Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Workshop on Participatory Democracy & Good Governance

Kashmir Watch: Srinagar: Tuesday, 28 July 2015.
A one day workshop titled “Participatory democracy and Good Governance , the Role of Youth “ was organized at Institute of Management Public Administration and Rural Development (IMPA) Srinagar on Sunday . In his inaugural address State Chief Information Commission (CIC) G R Sufi gave a historical perspective of participatory democracy and good governance. He said that in the present time Right to Information Act (RTI) is the best tool for ensuring good governance . He said RTI is a revolutionary law which has helped many people in J&K to get justice from administration.
CIC said that J&K RTI Act needs some changes which include a provision of appointing the Information Commissioner’s without any delay as soon as the term of Chief Information commissioner (CIC) or Information Commissioner (IC) ends
Deputy Commissioner Bandipora Dr Shah Feasal spoke on use and misuse of social media . He urged upon people especially youth to make better and positive use of social media.
PDP youth leader and Political Analyst to Chief Minister Waheed ur Rehman Parra said that youth have been the biggest casualty in J&K right from 1947 onwards. He said Government is trying to ensure good governance by making people especially youth part of it . He said the initiatives for youth empowerment which should have been taken by Govt in past were taken by police and army.
Arjimand Hussain Talib columnist and international development expert responded to queries from the audience vis a vis youth and development. He laid emphasis on building a strong civil society movement in J&K.
The workshop was organized by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung India (FES India ) a German foundation based in India in association with Jammu Kashmir RTI Movement (Trust) and Fallah Foundation.
Damyanti Sridharan Senior Adviser FES India , Mandivi Projector Manager FES India , Dr Syed Abid Shah , IAS, Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat RTI Activist also spoke on the occasion. Dr Mushtaq Khan and Umar Javid coordinated the workshop.

Highway to hell! Two accidents a day on Yamuna Expressway, reveals RTI

DNA: Gautam Budhdha Nagar: Tuesday, 28 July 2015.
With 319 deaths in three years, the 165-km long Yamuna Expressway is now being described as the deadliest road in the country.
Yamuna Expressway, built as a symbol of modern development connecting the Industrial hub Noida with the city of Taj, Agra, witnessed as many as 2,194 accidents between August 2012 and April 2015. That means the expressway have had two accidents every day in 1000 days.
The startling revelations came in response to an RTI application filed by advocate AN Srivastava of Agra. The Yamuna Expressway authority has revealed the figures.
While last year saw 771 accidents on the expressway, this year it has already witnessed about 252 accidents in just a span of four months, i.e. between January 1 and April 30.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Akhilesh Yadav had inaugurated the highway in August 2012, which was built at a cost of Rs12, 000 crore.
Terming the figures, ‘alarming’, KC Jain, Secretary of Agra development foundation, said, “People continue to die and the expressway authority continues to overlook the speed menace. We have filed PIL in Allahabad High court which directed that the matter be referred to a high-level expert committee constituted by the state government.”
Rakesh Garg, ADF joint secretary, said most of the vehicles involved in accidents were found to be running above the permissible limit of 100 kmph, as there is no provision to penalise for over-speeding.

It is a good idea to debate exempted list under RTI Act

Deccan Herald: UP: Tuesday, 28 July 2015.
Chief Information Commissioner Vijay Sharma, a retired Uttar Pradesh cadre IAS officer of 1974 batch, describes RTI Act as “game-changer”, saying it has upgraded the transparency and accountability of system since its enactment in 2005. “Public Information Officers and appellate authorities, however, are required to be more sensitive towards the need of an information seeker. They should also be protective of the people seeking information under the RTI Act,” he told Deccan Herald in an interview to Prakash Kumar. Excerpts:
How do you look at the journey of RTI Act so far?
The journey has put us in a position where we now have a very wide experience of the RTI applications and reasons why applications are made to get information. It has brought us to a position where we can say we have been able to upgrade our transparency and accountability systems. Not only have we substantially upgraded our transparency and accountability systems, we have also enabled the use of technology for easily accessing information. We are today able to access information, much more easily than what we did in past. The biggest contribution of the RTI Act is that it has been a game changer in changing the attitudes.
What are the challenges?
The challenge comes how much of the information sought under the RTI Act  has been usable from the point of view of the information seeker. The usability, relevance and timeliness of that information is also very important. Many of the RTI applications are coming from individuals who really want information. That information is vital to such individual as it may redress a grievance or upgrade a public service system. It could be filed for combating any kind of corruption, petty or otherwise.
And, there are RTI applications, which are needlessly flippant or vexatious. Some RTI information seekers also file repetitive applications. Our concern today is how to ensure that the genuine RTI applications do not get crowded out because of such applications which could be repetitive, frivolous or complex.
So what is the solution you propose?
We need to have a mechanism which is efficient enough to be able to identify applications which are bottlenecking and clogging the system. It should be rule based objective system to filter flippant and repetitive RTI applications so that genuine RTI applications do not get crowded out. Such rules should be effective and legally tenable. The applicants should know that if they file repetitive or unnecessary RTI applications, the system would throw them out and subject them to a bit of scrutiny. Today, we don’t have such rule based filter. All the RTI applications are considered. Public authorities are under pressure.
But don’t you think such a system may be misused by the public authorities?
That’s why I said there has to be a rule based mechanism, which is objective and legally tenable. A lot of people are saying that there is a problem of repetitiveness of RTI applications. The problem has to be recognised and addressed. Most of the RTI applications are not complex. They need genuine information and the public authorities provide it. An application becomes complex when the applicant gets into interrogation mode and starts seeking clarifications from the public authority. There have been such complaints.
Many say getting information under the RTI Act is more difficult today than few years back. What is your view?
My assessment is that if the information is available, the public authority do not resist. They give information. Value systems have changed. I say this because I have been in the system. Ten years ago, there was resistance. The moods have changed. Annual confidential entries which were really confidential in past, is completely out in the open today.
If it is so, why do we have piles of appeals?
Those, who are involved in day to day handling and management of the RTI applications, need to be properly trained and sensitised. This is one of the areas where I would like to work on. The public information officers (PIOs) and at least the first appellate authorities, must be sensitive towards the needs of the information seeker, instead of being too technical. They need to be caring persons. Even if the department is little short of the documents, the needs of information seeker can be addressed. The PIOs should find the solution.
There are demands to bring CBI under the ambit of RTI. What is your view?
What essentially you are saying may be there is a need to revisit of what is on the exempted list. The RTI has induced a lot of openness and transparency. If there is a debate on whether there is scope for further rationalisation, it’s a good idea.
Safety of RTI activists is a big concern today. What measures should be taken to check such incidents?
So far as the incidents of attack on RTI activists are concerned, our criminal judicial system is taking care of such cases. Here again, however, the role of PIOs are significant. There should not be any tendency to deny information. It increases tension between an RTI applicant and the information provider. The department should not only be an information provider but be protective of the information seekers.
What is the future of RTI Act?
S far as the entitlement and rights of the information seeker is concern, the Act is bound to go stronger and stronger. Technology will play a major role in creation of depositary of information and its sharing. The adversariality between the information seeker and provider is bound to get mitigated.

