Sunday, June 24, 2018

NABARD figures misleading

The Sentinel: Mumbai: Sunday, June 24, 2018.
The National Bank for Agiculture & Rural Development (NABARD) had said in a statement on Friday that demonetised notes presented to district cooperative central banks (DCCBs) in Maharashtra were higher than those deposited in Gujarat, followed by Kerala. This statement, in essence, may be misleading. According to RTI information secured by Mumbai activist Manoranjan S. Roy, Maharashtra’s 30 DCCBs (out of total 370) secured deposits of Rs 3,985 crore worth of banned notes averaging to Rs 132.83 crore per bank. But, neighbouring Gujarat’s 18 DCCBs were way ahead in average terms in securing deposits of old notes worth Rs 3,640 crore or an average of Rs 202 crore per DCCB.
What is important is the average amount garnered by each DCCB, not the total amount in the state. In average terms, Gujarat tops the list followed by Kerala, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu in India, as per the RTI documents released earlier by NABARD. Next to Gujarat in the list is Kerala with 13 DCCBs getting deposits of Rs 2,094 crore, averaging to Rs 161 crore per DCCB. It is followed by Karnataka’s 20 DCCBs which got deposits of Rs 1,849 crore, averaging to Rs 92 crore per DCCB.
Tamil Nadu’s 22 DCCBs collected total deposits of Rs 1,514 crore, averaging to Rs 69 crore per DCCB. On Thursday, IANS had released a story, based on RTI replies to Roy, on how the Ahmedabad District Cooperative Bank (ADCB) which has BJP President Amit Shah as one of its directors collected the highest amount of Rs 745.59 crore among DCCBs in the country. This amount was collected within five days after the prime minister announced demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes on November 8, 2016. The DCCBs were banned from depositing or changing old notes after the initial five-day window on fears that black money may be laundered through this route.
On Friday, the NABARD had defended ADCB saying that only 9.37 per cent or 1.6 lakh customers of the bank had deposited the total amount and the average deposit amounted to Rs 46,795 crore. Roy and others have expressed surprise at why NABARD was acting as “a spokesperson” for the Ahmedabad DCCB. “At this rate, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) may be compelled to justify objectionable goings-on in big banks like Punjab National Bank or ICICI Bank. This is not a healthy trend for the country,” Roy said. (IANS)
Goyal ‘forced’ NABARD to issue statement: Congress
New Delhi, June 23: The Congress on Saturday alleged that Finance Minister Piyush Goyal had “forced” NABARD to issue a statement “to hide the demonetisation scam by BJP President Amit Shah” and demanded that audit reports, including those of NABARD, be made public. Accusing the BJP government of giving “patronage to scamsters”, the Congress also said that another bank fraud worth Rs 2,000 crore, by the D.S. Kulkarni (DSK) group of companies, had come to the fore in Maharashtra. He alleged that NABARD deliberately omitted its own RTI findings which reflected that a whopping Rs 3,118.51 crore worth of old notes were deposited within the first five days of demonetisaton in 11 Gujarat Co-operative Banks “closely associated” with BJP leaders. (IANS)

Don’t confuse ‘Right’ with Hindutva : Aakar Patel

Deccan Chronicle: Opinion: Sunday, June 24, 2018.
I had a small part in a very interesting discussion this week, which included Aruna Roy, the Carnatic singer and writer T.M. Krishna and activist Nikhil Dey. Ms Roy and Mr Dey are part of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, a movement whose struggle gave India the Right to Information Act. Ms Roy was also on the National Advisory Council of the previous government, under whose guidance India legislated very humane laws like the MGNREGA and the right to food and right to education, other than, of course, the RTI. I cannot remember a period of five years ever in our history when such terrific laws were legislated (which of course is the primary task of the government). At the end of the discussion, one of the questions was addressed to Ms Roy and it was why she only opposed the right wing in India and not the left wing. This isolated those who were centrists.
Ms Roy’s reply was that she had never had an association with any Left party. She then said or asked if it was appropriate that those who asked for the rights of the poor to food or education be considered as Leftists. These are basic human rights and should be available to all, and it need not offend anyone of any ideology when such rights are demanded. I think she was absolutely correct in saying this. What also interested me is the fact that there have emerged in India in the last few years, the term “Right” and “right winger”. We should continually examine what they mean in our context. In Europe, where the term emerged (because of the seating arrangement in the French Parliament), and in America where it became firmly defined, the word Right in politics meant something quite specific. It meant the movement to preserve social hierarchies and promoting conservatism. So how should we understand it in India and what do its supporters want?
To see that we must first understand the words “liberal” and “Left”. The word Left again comes from the French Parliament’s seating arrangements. It means today those who wish to see more socialism in the state. This means that the state delivers more services to citizens through state ownership of services. It is accompanied by a suspicion of private businesses. And it is insistent on the state’s championing of the poor, meaning the working class and the peasantry.
The Left in India (and elsewhere in the world) defines itself with the word and has no objection to being called Leftist.
The word liberal like the word Left is also universal. The dictionary defines a liberal as someone “willing to respect or accept behaviour or opinions different from one’s own” and as someone “favourable to individual rights and freedoms”. Again liberals have no objection to being called liberal, and looking at the dictionary definition, it is easy to see why being liberal is something to aspire to. Now let us turn to the word “Right”, which is used in India to define the politics of only one party, the BJP. The interesting thing is that the BJP does not refer to its ideology as being Rightist or conservative. And this is true also of its policies and agendas. The Right in the United States stands for specific issues. On social issues it stands for being anti-abortion and anti-gay rights. On economic issues, the Right stands for lower taxes and is opposed to government participation in the market.
Can we see such a difference between “Left” and “Right” in India? No, we cannot. The BJP is not opposed to either abortion or gay rights, and in fact it was the Congress, which in the court first opposed gay rights under the last government (later reversing its position). Does the BJP stand for lower taxes? Again, this government has increased the tax burden on the citizen — and while I personally think this is the right thing for it to have done, it is not something that is associated with the “Right”. The other aspect to the term is conservatism of social order. In India that means caste system. But the BJP does not promote the continuation of the caste system and in any case our Constitution does not allow for such a thing. So we must agree that the BJP neither refers to itself as being “Right” nor do its policies conform broadly with what the world defines as being “Right”.
The fact is that the BJP has a clear definition of its ideology, and it has a name: Hindutva. We should not use and confuse the word Right to define Hindutva. Doing so blurs the issue because it gives the BJP attributes that it does not have and does not even want. The ideology of the BJP is aimed against a particular section of Indian society. This is not an accusation by me; this is how the BJP has itself framed it. It would benefit us if we were to be clear in our terminology when talking about it, whether or not we support it.
Aakar Patel is Executive Director of Amnesty International India. A former editor, Patel is a senior columnist and a translator of Urdu and Gujarati works.

