Friday, November 16, 2018

CIC Pulls up Retirement Fund Body for Withholding Pension From Dying Man

The Wire: New Delhi: Friday, November 16, 2018.
The Central Information Commission (CIC) pulls up the Employees Provident Fund Office (EPFO), Kolkata for unlawfully withholding the pension of a 76-year-old man now on his deathbed  for the last 16 years. Adding to his woes, information on his case was sequestered as well. The case shines a light on how retired government servants are deliberately harassed and have to struggle to get their rightful dues.
The order by central information commissioner M. Sridhar Acharyulu came on November 13, on an appeal made by Parveen Kohli on behalf of the weather-beaten septuagenarian Subhash Chandra Banerjee.
In an earlier order in October this year, the Commission noted that Banerjee was “seriously ill and almost on his deathbed”. Kohli subsequently filed an RTI application to highlight Banerjee’s case of maltreatment.
A victim of delay and denial
The order stated that Banerjee “is a victim of delay and denial of payment of pension”. He had started working in 1969 and on attaining the age of 58, had became entitled to receiving a monthly pension from EPFO under the EPS95 Scheme. Despite being eligible to draw his pension from August 2000 onwards, his claims were repeatedly turned down.
With the exception of being paid Rs 1,000 as his minimum due for the month of June 2017, which too was later reversed, EPFO had arrogated his entire pension. “After that, 100% [of his] pension has been stopped by EPFO and the status is the same till now,” recorded Acharyulu in the order.
Simultaneously, he also recorded Kohli’s allegation that by indefinitely withholding Banerjee’s pension and denying him his government-owed dues, EPFO was violating orders of state and national-level Consumer Disputes Redressal Commissions.
The State Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum (SCDRF) opined that “the respondents shall calculate the monthly pension of the appellant according to the law of the Employees’ Pension Scheme, 1995, within three months and such assessed and calculated amount of monthly pension shall be payable to the appellant w.e.f. 01.09.2002.”
PF commissioner refused to release pension on state consumer forum order
Instead of implementing the SCDRF order, the EPFO office challenged it before the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum. Upon appeal, the national forum also ruled in favour of Banerjee and observed the need for government institutions to honour the orders of the state-level redressal machinery.
“The provident fund commissioner would have done well in graciously accepting the order passed by the state commission, instead of driving the complainant in litigation up to this forum. We dare say that, in all probability, the cost of litigation incurred in the case would be more than the petty amount of monthly pension, the complainant might ultimately receive,” the NCDRF held.
Nevertheless, as EPFO officials continued to deny Banerjee his pension benefits, Kohli moved the CIC. He pleaded that “EPFO Kolkata has snatched the fundamental right to life and liberty of Mr Banerjee by stopping his pension and also by violating the orders of SGDRC and NCDRC”.
No authority could withhold even a part of pension or gratuity: SC
In his order, Acharyulu noted that a precedent had been set by a division bench comprising Justices K.S. Radhakrishnan and A.K. Sikri of the Supreme Court in the case of State of Jharkhand versus Jitendra Kumar Srivastav, when they adjudicated that not even a part of pension or gratuity could be withheld.
“It is an accepted position that gratuity and pension are not bounties. An employee earns these benefits by dint of his long, continuous, faithful and unblemished service. Right to receive pension is treated as right to property […] On the basis of such a circular, which is not having force of law, the appellant cannot withhold even a part of pension or gratuity.”
As EPFO continued to sequester information on Banerjee’s case, Kohli pleaded for penalty proceedings against the central public information officer J. Nayak and the payment of compensation to Banerjee.
The CIC, on October 1, finally issued a show cause notice to the CPIO asking why the maximum penalty should not be imposed on him. It also ordered Nayak to provide certified copies of the entire file concerning Banerjee’s pension within one week. Furthermore, It held the Regional Provident Fund Commissioner II responsible in the event the documents sought by the appellant were not provided within a week.
EPFO website showed payments which were never made
Before long, Kohli submitted before the CIC on October 31 that the EPFO website shows various amounts paid into Banerjee’s account, though they were never credited.
For its part, the EPFO submitted before the CIC on October 11, that all pension arrears would be credited into Banerjee’s account. However, only Rs 1.59 lakh worth of arrears were deposited against a total of Rs. 6 lakh owed. It also did not share the details of the account and the calculations, prompting Acharyulu to note that except for the Supreme Court “no one else, including EPFO, has any power to re-examine the issues which have already been settled by the NCDRC”.
And the harassment continued
Kohli later revealed that EPFO officials deliberately sent the documents sought under the RTI plea to Banerjee’s old address despite being informed of the new one. Additionally, many documents were sent in loose bundles and torn envelopes in order to further rankle the old pensioner.
As Ajitesh Kumar, regional PF commissioner submitted that Ahmed was the “actual authority” who dealt with Banerjee’s pension file, the CIC issued a show cause to him asking why the maximum penalty should not be imposed upon him for not providing the complete information within the stipulated time period. The CIC also imposed a Rs 10,000 token penalty on Nayak for not furnishing all the information to Banerjee about his case.

