Sunday, October 22, 2017

Peshawar bus project challenged in court

Dawn: Peshawar: Sunday, October 22, 2017.
Former provincial minister Maulana Amanullah Haqqani on Saturday challenged the provincial government’s much-publicised Bus Rapid Transit project in the Peshawar High Court, claiming that the initiative was illegal as the procedural formalities provided in the Constitution were not fulfilled for its execution.
Labourers uprooting a greenbelt on GT Road for 
Peshawar Bus Rapid Transit project. Millions of rupees 
were spent on setting up the greenbelt two months ago. 
— Photo by Abdul Majeed Goraya
Maulana Haqqani, a leader of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl, and another Peshawar resident Wali Khan filed a joint petition requesting the high court to declare the BRT project illegal, without lawful authority and of no legal effect.
The petitioners prayed the court to direct the respondents, including the KP government to disclose all documentary information to the court and petitioner about the project, including the loan agreement signed with the Asian Development Bank.
Former JUI-F minister claims initiative illegal as formalities not fulfilled
The respondents in the petition are the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government through transport and mass transit secretary; project director for the BRT Project Management Unit; Provincial Development Working Party through its chairman; Central Development Working Party through planning secretary, and the Executive Committee of National Economic Council through the principal secretary to the prime minister.
The petition filed through former president of PHC Bar Association Mohammad Essa Khan said the BRT project would cost Rs57 billion, which was a loan obtained from the ADB and to be disbursed by the ADB in three years.
The petitioners said left with few months to complete term, the government shouldn’t be permitted both legally and logically to execute a mega project, which would become a liability for the next government.
They said there were a number of legal and technical flaws in the project due to which that project was bound to fail and thus burdening the people of the province with loans unnecessarily.
The petitioners claimed that no feasibility report was prepared, which was the very basic of any developmental project.
They said the pre-feasibility public sharing report on the project was lacking.
The petitioners said the project’s ‘draft design’ had never been prepared though it was the very basis of a final design and that in its absence, the final design had been made.
They add that it was the first project in the engineering history that PC-was is approved in the absence of PC-II.
The petitioners said the Lahore metro bus service covered 27km area and with the help of 70 buses but in Peshawar, whose population was much less than Lahore’s, 300 or 450 buses would be plied under the BRT project.
They said the Punjab government was bearing around Rs1.8 billion subsidy for 70 metro buses annually but in Peshawar, the government claimed that no subsidy would be given for the BRT project.
The petitioners alleged that for knowing the status of the flaws and any move for their removal by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government, an application under the Right to Information Act, 2013, was made to the transport and mass transit secretary on Aug 31 but the information hadn’t been offered so far.
They said legally and technically speaking, technical audit of the project should have been done but ironically, no such exercise had been undertaken.
The petitioners feared that the start of work on the project in one go right from Hayatabad to Chamkani area would bring the entire Peshawar city to a standstill as there were no alternate routes to the misery of the local residents.

Punjab govt urged to remove PIC chief commissioner

Pakistan Today: Ishan Quadir: Lahore: Sunday, October 22, 2017.
Punjab Governor Rafique Ahmed Rajwana has been urged to withdraw notification of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Lawyers Forum Pakistan President Naseer Ahmad Bhutta as Punjab Information Commission’s (PIC) chief commissioner.
Civil Society Network Chairman Abdullah Malik through his counsel Advocate Azhar Siddique wrote a letter to Governor Rafique Ahmed Rajwana, Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif and other authorities concerned and said that Naseer Ahmad Bhutta was serving as PML-N’s Lawyers Forum president and he could not be given a constitutional post on political grounds.
In the letter, Abdullah said that there are many applications of the right to information pending with the PIC chief commissioner, and being a political boss of the commission, he can hinder access to information in important scandals. He added that Bhutta can also hinder in making Model Town incident enquiry report public.
The Punjab government appointed Naseer Ahmad Bhutta as Punjab Information Commission’s chief commissioner on Wednesday. Bhutta tendered resignation from the post of additional attorney general just two days before his appointment as the Punjab Information Commission’s chief commissioner.
Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif had earlier appointed Naseer Ahmad Bhutta as additional attorney general in October 2013. Bhutta was also very vocal in leading the lawyers’ movement against former President Pervez Musharraf and had also been a member of National Assembly in 2008 from PML-N.
The PIC is an independent body set up under the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act, 2013. Any citizen of Pakistan or an organisation registered in Pakistan can apply for information under the act about information from any department, attached department, organisation, institution, court, tribunal, commission, office, board or a body established or funded by the government of the Punjab.
The citizens can also have access to information from those private institutions or organisations which are substantially financed by the provincial or a local government. They are required to write an application for access to information on a plain paper or on an optional form developed and disseminated by the commission.