In India, narratives are manufactured with an eye on power; there is a need to document history: Aruna Roy on new book

DNA: Mumbai: Sunday, June 24, 2018.
In a country where collectives, issues and principles get their due, the small granite slab in the market square at Beawar, Rajasthan, installed in 2016, was for the longest time the only tribute to the Right to Information Act (RTI) of its kind. Is The RTI Story (TRS)... going to change that?
The RTI Story (TRS) only adds to the 60-80 lakh voices raised in tribute every year! Often English-speaking, middle-class voices are the only ones amplified. Many who struggle patiently, persistently and imaginatively are forgotten. These are stories that live in a fast diminishing oral history, which, for the most part, provided colour and inspiration for action and reflection. This book is an attempt to collate such untold stories.
As unique as the book and the RTI movement which inspired it have been the launches. Tell us more.
I was always asked, "Why don't you do something more creative?" I've tried to tell people that creativity is not boxed into "art" alone. A dharna/protest is creative, and has to be able to sustain energies and communicate with multiple expressions, with seriousness and fun. The first launch in Beawar was "Guru Dakshina," a tribute to the people in the villages around Beawar and Bhim, and those in the town of Beawar, who lived the dharna through for 40 days with us in 1996. The launch was a tribute to the people of the city who watched , made tentative gestures and finally became a part of the RTI struggle. Our editor said that she'd never been to such a book launch before. "I've seen book launches with cocktails. But this beats them all a launch with a dharna."
The launches have created space to return to the history of the movement, to celebrate it, and think of the "achche din" that were, and to discuss and reflect on the current political climate, the challenges and the path ahead.
Do you see TRS... primarily as course content for social work/ public administration schools or as a template for other national movements to take a cue from?
TRS... could be both or neither. The RTI movement is one movement in the rainbow of various different people's movements fighting for social justice and equality. But some people see it as a manual, because of the causality recorded, explained and shared.
Was the use of the third person deliberate in the way you chose to write the book?
The third person is intended to make the narrator like the Indian sutradhar or the Greek chorus, a narrator and no more; to focus on story tellers and the movement's narrative. It was a device, politically and in form, to give "correctness" to the perspective to the history of the RTI movement - to highlight its collective and collaborative nature.
How long have you been working on the book? Does its release in the current socio-political climate make it more significant?
Work on the book in this form has gone on for about three years. It became more and more imperative to write the narrative. We are oral historians. Oral history had a moral context. In contemporary India, narratives are manufactured with an eye on power and electoral processes. The current political climate created the need to write. To challenge the dominant narrative of sectarian politics and centralised power. For instance in 2016, the history of the RTI Act, including its emergence from the MKSS and the village of Devdungri, was erased and removed from the textbooks in Rajasthan.
This book presents peoples' history, in the living memory of many, which can't be erased so easily, and which bears testimony to decentralisation in creating policy, legislation and finally in a dialectic between implementation and law making. It is a statement with source and context of the contribution of people; in particular the rural people of Rajasthan and their interaction with many others, to make one of its greatest laws. Centralised and unaccountable power requires the creation of a dominant narrative in an attempt to control a people and a nation. This book will hopefully be a small assertion of the opposite; that contribution of peoples' struggles make decentralisation a creative reality, and has depths of theory and policy built into it.
The RTI movement led by you has had a very long and difficult journey. What were the biggest challenges in putting the book together?
A huge collection of old records and dusty files and gathering together the history of the MKSS and the RTI struggle involved dozens of people. The biggest challenge was condensing and transforming this wealth of information into a simple and readable story that anyone could read.
Can you give us a sense of how activism in rural Rajasthan centered around minimum wages and land distribution paved the way for the RTI movement?
In the pre-sanghathan days in Devdungri, one of the early protests was at Dadi Rapat, over minimum wages for the villagers in a season of drought. People wanted work in public works and were traditionally denied fair payment. Workers who chose honesty were penalised. Lack of transparency led to questions, and the right to seek records and proof. It grew into rallies and hunger strikes in Bhim a small town. Strategies to get public space to voice the demand for justice, culminated in a new tool which was the jan sunwai or people's hearings . In these hearings, records obtained from government officials, were read out to prople. The records revealed massive corruption in the works programmes and the Right to Information movement began to gain momentum after the first public hearing in Kukarkheda, 1994.
The movement for a national Right to Information and for the Right to Work (enshrined in the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Act) have always walked hand in hand, as the initial demands for the RTI were embedded in the demand for work, wages and livelihood.
The RTI movement brought together many streams of thought. Was it difficult at times to bring inherent contradictions/differences together on the same platform?
Any movement contains multitudes of thought, philosophies, voices and people. The MKSS solved this with locating the RTI within the Constitution and those who cherished the promises we made to ourselves in its Preamble. Those who didn't support those basic values got pushed out. Others learned to work with dissent/differences, within the non-negotiable. Today there are still multitudes who own, use and shape the RTI and our understanding of it; giving it new meaning and depth every day.
While some say RTI equally empowers and liberates bureaucrats from the stranglehold of those in power, others see bureaucrats stonewalling attempts to access information. Your view.
There are different sides to this as you say. For many bureaucrats, RTI has become an important way in which they themselves can legally and safely share information with citizens and remain accountable to people they're bound to serve. There are those still afraid though they are protected and in fact required to by the law. And there are still others who see information as power, privilege and control. RTI is a both personal and political tool. It retains individual interpretations within the larger common good.
Many fear the attempts afoot to water down the RTI...
Each government, including the very government that passed the RTI Act has feared it, and tried to amend/water down its provisions within six months. The RTI is one of our only laws that directly, efficiently and simply decentralises power, to place it in the hands of citizens themselves.
Some criticism has come the way of RTI over its abuse in political and corporate rivalries. How do we ensure that this doesn't happen?
Every year 40-60 lakh RTI applications are filed across the country. It is one of the most widely used information laws in the world. Criticism of misuse for corporate and political rivalries is a red herring. Two national studies carried out in 2008 and 2014 by Satark Nagrik Sangathan (SNS) and RaaG gave statistical proof that less than 1% of the RTI applications analysed could be termed frivolous or vexatious. The study analysed orders of the Supreme Court and of various High Courts and information commissions. It also stated that the PMO acknowledged, twice, in response to RTI applications, that it had no actual evidence of misuse.
The current sociopolitical climate has shut the voluntary sector out of all dialogue. How does this affect public discourse?
The current regime practices obfuscation and misinformation. It loves power over citizens and can't allow something like an independent, dissenting civil society to function. Public discourse has become overrun by the ideology of those in power who can't bear to hear any voices other than their own.
If I ask you to pick one success story close to your heart of how RTI has touched lives which will it be?
The poor person forcing the privileged to cower in front of the typical Indian personified by RK Laxman's Common Man in a generic sense. There are so many that a selection will betray the spirit of the book!