Now, no need to pay fee on complaints of up to Rs 5 lakh

Times of India: Chandigarh: Friday, November 16, 2018.
Residents can now file consumer complaints for free as the ministry of consumer affairs recently waived off fee for cases of up to Rs 5 lakh. Advocates said this would encourage people to complain against smaller violations. The move was recently implemented in Chandigarh Consumer courts.
Under the original unamended Act of 1986, no requirement for payment of court fee or other formal court procedures were contemplated. After the 2002 amendment, one had to pay a nominal fee for filing a complaint. It has now been waived off for complaints of up to Rs 5 lakh. Only a nominal fee will be charged for cases above this. A notification in this regard read, “In the Consumer Protection Rules, 1987, in rule 9A, in the table for serial numbers (1) to (5) and entries relating thereto, the following serial numbers and entries shall be substituted: Upto five lakh rupees | NIL; above Rs 5 lakh and less than Rs 10 lakh | Rs 200 and Rs 10 lakh and above but not exceeding RS 20 lakh | Rs 400.” “Consumers associations all over India were making representations to the government to waive court fees on consumer complaints of up to Rs 20 lakh. This has been partially accepted by making complaints of up to Rs 5 lakh free of cost. The Consumer Protection Act is also a welfare legislation, as is the RTI Act. Only Rs 10 is the prescribed fee under the RTI Act, irrespective of the nature of information. Consumers should be placed at par with RTI activists. There is scope for further reduction. All complaints before a district forum should be free of cost,” said R K Kaplash, president, Consumers Association Chandigarh-cummember, Chandigarh Consumer Protection Council.
Advocates felt the move would encourage people to file cases. “Consumer Protection Act is a benevolent piece of legislation to protect a large body of consumers from exploitation. The government has taken a good step by waiving court fees on complaints of up to Rs 5 lakh. Earlier, for a case which is only due to wrong charging, one had to pay at least Rs 100 court fee,” said Pankaj Chandgothia, a consumer activist.

