Sunday, August 30, 2015

High Court advocate writes book on unwritten laws

The Hindu: Madurai: Sunday, August 30, 2015.
Madras High Court Bench advocate I. Robert Chandrakumar, son of former tea plantation workers at the infamous Manjolai estate in Tirunelveli district, has come out with his second Tamil book titled ‘Unwritten Laws’ consisting of essays touching upon various socio-legal issues.
His first book ‘Law and the Layman’ was released in 2012 and its second edition rolled out last year. The latest book published by Uyirmmai Pathippagam deals with many significant issues, including the absence of a law or statutory provision till date mandating police to trace out missing persons.
The author claims that it is a matter of common knowledge that though the entire State machinery would be pressed into service to find out people missing from families of influential people in the society, the police seldom show the same kind of interest in case of others due to absence of a statutory obligation. He also impresses upon the need to abolish death penalty in the country, demands reintroduction of telegraph system and stresses the need to amend the Right to Information Act, 2005 for ensuring that those who threaten or harm RTI activists could be prosecuted and imposed with stringent punishment.
One of the essays in the book highlights the importance of establishing Benches of the Supreme Court in Delhi, Maharashtra, Calcutta and Tamil Nadu to ensure that economically poor litigants were not deprived of their statutory right to prefer appeals before the Supreme Court for want of money.

State names its info commissioners

Times of India: Panaji: Sunday, August 30, 2015.
The state government has finalized the name of former additional president of the Goa state administrative tribunal, south district, Prashant Tendulkar, as the new chief information commissioner (CIC). Tendulkar served at the tribunal from September 20, 2013 to February 28, 2015.
The government has also finalized senior public prosecutor, Pratima Vernekar, and lawyer, social activist, writer, and TV host, Juino D'Souza, as the new state information commissioners.
The names were finalized by the three-member committee headed by chief minister Laxmikant Parsekar. Other panel members are deputy CM Francis D'Souza and opposition leader Pratapsingh Rane. Sources said the decisions were unanimous, and the file finalizing the names of the three information commissioners was signed by Parsekar on Saturday evening.
The decision follows the high court of Bombay at Goa ordering the state, last week, to file an affidavit within two weeks, in a writ petition seeking the appointment of the Goa Lokayukta and information commissioners. The petition has been filed by the Goa RTI Forum and others.
The CIC post has been vacant since January this year, after Leena Mehendale's term got over. The retired IAS officer and former Maharashtra additional chief secretary was selected and sworn in as CIC by then governor, B V Wanchoo, in October 2013 after the government announced the shortlisted names for CIC and SICs in July of that year.
When the first CIC, A Venkatratnam, retired in March 2009, the appointment of M S Keny as CIC was made seven months later, in October 2009, even though the post of SIC was filled instantly. But when SIC Afonso Araujo, appointed on March 4, 2009, retired in September 2010 there was no attempt to fill the post till 2012.

Theatre artiste detained at border

The Hindu: Delhi: Sunday, August 30, 2015.
He was kept in the police station in the name of interrogation and several agencies such as IB, RAW and other agencies grilled him on various issues.
Theatre artiste Akram Feroze, who was on a mission of ‘Theatre at borders and world without borders campaign’ was arrested and illegally detained for more than two weeks by the Ramgarh police in Jaisalmer district of Rajasthan.
A native of Jagtial town in Karimnagar district, Mr. Feroze decided to launch his crusade from Kutch to Kolkata international border with a slogan of “say no to war”. He reached Jaisalmer on August 9 and Ramgarh region on August 13. When he was inquiring about the further movement to the restricted area of the border, the locals informed the police, who rushed to the spot and took him to the police station.
He was kept in the police station in the name of interrogation and several agencies such as IB, RAW and other agencies grilled him on various issues. Though, he was having his passport and other documents, the police grilled him over the video clippings of Tosa Maidan peoples agitation launched by the Jammu and Kashmir RTI activists secured from his laptop. He informed that he had participated in the programme as part of RTI activist and it was a documentary film.
Realising the mistake, the police sent him to judicial custody on August 20 by registering a case under Cr.P.C. 151 and was lodged in high-profile criminals’ jail till August 26. He was released only after producing the police verification certificate by his brother Alam Feroze.
He returned to Jagtial on Friday night.
This correspondent could talk to Feroze over phone and inquire about the details. Still traumatised, he said: “My family underwent lots of trauma following my illegal detention. Now, it is a sigh of relief after returning home and reuniting with the family members”.
“I have only decided to launch a campaign of world without borders in a democratic manner through theatre. My slogan is world without a war. After all, the borders create wars and war is not for everyone”, he pointed out. “I am not a spy or into anti-national activities. But, I underwent lots of mental agony”, he said. Asked whether he would continue his mission of world without borders programme, he said “I will complete my mission at any cost. After all I am a theatre artist”.
His elder brother, Alam Feroze, said that he had reached Jaisalmer on August 23, but the authorities concerned had harassed him for three days for securing the bail of Akram. He said that his family underwent lot of trauma and stress all these days after illegal detention.