Wrong information to RTI applicant, panel orders probe

Times of India: Chandigarh: Tuesday, 28 July 2015.
State Information Commission (SIC) has ordered an inquiry after employees of the state government's finance department and local audit unit allegedly provided wrong information to an RTI applicant. The commission has asked the state additional chief secretary (finance) to take action against the erring officials after ascertaining who is guilty.
Ambala resident Satish Sharma, who wanted information related to change of name of state transport department, had alleged that the staff kept him harassing by transferring his RTI application and supplying incomplete and misguiding information.
"It is an ideal case of misinterpretation by sheer arrogance and negligence amounting to denial of information and harassment of the appellant for more than one year," observed information commissioner Hemant Atri in a recent order.
According to the commission, although the departmental officials tried to reply but they did so without proper application of mind and incomplete records. "The departmental officials, instead of going through the application with seriousness that it deserved, tried to pass it on each other and kept on delaying/misguiding the appellant," Atri maintained.

Vyapam tried to skirt RTI to bury queries on OMR sheets

Times of India: Bhopal: Tuesday, 28 July 2015.
A scam-riddled Vyapam wanted to gain immunity from RTI scrutiny by writing to Institute of Good Governance and Policy Analysis, a key research institute set up by state government under chairmanship of chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan that provides impact, standardization of government schemes, to do an analysis of the board.
The letter (copy in possession with TOI) was written by former Vyapam chairman M K Roy in November 2009. This was revealed in a RTI query, which included the institute's comments on issues raised by Vyapam.
After the institute submitted an exhaustive analysis of Vyapam's functioning, the board shot off a second letter to the institute stating issues untouched in its reform model. The query on RTI ambit of Vyapam and record preservation, including OMR sheets was a serious bid by the board to evade the transparency tool, said RTI activist, Ajay Dubey. The study commissioned in 2009, coincided with the rigging of PMT exams and before the first arrests at Indore in 2012.
The first letter by former board chairman M K Roy to the School of Good Governance sought suggestions and guidelines for recruitment of coordinators and observers for exam, marking procedure of optical mark recognition (OMR) and answer sheets, conduct of online exams and choice and method of printing.
The second letter shot off by Vyapam (June 2010), stated 13 issues which were not covered in the report, which included information to be disseminated under RTI and period for record preservation. The state government has no powers to regulate RTI, barring fees of applicants, said Dubey. The letter (a copy in possession with TOI) was signed by Vyapam junior system analyst Ajay Kumar, who is in jail for tampering roll numbers of candidates.
In its reply, Institute of Good Governance stated "Orders of general administration department (GAD), key to information dissemination, needs to be followed by all state government undertakings. This issue is beyond the scope of the present study." Vyapam paid Rs 4.32 lakh to the Institute of Good Governance and Policy Analysis for conducting the study.
Speaking to TOI, former Vyapam chairman M K Roy said, "Yes the study was commissioned during my tenure. The report was submitted after I left the board. I refuse to comment on the study or about the query on RTI sought from the Institute of Good Governance and Policy Analysis. Neither do I wish to comment on the scam."
"Vyapam wanted to eliminate the role of RTI in its recruitment exams to ensure that students do not get a chance to access their original answersheets. Wanting an analysis on the period of preservation of records also indicates that Vyapam wanted to destroy OMR sheets so that the tampering of answersheets could never be identified," said RTI activist Ajay Dubey.
Another whistleblower, Anand Rai, said, "This is a subtle way to demand RTI exemption by ordering a study. The government has found all ways to muzzle the transparency tool. Central government bodies seek exemption from RTI in similar fashion."