State Information Commission yet to dispose of cases from 2014

The Hindu: Mumbai: Friday, November 16, 2018.
The Maharashtra State Information Commission (SIC) has 39,709 appeals and complaints pending, as the government is yet to respond to the SIC’s demand in June for the appointment of three additional commissioners. Of the cases, 16,718 were in 2017, which raises concerns over the implementation of the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
According to data available with The Hindu, by the end of September 2018, a total of 35,315 appeals and 4,394 complaints were pending with the SIC.
Ever since the RTI Act was implemented, the highest number of pending cases recorded in Maharashtra is in 2018. The State is unable to clear cases from 2014. For this year, 20,734 cases were pending till September, by which, all eight information commissioners had disposed of only 3,550 cases.
The State had no Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) for over nine months after Ratnakar Gaikwad stepped down from the post in 2017. Former Chief Secretary Sumit Mullick was appointed the CIC in May 2018.
 “The SIC had in June this year written to the government demanding three more information commissioners to clear the pending cases. We receive 600-700 cases every month, but due to the backlog, we have not been able to attend to all these cases,” an official from the SIC said.
The official said despite having brought Mr. Mullick in May, he was tasked with handling the proceedings of the Bhima-Koregaon riot hearing. “His priority is the hearing of the riot case. He is not able to focus and spend time to clear the pending cases,” the official said. Mr. Mullick was in Pune on Thursday in connection with the Bhima-Koregaon case, and could not be contacted.
Former Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi told The Hindu that he has been writing to Mr. Mullick for over four months requesting to clear cases. “Keeping cases pending for months and years is itself contradicting the very passing of the Act. People come seeking information and we cannot keep them waiting for long,” he said.
Mr. Gandhi said there appears to be no evidence of the average disposal of over 800 cases per month by the commissioners, and at this rate, the total disposal will take more than a year. He also pointed out a Karnataka High Court decision which mandates that second appeals be decided by an Information Commission within 45 days.

‘Unavailability of files not a reason to deny RTI info’

Times of India: Belagavi: Friday, November 16, 2018.
Government officials should not deny information to applicants citing unavailability of related files, said SL Patil, commissioner of Karnataka State Information Commission.
If information is denied citing such reasons, there is a provision to initiate legal action against such officers, he added. He was speaking at a workshop on RTI Act organized for information officers and first appellate authority at the ZP Hall here on Thursday.
Patil said every government office is supposed to preserve files for a prescribed duration. Even though files are damaged, they can be regenerated. Protection of government documents is the responsibility of officials, he said.
“Providing information to applicants will become easy if officers study five-six sections of the RTI Act. The penalty will increase if applications are neglected. Embarrassment to senior officers can be avoided if junior officers do work efficiently,” the commissioner said.
Patil said officers can also give information about private institutions if it is available in the office. However, they can’t provide personal information about anybody including government officials.
Officers can provide a list of beneficiaries of government schemes with permission of the beneficiaries concerned since it’s an information of a third party, he added.
Provide data online
Patil suggested officers to upload all information related to their department on the website voluntarily, which can reduce RTI applications up to 70%. Patil said there is no need of providing information in a manual form if it is available online.
Provision to penalize applicants
Patil said penalties in the RTI Act applies to applicants too. The information commission won’t tolerate the misuse of the Act. There are provisions in the Act to penalize the applicant if the asked information is not for public use, he said.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Three PSUs account for over 85% of Pipdic loan dues, shows RTI

Times of India: Puducherry: Thursday, November 15, 2018.
The Puducherry government-run Puducherry industries promotion, development and investment corporation (Pipdic) limited has an outstanding loan of Rs 107 crore as on March 31 this year and three public sector enterprises alone account for more than 85% (Rs 91.9 crore) of loan dues, says information provided to an RTI activist by V Adimoulame, Pipdic general manager (administration) and public information officer.
On August 10, RTI activist P Raghupathy filed an RTI seeking details of outstanding loans in Pipdic. He filed a first appeal after he was denied information. Later, as per the PIO’s direction, Raghupathy approached the Pipdic office and received the documents.
As per the information submitted by the corporation, Pondicherry textile corporation (Anglo French textiles) has availed industrial loans worth Rs 54.30 crore, Puducherry cooperative sugar mill limited took loans worth Rs 21.94 crore and Jayaprakash Narayan cooperative spinning mill limited Rs 15.65 crore as on March 31 this year, he said.
“All the three public sector units failed to repay the loans with interest availed from Pipdic on several occasions. It is learnt that PSUs used the industrial loans to provide salaries to the workers instead of investing in promoting the units,” Raghupathy said.
“The faulty policies of the government will turn all its PSUs into sick units. Presently, Pipdic runs in profit. If the prevailing situation continues, the unit will incur losses soon,” he added.
He urged the lieutenant governor Kiran Bedi to direct Pipdic officials to initiate efforts to recover the arrears from the three PSUs at the earliest. “The government, which has launched efforts to recover arrears in excise duty, property tax and electricity charges from the defaulters, must take initiatives in recovering the arrears from the PSUs,” he said.

