief minister remaining all the dignitaries including ministers, and state guests, have only travelled for 1426 hours of the total 3134 usage of the state owned aircrafts in past 2 years.
State has also hired chartered planes for more than 100 hours between January 1, 2013 and March 28, 2016 and have paid Rs 2.4 crore as rent. Even among the use of hired planes, CM has the biggest share with an air travel of more than 75 hours in rented aircraft out of total around 100 hours of hired plane usage, directorate of civil aviation, government said in the reply under RTI Act. State owned aircraft, BELL 407; helicopter was used for more than 26 hours for clicking aerial photographs for state government's calendar.

Indifferent politicians : S G Vombatkere

Deccan Herald‎‎‎: New Delhi: Tuesday, May 24, 2016.
That there are many issues which agitate the minds of people is beyond dispute. But the minds of elected representatives in state and central governments appear to be agitated on election issues or matters related to them, rather than the major issues which affect the daily lives of the people.
If newspaper headlines are an indication of what interests readers and those who make the news which is in headlines, it would appear that the AgustaWestland chopper scam being discussed a few weeks ago mattered more to the nation than anything else. Yes, indeed “the nation wants to know” who are the big fish in this humongous scam instead of focusing on senior Indian Air Force officers who could not be more than small fry, if at all they are involved in actual graft.
The political parties involved, namely the Congress and the BJP, have been shadow-boxing for decades over scams of one kind or another, never going beyond some unspoken point of investigation and prosecution. All accusations inside and outside Parliament are routinely countered by what the accusing party did when it was in power. Commissions of Inquiry are appointed and take years to bring out voluminous reports, which never reach the glare of public scrutiny.
Activist citizens who use the RTI Act to get information are sidelined or simply denied information, and several RTI activists have been harassed by governments and some even killed.
It is apt to quote former chief information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi who wrote: “There is a very disturbing news reports (sic) about the entire political spectrum agreeing that RTI Act is misused and some constrictions should be developed to muzzle it. This is indeed a sad state of affairs. Samajwadi Party’s member of Parliament (MP) Naresh Agarwal has levelled a charge that the Indian Parliament passed the RTI Act under US pressure!”
He went on: “Praful Patel of Nationalist Congress Party made a remark, which was still worse. He had objections to the poor – paanwaala and chaiwaala – seeking information under RTI...” The truth of politicians across parties protecting each other and of political shadow-boxing with the unspoken connivance of all political parties is difficult to prove, though it is apparent to all but the politically myopic or blind.
But surely the “nation (also) wants to know” what is being done to address and solve the extreme distress in India's rural sidelines, where large scale migration is happening due to the worst drought in decades. Lean and dehydrated farmers, agitated by their inability to repay a few thousands of rupees taken on loan are committing suicide in their hundreds.
In this worst drought in decades, left with no choice, millions are migrating from their villages to towns and cities, leaving behind their old and infirm relatives. Women are reduced to selling th-emselves and sometimes even their children for small sums of money for food. And while such personal tragedies play out every single day within the massive national tragedy of drought-poverty-migration, these very people’s elected representatives coolly grant themselves up to 100% rise in their own salaries. And an IPL match on television in air-conditioned homes provides what people want to see and hear, saving them the decibels of even what “the nation wants to know.”
This brings to mind P Sainath’s poignant documentary film “Nero’s Guests”. In the context of the decades-long history of farmers' suicides, Sainath brings out how the well-to-do are oblivious or indifferent to the sufferings of the unwashed millions, and how their indifference results in their silence and complicity to all the violence and injustices heaped upon the poor.
High Court and Pepsi
Tears were shed on national television by a person at the top of his profession because government neglected his profession. However, as reported from Palakkad (Kerala), people’s tears are unseen and their throats dry when the High Court limits soft drink major Pepsico to “only six lakh litres [of ground water pumped out] per day”.
Thus, Pepsico makes huge profits, even as thirsty people run behind tanker lorries for a 10-litre pitcher of water. In 2007, the Kanjikode Panchayat had cancelled the licence of the Pepsico bottling unit as it was using huge quantities of potable water, but the court had annulled the panchayat order. What price tears?
The on-going drought-famine is engulfing over 300 million migrating Indians. They are thirsting for drinking water, just like their animals, not excluding cows, dying in their hundreds. What matter could be more urgent for our law makers than the on-going drought?
In the final analysis, there is no real difference between the NDA-1, UPA-1 and UPA-2 governments and the present NDA-2 government, inasmuch as their approach to people's problems is concerned. Former minister Arun Shourie, perhaps in a moment of pique, uttered the truth that “NDA equals Congress scaled up plus cow.”
“Enough is enough,” is what one gentleman said about the shadow-boxing between the Congress and the BJP on issues like the AgustaWestland scam, demanding that the guilty should be punished. But “enough is enough” is also being said in the streets and there is large-font multi-lingual writing on the wall, indicating that people are more ready to listen to the people-friendly likes of Kanhaiya Kumar than to the corporate-friendly likes of leading politicians across the country.
Unless all political parties pay full attention to the present crisis and make urgent joint efforts to help the thirsty and starving hundreds of millions, they and all of India's modern-day Nero's guests will inevitably pay heavily for their self-interested acts of omission and commission. Saying sorry later will not help, because the deadly bullet of people-neglect will be out of the gun barrel of economic-growth-at-any-cost.
(The writer, a retired Major General, is with People's Union for Civil Liberties)