Malekudiyas threaten to stay away from rituals at Kukke temple

The Hindu: Mangalore: Sunday, October 22, 2017.
The Malekudiya tribals, who play an important role in rituals at the Kukke Subrahmanya temple, have threatened to stay away from festivities if obstacles were not cleared to hold the controversial ‘made snana’ on Champa Shasti on November 24. They have also sought removal of made snana from the purview of the proposed Bill against superstitious practices.
In a recent letter to the Muzrai Minister, president of Rajya Aadivasi Budakattu Hitarakshana Vedike, Bhaskar Bendodi, said made snana (a ritual of devotees rolling over leftover food on plantain leaves at the temple) has been in vogue for ages in the temple revered by the Malekudiyas. Any ban on this ritual will be akin to hurting the religious sentiments of Malekudiyas, he said.
Mr. Bendodi said the High Court of Karnataka on December 24, 2014 allowed made snana. The State government challenged this decision before the Supreme Court that has now stayed it. Mr. Bendodi has asked the government to clear all obstacles and allow the ritual on November 24.
If the government fails to do so, the tribe will be forced to take a “neutral” stand on participating in the rituals, building chariot and taking part in the Pancha Parva celebration at the temple. No tribe other than the Malekudiyas are authorised to build chariot and take part in the Pancha Parva celebration.
Asked whether the ritual can be held when there is a stay by the Supreme Court, Mr. Bendodi claimed: “So far, I have not officially received any copy of the apex court order staying made snana. My request for a copy filed under the Right to Information Act has not been acted upon,” he said.

8 SGNP animals became roadkill this year on path meant for govt staff.

Time of India: Clara Lewis: Sunday, October 22, 2017.
Between January and July this year, a wild boar, two langurs and two spotted deer were killed by speeding vehicles in SGNP's (Sanja Gandhi Natinal Park)  core forest area.
As per information got by members of the NGO River March under the RTI Act, the deaths occurred on Tulsi lake, Kanheri road. Access to the core forest is restricted to personnel of forest department, BMC (Tulsi lake supplies water to the city) and the police. It is these officials who use the roads.
"Tulsi lake area is a bio-diversity hotspot. It is between two hills and is a valley with abundant water supply and so it is a magnet for wild animals," said naturalist Shardul Bijaikar. "While a record is kept of large animals that are killed, there is no documentation of small animals killed."
Recently, a sambar was found dead near the visitors' area in the park. It was discovered due to the stench, said Gopal Jhaveri, a regular walker actively involved in improving the park environment.
Activists are now seeking a ban on vehicles inside the forest area. "The forest department has approved use of battery-operated vehicles for tourists which are yet to be operational. Similar vehicles must be provided to officials from the forest, BMC and police moving in the core forest area," said Tejas Shah of River March.
Bijaikar said a couple of years ago the department began maintaining a register of vehicles entering the park at night. It was found that a Sumo owned by a watchman at the park was being used to ferry visitors to Tulsi lake to see wild animals at night. The watchman was later suspended.
Jhaveri said two leopards too have been killed in road accidents this year.
"The NHAI will build passes for wild animals at Karnala bird sanctuary and such passes must be built on highways that skirt SGNP," said Jhaveri.
A Anwar, chief conservator of forests, SGNP, said most deaths were on the road from the Borivli main gate to Kanheri Caves. "The Tulsi lake road is not very good so speeding is difficult. Also, we have put up drums on this road to slow down vehicles," he said.

Biased’ JKSSC conceals ‘embezzlement’: Sawhney.

State Times: Jammu: Sunday, October 22, 2017.
The ‘biased’ Jammu and Kashmir State Sport Council (JKSSC) reportedly concealed alleged embezzlement of funds meant for sports activities in the State.
Former Minister and senior Congress leader, Yogesh Sawhney sought detail of expenditure incurred on boarding and lodging of sports persons who participated in sports event held under Khelo India Scheme, under J&K RTI Act but the public authority showed reluctance to provide the information.
Provide details of expenditure incurred on boarding and lodging of sport persons and officials, who participated in these events, provide the photo copies of bills of expenditure of same, is the information former minister had sought under RTI Act. However, the JKSSC in its reply to above mentioned question claimed that no funds for boarding, lodging purposes were spent.
“No players were invited by the JKSSC from outside the State as a result of which question of their hotel accommodation expenses does not arise”, reply vide SC/2437-A/6163-65, dated August 21, 2017 read.
It is pertinent to mention here that the recent discrimination with Jammu in allocation of funds under Khelo India Scheme was unearthed, wherein the JKSSC has provided around two crore rupees to sports association and educational institutions but more than 94 per cent funds were spent for various sports events in valley alone and only a little was left for Jammu.
Sawhney said that he would not fear going to the courts if that is what is required to get the government to speak on this matter.
It is not right for the government to deceive the people of Jammu in such a way and he made it clear that it won’t be tolerated.