Your Right to Know: Units failing, industry ailing

The Indian Express: Pune: Sunday, August 30, 2015.
While Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’s government may be on a mission to encourage investment in the state, documents sourced under Right to Information (RTI) show that the state has been witnessing an alarming rate of closure of units of late.
In reply to a RTI query by the Newsline, the Directorate of Industries has stated that in the last three years (2012-15), a total of 15,354 units in Maharashtra have closed down. Each year, the state saw on an average of 12 per cent of units closing down.
Directorate of Industries keeps a tab on functional industrial units through the issuance of eligibility certificates (ECs). These certificates are issued to micro, small, medium, large and mega industries which allow them to qualify for fiscal incentives. To qualify for the incentives, industries have to be operational for a specific number of years failing which the incentives can be recovered from them.
The last three years saw on an average 12 per cent of the established units closing down in the state. While 5,019 (12.55 per cent) units closed down during the financial year 2012-13, 5,633 (14.22 per cent) and 5,525(12.77 per cent) shut shop during financial years 2013-14 and 2014-15, respectively.
The closure of units in the state and its ripple effects were also seen in the dip in the number of workers, as reported in the Annual Survey of Industries (ASI). An annual exercise carried out by the Ministry of Statistics and Program Implementation, the ASI records the number of workers, factories, investment and other details about the industrial scenario in the state. The ASI has noted that the state had 12,03,023 workers during the financial year 2010-11, which rose to 13,20,995 during 2011-12 but dipped to 12,33,341 for the financial year 2012-13. The ASI data for subsequent years are yet to be finalised, but officers with the Directorate of Industries say they fear further dip.
“Last few years have seen unfavourable industrial climate, which had led to these closures. Especially hit were the auto, manufacturing and capital goods industry,” said an official.
While the present government might be doing its bit for revival of the industrial climate, industry representatives say much is needed to stop such closures.
Nitin Bankar, general secretary of the Pimpri-Chinchwad Small Scale Industries Association, said the state government was yet to take a holistic view of the industrial policy and had not taken any steps to take the industries in confidence.  “Instead of trying to attract foreign investment, the government must take steps to bring back the industries which left the state,” he said.
The Mumbai Pune industrial zone, Bankar said, suffered majorly from very high cost of living, which has made it difficult for workers to live there. “Steps need to be taken to solve the housing issue of workers,” he said.
Anant Sardeshmukh, director-general of the Mahratta Chamber of Commerce Industries and Agriculture (MCCIA), also said that the government’s intentions were yet to translate into workable solutions. “We are talking about change in Factories Act, changes in the labour legislations, but they are still in the draft state. We need to see them in working laws,” he said.

Bring Parties Under RTI Ambit for Effective Government : By Jayna Kothari and Aparna Ravi

The New Indian Express: Delhi: Sunday, August 30, 2015.
In a rare show of unity, all political parties have vehemently opposed bringing themselves under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. In a pending petition in the Supreme Court filed by the Association for Democratic Reforms seeking to bring parties under the ambit of the RTI Act, the Central government has filed an affidavit opposing it. The main reasons stated are that scrutiny by the Act would hamper the parties’ smooth functioning, exploited by their rivals and that they are in any case required to disclose their donations under other laws.
The debate on transparency in funding of political parties is not new, but has emerged globally. The UN Convention Against Corruption, which India has ratified, in Article 7 requires governments to consider taking appropriate legislative and administrative steps to enhance transparency in the funding of candidatures for elected public office and the funding of parties. In the US, federal and state campaign finance laws require parties to file detailed periodic reports of all contributions they receive and identify the source of any contribution above a given threshold. The election commission’s website publishes the information. Kenya’s Political Parties Act, 2011, mandates that parties should publish their accounts and complete sources of donations in two newspapers annually and any person would be entitled to inspect a party’s audited accounts. In South Africa, a similar petition is pending in the constitutional court asking for a legislation to be enacted for disclosure of private funding to political parties.
Like South Africa, India is a country that is rife with inequality. Wealthy individuals and corporations are able to influence policy by donating to parties, leaving the door wide open for corruption, conflict of interest and no accountability. Transparency and access to information is the first step towards addressing larger issues such as conflicts of interest and assessing whether a government is in fact acting in the larger public good.
The Representation of People’s Act, 1950, is the only law in India that requires parties to disclose donations above Rs 20,000, but these obligations are woefully inadequate as they are only required to disclose this to the Election Commission and Income Tax Department for obtaining tax exemptions. The disclosures are not made public, there is no monitoring, and no penalties imposed for incomplete or inaccurate reporting. While we may not have a comprehensive law regulating political parties, we do have a robust RTI Act that allows citizens to obtain information from public authorities. The right to information is inextricably linked to the fundamental right to freedom of expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. It is only when citizens have access to information on matters of public importance that they can participate meaningfully in the democratic process.
The current debate centres around whether parties fall within the definition of ‘public authorities’ under the RTI Act. The Central Information Commission in Subhash Chandra Aggarwal and Anr. Vs. INC and Ors. has held that parties were ‘public authorities’ as the tax exemptions, contributions, free air time on government television, land allocations and other concessions they received from the Centre amounted to substantial funding from the government and brought them within the scope of the Act. Like parties, many other non-governmental organisations such as the Indian Olympic Association have also been brought under the RTI Act as they serve a public function as public authorities. The Karnataka High Court, in the context of the RTI Act, has also held that a public authority must be one capable of being exercised for the benefit of the public and relied on the Statement of Objects and Reasons of the RTI Act, which holds that democracy requires an informed citizenry and transparency of information.
On all these counts, a strong case is made out for recognising political parties as public authorities and bringing them under the RTI Act. As we approach the 10th anniversary of the RTI Act, it is time to strengthen it and enhance the citizen’s right to know. If we really want an effective, transparent and accountable government, it needs to begin with full disclosures on political financing and the RTI Act gives us the opportunity to make it happen.
Kothari is a founder member of Centre for Law and Policy Research (CLPR), Bengaluru. Ravi is a senior researcher at CLPR.