CIC pulls up Civil Aviation Ministry for ‘casual’ approach in RTI

Financial Express‎‎: New Delhi: Tuesday, May 24, 2016.
Delhi-based Jagpal had sought information on a number of queries related to ground handling work through his RTI application filed in 2013 but satisfactory responses were claimed to have not been furnished and the application kept getting transferred from one authority to another including Air India and Airports Authority of India.
The Central Information Commission has pulled up Civil Aviation Ministry for “casual and callous approach” in handling Right to Information applications which it said “defeats the spirit” of the law for empowering citizenry.
Chief Information Commissioner Bimal Julka made these hard-hitting observations while hearing the case where the ministry could not satisfactorily answer queries on ground handling services such as “Which out of these are part of Central Government (i) Indian Airlines (2) BWFS (3) AirIndia SETS (4) CELBI”.
Delhi-based Jagpal had sought information on a number of queries related to ground handling work through his RTI application filed in 2013 but satisfactory responses were claimed to have not been furnished and the application kept getting transferred from one authority to another including Air India and Airports Authority of India.
When the matter reached Julka, he said, representatives from various arms of the ministry were represented in great strength but none could satisfactorily reply to the queries raised by the applicant.
“It appeared to be an exercise of musical chairs without owning responsibility for the information sought by the applicant. The representatives of Civil Aviation Ministry were also not able to reply in the matter,” he said.
Directing the ministry to provide information within 15 days, he said, while observing the text of the deliberations held during the hearing, it appeared that the matter had been dealt with in a “most casual manner with total disregard to the spirit of the Act”.
“This casual and callous approach of the M/o Civil Aviation and the organisations working under its ambit is very pathetic and disgraceful which defeats the spirit of empowering citizenry in accordance with the provisions of the RTI Act,” he said.
The Information Commissioner directed the Central Public Information Officer, Civil Aviation Ministry, to seek explanation of the officer regarding the approach adopted by him in passing the buck rather than attending to the RTI applications in a diligent manner.
Jagpal had raised a number of issues through his RTI application which included information on directions for staff working for domestic and international airlines from DGCA, policy of ground handling licensing, violation of DGCA’s policy of allowing only three ground handling companies to operate.
He had also sought to know why foreign companies cannot deploy ground handling staff, besides information on the reason behind the staff of Delhi Airport operator not being asked to do such duties.

MLCs should come under RTI Act: Activist

Times of India: Visakhapatnam: Tuesday, May 24, 2016.
MLCs must comply with the rules of the Right to Information Act and disclose their assets as they are part of the state administrative machinery and funded by the public, said RTI activist Kandregula Venkata Ramana.
Speaking at a meeting of the Legislative Council Ethics Body here on Monday, Ramana pointed out that Section 2 ( H) D (2) of the RTI Act states that members of the legislative council should disclose their personal data and open their wealth statements for public consumption as they benefit both directly and indirectly from public funds. He said noted it was high time MLCs make themselves open to scrutiny.
He further added that for a bicameral legislature to function properly, the legislative council must be treated as a responsible body and the members should be treated as representatives of the public, instead of being accorded the status of nominated members of the legislature.
"This will ensure that they conduct business in the house in a more responsible manner and also thereby allow themselves to criticism both positive and negative," Ramana said.