Monday, July 27, 2015

Kochi police arrest two for blackmailing builders

Times of India: Kochi: Monday, July 27, 2015.
Police have arrested two members of a gang, which duped money from builders, after filing right to information (RTI) applications. The gang would secure information on permit violations by builders through RTI reply and would blackmail them impersonating as mediapersons.
Mattancherry police have arrested Salahuddeen of Vandoor in Malappuram and a minor boy hailing from Panoor in Kannur. Police are yet to arrest Rajneesh Babu of Mattancherry. They have seized two knives, sketch of Fort Kochi and Mattancherry areas prepared using Google map and several RTI replies from the arrested.
The sketch seized by the police had map of areas in Fort Kochi including a prominent temple in Cherlai area. "Once the information was gathered through RTI, they would reach the construction site. They would then tell the builder that they were from newspaper named 'Nagaram', which is going to be published soon. Then would take photographs of the buildings to threaten the builders, who would offer them money,'' said P M Byju, circle inspector, Mattancherry.
Though some of the local residents were wary that the gang had terror links, police ruled it out. "As per our investigation, they are only into blackmailing. We couldn't find any terror link,'' said K G James, city police commissioner, Kochi.
Around 10 days ago, the duo along with Rajneesh Babu arrived at an inn attached to a temple in Cherlai. Then, they met some of the councillors in the area and collected money as part of raising funds for 'the newspaper they were to start immediately'. "They collected Rs 1,000 as donation from me for the paper. When they approached me, they introduced themselves giving Hindu names,'' said Syamala S Prabhu, councillor from Cherlai. "A couple of days later, a taxi driver reached Cherlai and inquired about one Salahuddeen residing in the inn. As the inn is attached to a temple, rooms are allotted only to Hindus. When we reached there inquiring about the incident none of the three were present,'' she said.
According to the taxi driver, they had hired his car a few days ago and vanished after getting off near Thoppumpady for 'business purpose'. "When the driver called them up, the gang told him that they were at Angamaly and would pay him the next day. On failing to get the taxi charges, he reached Cherlai. "Then, I checked the phone number they gave to me with the one which the taxi driver had. Both numbers were the same. We called up, but they didn't pick up. For the next two days, we kept watching and the trio came on Sunday. On seeing us the person named as Rajneesh Babu ran away, but we could catch Salavuddeen and the minor boy,'' she said.
Police said that they produced Salavuddeen before the court, which remanded him to judicial custody. The minor boy was produced before juvenile court and later sent to a juvenile home in Kakkanad.

दर-दर भटक रही है एक RTI की अर्जी

नवभारत टाइम्स: मुबंई: Monday, July 27, 2015.
पूर्व मुख्यमंत्री ओर एनसीपी नेता अजित पवार के करप्शन के खिलाफ चल रही ऐंटि करप्शन ब्यूरो की जांच में अजित पवार को पेशी से छूट किस आधार पर दी गई है? यह सावल की एक आरटीआई अर्जी पिछले एक महीने से मुंबई, महाराष्ट्र और ठाणे डिवीजनों में दर-दर भटक रही है, लेकिन इस सवाल का जवाब कोई नहीं दे रहा।
कांग्रेस-एनसीपी के शासन काल में महाराष्ट्र में हुए सिंचाई घोटाले में अजित पवार की भूमिका की जांच ऐंटि करप्शन ब्यूरो कर रहा है। ऐंटि करप्शन ब्यूरो के चार बार बुलाने पर भी अजित पवार ब्यूरो के समक्ष पूछताछ के लिए पेश नहीं हुए हैं। आरटीआई की अर्जी में ब्यूरो से पूछा गया है कि किस कानून के तहत अजित पवार को पेशी से छूट दी गई है? आरटीआई अर्जी में यह भी पूछा गया है कि क्या अजित पवार ने निजी पेशी से छूट की मांग की थी। 15 जून को मुंबई डिविजन में दायर की गई इस अर्जी का पहला जवाब आवेदनकर्ता को 23 जून को मिला जिसमें यह कहा गया कि उनका सवाल महाराष्ट्र डिविजन से संबंधित है इसलिए उनकी अर्जी को वहां भेजा रहा है। 26 जून को महाराष्ट्र डिविजन ने आवेदनकर्ता जितेंद्र घाटगे को सूचित किया कि अजित पवार के खिलाफ केस ठाणे डिविजन में दर्ज है इसलिए उनकी अर्जी को ठाणे भेजा जा रहा है। इसके बाद 2 जुलाई को ठाणे डिविजन ने इस अर्जी को यह कहते हुए वापस महाराष्ट्र डिविजन भेज दिया है कि यह मामला ठाणे डिविजन से संबंधित नहीं है। मामला यहीं खत्म नहीं हुआ 9 जुलाई को महाराष्ट्र डिविजन ने वापस एक बार इस आरटीआई अर्जी को इस टिप्पणी के साथ ठाणे डिविजन भेज दिया है कि मामला ठाणे डिविजन में ही दर्ज है।
आरटीआई आवेदक का कहना है कि चूंकि मामला एक हाई प्रोफाइल नेता से संबंधित है इसलिए ऐंटि करप्शन ब्यूरो सही जानकारी देने के बजाए अर्जी को यहां से वहां भेजकर टाइम पास कर रहा है।