‘RTI on Wheels’ caravan to take out yatra in border districts of Rajasthan to create awareness

The Indian Express: Ahmedabad: Sunday, August 30, 2015.
Ahmedabad-based Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel (MAGP) will take out an ‘RTI on Wheels’ yatra in the border districts of Barmer, Bikaner and Jaisalmer of the neighbouring Rajasthan in the last week of September.
The idea behind the exercise, to be carried out in collaboration with Jaisalmer-based Taveri Vikas and Seva Sanastha (TVSS), is to create awareness among the border people to seek information about government schemes and projects in their areas.
The caravan will tour major towns and villages of three districts of Thar desert with sparse population.
MAGP representatives Pankti Jog and Harinesh Pandya said that objective of the week-long tour of the desert areas is to create awareness among the locals in interior areas about RTI Act and encourage them to get information about various developmental schemes. TVSS representative Shamsuddin Khan said that there were a number of projects like roads and water supply lines constructed on papers but missing actually on the ground.
Talking to The Indian Express at the MAGP office in Ahmedabad, Khan said that the people in border areas were mostly illiterate owing to peculiar nature of their problems and were not in a position to question either the government officials or the local politicians.
Khan, who came here all the way from Jaisalmer, said that he came to know about MAGP through some friends. Jog and Pandya said that a year ago, they had taken out a yatra in border areas of Jammu and Kashmir and there was tremendous response.
They said that a group had now come forward in J&K led by a former Army physician who was training and encouraging people to use RTI to empower people.
Asked if working in border areas was a sensitive issue, Jog and Pandya said that they always informed the local administration and police about their programme so that they were not in dark. “We take the administration in confidence because there are a number of security issues involved in border areas and that can’t be ignored,” the two RTI activists said.
MAGP has already covered tribal areas of Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh for creating RTI awareness among the people there.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Congress questions delay in conducting Municipal byelections in Delhi.

The webindia: New Delhi: Sturday, August 29, 2015.
The Congress party today questioned the Delhi government over the delay in holding byelections for 13 vacant seats in various Municipal Corporations here.
Addressing mediapersons here, Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee President Ajay Maken said, We have written a letter to Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal for not conducting the byelections. The Delhi State Election Commission, has already urged the government to immediately conduct byelections in the respective areas and has already sent an action plan in this regard. As per the proposal, the elections were to be concluded in the month of April 2015. However, no action was taken in this regard.
Mr Maken said that according to Section 12 of the Delhi Municipal Corporation Act, it is mandatory that such a vacancy in the office of a Municipal Councillor is filled at the earliest.
According to Mr Maken, the delay is only adding to the suffering of the general public which is already burdened by poor civic conditions.
He said according to the information received through RTI by the DPCC, the State Election Commission asked for Rs 21 crore from the Delhi government for completion of the election process.
For conducting elections to 13 wards and meeting the necessary expenditure, Rs 21 crore (approx) is required for smooth completion of the election process, the Election Commission letter stated.UNI SM CH1801

Province urged to hit public with information fees.

CBC News: New Brunswick: Saturday, August 29, 2015.
The New Brunswick government is being urged to charge citizens fees to request public information and consider hitting them with new costs to search for documents.
Government Services Minister Ed Doherty released the report on the Right to Information and Protection of Privacy Act on Friday, including 14 recommendations.
Doherty said in a statement the provincial government will consider the recommendations made in the report.
"Our government is committed to fostering a culture of openness and transparency in New Brunswick's public sector," Doherty said.
The report made many recommendations based on feedback received by the provincial government during a public review.
"Public bodies were almost unanimous in their desire to apply fees to RTI requests," the report said.The minister's report did recommend the government "evaluate the potential re-instatement of fees" for RTI requests.
The report also said municipalities would like the ability to charge fees for information requests coming from citizens.The report said the issue of fees was a major theme with different groups holding opposing viewpoints.
"Public bodies are struggling to adapt to the increasing number and scope of RTI requests, and they believe that fees will help address this issue," the report said.
"The public believes that more government information should be accessible and that the information should be made available free of charge and in a more timely manner."
The David Alward government terminated the $5 fee on information requests in 2011.
The report indicated that the provincial government paid $680,000 to process RTI requests in 2013-14. It also noted that two requests covering a power outage cost roughly $50,000 to process.
The report also pointed out that public bodies, which are covered by the act, also suggested imposing new fees on citizens to search and copy documents.
For instance, the report said public bodies argued that fees could be applied for searching for documents or copy public documents. The public bodies also suggested bureaucrats give citizens estimates on how much it would cost to process a request and then collect half of the fee up front.
There were 581 information requests made to provincial departments in 2013-14, up from 462 in 2012-13.The number of RTIs has increased in recent years but the report said New Brunswick "continues to have the lowest number of RTI requests per capita in Canada."

Transport vehicles go off roads from Oct 1 to protest rising toll.

Pune Mirror: Pune: Saturday, August 29, 2015.
All commercial transport vehicles, including buses and trucks, will participate in a nationwide indefinite strike from October 1 this year, protesting the fact that there has been no response from the central government regarding the toll policy. The decision was taken at a joint meeting of all transporters on Friday, claiming that they could no longer sustain the financial burden of increasing toll charges.
All India Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC), an apex body of transporters — both cargo and passenger — had sent a memorandum on this to the Ministry of Road Transport, Highways and Shipping last month.
"To build the momentum, we had met senior ministry officials. On August 18, an emergency meeting of the managing committee was called and the decision taken to wait for the government's response till August 25. If it did not come, we would roll out our plan of action to halt transportation operations," said Baba Shinde, a committee member.
Under the Right to Information Act (RTI), it was found that toll rates have increased by 60 per cent, without any increase in road user-friendly policies. Every year, the toll rate is increased by 18 per cent, which has no justification, said agitators.
AIMTC president Bhim Wadhwa said, "There is no uniform toll policy and individual agreements are entered into for each toll road are Build Operate Transfer (BOT) basis . When the National Highways Rules of 1997 were in force, there were more public-funded projects than private investment projects. The new 2008 Act seems to have been designed to encourage BOTbased projects, empowering private parties to determine toll at their own rates and categories."
Shinde added, "All transport vehicles, including private buses, trucks and other heavy vehicles, will go off the road. We have tried to discuss the issue and solve it, but received no response."