Meghalaya Govt likely to constitute inquiry into attack on RTI activist, aide

North East Today: Meghalaya: Thursday, November 15, 2018.
Meghalaya Chief Minister, Conrad K Sangma on Wednesday said that if necessary the Government will constitute an inquiry to investigate on the alleged illegal coal mining and also on the attempted murder of RTI activist, Agnes Kharshiing and her colleague, Amita Sangma in East Jaintia Hills last week.
“The inquiry will be on the issue of assault and also on the alleged so called illegal mining,” Conrad told reporters on the sideline of a function here today.
He also informed that he will call a meeting of the officials and then chalk out a plan of action to find out the details on the matter.
Stating that he had only arrived yesterday from his Europe tour, Chief Minister said that he will also discuss with his cabinet colleagues before taking a decision to constitute an inquiry into this matter.
Meanwhile, he clarified that the visit to NEGRHIMS to see Kharshiing was more on a humanitarian ground and it was not a visit to find out details about this case.
“I had gone to find out about her health condition. It is encouraging to see that she is recovering. She is definitely on the path of recovery,” Conrad added.

The many uses of RTI: Our imagination is the limit : Shamsul Bari and Ruhi Naz

The Daily Star: Bangladesh: Thursday, November 15, 2018.
If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” A slight tweak of this famous quotation from British writer George Orwell will make it equally appropriate for the right to information: “If the right to information means anything at all, it means the right to ask questions that the powerful may not want you to ask.”
Right to Information (RTI) or Freedom of Information (FOI) laws, which exist in close to 130 countries and territories around the world, cause much consternation among public officials. The law is often used by citizens to expose abuse and misuse of power, which the powerful normally get away with.
But RTI is more than causing unease to government servants, unearthing corruption and revealing government malpractices. The instrument is globally used for more positive goals, such as improving citizen-state relationship, protecting the environment and drawing attention to important national issues. In other words, the law is used for making governments do good things as much as, if not more, it is used for stopping them from doing bad things.
A quick look at RTI/FOI regimes worldwide shows multifarious use of the law. Most information requests go to local governments, and the largest user group is the general public not journalists or other professionals as many believe. The majority of people use the law for individual or local-level issues, such as dealing with road/bridge repairs, awarding government contracts, local crime statistics and government services generally. They serve personal and/or public interest and help promote transparency and accountability in governance.
The law is also used to obtain information of a more general nature, which enrich citizens' knowledge-base and empower them to demand government attention to national issues. Such requests include information on government preparedness to deal with natural disasters, such as, earthquakes and cyclones; protection and utilisation of maritime resources; outbreak of infectious diseases and other health hazards in the country.
In India, a citizen's RTI requests revealed that 14,474 cases of HIV through blood transfusion were reported over a seven year period. The knowledge was used to urge the government to undertake preventive measures.
A more recent RTI intervention by an Indian activist exposed that in the last five years, 10 Indian workers died on average every day in the Gulf countries, many from unnatural causes, including suicides. It highlighted the need for government attention to unfortunate deaths affecting such a large population group who contribute so much to the Indian economy through remittances.
In Sri Lanka, an RTI request by a journalist unearthed that many fishing permits were issued by the government despite warnings by the European Union that the recipients were engaged in illegal fishing practices. The EU eventually banned Sri Lanka's fish imports in 2015, at a high cost to the country.
In Europe, access to environmental information is a major part of information access regimes as mandated by the Council of Europe's access to information convention.