Sunday, July 26, 2015

4 yrs on, FIR against Amritsar DCP in Bihar for fake degree

Times of India: Chandigarh: Sunday, July 26, 2015.
Bihar government on Saturday registered a case of forgery and criminal conspiracy against Amritsar deputy commissioner of police Parampal Singh Gandhi, 24 years after he allegedly obtained a fake degree from Magadh University. He joined Punjab police in 1993. He has also been charged with destroying evidence.
Gandhi was recently recommended for the top Independence Day medal for outstanding devotion to be given by Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal.
The FIR was registered by Gaya police on the basis a complaint by Gandhi's own colleague and Ludhiana inspector Anil Kumar Bhanot. The university last year submitted a report to the Bihar State Information Commission in which it said that the roll number 13536, as mentioned by Gandhi in his educational records, was not allotted to anyone. Gandhi claims to have passed his exam from one Kisan College in Bihar's Nalanda district as regular student in 1991.
The university report added that 131 students were allotted roll numbers between 13401 and 13531 for that particular course in September 1991. The report also found that sociology was not even a subject in the course at Kisan College then but Gandhi claims to have written the examination. According to Gandhi's educational records, he claims to have studied English, Hindi, Sociology and Economics.
Another anomaly found in Gandhi's education record is that he enrolled in Kisan College in 1987 though his class 12 certificate is dated 1989.
Gandhi said that he would move a Bihar court to get the FIR quashed even as the Gaya police constituted a special investigation team (SIT) to further probe charges against him. "I am surprised at this move by the police," he said. "The Bihar police should have called me before registering the case. Several inquiries were conducted against me and none have concluded that my degree is fake.
Past inquiries against Parampal
·       1997: Complaint to Punjab DGP against his alleged fake degree
·       Ropar SSP conducts verification, says degree fine
·       2000: Complaint to Punjab DGP again
·       Inquiry by IPS Kuwar Vijay Pratap says degree forged
·       2008: Batala SSP Naresh Arora finds degree is fine
·       2011: Home secretary D S Bains suspends Parampal, revokes suspension four months later
·       2012: Ludhiana inspector Bhanot moves RTI to seek Parampal's records
·       Bihar state information commission accepts Bhanot's plea, sets up 3-member inquiry
·       2014: Magadh university submits report before SIC saying degree is fake
·       2014: FIR filed against Parampal in Gaya

Tardy working of info panels : Anjali Bhardwaj and Amrita Johri

Deccan Herald: Ahmedabad: Sunday, July 26, 2015.
Over the last decade, the use of the RTI Act has expanded democratic space and empowered people in their struggle to secure basic rights and entitlements and combat corruption and arbitrary use of power. According to estimates, four to six million information applications are filed every year, making the Indian RTI Act, the most extensively used transparency legislation globally. The law is primarily used by the poor and marginalised, who are most dependent on government services for their survival.
Under the RTI Act, independent Information Commissions (ICs) have been set up at the Centre and in all the states to adjudicate appeals and complaints of citizens who have been denied access to information under the law. Commissions have extensive powers, including the power to order disclosure of information, penalising officials for delaying or denying information and compensating the appellant for any loss suffered.
As the RTI law turns 10, perhaps the greatest challenge facing it is the lackadaisical performance of ICs across the country. The functioning of the ICs is fraught with problems. A national assessment of the RTI Act, undertaken by RTI Assessment and Advocacy Group (RaaG) in 2014,found that in several ICs, the backlog of appeals and complaints has reached alarming levels - an appeal/complaint filed in the Madhya Pradesh IC would come up for hearing in 60 years! In West Bengal, it would take about 18 years to dispose an appeal/complaint.
Inordinate delays in accessing information effectively deny people their fundamental right to information and render the law meaningless, especially for those living at the margins. Information about availability of essential drugs at a government hospital or the status of old age pension payments would be useless unless provided in a timely manner.
One of the reasons for these staggering backlogs is that in the absence of timely appointments, the posts of Information Commissioners are allowed to remain vacant for long periods of time. In many states like Manipur, Assam, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Goa, there have been long stints, up to two years, when ICs have been completely non-functional, as the respective state governments failed to appoint even a single information commissioner.
Despite mounting pendencies, most ICs are not functioning at the full strength of 11 commissioners. The Central IC, which has a backlog of more than 40,000 cases, was functioning without a chief for over nine months, till finally after huge public pressure and on the court’s direction, the Central government made the appointment. Even now, the CIC is functioning with eight commissioners - three posts have been vacant for over a year.
High pendency:
Another cause for the high levels of pendency is that most ICs have not put in place any norms on the number of cases each commissioner is expected to dispose of in a month. As a result, even well staffed ICs have tardy disposal rates. The national assessment found that the ICs of West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh and Assam had a monthly disposal rate of 43, 40 and 21 cases respectively, despite pendency running into thousands.
The RTI Act provides for mandatory imposition of a penalty of up to Rs 25,000 on public information officers violating the provisions of the law. In the period 2011 to 2013, ICs across the country imposed penalties in less than 4 per cent of the cases where they were imposable. Non-imposition of penalties sends a signal that violating the law will not invite any consequences and therefore, promotes a culture of impunity.
The great reluctance on the part of ICs to impose penalties could be traced to the fact that most commissioners- 87 per cent  of Chief Information Commissioners and more than 60 per cent of ICs - are former civil servants and bureaucrats who, perhaps, hesitate to penalise erstwhile colleagues. The previous chief information commissioner was a former director of the Intelligence Bureau an organisation which is outside the purview of the RTI Act and functions in an environment of utmost secrecy.
Orders of the ICs related to information provision, penalty imposition and awarding compensation are routinely violated by public authorities. The impunity with which orders are flouted is best understood through the case of the six national political parties who were held to be public authorities under the RTI Act by the CIC and were directed to appoint public information officers in 2013. Till date, none of the parties has appointed an information officer nor started responding to RTI requests. One of the reasons for non-compliance with IC orders is that after hearing and giving directions, the Commission closes the case without monitoring compliance.
To ensure robustness of the transparency regime in the country, the functioning of the adjudicators under the RTI Act must improve.
While the government needs to make timely and appropriate appointments and provide adequate budgetary provisions for ICs, the commissions themselves need to look within and set their house in order.
(The writers are RTI activists and members of the National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information, New Delhi)