55 Animals died at Thiruvanantpuram Zoo in last one year.

The News Minute: Saritha S. Balan: Thiruvanantpuram: Sunday, October 22, 2017.
As many as 55 animals at the Thiruvananthapuram zoo died in a span of a year, reveals information accessed through the Right to Information Act.
Between October 2016 and 2017, 17 birds, 32 mammals, and six reptiles died at the zoo. The number of deaths reported at the zoo increased compared to the previous year, when a total of 24 animals died.
The RTI information, which was provided to a television channel, however, stated that it did not come to its notice whether there were any lapses on the part of the zoo staff in taking care of the animals.
The zoo lost two animals, a lioness and a sloth bear, in October this year in a span of two days. A 17-year-old lioness named Aishwarya died on October 12. She had been shifted to the zoo hospital in September owing to age related ailments and was under special care. The lioness was transferred from the Vandalur zoo in Chennai in 2008 when it was eight years old.
Ravi, a sloth bear died on October 11. The 30-year-old animal, which was suffering from liver damage, died due to hepatic cancer. Ravi was brought to the zoo from Mysore zoo in 1992 when it was five years old. 
A female jaguar died at the zoo in April. Sangeetha, the 24-year-old jaguar’s death was due to age-related ailments.
It was in March that Seetha, the lone zebra at the zoo died following a cardiac arrest. The 25-year-old zebra had been housed at the zoo for 15 years.
The Thiruvananthapuram zoo officials, however, said that most of the deaths were caused by age related ailments. “There has been no outbreak of infectious diseases in the zoo. The only problem we face in the zoo is the infighting of deer. The deer population has increased considerably and there are 200 deer now. The infighting had caused deaths,” zoo veterinarian Jacob Alexander told TNM.
“We have been building new cages for some birds and animals to replace the old decayed ones. That causes inconvenience now. Leaving that aside, there has no big issue in the zoo and we are managing it with the best of our capacity,” he added.

Name CIC in 2 months, says Bombay HC.

Asian Age: Mumbai: Sunday, October 22, 2017.
The petitioner also sought that appropriate infrastructure to the judicial officers should be provided and strength of the judges should be increased.
Observing that the huge pendency of appeals before the State Information Commission (SIC) will defeat the very purpose of setting up of machinery provided under the Right to Information Act, the Bombay high court has directed the state to fill the vacant post of the Chief Information Commissioner within two months. The court has also directed the Additional Solicitor General of India to remain present in court on the next date of hearing and assist the court. The court was hearing a PIL seeking directions for the government to take steps to reduce pendency of RTI applications by filling vacant posts of Information Commissioners.
The division bench of Justice A.S. Oka Justice A.K. Menon observed that the chart provided by the government pleader showed that in the year 2015 there were 39,603 appeals that preferred before the SIC and pendency of appeals at the end of 2015 was 28,465. Another chart showed that the post of Chief Information Commissioner of the state is vacant. The bench noted that the documents submitted by the State does not say it will take immediate steps for filling in vacant post. “This exercise shall be completed at the earliest and not later than two months.”
“There is huge pendency of appeals before the State Commission. If such pendency continues, the very object of setting up machinery provided under the RTI Act will be frustrated,” observed the bench.
The petitioner also sought that appropriate infrastructure to the judicial officers should be provided and strength of the judges should be increased.

RBI says Aadhaar-bank accounts linkage must after confusion over RTI reply.

Business Standard: New Delhi: Sunday, October 22, 2017.
Govt made it mandatory to link bank accounts with 12-digit biometric identification number, deadline is Dec 31.
At a time when customers are rushing to link all their bank accounts with Aadhaar, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on Saturday clarified that it never issued any such directions and it was the decision of the Indian government.
The apex bank further clarified that in applicable cases, linkage of Aadhaar number to a bank account is mandatory under the Prevention of Money-laundering (Maintenance of Records) Second Amendment Rules, 2017.
In a response to a Right to Information (RTI) Act application filed by Moneylife India and carried by it on October 18, the RBI said: "The Government has issued a Gazette Notification GSR 538(E) dated 1 June 2017 regarding Prevention of Money laundering (Maintenance of Records) Second Amendment Rules, 2017, inter-alia, making furnishing of Aadhaar (for those individuals who are eligible to be enrolled for Aadhaar) and permanent number (PAN) mandatory for opening a bank account. It may be noted that Reserve Bank has not yet issued the instruction in this regard".
Clarifying its position, RBI in a statement on Saturday said: " applicable cases, linkage of Aadhaar number to a bank account is mandatory under the Prevention of Money-laundering (Maintenance of Records) Second Amendment Rules, 2017 published in the Official Gazette on June 1, 2017. These Rules have statutory force and, as such, banks have to implement them without awaiting further instructions."
The RBI also said that anti-money laundering rules announced in June 2017 have "statutory force" and banks have to implement them without awaiting further instructions.
The government has made it mandatory to link bank accounts with the 12-digit biometric identification number. The deadline to do it is December 31, 2017.
This linking of Aadhaar to bank accounts is a process over and above the Know Your Customer (KYC) norms already followed by the banks.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in August had said that 524 million Aadhaar numbers had been linked to 736.2 million bank accounts in India.
Banks accounts in India are already linked to the tax-related Permanent Account Number (PAN), which is mandatory.
The Finance Minister had outlined a "one billion-one billion-one billion vision" for the country.
"That is one billion unique Aadhaar numbers linked to one billion bank accounts and one billion mobile phones. Once that is done, all of India can become part of the financial and digital mainstream," Jaitley had said.
The RTI query further asked whether RBI had Supreme Court's permission to mandatorily link Aadhaar with bank accounts. In its reply, RBI said it had not filed any such petition before the Supreme Court.
The Aadhar programme, which is the world's largest biometric identity card programme, has triggered some claims that it is an infringement of privacy of citizens.
India's top court in August had said that privacy is a fundamental right and the verdict was expected to complicate efforts of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government to make linking of the ID card numbers with bank accounts and telephone numbers.