Student uses RTI to bypass NU red tape

Times of India: Nagpur: Saturday, August 29, 2015. 
A student and RTI activist counfounded the Nagpur University bureaucracy by obtaining copy of her answer sheet in 10 days that was taking weeks through official channels.
Ankita Shah, a student of third year at Central India College of Law and an RTI activist, applied for a photocopy of her answer sheet of Human Rights subject on July 24 by paying Rs350. More than a month later, she is yet to get it. She played smart by applying for a copy of same answersheet under RTI on July 14. To her utter surprise, she received it just over a week later on July 23, that too for just Rs40, from the same authorities. Even for its inspection, NU just charged her Rs10.
Interestingly, the university is not allowing her to apply for revaluation on the basis of copy obtained under RTI even though winter examinations would be conducted in October-November and most probably her revaluation results would not be announced by that time. Controller of examinations (COE) Anil Hirekhan (additional charge) justified NU's decision. He insisted she must go through usual procedure defined in the Maharashtra Universities Act, 1994, as there was no mention of photocopy obtained through RTI.
"It was just a single application and therefore, we managed to provide her instantly. The request of photocopies for revaluation come to NU through respective colleges. As those are in a bunch, it takes time to retrieve them from godown and make photocopies. In fact, the revaluation procedure itself is lengthy and NU authorities can't help it, unless changes are made in the existing Act," he said.
Shah accused NU of deliberately delaying the revaluation to earn money from students, who were already under the financial burden. "For same photocopy of my answer-sheet I paid Rs350 to NU, which I got for just Rs40 through RTI. In fact, those Rs40 were not needed as RTI authority allows one to inspect the original for just Rs10. Only if you want a copy you have to pay based on number of pages. Even though there was no use of photocopy, I decided to take it."
Her examination concluded on May 11 and results were announced on July 13. The deadline for applying for photocopies was July 24 while that for revaluation was July 27. "From this, it was amply clear that NU wanted to earn money as we have to pay a whopping Rs2,000 towards exam fees even if we fail in a single subject. In a majority of cases, the revaluation results are declared after winter exams. Moreover, 85% students clear their subjects in revaluation but still unnecessarily have to pay winter exam fees and also put in effort to study, thus wasting precious time and money," Shah said.
She also wrote to VC Siddharthvinayaka Kane in this regard. Hirekhan informed that such problems would not crop up in future as NU had initiated a series of reforms for expediting results. "From winter exams, the photocopies would be issued from spot evaluation centres themselves, thus saving about a month's time. Moreover, the answer books would be evaluated from the same centre and not sent to godown which would help in fast declaration of results," he said.

RTI does not hamper, it is best bet for Political Parties.

The Hans India: Hyderabad: Saturday, August 29, 2015.
The affidavit submitted to Supreme Court last week by Department of Personal and Training of NDA Government should not put an end the ongoing public debate on whether political parties come under RTI Act or not. Given the wooly nature of the argument, it should ignite the discourse. Why should bringing political parties under the ambit of RTI Act cause a rage? How come every one concerned except political parties described that CIC’s order as land mark? The Government’s argument that RTI will affect the functioning of political parties, if Central Information Commission’s order is implemented is imaginary. This retrograde step is same as UPA Government’s.
UPA Government even considered of an Ordinance to bail out political parties from RTI. Such a view is nothing short of depriving democracy of its credible credentials. But, thanks to increased activism of civil society, political parties no longer could escape from transparency wave sweeping the country. In 2005 when RTI Act came into force, most bureaucrats too had similar apprehensions as political parities now. But, after Service Guarantee Act was adopted by state after state, no such reservations were there. I said then that once after an initial period, political parties too stand to benefit.
The CIC order meant that political parties are answerable to citizens of the country. Are they not expected even otherwise? But parties have been under constant scrutiny about their funds, sources as well as expenditure? Even those contributing to political parties could be in public purview without even their knowledge and consent. Information seekers could be of an opposing party or opponents from within. Contrary to what is feared, functioning of the parties will be streamlined much sooner than otherwise. In a competitive politics who does not like to gear up better for the future and consolidate. This is what adopting to RTI provisions amounts to. This opportunity is not possible for political parties any other way.
What is new?
As it is, it is already mandatory for the political parties to file their income tax returns (although exempted from paying such a tax) and also to the Election Commission (EC). Their accounts are expected to be audited by a registered Chartered Accountant. Apart, the contesting candidates, irrespective of the poll outcome, have to file affidavits on poll expenditure to the EC within a specified period.
And, candidates are obligated to file affidavit as to their assets, finances and give details of criminal background. As such there is no justification for knee jerk reactions to the Supreme Court’s enquiry on non-compliance of CIC’s Order by parties. The sooner political parties get to adopt to RTI, the more credible they could become. To that extent our democracy will be robust and responsive. 
Has the declaration of finances and criminal background by contesting candidates in the case of Assembly and Lok Sabha made any difference? Most states had at least two elections since such a declaration was made an obligation. Voters were expected to choose the candidate based on such information declared. And parties are expected to select those with no or least criminal background. And yet the percent of those with criminal background in the Lok Sabha, for example, has hardly declined. Assets and finances of many have increased unusually between elections going by their own declaration. With RTI in force, scope for “conflict of interest” in political donations could perhaps be exposed and minimized. Ultimately it is the voters who could make the difference. With parties under RTI, the much expected change in the functioning of peoples reps could come faster. RTI now offers a way out for political parties stuck in a chakra vyouh like situation. They are otherwise not able to get out of a vicious syndrome, however they wish to get out. RTI provides them an opportunity.
Avail suo-moto clause 
Initially there would be all kind of queries for information and almost in a deluge. But that is something parties need to gear up and get used to in an inclusive spirit rather than getting panicky. A provision in RTI Act is Section 4 with suo-moto clause. Under this parties could put out information on vital decisions and operations on their own for public purview in a pre-emptive way. If parties put out on their own what their finances are and the source most suspense is over. Lok Satta did that in AP and AAP too did that initially in Delhi. Some of the recent scams would not have hogged headlines had the concerned leaders bared the facts in a suo-moto way. 
However there is one area that could be a concern to political leaders. That is to do with poll strategies which parties tend to evolve to score over adversaries. Leaders do not like opponents know such competitive information. But this is only a short term problem. Given the kind of competing news media we have and political parties themselves owning news media, they are already at that game of snooping for tactical information. In the last couple of national polls, parties have coped with such a reality, including bringing to book “quid-pro transactions”. So, the apprehensions the affidavit of the Government argues could only be short-lived, but the benefits in the long run would be all round and to all stakeholders. We need to see that political parties stand the litmus test by coming under RTI. The CIC’s order should be welcomed and adopted fast by parties even at this stage as AAP did this week. 
Considering the far reaching implications of RTI regime for consolidating the democratic practices we should not look at CIC order in legal terms. The issue is not so much whether our political parties should be considered as “public authorities” or not. If a political party does not take any benefits from the Government but active in electoral politics of the country, is that going to be exempted from RTI? More important issue is should they come out of a syndrome scenario and function responsively. RTI has immense potential to help everyone in a win-win way particularly the political parties. In a spirit of “checks and balance”, parties need to gear up, adopt and move into better systems and practices and come out of current gloom political parties generally are today. 
I even suggest it will be graceful on the part of political parties to come together and welcome the opportunity to come under RTI and indicate their anxiety to move on to the next level of our Parliamentary democracy. They could also come to an understanding and reflect their determination to put information on a suo- moto basis particularly wherever conflict of interest potential exist. They could even come up with proposals for consideration of CIC for certain exemptions. For example access to files or minutes of party meetings or giving information beyond a five year time reference. And giving information pertaining to specifics about regional units of national parties could be exempted. They could even appeal citizens not to seek information which is already put in public domain and not to expect replies individually as they are not geared up to respond to every applicant. 
Transparency should be seen as part of public culture, a movement for good governance and in an inclusive way. RTI should not be seen merely as a tool against corruption. It could also help free and fair elections, representative functioning of legislatures, a more responsive administration and political parties. That is why CIC’s order need to be seen much beyond a legal scope. This Government affidavit before Supreme Court should not cold shoulder the initiatives of CIC and Supreme Court. The issue is not whether political parties are public authorities or not but how well they could play their role and how even better they could function to take the country much beyond the present level of free and fairness of polls and pride of place in the comity of nations.
Dr N Bhaskara Rao 