In the UK, the efforts of a FOI campaigner, together with some journalists, to obtain detailed breakdown of travel and accommodation claims made by British MPs, led to scandalous disclosure of excessive claims, including by the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his predecessor Tony Blair. These revelations played a role in a subsequent change of law requiring all members of the House of Lords to pay taxes. They also led to the publication of detailed expenses of MP's and other matters of public interest on a regular basis.
In the US, civil rights groups have invoked FOIA to gain access to data on a number of prisoners wrongly convicted and awaiting to receive capital punishment.
In Mexico, the FOI law has been successfully invoked a number of times to open up records of human rights abuses.
There are also instances of the law being used to deal with private bodies that do not fall directly within its purview. In the UK, public concern about restaurant hygiene led to the release of government inspection reports under a FOI request. It showed that no fewer than 20 private restaurants, cafés and supermarkets across Islington failed to meet basic food safety requirements. Some of them were so filthy that inspectors had to order them to cease trading immediately; four faced prosecution after failing multiple tests and many others forced to make “major improvements” or face legal action. Public concern generated by the revelations led to the creation of which provides citizens with information on food preparation at most of the listed eateries in the UK.
Other examples include RTI requests considered “silly” by the authorities. However, as an observer rightly pointed out: “It is a democratic right (of citizens) to ask and this may mean some silliness just as voting may mean non-voting or “silly” voting. Like all parts of a democracy, it is messy and unpredictable and can occasionally go wrong. But in its messiness and unpredictability lies its power.”
Taken together, the examples demonstrate the formidable strength of RTI to “empower” citizens, vis-a-vis their governments, and to effect change for the public good. The law underscores the pre-eminence of citizens over the government. It gives meaning to the constitutional provision that all power of the state belongs to the people. Simply by asking for information from public authorities, citizens exercise that power. By accessing the vast reservoir of information available with the government, citizens enrich their own knowledge base, exercise their oversight role on government activities and help it to widen its vision.
On this angle, RTI entitles citizens to ask their government for any information they wish, without giving any reason. Their requests need not even relate to transparency or accountability, which is the ostensive objective of the law. The process itself contributes towards achieving that goal. They do not always have to be substantive or could even be “silly”. But good practice would require that they do take the law more seriously and use it for the multifarious purposes it is globally used for.
Unfortunately, in Bangladesh there is little understanding about the diverse use of the law. A deeply-entrenched belief has taken roots here that the law is meant to be used primarily to fight corruption and abuse of government power. Such a blinkered view has contributed to the largely negative use of the law so far and the resultant mistrust between public officials and citizens. The former resent the motives of the latter and the latter fear possible retaliation by the former. Inevitably, it has impacted negatively on the evolution of the law. It is time we come out of the groove and allow the law to bloom fully. It can only happen when we recognise its immense scope for multifarious application. Our imagination should be the only limit.
In conclusion, it is worth reiterating that the proper use of RTI lie not only in preventing abuse of power and authority but, more importantly, in promoting a more positive use of the law which will contribute to a more knowledgeable and empowered citizenry and improved relationship between citizens and the government. A healthy interaction between the two is key to a robust democracy, good governance and enlightened citizenry.
(Shamsul Bari and Ruhi Naz are Chairman and Project Coordinator (RTI section) respectively of Research Initiatives, Bangladesh (RIB).)