CIC green light to DU law students

The Sunday Guardian: New Delhi: Sunday, June 24, 2018.
Students can now get access to their answer sheets under RTI Act.
The Central Information Commission (CIC) has directed the Delhi University (DU) to allow students in the Law Faculty to access their evaluated answer scripts by way of filing RTIs. Following a year long dispute between the university and the students who had approached the CIC to address the matter, the CIC announced that accessing evaluated answer scripts is a statutory right of a student under the RTI Act.
Until now, students had to make a payment of Rs 750 per paper to access a photo copy of their evaluated answer script; since there are five papers in a semester, students had to pay over Rs 3,000 to get photo copies of their evaluated answer scripts which was more than the amount of money paid by students to appear in examinations, which was around Rs 1,200.
In 2016, students and the university ended up being at odds when some students requested for the original copies of their evaluated answer sheets instead of photo copies, but the university, citing its established procedure, refused to release the copies.
Mohit Gupta, a former Law Faculty student involved in the matter then, explained, “The issue was that we were not sure of the evaluation. We wanted to see for ourselves how much marks we have been allotted. Some photo copies that were procured from earlier semester examinations had shown that often there is a calculation miskate in assessment or some answers are left unmarked etc. We have had incidents of huge number of students failing in a single semester before. Mistakes in evaluation have been one of the reasons for that.”
Narvinder Thakran, another law student, had argued, “The university preserves answer sheets only for 135 days now. Earlier, it was two years, but the university’s executive council’s 2011 order reduced the preservation period. On the other hand, the university provides answer sheets only between 61st and 75th day after the result is uploaded on the university’s website. This means that by the time the university will process by request to give me my evaluated answer script’s photo copy for which I have paid enough money, chances are that the university might have already discarded it. So, we demanded that answer scripts should be allowed to be accessed under RTI for which we only have to pay Rs 10.”
The CIC in its order observed, “Issue under consideration is in larger public interest affecting the fate of all students who wish to obtain information about their answer sheets/marks obtained which would understandably have a bearing on their future and their career prospects which in turn would ostensibly affect their right to life and livelihood. Hence, they ought to be allowed to inspect their answer sheets under RTI Act 2005.”
The CIC further observed that the university’s argument that allowing students to access their answer sheets would prove unnecessary burden on the public authority does not hold merit since timely access to information is the essence of the RTI Act.

Jail admin seeks Salman's nod before replying to RTI plea

Times of India: Jodhpur: Sunday, June 24, 2018.
A Bengaluru activist sought information from Jodhpur Central Jail administration about Salman Khan under the RTI Act. Instead of providing information to the applicant, the jail administration sought permission from Salman, asking him of his opinion!
Justifying the move, DIG (jails) Vikram Singh said since the information pertained to a third party, the jail administration required to have his permission before providing the same to the applicant. "Since the information sought by the applicant belonged to a third party , we have sought his (Salman's) permission", Singh said.
Bengaluru resident T Narsimha Murthy had moved an application under the RTI Act on April 10, seeking information that who all came to meet Salman in the jail during his judicial custody from April 5 to 7 after his conviction by the trial court in the blackbuck poaching case.

RTI applicants miffed with protracted process, allege bribery on part of officials

Times of India: Mysuru: Sunday, June 24, 2018.
It is a mite too hard to escape the irony in the plight of Right To Information (RTI) applicants in the city, with the tool conceived to combat corruption being effectively used only after the palms of a few officials in-charge are greased. RTI applicants in the city are made to run from pillar to post in various government offices including Mysuru City Corporation (MCC) and Mysuru Urban Development Authority (Muda) to get access to information that is rightfully theirs to see.
RTI activists are understandably miffed with the existing state of affairs, which they believe subverts the very purpose of the Act. “Citizens are supposed to be treated as masters under the RTI Act, but instead they are being treated as servants,” activists said.
Founder of Mysuru Grahakara Parishat (MGP) Bhamy V Shenoy recalled, with a touch of amusement, experience that an RTI activist endured, while trying to save the People’s Park. “The MGP came forward to help this activist, who wanted to obtain documents about the park to file a public interest litigation (PIL). The RTI application was submitted on May 16, and since the high court was scheduled to reopen on May 28, there was a sense of urgency to obtain the records. We wanted to help MCC save the park, but the lackadaisical attitude of the officials proved a dampener,” Shenoy told TOI.
Likening the treatment meted out to RTI applicants at the hands of officers to those of citizens during the colonial rule, Shenoy added, “An RTI query must be responded to within 30 days, but that does not mean government offices have to take up all of them.”
On the other hand, RTI activist K Ravindra endured a harrowing time at the hands of police, after he filed a case against the felling of 30 trees, including a sandalwood tree, at the Mandya police quarters. “When those who are supposed to protect the law break it, it’s highly unfortunate. Police personnel had not obtained permission to cut the trees, and they even sold a sandalwood tree. An ensuing investigation resulted in those responsible for this being fined Rs 60,000. But, when I approached the office of the Mysuru IGP to file an RTI to learn the status of the case, my request was shot down on the grounds that it was not in public interest,” Ravindra said.
He further added that government officials were very reluctant to furnish information that could prove to be ‘clinching evidence’ to prove irregularities. “Police department covers up the mess, and denies information sought by RTI applicants, by claiming that it is protected under the Official Secrets Act,” Ravindra rued.
R Dinesh too endured a similar ordeal, when he filed an RTI query at Muda office to verify land records. Expressing his outrage at the lax attitude of the officials concerned in dealing with his query, Dinesh said, “They do not take RTIs seriously. Even when the records are readily available, they hesitate to make it available to the citizens quickly. We have to make several trips to the office concerned, and more often than not, officials are not in their seats,” he added.
MCC chief promises swift action
MCC commissioner KH Jagadish dismissed charges of officials expecting bribes to clear RTI applications, but promised to look into the delay in addressing these queries. “Officials do not expect bribes. They fear they will be harassed, which is why they are afraid of taking up the responsibility of answering RTI queries,” Jagadish told TOI.
He added that he would instruct officials to dispose of the RTI applications in a swift manner, and ensure that citizens would not have to wait 30 days to access the information they were seeking.