Kingdom of Dreams promoter gets notice over RTI plea

Times of India: Gurgaon: Sunday, July 26, 2015.
The state information commission has issued a show-cause notice to Great India Nautanki Company Ltd, which runs the popular entertainment destination Kingdom of Dreams in Gurgaon, directing it to answer why it did not respond to an RTI filed by a city activist, Harinder Dhingra.
The SIC has also directed the company to submit a written reply by August 10th and send a representative to be present on August 19 for the hearing.
The RTI, filed by Dhingra in March 2014, had sought information on the records of land allotted for KoD by HUDA, details of the outstanding amount the company owes to HUDA, licences obtained from the food and drug administration, permission sought from the labour department and the details of the entertainment tax deposited by the company since its inception. The RTI had also sought a copy of the NOC that the company obtained from the Haryana state pollution control board.
"I had filed the RTI because I found irregularities in the land allotted for KoD, and I wanted the organization to be transparent," said Dhingra.
According to the SIC notice (a copy of which is with TOI), the GINC was asked to provide information to the RTI activist in December 2014. But GNIC had refused to comply with the order stating that being a private company they did not fall under RTI's ambit. The SIC had stated that as the company operated on HUDA land, with a substantial amount of lease financed by the latter, the GINC, therefore, required to comply to all rules and regulations of RTI.
When contacted, KoD's legal counsel Vinay Shukla said, "We are yet to get the notice. As soon as we receive it we shall follow the law and attend the hearing."