Violation of RTI Act: UT designates Registrar (Colleges) as first appellate authority.

Indian Express: Chandigadh: Saturday, August 29, 2015. 
In a violation of the Right to Information (RTI) Act which says that the first appellate authority should be a senior officer in rank to the Central Public Information Officers (CPIO), the UT Education Department recently issued a circular designating the Registrar Education (Colleges) as the first appellate authority. 
The circular reads, “In pursuance of the Chandigarh Administration, department of Personnel letter regarding Enactment/ Enforcement of Right of Information Act, 2005, orders to designate Appellate Authority, Central Public Information Officers and Central Assistant Public Information Officers and Central Assistant Public Information Officers for Higher Education Department were issued.” 
It has been further written, “In accordance with provision contained under Section 5 and 19 of the said Act, the officers/officials are designated as Appellate Authority, CPIO to disseminate information in respect of office of DHE, government colleges and institutes.” - 
H C Arora, advocate, Punjab and Haryana High Court, and an RTI Activist, commenting on this, said, “The first appellate authority should be a senior person to whom the CPIOs can file appeals. If the registrar has been made the appellate authority, it is a violation of the RTI Act.” 
However, as per the official website of the Chandigarh Administration, the Director Higher Education (DHE) is the first appellate authority to disseminate the information in respect of the office of Director Higher Education, government colleges and institutes. 
The website also mentions the Registrar (Colleges) as the CPIO. Registrar(Colleges) Arjun Dev was earlier the CPIO (Colleges) and has been now designated as the appellate authority. The orders were passed by former DPI (Schools) and Director Higher Education Kamlesh Kumar Bhadoo. 
Sources said the Registrar (Colleges) falls under the category of Pay Band 3 of Rs 15600-Rs 39,100, while the current CPIOs and principals of the government colleges are under the Pay Band 4 of Rs 37,400-Rs 67,000, with an Academic Grade Pay (AGP) of Rs 10,000. Thus, the Registrar (Colleges) is a sub-ordinate to the college principals and is not eligible to be designated as the first appellate authority.

Friday, August 28, 2015

More than 600 leases on farmland for mining, state opposition cries foul

Times of India: Dehradun: Friday, August 28, 2015.
In gross violation of many mining guidelines including Section 157 of the Zamindari Abolition and Land Reforms Act, 1963, which says that the individual holder of agricultural land can only lease the plot for agriculture and allied activities and not for mining purposes, an RTI reply has revealed that more than 600 mining leases were granted across the state in the last three years.
The opposition BJP has blamed the Congress for this alleged violation and corruption. "This government is deeply involved in corruption and in violating all the rules and regulations. This scam is proof that they have nothing to do with the concern of the people," said Anil Baluni, national spokesperson for the BJP at a press conference in Haldwani.
BJP leaders also mentioned that at least 113 properties on which the leases were granted were mortgaged with banks. Prakash Pant, former cabinet minister, pointed out that the individual plots could not be granted for mining. "First of all, the land which becomes inundated by water overflowing from a river becomes government property. An individual cannot enter into any sort of the agreement on his own because he gets compensation for that land," Pant said.
He added, "Second, if you go through the documents, it is clear that the individuals entered into an agreement for the mining of land which was previously theirs but later got inundated by the river. This needs a probe. How can one have an agreement for land that is part of the riverbed?" Interestingly, the size of these plots, on which mining lease were granted, go up to 90 sq yd.
The BJP leaders also alleged that this was a 'multimillion rupee scam' and the Congress government was in collusion with the mining mafia. "This is not only a big scam but also harmful for the ecosystem of the region. Riverbeds are crumbling due to excessive quarrying," added Pant.