RTI activists are finding ways to fight back against what they see as the system’s attempts to undermine the Act, and the epicentre of the battle is Mumbai.

Mumbai Mirror: Mumbai: Sunday, June 24, 2018.
Last week, a group of about 80 people gathered at a midtown event space in Mumbai for the launch of Aruna Roy’s book, The RTI Story. While the book looks back at the movement led by Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan that led to the passing of the RTI Act in 2005, uppermost on the minds of many RTI users in attendance were recent attempts to malign those who file applications Once the floor was thrown open for questions, a member of the audience stood up and asked Roy what RTI users could do about recent assertions that most of them are blackmailers.
“Even the BMC commissioner said it,” the man said, referring to statements that reportedly emanated the upper echelons of the BMC administration in January following the Kamala Mills fire. Senior BMC officials reportedly said that some RTI activists indulged in blackmail and extortion. In addition, the BMC even blacklisted Praja, an NGO that focuses on good governance, for releasing information acquired under the RTI Act, claiming that the information had been misrepresented.
Roy’s answer was simple: “Ask them for the data. Ask them for a list of names and FIRs. They won’t be able to give it because it is not true.”
What the blackmail claims are actually about, say RTI users and civil activists, is discrediting those who use RTI, which in turn is part of a larger campaign to undermine the act. “It is a formula to call RTI users blackmailers,” says Krishna Gupta, who, at 20, is one of the country’s youngest RTI activists. “This is a tactic to scare people.”
Thirteen years after the landmark RTI Act was passed an Act that is hailed as one of the best laws anywhere in the world it has proved to be extraordinarily impactful. Just this week, news broke that Rs 745.59 crore worth of banned notes were deposited with the Ahmedabad District Co-operative Bank in the first five days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced demonetisation on November 8, 2016. This was the largest amount collected by any district co-operative bank, but what made the news particularly noteworthy was that BJP president Amit Shah is one of the bank’s directors. The source of information was an RTI application filed by Manoranjan Roy, a Mumbai RTI activist.
Quite naturally, the resistance to its provisions from those in authority is growing. In Maharashtra alone, there were over 41,000 RTI appeals pending as of October 2017, according to a report by the New Delhi-based Satark Nagrik Sangathan and Centre for Equity Studies. The state also left the post of its chief information commissioner vacant between May last year and June this year, before appointing former a former state chief secretary. A study by Moneylife Foundation, an NGO that engages in advocacy and works on improving financial literacy, states that 90 per cent of information commissioners are civil servants, despite the Supreme Court saying back in 2013 that governments must also look outside the bureaucracy for candidates. Meanwhile, the central government wants to downgrade the standing of an information commissioner from that of a judge to a secretary, and is also considering amendments to the Act. More chillingly, there have reportedly been over 300 attacks against RTI users, including 51 murders. Maharashtra is the most unsafe state for RTI users, with 10 deaths and two suicides.
But across India, and especially in Mumbai, citizens are fighting back, and Shailesh Gandhi, a former central information commissioner who was also part of the campaign to enact the law, is at the forefront of the resistance. He holds workshops on the Act for citizens and government agencies, and organises campaigns in defence of it. After Mehta’s reported comments, he sent a letter to the BMC commissioner stating, “For too long have RTI users and activists tolerated the arrogance, pompousness and illegal actions of public servants who wish to continue as kings and courtiers. You and BMC are consistently insulting citizens and trying to besmirch a right, which exposes the Municipal Corporation and its misdeeds.”
According to Gandhi, the Act is being besieged on three sides. The first is that Public Information Officers (PIOs) have devised strategies of how not to give information, the second is the classification of RTI users as blackmailers and extortionists, and the third is recent rulings passed by the courts. “A lot of their interpretations are slowly strangling the law,” Gandhi told Mumbai Mirror in an interview. One such judgment Gandhi refers to is in the Girish Ramachandra Deshpande case, in which the Supreme Court denied the release of information relating to the salary of a government official, memos relating to his censure, details of gifts received and asset and investment information, on the grounds that it was personal information and, therefore, would amount to invasion of privacy. According to Professor Sridhar Acharyulu, a sitting central information commissioner, about 60 per cent of RTI applications are being rejected citing this order as precedent.
Gandhi calls the reports of blackmail an out and out lie. He says of the over 20,000 appeals he has dealt with, there was a problem with “about five percent of them”. In order to combat such accusations, he hit upon an idea of getting government bodies to upload RTI applications and their replies on their respective websites. When Gandhi came across a video of a speech made in the House by Navi Mumbai corporator Krishna Patkar, in which he accused RTI users of being extortionists, he called up Patkar, introduced himself and proposed his idea. He explained that a DoPT circular and a Maharahstra government circular stating the same idea already existed. According to Gandhi, Patkar agreed to formally propose it. “If the information is on the website, how will anyone blackmail?” says Gandhi.
In order to be more effective and to get numbers, he drafted other RTI users, who were also concerned by the growing antagonism towards them. Among them were Gupta, who gives lectures at colleges advising students on how to file RTI applications and on what issues to pursue; Sunil Ahya, a former electronic goods manufacturer turned lawyer who has been using RTI for a decade; and Naveen Saraf, a chartered accountant, who only began using RTI six months ago. Together, they convinced the corporations of Navi Mumbai, Mira-Bhayander, Nashik, Yavatmal and a handful of others. Initially, the BMC was not one of them but on May 4, corporator Alka Ketkar put forth the point of motion in the house and the resolution was approved. Of course, that’s only the first step. “The next challenge is getting it implemented and the third challenge, which is even bigger, is getting it sustained,” says Gandhi.