Made to wait 2 years for info, RTI applicant to get Rs 5,000.

Times of India: Rumu Banerjee: New Delhi: Sunday, October 22, 2017.
The central information commission (CIC) has ordered a compensation of Rs 5,000 to an appellant who was made to wait two years for information by the chief public information officer of the cantonment board in Jabalpur.
The CIC, which came down hard on the CPIO for not dealing with the RTI applications of her predecessor, has also directed the CEO of the cantonment board to ensure that pending applications are dealt with and a compliance report generated for the commission.
The strictures came on an application filed by Aabid Hussain, who had filed the RTI plea in August 2015. He was, however, given the information only in October this year, after a copy of the notice for hearing was sent to the chief public information officer (CPIO) of the cantonment board. Hussain, who told the commission that he needed the information for a court case, now found it redundant, and demanded compensation.
In her reply, the CPIO told the commission that she had not responded to the pending RTI application as it had been sent to her predecessor.
In his order, information commissioner Divya Prakash Sinha said, "The commission takes grave exception to the flagrant violation of the RTI Act by the CPIOs of Cantonment Board, Jabalpur, and the ignorance of the present CPIO about the pending RTI applications from the tenure of her predecessor."
"It is incumbent upon the present CPIO to deal with all such pending RTI applications and not wait for the commission to issue notice of hearing to provide reply to RTI applicants."
The ever lethargic babudom needs to be totally replaced to give way for honest, efficient and energetic ones. Retire them, if they fail to comply with rules.Godfather Senior
Sinha ordered the cantonment board, Jabalpur, to pay compensation of Rs 5,000 to the appellant for "gross detriment due to the delay of two years in providing the information".
The RTI application did not get a reply from either the CPIO or the first appellate authority, both of whom got the application in 2015. The second appeal was filed in November 2015.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Urgent Call on the Advancement of Citizens' Access to Information in Ghana.

Africa Freedom of Information Centre: Ghana: Saturday, October 21, 2017.
34 NGOs call on the government of Ghana to ensure its citizens' right of access to information.
HE Nana Akufo-Addo 
President of the Republic of Ghana 
RE: Urgent Call on the Advancement of Citizens' Access to Information in Ghana 
Your Excellency, 
We, the undersigned freedom of expression advocates, are deeply concerned with the record of the Government of Ghana in violating its obligations and commitments regarding its citizens' right of access to information. 
The African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, to which Ghana is a state party, requires member states to implement legislative and other measures to promote and protect citizens' right of access to information. Both the Principles of Freedom of Expression in Africa under Article IV and the Model Law on Access to Information for African Union Member states adopted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights set regional standards on the right to information. 
In September 2015, Ghana alongside other members of the United Nations committed to pursue Sustainable Development Goals that require member states to adopt and implement access to information laws. Yet a recent study by the Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC), “State of the Right to Information in Africa”, finds Ghana has not progressed on this target. This lack of specific legislation on access to information creates a void in the implementation and enforcement of the constitution's guarantee. 
AFIC's study also finds that Ghana is in violation of Article 62 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights in respect to state reporting. In fact, at the time the study was published, the Government of Ghana had missed 9 reporting periods. 
Your Excellency, your government was elected on the promise of promoting transparency and accountability. New legislation is needed to promote active disclosure of certain basic information by public institutions to enhance citizens' participation in governance and to empower citizens to fully and effectively take part in the fight against corruption. 
We must emphasize that legislation alone will not be enough: regular sensitization programmes for public officials are necessary to engender a change of attitude and mindset of public servants towards citizens' access to information and promote a culture of openness within the public institutions. 
We therefore call upon your government to chart a new course by urgently: 
  • Ratifying the African Charter on Values and Principles of Public Service and Administration, and ensuring compliance with the reporting obligations before the ACHPR; 
  • Adopting and effectively implementing access to information legislation, inspired by international and regional standards as well as the AU Model Law, to ensure the fundamental legal right of access to information by all citizens; 
  • Meeting the obligations to state reporting under Article 62 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights; 
  • Conducting right to information training programs for public officials, especially those at local levels, to enable public servants to appreciate their obligation in promoting citizens' right to information; 
  • Undertaking institutional reforms to ensure effective record keeping and management systems in public institutions; and 
  • Empowering the citizens of Ghana to exercise their civil and political rights in order to effectively demand accountability from their leaders. 
We look forward to your response. 