CIC directs MoEF to trace files of Polavaram

Live Law: New Delhi: Friday, August 28, 2015.
Central Information Commission directed the Ministry of Environment & Forests to take corrective steps to trace all the files pertaining to Polavaram National Project under construction in Andhra Pradesh. Commissioner Prof M Sridhar Acharyulu, in an order on 25th August 2015  warned that losing of records will violate both statutes – Public Records Act and Right to Information Act. Mr D Suresh Kumar filed second appeal as the PIO of Ministry claimed that files recording correspondence about ‘stop work’ orders of Polavaram were not traceable. The appellant complained that in 5 out of 7 RTI Applications, the respondent ministry officers claimed that the records were not traceable.  The respondent Public Information Officer submitted that due to lack of staff, he is unable to trace the files. However, he assured that information will be furnished to the applicant in 3 weeks time. He has also provided the Commission with whatever latest information that he could trace in relation to Stop Order of the Polavaram Project.
The officers sought some more time to trace the records in this case. The Commission notices that the Ministry has higher responsibility to maintain the file records of ISPP because it was declared as National Project.
Polavaram being a controversial national project with an impact in Andhra Pradesh, newly added villages from Telangana, Odisha and Chattisgarh, causing submergence of hundreds of tribal villages, assumes huge importance. Though Environmental Clearance (EC) was given in 2005; that has been set aside by the National Environmental Appellate Tribunal NEAA in 2007. However AP High Court has brought back the EC into existence setting aside the judgment of NEAA. Based on later developments and substantial changes in the project, the EC was revisited by the Environmental Appraisal Committee EAC in 2009. Ministry has issued the STOP WORK order in 2011. The work is going on in the project on the strength of order of abeyance of the Stop Work order since 2013 being issued for every six months.
The CPIO has brought a copy of letter dated 3rd July 2015 No. DO No. J-12011/8/2009-IA.I(Pt)  written by Mr Prakash Javadekar, Minister of State (Independent Charge) to Mr Chandrababu Naidu, Chief Minister of AP, which said “my ministry noted that AP Government has been taking up the matter of public hearing with Odisha and Chattisgarh regularly and necessary funds have been already deposited. Efforts have however, not translated into action as yet”. Union Minister requested AP CM to keep engaged with the two neighbouring States at various levels without losing steam so that the long pending issue of public hearing can culminate into fruition.  Environment Minister also said: With the anticipation that the pending public hearing will be resolved through discussions and persistent engagement with Odisha & Chattisgarh, my Ministry has taken a decision to keep the ‘stop work order’ in abeyance for a period of one year.”
No Reservoir till Public Hearing in Odisha, Chhatisgarh
Mr Biswanth Sinha Joint Secretary in an Office Memorandum dated 23.6.2015 attached to the above letter of Environment Minister asked the Government of AP shall ensure that the public meetings are conducted in the states of Chattisgarh and Odisha during the first 3-6 months of this period of one year and submit outcome of the public hearing to MOEF & CC. This order is subject to any Court order in the matter.
In this Office Memorandum the Ministry reminded earlier assurance of the Government of AP not to impound the reservoir of the project till the issue raised by the states of Chattisgarh and Odisha are resolved, and said: “this ministry reiterated this and asked Andhra Pradesh Government not to impound the reservoir without specific permission from this Ministry. It is also noted that the completion of the works of dam and associated remaining works would take about ¾ years time.  The Government of AP has assured that it would bring about changes in design and operating parameters of the project in case so warranted as a result of public hearings in Chhatisgarh and Odisha and such changes would be carried out in consultation with the CWC and the consent of all the states; as stipulated vide agreement dated 2.4.1980 would be obtained. In that case change in design or/and operating parameters may be required to ensure that area falling in the state of Chhatisgarh and Odisha does not come under submergence due to the impounding of the project reservoir.  MoEF &CC has issued directions under Section 5 of EP Act 1986 vide letter of even number/dated 11.3.2013 asking the Andhra Pradesh Government not to impound reservoir of the project without specific permission of this Ministry. This direction is and shall remain in force unless stated otherwise. Andhra Pradesh Government informed that an expenditure of about Rs. 5377 crores has been incurred in the project till 30.6.2015.
The Commission directed the public authority to provide necessary support to PIO so that he could take enough efforts to provide the requisite information within 3 weeks from the date of hearing as assured by the representing officers. The Commission directs the PIO to place that information and all correspondence among the AP, Chhatisgarh, Odisha and MoEF & CC regarding public hearing and other aspects of ISPP along with the copies of documents given today, in the official website of the MoEF.
In another second appeal by D Suresh Kumar, the Commission directed the MoEF to upload the Polavaram Project’s records, especially the number and names of the villages that face submergence due to this project on its website within one month from the date of hearing. Making all records available is very important requirement because the AP Government has to conduct Public Hearings in both Odisha and Chhatisgarh states on the changed dimensions and designs of the Indira Sagar Polavaram Project (ISPP). Public Information Officer Mr. P.V. Subba Rao submitted that all the efforts from Ministry are on to place Polavaram Records on MoEF’s website as soon as possible. He told Commission that on his request AP government has provided information in softcopy. But, they could not upload as that file size was too big which would be uploaded in three weeks.