Sucheta Dalal, one of the co-founders of Moneylife, set up an RTI centre last year, thanks to funding the foundation received from whistleblower Dinesh Thakur, who exposed the data manipulation taking place at drugs manufacturer Ranbaxy. Along with Gandhi, her foundation is working on creating a database of decisions and figuring out how government bodies should upload their RTI data. “If all the information is not put out in a searchable manner, with headnotes and an index, it is of no use to anyone,” she says.
Gandhi has already begun collating a set of “positive decisions” from RTI commissioners that future applicants can use in their own cases, should they go to appeal. The idea is to create a bank of precedents so that applicants are better able to argue their side, especially in front of commissioners who might be sympathetic towards the government.
Gandhi is also critical of the time it takes for commissioners to handle appeals. While the law mandates 30 days for Public Information Officers to respond and 30 to 45 days for first appeals to be heard, there is no time limit for second appeals before a commissioner. “There is no accountability for the Commissioners but there is a moral responsibility,” says Gandhi.
Every year 40 to 60 lakh RTI applications are filed in India but this is still a tiny fraction relative to India’s population. In order to increase RTI’s reach, seminars and workshops are being held across the country. There are websites, such as RTIIndia.org that provide help to anyone who wants to file an RTI application (Ahya learned about RTI from the website and today routinely answers questioned posed by others as a way of paying it back). In Mumbai, various orgnisations hold workshops, such as Moneylife Foundation and Mahiti Adhikar Manch, an RTI focused-NGO.
Every Wednesday evening for two hours, Gandhi holds a seminar at the Moneylife Foundation in Dadar, where he explains the Act and provides assistance to anyone who wants to file RTI applications.
At a recent seminar, Gandhi exhorted a group of law students interning at the Public Concern for Governance Trust to “avoid question marks” in their applications because “it will get all tangled up and will take a year.” The students were mostly interested in water and sanitation issues and Gandhi counselled them to narrow the focus of their application so the PIOs can’t claim that they are asking for too much information. “Don’t ask how many inspections were carried out. Ask for all the inspection reports for the last two years,” Gandhi said. “Ask for the minimum amount of information but it should be like an arrow.”
Saraf, the chartered accountant, has attended Gandhi’s seminars at the Moneylife foundation, and believes there should be many more of them so that people start to use RTI in their daily lives, such as when applying for a ration card. “If more people used it, then the government would not be able to undermine it because they would lose their vote bank,” he says.
Another tool contained in the pages of the RTI Act, but rarely used, is the right to inspection. It is a tool that Gupta used to inspect the Temba Hospital (a government hospital) in Bhayander because he was worried about the level of care that was available. First, he asked for a list of machinery present at or allotted to, the hospital. Once he got the list, he filed a second RTI asking to inspect the hospital under Section 2 (j) of the RTI Act. Armed with the list, Gupta can be seen alongside hospital staff opening boxes and checking their contents in a video of the inspection that was uploaded to YouTube. “We found that either the machines were not working or they were still packed. Very few machines were working,” Gupta says.
Similarly, Bhaskar Prabhu, the convenor of Mahiti Adhikar Manch, which networks with public authorities and runs open houses on how to file RTI applications every week at St. Joseph’s School in Wadala, encourages the use of the inspection clause. “People talk about [inspecting] big bridges. You need not do that. Just do a small ground or a pavement, or whether the storm water drain near you is cleaned or not,” Prabhu says. He claims if citizens do this, they will be able to reduce public spending by 20 to 30 per cent.
There is an inherent tension between the purpose of the Act, which is to disclose information, and authorities, who prefer to conceal it. At an event on the RTI organised by Moneylife Foundation last month, which was attended by over 100 people, former Maharahstra chief minister Prithiviraj Chavan said, to much laughter, that when he was in the DoPT, he was responsible for the legislation, but “when I came to Mumbai (as CM), I was on the other side and then I wanted to hide information from coming out.”
This tension creates a gulf between user and official, says Ahya. “Between government and the public, there is apprehension on both sides. Citizens think the government is not doing the right thing and the government thinks the citizen is not genuine.” However, if this attitude were to change, Ahya says, then it would be a better experience for everyone and users would be more likely to get the information they want. According to him, he has never had an unpleasant RTI experience for that reason. “If people explain things, then you can convince the other person,” he says. “It should not be personal.”
It is an approach that Prabhu endorses. “RTI is about bringing in good governance. It cannot be working against the government,” he says. In other words, there is more to the RTI than exposing corruption. It can improve efficiency and the responsiveness of government, providing it is used in that way. “Then the public authority will understand what is the need for the people,” Prabhu says.
No matter the party or parties in power, governments have tried to dilute the RTI act ever since it was passed. The first attempt at amending the Act was made about eight months after it came into law by the same government that passed it. That attempt was defeated by public protest and Roy believes the same approach will be required to stop the current government from amending the act too. “We will have to go to the streets. It is a war of attrition. We can’t give up.”