The fight for gender equality in the Indian Navy.

Milligazatte: Madhavi Gopalakrishnan: Saturday, October 21, 2017.
In August this year, proceedings were initiated to discharge Sabi Giri, a sailor with the Indian Navy, on grounds that she had undergone sex reassignment surgery in the previous year. Sabi, who had joined the Navy as an 18-year-old, had felt uncomfortable with her gender identity for some time; in October 2016, she took the decision to fully transition into and present as a female, paying for her surgery out of her own pocket while on leave. When Sabi returned to work twenty-two days later, she contracted a urinary tract infection, forcing her to visit a Navy doctor and to reveal her gender identity.
News reports stated that while her infection was soon cured, her status as a transgender woman quickly became common knowledge. Sabi noticed a marked change in how she was treated; ignored by her former friends, her only contact with other officers was marred by propositions for sex. Once higher authorities got wind of her transition, Sabi’s situation took a turn for the worse: she was placed in a male psychiatric ward for six months. When she was finally released in April this year, authorities continued to dither over what to do, only taking the decision to discharge her in August.
In a statement released by the Press Information Bureau of the Defence Ministry, Sabi’s transgender status became public, and she was continuously misgendered and referred to by her former name. The statement claimed that Sabi “wilfully altered his gender identity from the one he was recruited for at the time of his induction”. The statement offensively concludes that the termination of employment is due to Sabi’s “altered gender status medical condition”, seemingly referring to her involuntary confinement in the psychiatric ward.
Protections for Transgender Persons in India
The judgment in NALSA v. UOI held that the failure of the State to recognize the gender identity of transgender persons would violate Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution. In rendering its judgment, the Supreme Court observed that members of transgender communities face discrimination in access to housing, education, healthcare, and employment, and therefore the State was “bound to take affirmative action to give them due representation in public services”. In furtherance of this observation, the Court additionally held that Article 16, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in public employment, would apply to the transgender community.
A Private Member’s Bill to give effect to the NALSA judgment was passed by the Rajya Sabha in 2015, and then introduced before the Lok Sabha in August last year. However, the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill has been pending ever since, opposed by people across the ideological spectrum. The transgender community itself has objected to several provisions in the bill, which uses offensive and inaccurate language to describe transgender persons, and is widely seen as inadequate to address the unique socio-economic status of transgenders in India.
International Law and Policy on Transgender Rights
Possibly foreseeing that Parliament would put such a Bill on the backburner, the Court in NALSA had further held that, in absence of “suitable legislation protecting the rights of the members of the transgender community… a contrary legislation, municipal courts in India would respect the rules of international law”. The most comprehensive formulation of the protections available to LGBTQ persons under international law are the Yogyakarta Principles, which explicitly set out the right of such persons to access education, security of person, healthcare, and any such rights usually available to citizens of a nation. The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has, in essence, ruled on several occasions that LGBTQ rights are human rights, and that the State cannot discriminate in their treatment of such persons versus other citizens.
NALSA draws from these principles, stating that discrimination against a person on the basis of their gender identity and expression is akin to discrimination on the basis of sex. At present, the rights available to transgender persons even in the international realm are not ‘special’, nor do they prescribe affirmative action programs, but they merely affirm that transgender persons must be treated on par with every other human. The Indian State fails even at this basic requirement of providing constitutionally-available rights to an oppressed minority community.
What about the Navy?
Article 21 states that no person can be deprived of their life and personal liberty, except through procedure established by law. In the instant case, there is no existing law that permits the Navy to confine its employees to a psychiatric ward without any reason, nor is there any reason to believe that such a law would be valid. Moreover, since Sabi has transitioned and identifies as a woman, placing her in the male psychiatric ward violates her right to have her gender identity recognized and validated by the State and is also violative of her right to privacy. While Sabi has not revealed whether she was referred to a military psychiatrist, which is standard protocol for confinement, it is shocking that the response to her transition was to brand her as mentally ill. The recent Mental Healthcare Act defines mental illness as a “substantial disorder of thinking, mood, perception, orientation or memory that grossly impairs judgment, behaviour, capacity to recognise reality or ability to meet the ordinary demands of life”. A transgender person is not mentally ill simply because of their transgender identity. Additionally, the Act has specifically stated that persons confined to psychiatric wards or mental hospitals have the right to information and confidentiality about their illness and treatment, both of which were breached in Sabi’s case.
The Navy Act specifically prohibits women from being employed in service of the Indian Navy, except in non-combatant roles, such as a legal officer or as naval architect. In fact, until recently, women were only permitted to be employed in the Short Service Commission (SSC), which would allow them to only serve for 14 years; it was only in 2011 that the Ministry of Defence permitted women to join the Permanent Commission, which allowed them to serve for a lifetime, and to avail benefits such as pension. However, this meant that the Permanent Commission was still only available to women in the branches of law, naval architecture, and education. However, a bench of the Delhi High Court accepted the contentions of several female officers belonging to the Navy, who were seeking equal rights with their counterparts in the Army and the Air Force, which allow women to serve as both SSC and Permanent Commission; the matter has been appealed and is pending before the Supreme Court.
Sabi herself has pointed out the irony of her situation: while recruited as a young man, she was deemed fit for service, despite not having any prior training. Seven years later, she has a considerable amount of experience in the Navy, but is deemed ineligible solely due to her gender. While the Navy has announced that they plan to formulate a policy for women to serve on warships, they are yet to explicitly engage with the transgender population of the country. However, it is clear that the Navy is open to changing its policy on women serving as active combatants, and hence its decision to discharge Sabi, without making arrangements for her to serve in another capacity, is disheartening. The armed forces have a lot of catching-up to do; their policies do not even recognize the existence of transgender persons, let alone being transgender-friendly.
The Way Forward
Sabi Giri wants to challenge her discharge, and is willing to take the fight for her rights to the Supreme Court. She must be encouraged to challenge the Navy’s treatment of her after her transition, especially her illegal confinement in the psychiatric ward. She should also challenge her discharge as violative of her basic right to equality and gender identity under Article 14. Transgender persons have been continuously recognized as one of the most stigmatized and marginalized communities, internationally and in India. The State must endeavour to promote, rather than restrict employment of this community, and its failure to do so violates the law set down by the Supreme Court of India. The collective number of personnel employed in the Indian armed forces is one of the largest in the world; the armed forces must institute policies that recognize, protect, and encourage transgender people to be part of them.
While we support Sabi in her endeavour for justice, it is also essential to remember that the fight is not over. Parliament continues to ignore the Bill to protect the rights of transgender persons, despite it being introduced more than two years ago. Transgender people continue to be ostracized, harassed, and violated simply for realizing their right to express their gender identity. The Transgender Persons Bill must be amended to include an accurate and sensitive definition of transgender persons, but it is equally important for the State to create a reservation for transgender candidates in the public sphere, as well as offering incentives to private actors who employ and train transgender persons. Finally, it is illogical and discriminatory for the Navy to continue to permit women to only serve in a limited capacity, and it is hoped that this case changes the narrative, and encourage the Navy to get rid of all its discriminatory policies and become a force for equality. (The Asian Human Rights Commission)
Madhavi Gopalakrishnan is a remote intern with the Asian Human Rights Commission. She is a final year law student at the Jindal Global Law School, Sonipat.