RTI, a fading ray of hope? : Shailesh Gandhi

Deccan Herald: Mumbai: Sunday, July 26, 2015.
A decade after: Govt's causal attitude over key postings has rendered the law toothless.
With RTI Act completing a decade, it is time to take a look back at a historic legislation which brought in new empowerment to the citizens of the country. But then, during these 10 years, the country has witnessed murders of over 40 RTI activists, attempts to constrict powers vested by the Act and refusal of several ministries and government agencies to divulge information under the ruse of exemption.
Nearly 10 years after it took shape in India, citizens have used the Right to Information (RTI) Act across the country to address a wide range of issues. From getting an electricity.
connection to road repairs, the citizenry have used the law effectively. But its impact can best be felt in the arena of corruption, both while exposing and containing the vice.
One simple yet powerful example of how effective RTI can be is reflected in this story of a slum-dweller who wanted a ration card. The protagonist was told that he would have to pay a bribe of Rs 2,000 to obtain a new ration card. But our friend, just went ahead and applied for the ration card without giving any bribe or grovelling in front of officials for pity. The slum-dweller, however, decided to become the enforcer of good governance. He found out in how many weeks people who paid bribes got their ration cards. He waited for an extra four weeks and then applied for information under RTI.
Using the simple format and with a Rs 10 application fee he delivered it to the public information officer at the Food and Supply office. He asked up to which date applications for ration cards had been cleared and the details of the progress of his application. This shook up the corrupt officials, since this would be written confirmation that they had given ration cards to others who had applied after him, which would be conclusive evidence that they had no justification for delaying his card.
The ration card was given to him immediately. No bribes, no endless visits and no begging before the corrupt. Our RTI-empowered citizen was able to enforce the supremacy of the citizen by using RTI.
The law which came into effect on October 12, 2005, coinciding with Vijayadashami, for the first time empowered citizens and they took to it with great enthusiasm. They owned the law. It is my observation that the RTI movement does not work on any centralised organisation or leadership. An estimated 30 million applications have been filed over the years, and it is reasonable to assume that around 10 million citizens are likely to have used RTI.
For the last decade, the law has been put to use across the nation by citizens acting individually or through groups or NGOs.  The runaway success and popularity of RTI has started spawning stiff resistance.  Within six months, those at the helm realised the extent of power they had transferred into the hands of the masters of democracy.
With great arrogance, they decided to amend the law and dilute it. We the people had understood this tool as one which gave us a chance to change the paradigm of power and convert our defective elective democracy into a participatory one- the Swaraj we had dreamt of.
Protests broke out across the nation and the government had to retract. Later on two other occasions, the government tried to amend the law, but was forced to drop the idea by an active citizenry. Whereas most people profess their commitment to transparency, they show great reluctance to being transparent themselves. Governments have sought to emasculate the Information Commissions by selecting commissioners who will beholden them, or at times by not appointing the required number of commissioners.
This coupled with a lack of commitment by most commissioners has resulted in a waiting period in certain commissions of one to two years. A majority of them are retired bureaucrats, who are often not suitable to be information commissioners. Many non-bureaucrats also suffer from the same weakness. They are not comfortable with this transfer of power through right to information.
The bureaucracy has started developing certain standard operating procedures for blocking information. This coupled with misinterpretation of the law is constricting this fundamental right. Several officers are taking a very wide meaning of the exemptions under the law and are not recognising that not disclosing information is a denial of a fundamental right.
Promoting transparency
The force of the law in meeting the objectives laid out in its preamble of promoting transparency and accountability and containing corruption is being subverted. It would not be wrong to state that the law is effectively being amended and its efficacy reduced by ensuring larger denial of information and wearing out the citizen by delays.
Former prime minister Manmohan Singh complained about “frivolous and vexatious” RTI applications. A RTI application to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) showed that the statement was not based on any factual evidence. The present PMO is not even willing to disclose the names of visitors to the prime minister’s 7, Race Course Road, residence.
rio where 75 per cent of the staff of public authorities spends 75 per cent of their time in collecting and furnishing information to applicants instead of discharging their regular duties.” This, too, is without any basis.
It has been shown that not more than 3 per cent of the staff spend less than 3 per cent of their time on RTI related duties.
Overall, the suo motu declarations by all public authorities is dismal. About 50 per cent of the information sought under RTI should be available suo motu as per Section 4 of the RTI Act, according to a survey conducted by RTI Assessment and Advocacy group (RaaG). 
Adopting transparency requires humility and a real commitment to the principles of democracy. Unfortunately, most people in power suffer from hubris and take offence at the idea that they are servants of the people.
Citizens using RTI will have to slowly bring this change in public servants, and for this there is no alternate to active citizenship. RTI has the potential to change the soul of governance if citizens use this tool relentlessly and defend their right passionately and diligently.
RTI in India
NCPRI and Press Council of India formulate initial draft of Right to Information law in 1996
NDA govt, instead, brings in Freedom of Information bill drafted by HD Shourie panel
Introduces Freedom of Information Bill in Lok Sabha on July 25, 2000
Bill passed by Parliament in December 2002
President gives assent on Jan 6, 2003
Central legislation has seen only partial success as the Act had not been brought into force, as according to the government, the basic infrastructure required for its operationalisation had not been fully establishedn Activists, meanwhile, express concerns that the Act in many respects fell short of people’s aspirations n UPA, after coming to power, assigns National Advisory Council (NAC) to suggest constructive changes in the Act of 2002
Following NAC suggestions, government repeals Freedom of Information Act and brings in RTI Act
Activists demand file notings be given under RTI
CIC holds 6 national political parties as public authorities and brings it under RTI in Aug 2013
Bill removes political parties from the ambit of definition of public authorities but Bill lapses
RTI Murders
Around 40 RTI activists killed in last 10 years
Around 300 assaulted or harassed for filing uncomfortable RTIs
Some murders for seeking info under RTI:
·       Ram Vilas Singh in Lakhi Sarai in Bihar asked police why an accused in a murder case was not arrested
·       Niyamat Ansari sought information on MGNREGS in Jharkhand
·       Amit Jetwa on illegal mining in Gujarat's Gir forest
·       Satish Shetty for highlighting land grabbing in Pune
·       Shimbu Ram Bishnoi of Jodhpur sought access to information on MGNREGA and PDS
·       Nandi Singh of Bishnu of Assam for pursuing irregularities in PDS in his village
The NDA government is brutally weakening the RTI Act and shielding itself.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi in Parliament on May 6
There is a need for the RTI Act to be directly applicable to corporate houses. That’s because with the liberalisation of the economy, private companies are closely working with the governments.(Then) Chief Information Commissioner of India Wajahat Habibullah on March 27, 2009
Cases/Demands for bringing under RTI
·         Political parties
·         Sporting bodies like BCCI
·         CBI
·         Corporate Houses
Over 15 post of posts of information commissioners lying vacant
Governments are increasingly preferring retired civil servants over candidates with other specialisations referred to in the twin RTI laws despite the Supreme Court advising the Governments to look beyond that pool 
More than 3/4ths (76 pc) of the chief Information commissioners across the country are retired IAS officers. This proportion has gone up from 69 pc in 2014 and 74 pc in 2012
(The writer, a former Chief Information Commissioner, is a Mumbai-based RTI activist)

RTI activist, BMC junior engineer held in bribery case

DNA: Mumbai: Sunday, July 26, 2015.
Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) sleuths on Saturday arrested an RTI activist and a BMC engineer for allegedly accepting a bribe.
Those arrested have been identified as Ranjeet Yadav (32), the activist, and Yogesh Pandit (27), a junior engineer with the buildings and factories department of S ward.
According to ACB officials, the complainant is a resident of Tulsetpada in Bhandup and was doing repair work in his hutment, which he has made into a ground-plus-one structure. "Yadav had filed a complaint with the BMC against him for his unauthorised work in his hutment. A notice under MRTP Act was then issued to the complainant by the BMC to stop the repair work," the official said.
He added that when the complainant met Pandit to make inquiries about the notice, the latter told him to meet Yadav. Yadav told the complainant that to take the complainant back and get the MRTP notice cancelled, he would have to cough up Rs25,000.
"The complainant did not wanted to pay bribe and, hence, approached the ACB. On Saturday, the accused called the complainant to Bhandup. A trap was laid and both Yadav and Pandit were caught red-handed," said the official.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Info commissioner accuses chief of ‘generosity’ to Punjab officers