Saturday, June 23, 2018

RTI query against Salman Khan's Jodhpur jail visitors stalled, authorities to seek permission from the actor

Times Now: Mumbai: Saturday, June 23, 2018.
RTI query questioning the names and details of visitors in jail has been stalled and the reason given by the Jodhpur jail authorities is that they need to seek the permission from the actor from disclosing the names, read on the full details inside.
Bollywood Salman Khan was in Jodhpur Central Jail for 1998 blackbuck poaching case and was sentenced to five years of jail term on April 5. However, the superstar was granted bail on April 7, after spending a couple of nights in jail. Salman's jail term and bail created waves on the social media big time but then just like everything, it too settled down.But once again the pages of the book have been reopened by an activist who filed an RTI (Right To Information), insisting to know the detail and timeline of every single person who paid the visit to Salman Khan during his jail term. Now, what is creating waves you ask, the RTI filed by him has been put on hold as the jail authorities want to seek the actor's permission before disclosing the names.
According to the reports by Mirror Now, the jail authorities in reply to the RTI sent a letter stating that since it is information which is sought by the third party they would need the consent of the Bollywood actor before the information could be released.The RTI was stalled even after the 30-day deadline and even the first appeal by the applicant was treated with the stone-cold silence.
Looking at all of it, it is clear that the question of getting any kind of permission from Salman Khan shouldn't have arisen here and the RTI should have been answered. Watch the video above to get an insight into the whole situation.

JD(S) leader alleges misuse of funds in MGNREGS

Deccan Herald: Chikkamagaluru: Saturday, June 23, 2018.
JD(S) state vice president H H Devraj alleged that crores of rupees have been misused by Zilla Panchayat authorities in the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS).
He told reporters on Friday that there are various cases where grants were provided for works which were not sanctioned at all and also cases where payments are made in the names of people who are dead.
Additional payments have been made without without carrying out the work. There are lots of errors in the social audit, he said and informed that he has availed all information through RTI Act.
He further said he will submit the complaint to the Lokayukta, Rural Development Minister, chief minister and the district in-charge minister. He demanded an in-depth probe into the alleged misappropriation.
‘Suspicious’
Devraj pointed out that the Zilla Panchayat members not raising the point in the progress review meetings raises speculation over the possible involvement of the members. The misuse of funds is happening since 2016.
Many errors have been spotted in the social audit of 2016-17. Under the MGNREGS, Rs 2.71 lakh has been paid in 45 cases in 11 gram panchayats of Chikkamagaluru taluk; Rs 1.68 lakh has been paid in the favour of dead persons and benami accounts, in 48 cases in eight gram panchayats.
A total payment of Rs 4.77 lakh has been made in 24 cases in seven gram panchayats, for the physical works, after showing more measurement than the actual. It has also been directed in the audit report to recover the additional payments made towards faulty measurements.
Showing the related documents, Devraj pointed out that Rs 16.88 lakh has been paid under MGNREGS in 19 gram panchayats of Chikkamagaluru taluk, Rs 26.60 lakh in 31 gram panchayats in Kadur, Rs 15.98 in 11 gram panchayats in Koppa, Rs9.64 lakh in 15 gram panchayats of Mudigere, Rs 16 lakh in seven gram panchayats of Narasimharajapura, one lakh in four gram panchayats in Sringeri and Rs 7.29 lakh in 15 gram panchayats of Tarikere.
Benami accounts
The vice president added that Rs 2.97 lakh has been paid in favour of dead persons, benami accounts and in the names of those who have not attended to work, in 105 cases in 18 gram panchayats of Kadur.
In similar instances, payments of Rs 68,000 has been made in six gram panchayats of Koppa, Rs 78,000 in four gram panchayats of Mudigere, Rs 1.30 lakh in four gram panchayats of Narasimharajapura and Rs 9,000 in three gram panchayats of Tarikere.
JD(S) leaders Chandrappa, Jamil Ahmed, Jairaj Urs, Ramesh and Holadagadde Girish were present in the press meet.

You are paying for our netas' meals : Ashok Kumar Upadhyay

India Today: New Delhi: Saturday, June 23, 2018.
Forget about Indira Canteen, Anna Canteen, Ekushe Annapurna, Deendayal Canteen or the other government-sponsored joints that serve cheap food.
Right in the heart of Lutyens' Delhi is a canteen that serves food at enviable prices. Chicken curry for Rs 50, plain dosa for Rs 12, a vegetable thali for Rs 35, a three-course lunch for Rs 106...we are talking about the Parliament Canteen.
The Parliament Canteen is not open to the aam aadmi but only to present and former Members of Parliament, officers and staff of Parliament, and visitors holding valid passes.
But the issue is not cheap food for our parliamentarians. A bigger question is did our lawmakers lie to the public?
In 2015, there was a lot of hue and cry after it came to light that the Parliament Canteens was being subsidised to the extent of 80% of its cost.
The then BJD Lok Sabha MP Baijayant 'Jay' Panda wrote a letter to the Speaker and argued that in light of the government urging voluntary surrender of cooking gas (LPG) subsidies, by those who could afford it, MPs giving up their subsidised canteen privileges would also be "a right step in effecting greater public trust" in lawmakers.
The Lok Sabha reacted positively and its secretariat on December 31, 2015, issued a statement: "After receiving the committee's report, the Speaker has taken a number of decisions, out of which the most important is that the canteen in Parliament will now work on 'no-profit, no-loss' basis...Accordingly, the rates of various food items have been increased and these would be sold at the actual cost of making...This will be effective from tomorrow."
So effective January 1, 2016 subsidy was abolished and the rate of food increased in Parliament Canteen.
However, a query by India Today TV under the Right to Information (RTI) Act found it otherwise. Food at the Parliament Canteen is still being subsidised.
In the financial year, 2013-14 the total subsidy incurred on Parliament Canteen was Rs 14.09 crore. In 2014-15 it was to the tune of Rs 15.85. And in 2015-16 the year when the subsidy was abolished and while nine months were under subsidy the canteens had reportedly functioned for three months without any subsidy, the total subsidy bill was still Rs 15.97 crore.
In next financial year (2016-17), when there was supposed to be no subsidy at all the financial records still show a subsidy of Rs 15.40 crore; down by only Rs. 57 lakh from the previous year when by all accounts it should have been zero.
So despite the Lok Sabha secretariat's claim that subsidy had been abolished, the RTI reply to India Today TV clearly shows that the hapless taxpaying people of India are still paying for the cheap food that is the privilege of those in Parliament every day.

HC to AP chief secretary: Explain why you did not fill up RTI commissioner posts?