Monday, May 23, 2016

How central funds for Scheduled Caste students spent by flying clubs: CIC asks DGCA

Economic Times‎‎‎‎: New Delhi: Monday, May 23, 2016.
Expressing concern over operations of flying clubs in the country, the CIC has ordered Director General of Civil Aviation to furnish records of funds received by Bombay Flying Club for Scheduled Castestudents and their disbursement among other details.
The Bombay Flying Club had refused to part with the information about scholarship funds received from the Centre for SC students saying this does not come under the RTI Act.
It said that the club is governed by the rules and regulations under the Societies Registration Act, 1860 and it was complying with the relevant provisions of the Societies Act.
The case relates to information sought by a man named Jai Bhagwan Jatav about total funds received by the club from Centre for SC students who got admission there and who were found eligible to get financial support as scholarship for covering various expenses.
Jatav had also sought to know how many SC students were given financial support/scholarship, details of SC students who were on roll in commercial pilot licence training final class and have passed out and left, whether they were charged full fee or whether they were not given any benefit of this scholarship among other queries.
Information Commissioner Bimal Julka said after detailed study of the activities undertaken by such flying clubs and the regulations governing them, it is seen that all these clubs perform certain critical functions in the larger public interest.
"On perusal of the Civil Aviation Requirements, Section 7 Series 'D' Part I have laid down the procedure and the minimum requirements relating to infrastructure, manpower and procedure for grant of approval for undertaking flying training activities," he said.

‘84 anti-Sikh riots: Modi govt delaying SIT probe, says AAP

Hindustan Times‎‎‎: Chandigarh: Monday, May 23, 2016.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) on Sunday accused Narendra Modi-led government at the Centre of being “non-serious” about probing the 1984 anti-Sikh riot cases.
Citing documents procured under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, senior AAP leader Sukhpal Singh Khaira said the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government granted a year’s extension to the special investigation team (SIT) constituted in February 2015 to re-investigate the 1984 cases “without assigning any valid reason”.
Khaira said the SIT, constituted under the chairmanship of Indian Police Service (IPS) officer Dr Pramod Asthana, was supposed to examine records from all police stations concerned and files of justice JD Jain and DK Aggarwal committee and submit its report within six months, but was given an extension on August 22, 2015.
“Unfortunately, the SIT failed to make any meaningful progress in the investigations, after which the Union ministry of home affairs extended its term. The ministry did not specify the reason for extending the tenure, as it served no show-cause notice to the SIT before taking the decision,” he said. The SIT is now to submit its report by August 11, 2016.
Khaira said a careful perusal of the circumstances and the information provided under the RTI Act shows that the Modi government is “totally negligent and non-serious” to pursue the investigations. “The government is only pursuing the old agenda of the erstwhile Congress governments to shield and protect the guilty of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots,” he said.
Citing an HT report, dated February 2, 2002, which mentioned 49 BJP and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leaders or workers named as accused in 14 FIRs registered on the recommendations of the Jain-Aggarwal panel, Khaira accused the Centre of slowing the SIT’s functioning “to save the BJP and RSS functionaries”.
Khaira also dared BJP’s alliance partner Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and Badals to clarify “the studied silence being maintained by them over the slow peddling of the SIT”.
“Keeping in view the wilful denial of justice to the victims by the BJP and SAD governments, AAP demands completion of re-investigations by the SIT in the stipulated time. In case, the SIT fails to probe the issue within the time frame, it will be presumed that the two parties have been playing cheap politics over a sensitive issue merely for votes,” said the AAP leader.

RTI reveals Centre bias against Odisha on drought-assistance funds

Indian Express‎‎: Balangir: Monday, May 23, 2016.
In a clear case of step-motherly attitude of the Centre in granting drought assistance, Odisha has received far less fund in comparison to the BJP-ruled States such as  Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra in 2015-16.
Information obtained under the Right to Information (RTI) Act by Balangir-based activist Hemant Panda revealed that while assistance towards gratuitous relief has been provided to other States, the claim of Odisha has been ignored. The Centre has provided only input subsidy to the State while it failed to provide gratuitous fund.
There is a provision to provide input subsidy with gratuitous relief to drought-hit States, but Odisha didn’t receive the latter.
The gratuitous relief was provided to Telangana from NDRF during 2015-16 drought, alleged Panda. Sources said gratuitous relief is provided to families of deceased or critically-injured farmers. Under National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF), an adult and a child of a family get `60 and `45 per day respectively for 30 days in case of natural calamities. The duration may be extended to 90 days in case of drought.