आरटीआई से मिली जानकारी ‘आलू-प्‍याज का स्‍टॉक सीमा तय नहीं’

Rashtriya Khabar: Ranchi: Friday, August 28, 2015.
फेडरेशन चेम्बर के एक प्रतिनिधिमण्ंडल ने खाद्यान्न व्यवसायी, रांची चेम्बर और आलू-प्याज विक्रेता संघ के पदाधिकारियों के साथ उपायुक्त और एसडीओ से मुलाकात की । रांची के कई दाल मिलों एवं बाजार प्रांगण के कई प्रतिष्ठानों में जिला प्रशासन द्वारा छापामारी और भंडारण सीमा को लेकर दाल मिलों पर प्राथमिकी दर्ज किये जाने को लेकर व्यापारियों ने दोनों अधिकारियों से बातचीत की।
प्रतिनिधिमंडल ने कहा कि खाद्यान्न, खादय तेल, चीनी एवं दालों के भंडारण सीमा की जानकारी अधिकारियों से सूचना के अधिकार के तहत मांगी गयी थी। अधिकारियों ने बताया था कि इन वस्तुओं पर कोई भी स्टॉक सीमा नहीं है। यह भी कहा गया कि इस तिथि के बाद यदि कोई नया स्टॉक सीमा उपरोक्त वस्तुओं पर निर्धारित हुआ हो तो, फेडरेशन ऑफ झारखण्ड चेम्बर ऑफ कॉमर्स एण्ड इन्डस्ट्रीज एवं रॉंची चेम्बर तथा व्यापारियों को इसकी सूचना दी जायेगी।
आलू-प्याज विक्रेता संघ और खाद्यान्न व्यवसायियों ने मूल्य पर कंट्रोल करने की भी बात कही।
चेम्बर महासचिव पवन शर्मा ने कहा कि रांची की आवश्यकता की पूर्ति उत्पादक तथा निर्यातक राज्यों पर निर्भर है। वर्तमान छापेमारी से व्यवसाय जगत में भय व्याप्त है जो वस्तुओं की उपलब्धता एवं मूल्य पर प्रतिकूल असर डालेगा। भय के कारण सही व्यापार कम होंगे और अवसर का लाभ उठानेवाले को मौका मिलेगा, जिसका सीधा प्रभाव आम उपभोक्ता पर पड़ेगा।

सरकार के पास नहीं स्मार्ट सिटी का कोई मॉडल, RTI में हुआ खुलासा

Patrika: Chandigarh: Friday, August 28, 2015.
एक तरफ केंद्र सरकार ने बृहस्पतिवार को देश के 100 स्मार्ट सिटी की सूची जारी की है वहीं दूसरी तरफ इस योजना को देशभर में अमली रूप देने वाले शहरी विकास मंत्रालय को यह तक नहीं पता है कि इस प्रोजैक्ट के तहत लोगों को किस-किस तरह की सुविधाएं मिलेंगी। यही नहीं मंत्रालय यह बता पाने में भी असमर्थ है कि प्रधानमंत्री नरेंद्र मोदी के संसदीय क्षेत्र वाराणसी में जापान की मदद से क्या-क्या विकास परियोजनाएं शुरू की जा रही हैं।
केंद्रीय शहरी विकास मंत्रालय के नेतृत्व में चलाई जाने वाली स्मार्ट सिटी परियोजना के संबंध में पानीपत निवासी आरटीआई कार्यकर्ता पी.पी.कपूर ने सूचना अधिकार के तहत कई जानकारियां मांगी। मंत्रालय किसी भी सवाल का संतुष्टीजनक जवाब दे पाने में असमर्थ रहा है।
100 स्मार्ट सिटिज के लिए दो हजार करोड़
आरटीआई में पता चला है कि मोदी सरकार द्वारा चालू वित्त वर्ष में प्रत्येक स्मार्ट सिटी पर मात्र 20 करोड़ खर्च किए जाएंगे। कपूर के जवाब में भारत सरकार के शहरी विकास मंत्रालय के निदेशक (स्मार्ट सिटीज) मुनीष गर्ग ने बताया कि चालू वित्त वर्ष में भारत सरकार ने 100 स्मार्ट सिटिज के लिए दो हजार करोड़ रूपये की धन राशि केंद्रीय बजट में रखी है। यह वर्ष 2019-20 तक चलेगी। इन स्मार्ट सिटी में क्या सुविधाएं होंगी, इस सवाल का जवाब स्पष्ट नहीं दिया गया। इस बारे में कहा गया कि सरकार ने स्मार्ट सिटी के लिए कोई विशिष्ट मॉडल तय नहीं किया है। एक साईज-फिटस-ऑल की पद्धति नहीं है। प्रत्येक शहर को स्मार्ट सिटी के लिए अपनी स्वयं की संकल्पना, विजन, मिशन और योजना (प्रस्ताव) बनाने होंगें। जो उसके स्थानीय संदर्भ, संसाधनों और महत्वाकांक्षाओं के अनुरूप हो। इसके लिए चयनित शहरों को अपने विजन, संसाधन जुटाने की योजना और अवसंरचना (इन्फ्रास्ट्रक्चर) के उन्नयन और स्मार्ट अनुप्रयोगों के संदर्भ में वांछित परिणामों सहित अपने स्मार्ट सिटी प्रस्ताव (एम०सी०पी) तैयार करने होंगें।
पिछले वर्ष प्रधानमंत्री नरेंद्र मोदी की जापान यात्रा के दौरान प्रधानमंत्री के संसदीय क्षेत्र वाराणसी व जापान के क्योटो शहर के बीच सहभागी शहर संबद्धता समझौता भारत व जापान सरकार में हुआ था। इसके तहत दोनों शहरों के बीच आधुनिकीकरण, विरासत रखरखाव, कला-संस्कृति, शिक्षा के क्षेत्र में आपसी सहयोग होगा।
कितनी धनराशि का प्रावधान
यह कार्य कब शुरू होगा व कब संपन्न होगा इसके बारे में भी मंत्रालय को कोई जानकारी नहीं है। हालांकि शहरी विकास मंत्रालय के सचिव की अध्यक्षता मेें समझौते के क्रियान्वन के लिए संचालन समिति गठित की गई है। प्रधानमंत्री नरेन्द्र मोदी के संसदीय क्षेत्र के कायाकल्प के लिए केन्द्र सरकार ने कितनी धनराशि का प्रावधान किया है व कुल प्रोजैक्ट राशि कितनी है, इसके बारे में भी मंत्रालय को कोई जानकारी नहीं है।