Times of India: Amravati: Saturday, June 23, 2018.
The Hyderabad high court on Friday gave two weeks time to the Andhra Pradesh chief secretary to file a counter affidavit within two weeks explaining why they failed in appointing information commissioners in the AP Information Commission under the provisions of Right to Information Act.
The bench of acting chief justice Ramesh Ranganathan and Justice M Ganga Rao gave this direction while hearing a contempt petition filed by M Padmanabha Reddy of Forum For Good Governance who charged the state with dodging the issue despite an assurance given to the court last year. The court issued a notice to the AP CS and sought an affidavit from him explaining the reasons for the failure on the part of the state.
In fact, it was only after a PIL was moved by the forum the states of AP and Telangana have constituted State Information Commissions. The state of Telangana could complete the process of appointing chief information commissioner and information commissioners. But the state of AP was found lagging behind here. Though it had issued orders announcing the formation of the AP Information Commission, the posts of information commissioners were not filled up so far. In September last year, AP took 8 weeks time to complete the process. Despite the passage of that the posts were not filled up leaving the RTI movement in a defunct state. It was in this background, the forum moved a contempt plea.

Property details of IAS officers: Haryana info panel to resume hearing after six years

The Indian Express: Chandigarh: Saturday, June 23, 2018.
Amid refusal by 33 IAS Haryana officers for sharing their property details under the RTI Act and 36 other bureaucrats’ consent to give the information, the State Information Commission will hear the case on June 26, resuming the hearing after six years.
According to RTI activist P P Kapoor, the previous hearing in the commission had taken place in February 2012 but “it was adjourned for indefinite period giving reference of a similar case pending before the Punjab and Haryana High Court”.
Now, the Commission has informed Kapoor it has re-constituted the division bench comprising Yoginder Paul Gupta and Hemant Atri, both State Information Commissioners.
Kapoor had approached the office of Haryana chief secretary on December 16, 2009, seeking information regarding property returns of all IAS officers, which they had given at the time of their appointments and they filed for the year 2008-09. According to Kapoor, the government had not provided the property details of the bureaucrats despite majority of them giving their consent for the same.
According to Kapoor, as many as 33 IAS officers including A Mona Sreenivas, Abhilaksh Likhi, Dheera Khandelwal, RS Gujral (now retired) and Krishna Mohan (now retired) had expressed their unwillingness to disclose their annual property returns.
However, IAS officers like PK Das, V Umashankar, Ashok Khemka, Amit Agrawal and Samit Mathur (now retired) had informed the government that they did not have any objection in sharing the property details.

Friday, June 22, 2018

DSK Group raised over Rs 700 cr from banks.

Deccan Herald: Mumbai: Friday, June 22, 2018.
The Pune-headquartered DSK Group, that is embroiled in a Rs 2,043.18 crore scam, had secured loans over Rs 700 crore from banks. From the Bank of Maharashtra (BoM), the company had secured around Rs 100 crore. The exposure includes deposit and loan fraud of Rs 1,083.7 crore, banking and non-banking financial institutions (Rs 711.36 crore), debentures (Rs 111.35 crore) and Phursungi land fraud (Rs 136.77 crore).
The DS Kulkarni Developers Limited (DSKDL), founded by D S Kulkarni, popularly known as DSK, has been in trouble for the last two years.
The DSK Group had a rag to riches story and its doors would always be open to depositors. The group's FDs have been quite popular and it gave 10% to 12% interest, much higher than the banks.
The problem began in 2016 when interest cheques of the DSK group companies began to bounce. The group has over 30,000 depositors. Also, in 2016-17, more than 250 employees had to quit their jobs. From mid-2016, people had started queuing outside the Pune office for their hard earned money. RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar unearthed the scam by filing RTI applications and blogging about it. Subsequently, depositors filed cases with the Economic Offences Wing (EOW) of the Pune Police. The EoW had of the Pune Police. The EoW had booked the Kulkarnis, DSK and his wife Hemanti, under various sections of the Maharashtra Protection of Interest of Depositors (MPID) Act, along with IPC Sections 420 (cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property), 406 (criminal breach of trust) and 34 (common intention). So far, 12 arrests have been made in the case, including relatives and employees of DSK, and BoM officials.

PMC SPENDS RS 10 LAKH TO BUILD TOILETS IN DEFUNCT SCHOOL

Pune Mirror: Vijay Chauhan: Pune: Friday, June 22, 2018.
However, engineer at Vishrambaugwada ward office justifies that it might be used for warkaris this year
When it was operational, repeated requests for repairs and furniture by Pune Municipal Corporation’s (PMC) Rabindranath Tagore Vidya Niketan School went completely unheeded. Now, after the school was shut down in June last year, the civic body has spent Rs 10 lakh to build five additional toilets on the closed premises.
The school situated in a prime location, near Sinchan Bhavan at Mangalwar Peth, reigned as a prominent institution for three decades. However, as more parents preferred to put their children in English-medium schools, its student numbers dwindled rapidly in the past few years. The PMC education board tried to keep the school functional, however, after three years of struggle, it was decided to pull the shutters and the few remaining students and staff were absorbed by another PMC-run school.
While it was open, the school authorities kept seeking funds from the civic body to repair leakages and purchase much-needed furniture. But no funds were granted. Yet, in January this year, six months after it had been locked up, PMC sanctioned Rs 10 lakh and invited tenders for building five new toilets. The school already had six of them. This is how funds meant for ward development were deployed.
Local resident, Subhash Jadav, told Mirror, “I observed the work going on at the closed campus and found it curious. I did an RTI and found out that the school administration had been demanding funds for repair of leaking roofs in its office, classrooms, toilets and also seeping water-tank. It had also sought money to buy furniture. The school was closed a year ago and suddenly this January they started building toilets here.”
Given that the non-operational school already has toilets, he saw the whole exercise as a corrupt act to grab public funds. “These toilets cannot even be used by the public as they are located inside locked premises,” he pointed out, calling for an in-depth inquiry to get to the bottom of what he calls a clear scam.
Seeking to explain the move, Ashok Zuluk, engineer attached with the Vishrambaugwada ward office concerned, said, “There was a demand from the school for the repairs and the furniture. The provision of funds was made for that. But since the school had shut down, we decided to build these toilets.” Further, in a bid to justify the project, he added, “The school may not be there to use the toilets but they can be used for warkaris during the annual wari procession. In fact, the warkaris may be accommodated in the empty school during their proposed stay in the Peth area this year.”
Another officer, on condition of anonymity, informed, “PMC has a plan to build an e-learning school on the premises, though no time frame has been set for that project. It will require far more space than available in the current facility and the entire building and its ancillary structures will be razed for the new construction at the time.”
All efforts to reach the PMC education officer, Dhananjay Pardeshi, proved futile.