Govt fails to provide jobs, unemployment allowance

Chandigarh Tribune: Chandigarh: Monday, May 23, 2016.
Despite a hue and cry over the rising unemployment in the state, the state government has not only failed to provide employment to youths but has also failed to disburse the unemployment allowance to those registered with unemployment centres.
As per information obtained through the RTI Act by the AAP’s RTI wing of Bathinda, the District Employment Office, Mansa, had provided employment to only 37 people since 2002 and had disbursed unemployment allowance to only three people from April 2015 to March 31, 2016, puting a question mark over the state government’s employment promises. Under the Punjab Payment of Unemployment Allowance to Educated Unemployed Persons Rules, 1978, Rs 150 is provided as monthly allowance to a matric unemployed who is registered for over three years and Rs 200 to a post-matric unemployed. For orthopaedically handicapped, this amount has been fixed as Rs 225 and Rs 300, respectively.
For blind and deaf and dumb, the amount of allowance is Rs 450 and Rs 600, respectively. However, the SAD-BJP alliance had promised Rs 1,000 unemployment allowance to educated the youth in its manifesto of 2012. AAP Bathinda Lok Sabha observer Romi Bhati said, “The employment office of Mansa has failed to provide employment to unemployed youths. There are about 7,000 unemployed youths registered with the office. However, the department has provided jobs to only 37 youths from 2002 to 2016, whereas only three unemployed people have been given the unemployment allowance. Earlier in 2012, the government had announced to increase the allowance to Rs 1,000 per unemployed youth but now the cash-strapped government has failed to keep its words.” He added, “All figures have been obtained under the RTI Act. The condition of all other districts of Punjab is almost the same where unemployment among youths is rising. The government has not only failed to provide them employment but has also failed to disburse the allowance to them.”

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Banker turned social worker

The Hindu‎‎‎‎: Chennai: Sunday, May 22, 2016.
Visakh P.R. left his job to do what he loved the most: social service. This resident of Kodambakkam was working as a banker when he decided to follow his childhood dream. One of his first campaigns was crowd-funding for a child suffering from Thalassemia. The child needed a bone-marrow transplant surgery. Visakh was able to raise Rs. 2.5 lakh.
More recently, he participated in the flood relief work, but, unlike most others, he continued his campaign many months after the deluge. He organised the ‘Let’s Give Campaign,’ sourcing and distributing clothing to needy. His was able to reach out to hundreds of people.
Visakh has also conducted a blood donation camp along with the Red Cross.
He also uses the RTI Act to help people.
“I filed two RTIs in relation to faulty cylinders sent to many houses in his neighbourhood. I also wrote a letter to the Central Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, which, in turn, forwarded his letter to three oil marketing companies,” he says.
But he considers the flood-relief work as the most fulfilling.
“I felt the extensive relief work was not reaching everyone, so I and a few other friends started this campaign and travelled by motorcycles to find people who hadn’t received help. Our primary focus was roadside dwellers,” says Vishak.
The team also provided sanitary napkins to the gynaecology and the obstetrics wards of government hospitals.
Visakh does not believe in starting an NGO. “If it’s an organisation it needs more people. This means we would have to pay employees. I can use this money instead to help the needy,” he says.
He is now about to launch the second phase of the ‘Let’s Give Campaign.’ Unlike the previous phase, this one is not going to be public. He and his friends are going to approach donors to help needy people.
Visakh also runs a blog page (www.inventthenextbigthing.blogspot.com) that focuses on social activism, and has a forum on Facebook called ‘India Needs a Change’, which has over 3000 members.
He is also planning on writing a novel.