High ash coal supplied, no plaint by Mahagenco.

Times of India: Ashish Roy: Nagpur: Friday, October 21, 2017.
In spite of being pulled up by Nagpur bench of Bombay High Court, coal companies are still supplying high ash content coal to Mahagenco's thermal power plants, causing alarming level of air pollution. Mahagenco has not even lodged a protest with coal companies in this regard.
As per norms of union ministry of environment, forests and climate change (MoEFCC), coal used by thermal power stations should not have ash content more than 34%. Coal used by Khaparkheda thermal power station, which is hardly 15km from the city, has ash content well above this limit.
Activist Anil Wadpalliwar had sought information in this regard under Right to Information (RTI) Act. It has revealed that coal supplied by Western Coalfields Limited (WCL) between January and July this year had ash content as high as 43.71%. The quality of coal supplied by South Eastern Coalfields Limited (SECL) and South Central Coalfields Limited (SCCL) is slightly better whereas coal from Mahanadi Coalfields Limited (MCL) is as bad as WCL.
Environmentalist expert Debi Goenka feels that washing was the only solution for high ash content coal. "Generation companies are supposed to wash coal before using it. However, there are neither enough washeries nor enough water for washing coal. Moreover, power companies do not want to waste time in washing coal, especially during monsoons," he said.
According to Goenka, high ash in coal was not in interest of the generation companies too. "Ash damages machinery. It is bad for the company, people and environment," he added.
Wadpalliwar wondered why Mahagenco was accepting high ash content coal that was endangering the lives of people. "Both Mahagenco and WCL are at fault and they conveniently blame each other," he said.
The activist also flayed Mahagenco for not keeping enough stock of coal, which led to load shedding. "I feel this is a deliberate ploy to import coal, which is very costly. My public interest litigation (PIL) on coal quality is being heard in the HC. I will raise this issue too. Load shedding is causing loss to farmers of Vidarbha, who are already in trouble due to poor rainfall," he said.
WCL officials were at loss to explain supply of high ash coal. "We supply coal on gross calorific value (GCV) basis and not depending on ash content. Mahagenco has never complained to us about ash content," an official said. Mahagenco spokesperson refused to comment saying on the issue that it was a highly contentious one.
TOI had visited the villages near Koradi thermal power station a few months ago and found that the residents suffered multiple problems due to fly-ash, which is emitted when ash content in coal is high.
Bawankule seeks power funds from Centre
State energy minister Chandrashekhar Bawankule on Wednesday met Union power minister RK Singh and sought funds for the state under Saubhagya Yojana. This scheme envisages providing round the clock power to each and every person. Bawankule also sought additional funds for the state under Deendayal Yojana and Integrated Power Development Scheme (IPDS).
The state minister told Singh that even now 1,965 villages in the state did not have electricity. The state government plans power supply to 712 of them under Deendayal Yojana while it needs Rs246 crore for the remaining 1,213 villages. The amount was needed for 25,954 families.
Bawankule pointed out that while the state had funds to create power infrastructure, these extremely poor families did not have money for internal wiring. Rs14.39 crore was needed for this purpose under Saubhagya Yojana, he told Singh.
There are 228 villages in the state which do not have power because the infrastructure to provide the same has got damaged or has been stolen. Rs26.78 crore was needed for this purpose, Bawankule said.