India’s response to UN’s Kashmir report is distasteful, erroneous

Asia Times: Angshuman Chowdhary: Srinagar: Friday, June 22, 2018.
When the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released its first-ever report on Kashmir on June 14, India went into fierce denial. Its Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) released a sharply worded rebuttal the same day, accusing the 49-page report of building a “false narrative” and violating India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
It is understandable that New Delhi, in a tight spot, had to respond before the international community drew any hasty conclusions. But the MEA response shows nothing except taking blunt offense and boiling the entire issue down to only “terrorism.”
Is the report actually biased?
A cursory reading of the report shows that the OHCHR focused on India’s alleged excesses in Kashmir much more than Pakistan’s. Even the section on human-rights abuses by “armed groups” runs just a little over three pages.
The key question here is, why did the authors do so? The report, in its methodology section, explains that the degree of access for neutral observers in conflict zones, including OHCHR, is greater in India than in Pakistan. Contrary to the MEA’s perception, this speaks well of India and thus strengthens its case on Kashmir.
In its response, the MEA said “the authors have conveniently ignored the pattern of cross-border terrorism emanating from Pakistan and territories under its illegal control.”
On the contrary, however, the report pointedly talks about not just cross-border terrorism in Kashmir, but also the direct support that the Pakistani state provides to such disruptive entities. Clauses 5 and 135 refer precisely to this, while also pointing out that the prominent cross-border militant entities in Kashmir are all proscribed by the United Nations Security Council under the “ISIL (Daesh) and al-Qaeda Sanctions List.”
The MEA also argued that the report deliberately ignored India’s legal and constitutional safeguards on fundamental rights and freedoms for its citizens, including those living in Jammu and Kashmir state. It is unclear how it arrived at this conclusion, as it is inconsistent with the report.
In several sections, the report refers to India’s court rulings and institutional directives to make the case for human-rights abuse. For example, Point 73 talks about a 2017 Supreme Court order “that made filing of First Information Reports (FIRs) by police officials and a magisterial inquiry mandatory in every “encounter killing” in context of security forces relying on internal inquiries rather than civilian investigations.
Point 82 is another example, which talks about an Indian Supreme Court observation that asked for immediate assurances from authorities “that pellet shotguns would not be used indiscriminately.” This was made during a hearing on a petition filed by the Jammu and Kashmir High Court Bar Association in 2016 demanding a repeal of pellet guns.
The report also cites outcomes of the Right to Information Act, which gives every Indian citizen the power to request specific information about state practice and policies from the government of the day. Clause 88 of the report explained how an RTI application revealed that “over 1,000 people were detained under the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act between March 2016 and August 2017” and how these detentions operated on arbitrary procedures.
The report also made several references to J&K’s “active civil society” (as the MEA put it) in context of alleged excesses. Clause 126 mentioned a petition filed by the “Support Group for Justice for Kunan Poshpora Survivors” before the State Human Rights Commission in February 2018. The group had reportedly “provided the Commission with documentation in 143 cases of alleged sexual violence committed between 1989 and 2017.” There were several such references to civil society in action.
Contrary to the MEA’s assertion that the report ignored the role of India’s “free and vibrant” media, Clause 111 narrated how the J&K police raided the offices of three prominent newspapers in the Kashmir Valley in July 2016 and barred them from publishing for three days.
Instead of lashing out at the OHCHR for using rhetoric, the MEA could have built a serious, comprehensive defense through a substantive dissection of the report and the exact machinations behind its production.
For example, the OHCHR’s “remote monitoring” methodology and the selective sourcing of events, perceptions, and outcomes render the report’s conclusions problematic. The MEA could have highlighted this, while also unilaterally outlining the specific human-rights safeguards that India offers to its citizens, including those in J&K.
Most of all, it could have expressed some willingness at least to look into the allegations made, if not acknowledge them.
Instead, the MEA chose to accuse the OHCHR of falling prey to “individual prejudices.” But what good is an accusation without evidence? Barring some out-of-context precedents from the past, there is nothing irrefutable to suggest any personal prejudice by the High Commissioner or his staff in this particular case.
India and Myanmar in the same boat
Interestingly, India’s response to the report bears striking similarities to Myanmar’s repeated denials of UN reports and statements on the Rohingya crisis in Northern Rakhine.
For example, both have distilled multivariate issues – Kashmir and Rakhine – down to a single variable, that is, “terrorism.” There is also scant emphasis on human rights in both narratives. Implicit in this is an unfortunate reality of contemporary state-building: Human rights are relegated to the lowest rung of priorities, while “national security” is amplified as the sole pillar of state sovereignty.
Both countries also insist that the UN’s narrative is based on “unverified information,” but refuse to provide independent investigators access to the core conflict zones. This creates space for vague assessments and overreaching presumptions on both sides. One wonders how the MEA expects the UN to verify its information unless the government provides unfettered access to the disturbed zones.
Arguably, the UN human-rights regime is not foolproof or politically agnostic. It has major structural inefficiencies and a track record that speaks of selective coverage. But the institution itself stands for certain universal principles – human rights, proportionality, and accountability in conflict situations – that most nations, including India, have duly acknowledged through various means.
Within this global consensus, India’s response to the OHCHR report on Kashmir reads like a distasteful outlier. It only negates India’s stated commitment to the principle of human rights as an integral component of democratic state-building.
This is, at the very least, unbecoming of a responsible UN member state that is also a signatory to several international rights-oriented instruments. That said, the Indian government still has time to reverse this by issuing a detailed response that takes into account all variables and realities in the restive Kashmir Valley.