Cashless scheme makes insurance firms cash-rich

Chandigarh Tribune‎‎‎: Chandigarh: Sunday, May 22, 2016.
The idea of introducing the cashless health insurance scheme seems to have worked out more for the insurance companies than the poor.
As per information obtained under the RTI Act, the government paid a premium of Rs10.8 crore to two insurance companies under Bhagat Puran Singh Sehat Bima Yojana during 2014-15. However, beneficiaries claimed just Rs4.31 crore in the same period.
Under the scheme, the beneficiaries (blue card holders, construction workers etc.) are eligible for cashless treatment up to Rs50,000 at 211 private and 192 government hospitals plus an insurance cover of Rs5 lakh in case of accidental death or disability of the head of the family.
There were a total of 15.36 lakh blue card holder families in the state and the government registered 4.82 lakh families under this scheme. The government has now extended it to farmers and traders as well.
National Insurance Company (NIC) and United India Insurance Company (UIIC) were given the contract of 11 districts each. The government paid Rs220 for each family to the NIC and Rs227 to the UIIC for a year. A total of Rs10.8 crore was paid, but the companies received claims worth Rs4.37 crore.
The NIC was paid Rs4.94 crore and in return it settled claims worth Rs1.6 crore. Similarly, the UIIC got Rs5.86 crore and settled Rs2.71 crore worth of claims. Thus the insurance companies earned huge profits in the very first year (2014-15).
Under the Rashtrya Sehat Bima Yojana (RSBY), Reliance General Insurance Company was paid Rs4.13 crore premium, while it settled Rs3.35-crore claims. The scheme was implemented in the state in 2013. The government pays Rs238 per family as insurance premium to the company for the first year and Rs178 in the subsequent years. The government under this scheme pays 25 per cent share, and the remaining is contributed by the Centre. There are a total of 4.5 lakh BPL families in the state but only 2.32 lakh have been enrolled under the RSBY.
Health experts agree that the insurance model hardly works in favour of the beneficiaries. “The idea behind the insurance model was to protect people from catastrophic and out-of-pocket expenditure on health. But the systematic review of the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) data revealed that the insurance model has failed to deliver on both aspects. As compare to that we have noticed that when the governments strengthen their own healthcare infrastructure and offered free facilities it was far more effective than the insurance schemes. The Janani Shishu Suraksha Karyakaram is such example that delivered when it came to child and maternal care,” said Dr Shankar Prinja, health economics expert, School of Public Health, PGIMER.
Ropar-based RTI activist Dinesh Chadha, who got this information under the RTI Act, said the government only paid premium to the companies and did nothing to spread awareness among the people regarding the schemes. “Instead of dolling out public money on insurance companies, the government should provide free treatment in state hospitals,” he said.

No fee to be paid for appeals and complaints related to RTI

Times of India‎‎: Thiruvananthapuram: Sunday, May 22, 2016.
State information commission has said that the RTI applicant needs to pay fees only for the first application for information and no fees shall be paid for appeals or complaints. The commission issued the notification in the wake of instances where applicants were made to pay fees for appeals and complaints as well.
The complaints filed before the commission as per section 18 of Right to Information act and appeals filed as per section 19 does not require fees, the commission said.
It has also been pointed out that postal orders, money orders will not be considered as fees for matters under the control of state government. Section 6 of RTI act says that the applicant has to pay the fees as prescribed by the state government while filing an application for information. The state government has determined Rs 10 as application fee as per Kerala Right to Information ( Regulation of fee and cost) rules.

RTI will die its own death? CM must constitute SIC, and that too very soon. : Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat

Greater Kashmir: Srinagar: Sunday, May 22, 2016.
After enactment of a progressive Right to Information (RTI) legislation people have for the first time been given a right to make Government officials and other public authorities accountable. Now ordinary citizens are demanding information about the functioning of the Government and this information has to be provided in writing which was not possible before enactment of RTI legislation. We see a big shift within democracy because the traditional electoral democracy is getting transformed into participatory democracy. From last several months the State Information Commission (SIC) is almost defunct as two out of three commissioners have completed their term in the commission. Pertinent to mention that Jammu & Kashmir State Information Commission (SIC) which has been constituted under the provisions of J&K RTI Act 2009, is responsible for implementation of RTI Act in our state. It is because of intervention of this commission that Government officials started providing information under state RTI Act to people and thus became a source of hope for the aggrieved citizens especially those who belong to disadvantaged communities.
As State Information Commission (SIC) continues to function with a single  Information Commissioner, RTI campaigners, journalists and civil society groups  across the state have been urging upon Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti to appoint new State Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and one Information Commissioner (IC) so that Right to Information (RTI) is protected from any serious causality. The J&K State Information Commission (SIC) as on date is without a  State Chief Information Commission (CIC) and Information Commissioner (IC) as the posts fell vacant in February 2016 and October 2015 respectively. Mr G R Sufi former Indian Revenue Service Officer (IRS) who retired as State Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) in February this year, earlier said that RTI will die its own death if State Information Commission (SIC) is not constituted as soon as possible. Sufi while speaking at a seminar organised by J&K RTI Movement at Central University of Kashmir in March this year said that constitution of SIC was very essential for ensuring good governance and to protect State’s RTI Act.
CM  must constitute SIC:  
Former CIC Mr G R Sufi had earlier revealed that he spoke to Government several times to appoint a new  Information Commissioner after Dr S K Sharma retired from the post of  Information Commission last year in October. Now Mr G R Sufi has also retired from the post of State Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) which has turned State Information Commission (SIC) has almost a defunct institution. Under the provisions of J&K RTI Act 2009 the Information Commissioners and Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) can only be appointed by the Governor when the selection committee consisting of CM, Leader of Opposition, and one cabinet Minister nominated by CM recommends the suitable candidate. It was not possible few months back when state was under Governor’s rule, but now we have an elected Government in J&K and CM  Mehbooba Mufti must take steps to fully constitute the State Information Commission (SIC). It is a matter on concern that the elected Government could not shortlist the names of probable Information Commissioners after Dr S K Sharma retired in October 2015. They had almost 3 months until the death of Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Syed to appoint new Information Commissioner.
Conclusion :
I remind Chief Minister Mehbooba ji of her promises vis a vis ensuring good and transparent governance. She has always been a supporter of good governance and during her recent meetings with bureaucrats she stressed on strengthening of J&K Public Services Guarantee Act (PSGA) which was enacted during the tenure of Omar Abdullah in 2011. This clearly indicates that pro-people legislations enacted during National Conference  lead coalition Government are not of least importance for the Chief Minister. Former Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Syed was also great admirer of RTI Act. His Government passed J&K RTI Act 2004 when no such law existed at national level. After the enactment of present version of RTI law (J&K RTI Act  2009), Mufti sahib personally told me to conduct RTI training for his MLAs and on September 9th 2009 , I along with my fellow activists conducted RTI training for 19 MLAs of PDP along with other senior leaders of the party most of whom are cabinet Ministers in present Government. I hope Chief Minister will fulfill her promises with respect to good governance and answerable Government and that cannot be achieved unless we have a strong institution of Right to Information (RTI) in place.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Push to close right-to-information loophole