Hindustan Times: Chandigarh: Saturday, 25 July 2015.
Those safeguarding your right to information are now daggers drawn over their own rights. In a letter written to Punjab chief information commissioner Swaran Singh Channi, state information commissioner Surinder Awasthi has accused the former of “allocating most important departments to himself and being extra-generous in granting prayers of bureaucrats and police officials”.
Channi retired as Punjab home secretary before his appointment to the information panel while Awasthi is a former journalist. The letter, a copy of which is with the HT, alleges that Channi has been “emboldening” public information officers (PIOs) and complainants to get favourable decisions by appealing for transfer of case to another bench. “The CIC being first among equals is the master of the roster and free to allocate cases under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. But sending for files for perusal while cases are under progress and are at the penultimate stage of adjudication and transferring them to other benches amounts to gross interference in the functioning of the commissioners for which the CIC has no mandate under the statute,” adds the letter.
What led to face-off
The case which has led to the face-off pertains to state commissioner Awasthi issuing a show-cause notice to SAS Nagar SSP Gurpreet Singh Bhullar (SSP cum public information officer) for “concealing” information sought by a Chandigarh resident, Krishan Kumar Singla, claiming that a false FIR was registered against him by the police in “connivance” with a builder on the basis of forged papers. Singla had knocked the doors of the commission saying the information provided in response to his application by the SAS Nagar SSP did not contain those pages.
Later, the requisite information was traced to the police files by the director, Bureau of Investigation, and given to the applicant. The response of Bhullar to the show-cause notice was taken on record on June 17 and the next date of hearing was fixed for July 14. But before the formal orders could be put on the commission’s website, Bhullar moved the CIC for transfer of the case to another bench.
His request said, “From the conversation that took place before the bench, the applicant could gauge that the bench nurses some personal bias against him and his family and he won’t get justice.”
Channi, through an order dated July 9, said the case be transferred “in the interest of justice” to another division bench and the order be placed on the commission’s website. He subsequently wrote to the deputy registrar to get the case file transferred from Awasthi. But the latter has dug in his heels claiming in his letter that the CIC had no power to transfer cases from one bench to another on the basis of “wild and concocted” allegations of bias or apprehension of injustice.
“Since your orders are unjust, there is no need to comply with them and I have not handed over the file. One is at a loss to understand the undue haste shown by the CIC in the case by throwing all conventions and precedents to the winds,” the letter states.
The letter also questions the working of the CIC. It says his regular orders are not put on the website for weeks and are sent to the parties late. “However, in this case, you have shown remarkable swiftness and said that your orders be put on the website immediately,” it says.
Awasthi, when contacted, said he had written the letter, but refused to comment further. Channi did not respond to the calls and messages sent to him.

GTU evaluators standards falling drastically

Times of India: Ahmedabad: Saturday, 25 July 2015.
The role of Gujarat Technological University (GTU), with over 500 colleges under its ambit, is very crucial for a student perusing a career in professional courses like MBA, MCA, engineering or others. But over the years the assessment standard of GTU has fallen drastically mainly because of inexperienced and substandard evaluators who check the answer sheets of students.
According to data collected under Right to Information (RTI) Act, results of over 36% students had to be changed after re-assessment or re-checking last year. This is very alarming when compared to results of SSC and HSC where only 3-4% results were altered after re-assessment.
Sources within the GTU said that in the last 2-3 years they have received number of complaints claiming poor quality of exam paper evaluation. This has led to many fold increase in re-checking and re-assessment.
Janak Khandwala, president of Self Finance Management Institute Association said the special scheme of the GTU for exam paper evaluators was responsible for discrepancies in results. "Under the GTU scheme the evaluator gets Rs 15 per answer sheet if completed within 15 days. Beyond that evaluators will get Rs 10 per answer sheet. So to earn more money teachers check papers in a hurry," Khandwala said.
Officials of the GTU on condition of anonymity also admitted that the evaluators were many a times not well qualified to check papers. "In GTU there is system of e-assessment for post graduate courses, wherein evaluators are sent scanned copies of the answer sheets by mail. However, most of these evaluators are from self-finance colleges which results in poor quality of assessment," he added.
GTU exam secretary Jitendra Lilani said that more students from PG course were coming for re-assessment and re-checking. On inability to take action against evaluators, Lilani said, "Where there is change in marks after re-assessment, we have to take opinion of other evaluators on the marks given. Also, we cannot take punitive actions against evaluator because there is Supreme Court guideline prohibiting action against evaluators.ClassStudents appearedRechecking/Assessment done Change in result
·         1010 lakh12,000400
·         12 (sci)1.25 lakh1,400175
·         12 (gen) 5.25 lakh1,800250

70-year-old’s long fight lights up homes in Anna Nagar

Times of India: Madurai: Saturday, 25 July 2015.
Television came to our homes two decades ago. In most cities, there's hardly any house or any area that does not enjoy a TV watching session in the evenings. That, sadly, is not the correct picture of a bustling city like Madurai. Anna Nagar in Madurai corporation's ward number 72, a residential settlement with over 150 houses, got the hope of watching TV at home only this Friday, thanks to the relentless efforts of 70-year-old R Kaanithevar, a school dropout and a resident of the area.
While political representatives, revenue authorities and local Tangedco officials all failed to help him, Kaanithevar along with a social activist fought with the system and finally got power connection to his locality on Friday. Tangedco is erecting electric posts now, which was only a dream for the residents for so many years. With revived hope, 60 residents have now following the path laid by Kaanithevar. "We were demanding electricity connection for more than a decade. Although government had recognised our address and gave us door numbers, family cards, Aadhaar cards, voter cards and freebies, they never acceded for an electricity connection. While many residents lost hope, we stood firm, fought with government system and won," said Kaanithevar.
Government departments "could not help" Kaanithevar because a case is pending in court for decades over the ownership of the land. The residents settled in the land belonged to Church of South India Trust Association five decades ago. "The trust did not raise any objection. But when we applied for electricity they objected. We did not take legal route to get electricity connection since we knew that they can tackle us using their mighty money power," Kaanithevar said.
Social activist D Jacob Pandian, who joined Kaanithevar in his fight, says he was inspired after reading an article in TOI a few years ago informing that getting an electricity connection is a basic right. "When approached, officials and elected representatives could not help us. Hence we took the help of the RTI Act and started getting information from various departments. We questioned them, when we have all the recognitions from government, why not electricity. We approached the top officials of Tangedco and pressurised with the information obtained through the RTI," Jacob said.
In the absence of electricity connection, some of the residents have spent Rs 25, 000 or more to install solar power generators. Even then it was not enough. A comfortable sleep under the fan or relaxing evening watching a TV programme at home was still a distant dream for these people. "Our children are humiliated wherever they went. Their friends snubbed them. My daughter was often insulted by her husband and family members. My four-year-old granddaughter stopped visiting us as we do not have a TV," said K Pechiammal, a resident.
Thankfully, those days are over and all credit goes to Kaanithevar.