No check on drunken driving in Chandigarh’s VIP sectors, reveals RTI.

Hindustan Times: Chandigadh: Saturday, October 21, 2017.
The RTI reveals that not a single naka set up in northern sectors of Chandigarh housing prominent clubs, govt guest houses in first eight months of this year.
All of us have our favourite sectors in Chandigarh and the traffic cops are no different. They have this soft spot for Sectors 1 to 6. 
Only that can explain why they never set up any drink-driving checkpoints in these sectors, home to the Chandigarh Club, Lake Club, Golf Club and Chandigarh Golf Association besides the guest houses of the two state governments of Punjab and Haryana and the MLA hostel, in the first eight months of this year.
Chandigarh-based RK Garg stumbled upon this nugget when he invoked the Right to Information (RTI) Act to get information about the drink-driving challans from January to August this year. The cops were gentle on the Sukhna Lake as well, setting up just two nakas, both of which proved fruitful with 16 challans for driving under the influence of liquor on August 18, and 11 on the last day of that month.
The cops were also content with laying just one naka each on the Sector 7/19 dividing road (Sec 7 side) despite the profusion of restaurants and bars in Sector 7. The only time they set up a naka on the Sector 8/18 dividing road (Sector 8 side) and the Sector 9/10 dividing road (Sector 9 side) was on Holi, and that day too they drew a blank.
This, we assume, may have deterred them from setting up any further such nakas on this section close to the so-called VIP sectors.
The three stretches that received a lot of attention from the traffic police included their own backyard, the road behind the Police Lines, Sector 26, where they laid 32 nakas in eight months with 203 challans.
The maximum number of 35 nakas were put up on the road dividing Sectors 20 and 33 (on the Sector 20 side) where the cops took 230 ‘spirited’ drivers to task.
The 33 nakas on the Sector 16/17 dividing road (Sec 17 side) were also quite successful, yielding 272 challans. “That is along the expected lines, given the popularity of ahatas and bars in the city centre,” Garg reasons.
If the position of the nakas is an indication of the consumption of liquor in areas around it, their timings reflect the happy hours in the City Beautiful. If the numbers are to be believed, the Chandigarhians down their drinks early. The nakas set between 8pm and 10 pm yielded 1,169 challans, the maximum in a time slot. The 9 pm-11pm nakas were not half as worthwhile with a mere 612 challans.
Interestingly, the maximum of 116 challans on a single day were recorded not on Holi, the festival dedicated to colours and Bacchus, but on the last day of August , making sceptics wonder if it had anything to do with challan targets.
Holi turned out to be quite eventful with 89 challans during the day between 8 am and 4 am, the only daytime challaning drive during the first eight months of this year in the city.
The stretch where the traffic cops got the maximum success was the road dividing Sectors 23 and 36 (Sector 36 side). The cops challaned 298 persons for drink-driving on this road from January to August. Garg is puzzled by the high number, considering the location. “It’s not an area where there are many pubs though it is dotted with educational institutions. I wonder who are the people drinking and driving on this road?”

IC gets one more Commissioner.