The Mercury‎‎‎: Tasmania: Saturday, May 21, 2016.
A RIGHT-to-information loophole that has sparked ­debate between a leading transparency expert and the Tasmania Ombudsman will be debated in state Parliament next week.
Greens leader Cassy O’Connor will put forward a motion next week urging the Government to amend the Right to Information Act.
The loophole, acknowledged by the Ombudsman Richard Connock in a letter to Ms O’Connor, means refusals by a minister’s staff are not able to be reviewed by the ­Ombudsman.
Ms O’Connor said the loophole needed to be closed.
“If the decision was made by a public servant in a department or a minister, it would be reviewable by the Ombudsman,” she said.
“There’s no reason political staff should be exempt.”
A government spokesman suggested the Ombudsman had it wrong.
“The Government’s advice is that an RTI decision of a delegate is reviewable, and we have conveyed that view to the Ombudsman,” he said.
“Nonetheless, we are examining the situation.”
University of Tasmania law school deputy dean and RTI expert Rick Snell said the ­Ombudsman’s decision “that he has no jurisdiction when an RTI application is decided by a delegate of the minister” ­causes unnecessary problems and could have been avoided.
“The approach of the ­Ombudsman leaves a significant loophole in the RTI Act one not intended by Parliament and one that runs counter to the objects of the legislation,” Associate Professor Snell said.
“The RTI Act was designed to encourage the maximum ­release of information and provide the Ombudsman with the maximum capacity to decide decisions not to release ­information.”
Mr Connock said Prof Snell was entitled to his opinion. “I stand by my decision,” he said.

Fake caste case | Report indicting Kempaiah has gone ‘missing’

Bangalore Mirror‎‎: Bangalore: Saturday, May 21, 2016.
Vital documents from an inquiry into charges on Kempaiah (the former IPS officer who advises home minister G Parameshwara) of using a fake caste certificate to get into IPS, had gone missing from the Directorate of Civil Rights Enforcement (DCRE). But while the DCRE has not been able to provide these documents sought through an RTI query, Mirror has a copy of it.
When RTI activist Dinesh Kallahalli sought the report from the DCRE, he was told the documents were missing. Sunil Agarwal, additional director general of police, DCRE, confirmed that the information sought under RTI was not available. "There is a file, but there are no documents in it other than some correspondence. I have asked for an explanation.
It may be an old case, but we cannot lose the documents; they have to here. We are checking it out," he said. The report, which was given by the former state police chief C Dinakar in 1991, stated that Kempaiah submitted a false caste certificate and got selected to the Indian Police Service (IPS). His actual caste was Kuruba / Halumatha (Backward Class category), while he claimed to be Kadu Kuruba (Scheduled Tribe category). Despite the report's claims, no action was taken against him.
Kempaiah took voluntary retirement in 2009. After the Siddaramaiah government came to power, he became the home minister's adviser.
In 2009, RTI activist Sirigere Thippesh procured a copy of the documents and lodged a complaint with the police and various government heads, including the chief minister. Yet again, no action was taken against Kempaiah. Kallahalli also filed a complaint with the Anti- Corruption Bureau (ACB) over the issue. In addition to the Dinakar report, the RTI activist also dug out Kempaiah's school documents, which mentioned him as a Kuruba.
He has submitted these documents to the ACB. Under provisions of SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989, if the allegations are proved to be true, the government can ask Kempaiah to pay back the benefits he enjoyed in service.