SC rejects RTI plea seeking copies of Ajit Pawar’s I-T returns

Indian Express: Mumbai: Friday, August 28, 2015.
The Supreme Court has refused to entertain a plea by former Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi, who wanted copies of the Income Tax returns of former Maharashtra deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar under the RTI Act. A bench of Justice M Y Eqbal and Justice C Nagappan declined Gandhi’s appeal against the Bombay High Court order, saying there was no merit in his arguments.
Gandhi who is currently the honourary chairman of the Technical Advisory Committee set up by the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai to advise on RTI, had in 2012 sought Pawar’s I-T returns. Pawar, who is the nephew of NCP chief Sharad Pawar, was the deputy CM during that period.
Gandhi had reasoned: “There is a larger public interest in disclosing this information to compare his (Pawar’s) affidavit given to the Election Commission with his Income Tax returns.”
Since the information pertained to a third party, the public information officer in the Income Tax department wrote to Pawar, seeking his consent but the politician reportedly opposed the disclosure.
Gandhi then moved the Bombay HC. He contended that the information, which cannot be denied to the Parliament or the State Legislature, cannot be denied to a citizen.
In June this year, the HC junked his plea, citing the Supreme Court decisions that IT returns constitute personal information. About the disclosure before Parliament and State Legislature, the HC said they have their own rules of business and no parallel can be drawn.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

21.4% of Indians consume alcohol, 3% hooked to cannabis, says RTI reply

Times of India: New Delhi: Thursday, 27 August 2015.
Punjab, Maharashtra, Manipur, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh are among the top 10 states where consumption of alcohol and narcotic drugs is higher than the rest of the country, according to a RTI response from home ministry.
Quoting a survey conducted by the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC), the National Institute of Social Defence, a wing of MHA, has submitted that 21.4% Indians consume alcohol while 3% consume cannabis. The RTI was filed by a Delhi resident Ved Pal following recent cases of lives lost due to consumption of illicit alcohol in the country.
The RTI reply also mentions the list of 19 states and Union Territories that are in "major grasp" of alcohol and drugs. Seven of these states are from north India including Delhi, Himachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. Except Arunachal Pradesh and Tripura, all other states from the North East are in the list.
"Governments take the credit that they have earned crores of rupees through taxes and excise duty from the sale of alcohol. But governments should not be into this money making business. The entire amount that they have earned so far should be spent on creating awareness against consumption of alcohol and the rehabilitation of the addicts," Ved Pal said.
The UNODC study on "National Survey on Extent, Pattern and Trends of Drug Abuse in India" that was released in 2004 had found that alcohol, cannabis and opiates are the major substances of abuse in India and the prevalence of drug abuse among males is significant. It had also found how women face the worst and are under huge burden if any member in their families is addicted to alcohol or drugs.
It had recommended the need to have schemes to attract drug users for treatment and developing programmes for vulnerable groups such as youth, street children, women and prisons.

RTI activist has 238 appeals pending

Times of India: Chennai: Thursday, 27 August 2015.
He has filed more than 200 appeals after his RTI queries remained unanswered. But almost all the appeals are pending for the past three years. At one point, an information commissioner also questioned the motive behind his persistence. But the indifference of the information commission has only hardened the resolve of this senior citizen to seek the truth.
M Thuyamurthy, 66, may probably have the maximum number of pending RTI appeals, 238 to be precise, before the commission. "I was shocked when recently information commissioner Christopher Nelson asked me during an appeal hearing why I was filing too many RTIs. They should first answer why they are not enforcing Section 4 of the RTI Act, which mandates proactive disclosure of information on the websites of government departments," said Thuyamurthy as he showed copies of the appeals.
When contacted, Nelson declined to comment on the matter.
Thuyamurthy said Tamil Nadu Information Commission (TNSIC) has not taken any action against public information officers (PIOs) for delaying or denying information to the applicants under the RTI Act. "Government departments are reluctant to disclose sufficient information on their websites even 10 years after the implementation of the Act. There is no need to file RTIs if sufficient information is available on the websites of the respective departments," he said. "A majority of the PIOs are giving incomplete or no replies to RTI applicants even after a first appeal. The information would be irrelevant if it is kept pending for several years," said Thuyamurthy, who has filed several RTI applications on building violations, illegal eateries, discrepancies in property and professional tax.
The activist said most government departments have not displayed the boards with the names, designations, addresses, contact numbers of PIOs and the First Appellate Authority on the premises in violation of RTI rules. "Even TNSIC's website has not disclosed the annual reports since 2008 and the total numbers of appeals and complaints pending before the commission. How will they enforce the RTI Act in other departments," he asked.
A TNSIC official said some applicants are filing unnecessary questions under RTI Act. "The RTI Act should not be misused to interfere with routine work of government officials," he said.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Bombay HC rejects plea on judges’ assets.

Bureaucracy Today: Mumbai: Wednesday, August 26, 2015.
A petition seeking details of assets of judges under the RTI Act was turned down by Bombay High Court, stating that the Chief Justice has the capacity in his fiduciary but is sub-judiced before the apex court. 
The court dismissed the petition filed by city advocate Mathews Nedumpara, challenging the orders of the public information officer and the appellate officer that the information could not be furnished as the matter is pending before the Supreme Court. 
However, Nedumpara in his petition had claimed that if the details and contents of the declaration are furnished to the Chief Justice it should be disclosed to members of the public, Bureaucracy Today has learnt.