Greater Kashmir: Raja Muzaffa Bhatt: Srinagar: Saturday, October 21, 2017.
State Information Commission (SIC) which has been constituted under the ambit of J&K RTI Act 2009 became once again operational after Mr Khurshid Ahmad Ganai former IAS officer was appointed as Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) early this year. For several months SIC was completely defunct. Under J&K RTI Act 2009, State Information Commission (SIC) is supposed have three Commissioners. One of the Commissioners is designated as Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and other two are designated as Information Commissioner’s. Three Commissioners namely Mr G R Sufi, Mr Nazir Ahmad and Prof S K Sharma already completed their term in SIC . When commission was reconstituted 2nd time, three commissioners were supposed to be appointed, but due to various reasons the selection committee could only recommend CIC’s name . 
After more than 6 months of CIC’s appointment, Governor N N Vohra on the advise of selection committee headed by Chief Minister recently appointed one more Information Commissioner Mr Mohammad Ashraf Mir who has served in State Legal Services for a very long time. Mr Mir has been Law Secretary of J&K Government few years back and prior to his appointment as Information Commissioner he was posted as J&K’s Revenue Secretary. 
Who can be an Information Commissioner ?
It is nowhere mentioned in RTI Act (State / Central RTI law) that the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) or Information Commissioner (IC) has to be a former bureaucrat , administrator or a police officer only . Section 12 (5) of J&K RTI Act 2009 says that State Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and State Information Commissioner’s shall be persons of eminence in public life with wide knowledge and experience in law , science & technology , social service , management , journalism , mass media or administration & governance. A member of Parliament , State Legislature or member of any political party cannot become an Information Commissioner. Information Commissioner cannot carry out any business or pursue any other profession. In case anyone among these is appointed as Information Commissioner, he or she has to resign from all the aforementioned positions. This is the reason Mr Mohammad Ashraf Mir had to resign from the post of Revenue Secretary to J&K Government prior to his appointment as Information Commissioner. 
Challenges before Commission: 
Until recently CIC , Mr Khurshid Ahmad Ganai was all alone disposing off appeals and complaints filed before the SIC. Now the work will be distributed among two. RTI Movement hopes that one more commissioner will be appointed as soon as possible. We recommend that a senior lawyer , academician , journalist , activist preferably a female should be appointed as Information Commissioner. SIC is yet to decide the pending cases such as declaring political parties as public authorities. More than 3 years back SIC headed by the then CIC Mr G R Sufi issued notices to several political parties of J&K that included Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and National Conference asking them to clear their stand as to why they shouldn’t be brought under the ambit of J&K RTI Act 2009 ? These notices were issued after some RTI activists from Jammu had filed a complaint before the State Information Commission (SIC) for not being provided information under RTI by some renowned political parties of the state. Pertinently PDP had shown no resentment over declaring itself a public authority , but NC , Panthers Party , BJP , Congress had shown reluctance to make themselves accountable under RTI. We hope ruling PDP sticks to its earlier stand ? 
With two Commissioners in office , the State Information Commission (SIC) has to ensure voluntary disclosure of Information. In-spite of CIC’s June 2017 deadline , majority of Public Authorities have not updated their official websites nor have they made voluntary disclosure of information . State Information Commission (SIC) should penalize all those Public Information Officers (PIOs) who have frequently violated RTI provisions and not adhered to June 30th deadline . If State Information Commission (SIC) will not enforce RTI Act in letter and spirit , corrupt elements in Government will take this institution for granted and within a few years its fate will be like any other ineffective Commissions of state. 

Friday, October 20, 2017

Assembly special session on Nov 9 to table solar report.

Times of India: Thiruvanantpuram: Friday, October 20, 2017.
The government has finally decided to make the judicial commission probe report on the sensational solar scam public. However, in an attempt to avoid the embarrassment of deviating from the earlier stand of not publicizing the report until it was tabled in the state assembly, the government has announced that a assembly special session will be convened on November 9.
The cabinet meeting, held on Thursday, has recommended the Governor to convene the single-day assembly session to discuss the judicial probe report. The day falls ahead of the 30-day deadline to respond to the first application filed under Right to Information (RTI) Act seeking copy of the report. After 30 days of filing the application, the government anyway has to release the report. Incidentally, the first application was filed by Congress leader Oommen Chandy, an accused in the scam. So far, around 15 RTI applications have been pending before the chief secretary.
The cabinet has also decided to seek comprehensive legal advice from a legal luminary in the case. It has entrusted chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan with the task of initiating steps to consult Justice Arijit Pasayat, former Supreme Court judge and former Chief Justice of Kerala high court, on the legal validity of the recommendations of Justice Sivarajan commission that probed the scam. The nature and scope of further inquiry into the scam will be decided after getting the legal advice of Justice Pasayat, it is learnt.
The decision has taken the Congress by surprise, as they have been demanding to make the report public as soon as it was submitted before the chief minister by the commission. But, Vijayan ruled out the possibility of making the report public and claimed that the report could be only submitted before the assembly. The chief minister was also of the opinion that the government has six months' time to produce the report before the assembly.
The decision of the government to go for a vigilance probe against Chandy and criminal proceedings against other former ministers and Congress leaders were flayed by the KPCC saying that the government wanted to keep the report confidential. Chandy was all set to take the legal course to get a copy of the report as his request under RTI failed to receive any response.
The cabinet had approved the solar commission report on October 11 after taking legal opinion from advocate general and director general of prosecutions.