It took an RTI query to expose Varanasi Municipal Corporation's tall claims

Times of India: Varanasi: Saturday, May 21, 2016.
How the BJP's mayor as well as the municipal body are handling the execution of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's cherished dream of developing Kashi on the lines of Kyoto, gets exposed with the fact that the Varanasi Municipal Corporation has no document or information related to Kyoto-Varanasi partnership agreement that was signed in presence of Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe on August 30, 2014. The partner city agreement was signed by Indian ambassador Deepa Wadhwa and Kyoto mayor Daisaka Kadokawa during Modi's visit to Japan.
Congress leader and a member of Cantonment Board, Shailendra Singh, had given an application to the VMC on May 10, 2015, under the RTI Act seeking information about Varanasi-Kyoto agreement and the work done so far. Seeking a copy of the document, he wanted to know whether any agreement with the officials of Kyoto was made for the development of Kashi. He also wanted to know whether any official delegation from Kyoto visited Varanasi for the implementation of the agreement.
In response to the query, the information officer and additional municipal commissioner, through a letter dated May 16, said that there is no document available with the VMC, hence it is not possible to provide information on this matter. "It is really shocking to know that VMC has no documentary information regarding the much- hyped Varanasi-Kyoto agreement," said Singh.
Mayor Ram Gopal Mohaley said that he had already provided a report to the municipal authorities. But, additional municipal commissioner B K Dwivedi denied receiving any such report. Taking a serious note, the mayor wrote a letter to the municipal commissioner asking him to constitute a committee to investigate the matter as to how misleading information was provided. Whatever be the fact, but one thing is seemingly clear: Modi's dream is being shattered in his own parliamentary constituency. After the agreement, several delegations from Kyoto visited Varanasi to study the city and prevailing conditions and held talks with local authorities. A delegation from Varanasi comprising the mayor, district magistrate and divisional commissioner also visited Kyoto in April 2015.

SIC penalizes nazul naib tehsildar for not giving info under RTI

Times of India: Nagpur: Saturday, May 21, 2016.
The State Information Commission, Nagpur bench, has imposed a fine on the naib tehsildar (nazul) for not providing information under Right to Information (RTI) Act to a Jaripatka resident. SIC VD Patil has ordered that a sum of Rs500 be deducted from the salary of the naib tehsildar and paid to the complainant BM Bhagchandani for mental harassment.
The commissioner has also directed the naib tehsildar to personally remain present before him and provide an explanation for violation of Sections 19 (8) (g) and 20 (1) of the RTI Act. If the officer fails to show up, the commission would give an ex-parte decision. The resident deputy collector, who is the first appellate authority, has been asked to fix responsibility on the guilty officer else the commission would take action against him as per RTI Act.
Bhagchandani had in March 2013 sought copies of maps of nazul properties of Refugee Layout, Jaripatka, from the year 1954. He had also sought copies of revised maps about permitted commercial use in the layout. When the naib tehsildar refused to provide these maps, claiming that they were not available, Bhagchandani went into appeal in September 2013. This did not yield any results since the naib tehsildar again claimed that the maps were not available with the nazul department.
The complainant then filed an appeal with the SIC in February 2016. He claimed before the commission that the information sought by him was available with the nazul department but the naib tehsildar was deliberately not providing it to him. The defendant was not present but commissioner Patil, on going through the documents submitted by the complainant, found substance in his appeal and allowed it.
The commissioner directed the naib tehsildar (nazul) on May 13 to provide the information sought by Bhagchandani within 15 days of issue of the order. He also imposed the fine on him and ordered him to personally appear before the SIC.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Rs. 12 crore spent on ads in two years for anti-graft helpline; only six arrests