RTI Bill will be passed before close of 2018 – Speaker of Parliament stresses

Ghana Web: Ghana: Thursday, November 15, 2018.
Speaker of Parliament Professor Aaron Mike Oquaye has given the strongest indication yet that parliament will pass the Right to Information (RTI) Bill into an Act by close of 2018.
Professor Oquaye disclosed this at a media engagement with some selected journalists in Accra on Monday, November 12.
According to the Speaker, Parliament is focused on passing the Bill; hence, it will do all it can for the Bill to be passed before the year ends.
“The Right to Information Bill will be a thing of the past by end of this year. I can assure you, it will be done,” he stressed.
“The budget will come, we will deal with the budget, and at the same time RTI will be a thing of the past by the end of this year,” Professor Mike Oquaye assured.
There have been many concerns raised about the failure on the part of successive Parliaments to pass the RTI bill into law to allow citizens, most importantly, journalists get access to information regarding state issues.
The RTI Bill has been before Parliament for over a decade, with all attempts to get the Bill passed failing.
Journalists across the country have been at the forefront of crusade to getting the RTI enacted, as it is very crucial to their work as people who serve as a link between government and the masses.
Pushing this agenda under an umbrella body, ‘Media Coalition on RTI’, the group has written several petitions and embarked on demonstrations to register their disappointment in Parliament for not passing the Bill.
On October, 30, 2018, the Coalition stormed the premises of Parliament to get the legislators to place premium on ratifying the Bill, but they were prevented from entering the main chamber for wearing branded T-Shirts.

Supreme Court on Rafale: Major highlights of today's proceedings

Business Today: New Delhi: Thursday, November 15, 2018.
The Supreme Court today reserved its order on pleas seeking court-monitored probe into the controversial Rafale deal with Dassault Aviation after a four-hour hearing. The three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, made it clear that any discussion on pricing of the fighter jets could only take place if the facts on the deal were made public. "The decision we need to take is whether to bring the fact on pricing in public domain or not," the bench told Attorney General K.K. Venugopal.
Here's a brief recap of the proceedings at the top court today:
The initial arguments today were commenced by advocate Manohar Lal Sharma, one of the petitioners, who reportedly told the court that the Inter Government Agreement was "illegal" and sought an investigation in the matter. Lawyer Vineet Dhanda, AAP leader Sanjay Singh, former Union Ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie and activist lawyer Prashant Bhushan have also filed petitions on the matter.
According to The Financial Express, while the submissions by Sharma and Dhanda focussed on Prime Minister Narendra Modi announcing the deal before the agreement was finalised, Singh's counsel questioned why the government reduced the deal of 126 jets to 36 given the concern that adversaries are inducting more fighter jets.
Then, Bhushan, appearing on behalf of himself and the former union ministers, alleged a hike of 40 per cent in the price per aircraft to Euro 270 million. He also claimed that apart from the issues of procedure, offset and pricing, there was a fourth issue of circumventing of tender by opting for an intergovernmental agreement, the conditions for which had not been met. He also alleged that the government was hiding behind the secrecy clause of the agreement. But when he wanted to submit information on this clause, Venugopal reportedly objected saying, "Secrecy agreement has to be secret and how he is producing it in court?"
Bhushan countered that by questioning how the price issue can compromise national security. "If I may point out, it was disclosed twice in Parliament formally. If it is a matter of national security, then the government has compromised national security twice by disclosing it in Parliament," Bhushan added. "In any case, this is covered by RTI Act and it is a bogus argument by government to say that price cannot be disclosed due to secrecy etc."
According to him, top officials have abused their authority as public servants by giving this contract to Dassault at inflated prices and by giving offset to Reliance. "It is therefore in the nature of a commission and constitutes an offence under Prevention of Corruption Act. Hence, CBI has to register an FIR ... This has not been done despite our complaint to CBI, hence we have approached this court," he said.
However, the Attorney General continued to defend the secrecy regarding pricing of the 36 jets saying "our adversaries may get an advantage" by such a disclosure. During the hearing, he mentioned that at the exchange rate of November 2016, the cost of a bare fighter jet was Rs 670 crore.
Interestingly, the Centre's stand on secrecy comes two days after the government submitted details of pricing of the Rafale deal to the apex court in a sealed cover. Venugopal, in fact, contended that "even Parliament has not been told about the complete cost of jets" and asserted that the decision on types of aircraft and weapons that need to be bought was a matter for experts and not an issue to be adjudicated upon by the judiciary.
He added that he had decided not to peruse the pricing aspect himself "as in a case of any leak, my office would be held responsible". Venugopal concluded his argument saying that Rafale aircrafts are potent and "had we possessed Rafale during the Kargil war, we could have avoided huge casualties as Rafale is capable of hitting targets from a distance of 60 kms". When the bench pointed out that the Rafale jets came 14 years after Kargil, the top law officer replied that he had said it "hypothetically".
Today's hearing also covered inputs from top Air Force officers. "We are dealing with requirements of the Air Force and would like to ask an Air Force officer on the Rafale jet. We want to hear from an Air force officer and not the office of the Defence Ministry on the issue," the bench said after hearing the arguments submitted by the petitioners.
Air Marshal V.R. Chaudhari, Alok Khosla, Commander-in-Chief, Eastern Air Command, and two other officers from Indian Air Force then appeared in the top court. The bench asked the officers about latest induction in the Air Force, they replied it was the Sukhoi 30s, which is a 3.5 generation aircraft and added that they do not have 4th or 5th generation aircraft. The top court then pointed out that it meant "there has been no induction of aircrafts since 1985". That's something worth keeping in mind as the Rafale controversy plays out.