Murder message : Growing attacks against Dalits point to their increasing assertion and the sharp reaction to it

Indian Express: National: Saturday, 25 July 2015.
The clash between a Dalit caste and the Jat community left over a dozen injured
On July 11, a Dalit RTI activist, Baburam Chauhan of Jaisalmer, was brutally attacked and humiliated for allegedly exposing land grabs by the dominant Rajputs of the area. The same week marked two months since the Dangawas killings of Dalits. Both incidents are reminders of how the continued denial of land rights to Dalits strengthens the oppression of lower castes. While the CBI has begun its inquiry into the Dangawas killings, and the police have been fairly prompt and active in Jaisalmer, such attacks are likely to continue. These incidents are growing signs of Dalit assertion as well as the extremely sharp reaction to it.
Baburam, a government schoolteacher posted at Ranau village, was using the RTI since 2008 to expose illegal encroachments and allotments by non-Dalits on large tracts of canal-irrigated lands reserved for the landless poor, SCs and STs. His exposés provoked the dominant castes. Baburam was not only beaten up but deliberately humiliated, with exemplary cruelty. After being waylaid on the road when he was returning from school, he was allegedly abducted in a Jeep, mercilessly beaten, his hair was cut and shaved, he was forced to consume urine, iron rods were driven through his legs, before he was tossed towards the canal. It was chance that he did not fall into the canal and lay inert at its side, where he was found by a search party of family members.
While Baburam managed to survive the attack, the Dangawas victims were less lucky. Two months after the killings, Dalit families in Dangawas village in Nagaur district are still haunted by the happenings of May 14 a bloody war that raged on for an hour, resulting in the deaths of six people, with 11 hospitalised.
Dangawas has, 600 Jat families and 120 Dalit Meghwal families. The attack by a predominantly Jat mob on the Dalit families was allegedly triggered by an attempt on the part of Ratnaram Meghwal’s family to start living on land that was legally theirs by evicting the family of Chimnaram Jat, who had apparently illegally occupied their land for nearly half a century. A court order in March 2015 had ruled in favour of Ratnaram Meghwal, after which he built a house and began living on this land with his family. But on April 20, barely a month after the court’s ruling, the two sons of Chimnaram Jat allegedly began constructing a water reservoir on this land and cut down a few khejri trees. When Ratnaram objected to this, the two left, but they returned the next day and allegedly sexually assaulted a young Dalit widow sleeping alone in a hut. The police reportedly refused to register an FIR. Tensions grew. The Jats set the date of May 14 for a caste panchayat to discuss the issue of Ratnaram’s land. Sensing danger, the Dalits wrote to the police seeking protection. But as the caste panchayat concluded, hundreds of Jats reportedly went to surround the Dalit homes armed with sticks, iron rods and other weapons.
Tractors were allegedly used to crush three unarmed Dalits, many were mercilessly beaten up, the women had sticks inserted in their private parts. Two Dalits succumbed to their injuries in hospital later. Many among those attacked are seriously injured and battling for survival, some have lost their limbs and others are under treatment. One non-Dalit bystander reportedly died of bullet injuries. Shockingly, this attack was later allegedly celebrated on social media by some of the Jats. Their comments state that after the SC/ST atrocities act and reservation policies, Dalits had become so bold that they needed to be reminded of their place.
Not surprisingly perhaps, the sarpanch, sachiv, patwari and many others in administrative posts are Jats. Nagaur district has seen at least four other instances of atrocities on Dalits in the last year. Both the Jaisalmer attack and the Dangawas killings are examples of the reality of caste oppression. As Dalits assert their basic rights, it is the state’s responsibility to implement laws relating to land and human rights. Baburam Chauhan and Ratnaram Meghwal should have had the state machinery standing by them as they took on their land battles and faced upper-caste reaction. Despite grave threats in both Baburam and Ratnaram’s cases, written appeals for police and administrative protection went unheeded.
The sequence of events in both Jaisalmer and Dangawas confirms how caste-ridden our politics and administration are. While swift and exemplary action is crucial, those who failed to prevent the attacks must also be punished. Policies must be in place to proactively support Dalit communities. In the 15th Lok Sabha, an ordinance was passed to strengthen the SC/ST atrocities act. Why did this “ordinance raj” Central government allow this ordinance to lapse?
The Central and state governments must carry out a proactive drive to protect and restore Dalit land, strengthen the SC/ST atrocities act and its implementation. Land encroachments constitute a continuum of violence against Dalits. We need to stop looking the other way when we see the obvious injustice perpetuated.
Written by Bhanwar Meghwanshi , Janani Sridharan : The writers are activists with the MKSS and TISS