The Hindu‎‎‎: New Delhi: Friday, May 20, 2016.
Helpline was launched in March 2014 to fight corruption in the police; only 8 cases registered since.
To publicise the anti-corruption vigilance helpline numbers meant to check corruption by its men, the Delhi Police has been spending an average of Rs. 1.5 lakh daily for the past two years.
However, it has only eight cases and six arrests to show for all that publicity so far, reveals an RTI reply.
Between March 2014, when the four-digit anti-corruption helpline was launched, and this April, the police have spent nearly Rs. 12 crore in radio and newspapers ads to make people aware about it as well as the WhatsApp helpline number 9910641064 launched a few months later.
These helpline numbers were launched with great fanfare and were touted to be one of the most effective tools in the hands of the common man to fight corruption in the police.
Ad blitz
Of the Rs. 11.77 crore spent, the major share went into radio ads costing the public exchequer Rs. 10.65 crore. A relatively smaller but significant amount, Rs. 1.12 crore, was spent on publishing advertisements.
The reply states that periodic data of these advertisements or the money spent on them was not available. Hence neither the RTI reply nor independent queries made by The Hindu could establish whether this entire chunk was spent for the initial promotion or the advertisements have been a recurring feature. But if the RTI figures are to be believed, that publicity has not translated into more policemen facing legal action.
Little to show for it
“A total of eight cases under Prevention of Corruption Act have been registered in the vigilance Branch police station on the basis of information received through Anti-Corruption helpline,” reads the reply.
It further notes that based on these complaints only six policemen have been arrested so far.
The numbers also show a declining trend in the numbers of calls received on the helpline. Compared to 109 calls made in the quarter ending June 2014 i.e. the initial days after its launch, only 30 were received in the one ending April 2016.
RTI activist Sudhir Yadav who sought the data sees these numbers as the helpline not being publicised enough despite the humongous spending. He asked why despite bribes being demanded from the common man on a daily basis, why were so few cases registered against the cops and wondered if the publicity money was extravagant.
Responding to the RTI numbers, Deputy Commissioner of Police (Vigilance) R.K. Jha did not comment on the specifics but said it was not possible to have a case registered each day. Another officer said the declining number was a positive sign, showing that the presence of the helpline numbers itself was deterrent enough for cops to stay away from making such demands.
Amount spent on publicity has not translated into more cops facing legal action.

Info panel tells BMC to compensate applicant from official's salary

DNA‎‎‎: Mumbai: Friday, May 20, 2016.
In a one of its kind order, the state information commission (SIC) has asked the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to compensate an applicant by paying him Rs20,000 for the harassment meted out to him.
However, the exception here is that the civic authority has been told to release the compensation money from the salary of the officer concerned. Usually, it is the public authorities to which the public information officers (PIO) belong, that are directed to give compensation.
The order was given after Vile Parle resident Ashwin Hirani was denied the information that he had sought. Hirani had sought details of the approved plan of his building, the place which was marked as unauthorised construction, the notice they had slapped for demolition of the construction, the rule under which the notice for unauthorised construction in his flat was given and details of the number of houses in the jurisdiction of the engineer existing without an authorised plan.
"I had actually saved a government land from being given away to a builder. Since I complained, they started harassing me. They slapped a notice saying that the loft in my flat is unauthorised and that I should demolish it. The loft existed even before I was born and was part of the building before we moved in as tenants," claimed Hirani.
"The official who came for the hearing was from the building and factory department and represented the PIO. However, during the hearing, he said it was not his responsibility to provide information. The order should serve as a lesson to all officials who are corrupt and who harass," added Hirani.
During the hearing, the commission observed that while illegal constructions were rampant and approved plans were being asked from applicants by the officers, it went on to state that the PIO showed "exceptional irresponsibility" by not providing the information that was sought in September 2015.
The compensation is to be deducted from the salary of the representative who defended the PIO's case and is said to be from the department. The order, passed by state information commissioner Ratnakar Gaikwad, directs the first appellate authority (FAA) to deduct the amount by mid-June. It also directs the municipal commissioner to conduct an inquiry into why the information was not being provided and to fix up the responsibility on all the people involved.
When dna asked Gaikwad about the RTI Act stating that compensations are to be given by the public authority and not from an official's salary, Gaikwad replied: "That public authority includes PIOs and it is the discretion of the commission to charge the PIO rather than tax payer's money."
Bhaskar Prabhu, an RTI activist, said, "Compensation is to be paid by the public authority, but some authorities have made modalities (in rules) which state that if the authority is to give compensation for a mistake made by a PIO, then it should be recovered from the PIO's salary after a hearing. This decision was taken by some authorities after there was a furore about public money being given as compensation due to a PIO's fault."