Modi govt denies info to RTI activists on CIC applicants and appointments : By Anita Joshua

Telegraph India: New Delhi: Thursday, November 15, 2018.
The Narendra Modi government appears to have thrown a shroud of secrecy around the appointment of the central information commissioners, denying an RTI applicant even some of the basic information it had been willing to reveal last year.
Citing Section 8(1)(i) of the Right to Information Act, 2005, the department of personnel and training on Wednesday refused to disclose even the number of applicants for the vacancies advertised in July this year.
When RTI activists had sought similar information in January last year relating to an advertisement for the appointment of two information commissioners at the Central Information Commission, the department had revealed the number of applicants.
But it had at that time too cited Section 8(1)(i) to refuse to reveal their names and the process being followed to analyse or short-list the applications.
Section 8(1)(i) says that information can be denied in the instance of “cabinet papers including records of deliberations of the council of ministers, secretaries and other officers: provided that the decisions of council of ministers, the reasons thereof, and the material on the basis of which the decisions were taken shall be made public after the decision has been taken, and the matter is complete, or over: provided further that those matters which come under the exemptions specified in this section shall not be disclosed’’.
Applicant Anjali Bhardwaj said she had sought the information because of the changes the government was trying to introduce to the salaries and other terms and conditions of the information commissioners’ service without Parliament’s approval.
Sub-section (5) of Section 13 of the RTI Act, 2005, says the salaries, allowances and other terms of service for the central information commissioner and the information commissioners will be the same as those of the chief election commissioner and the election commissioners.
But two advertisements since July say that the salary, allowances and other terms of the information commissioners’ service “shall be as may be specified at the time of appointment of the selected candidate’’.
The government had during Parliament’s monsoon session tried to introduce an amendment bill that sought to empower the Centre to decide the tenures, salaries and allowances of the chief information commissioner and the information commissioners of the central and state commissions.
The draft bill was circulated among Rajya Sabha members but the government did not introduce the legislation in the face of combined pressure from the Opposition and RTI users.
The critics saw in the draft an attempt by the government to control the information commissioners at the Centre and the states by making itself the direct authority on the terms and conditions of their service.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Over 200 MPs not serious with passage of RTI Bill – Media Coalition

Ghana Web: Ghana: Wednesday, November 14, 2018.
It has now emerged that majority of Ghanaian Members of Parliament (MPs) are not interested in the passage of the Right to Information Bill (RTI) into law.
The Media Coalition on the RTI that made this observation says more than 200 MPs have for the beginning of Third Meeting demonstrated their lack of interest in the passage of the bill by their continuous absence on the floor of the House whenever the bill comes up for consideration.
In a statement released on Monday, the Media Coalition on the Right to Information Bill said they consider the actions of the MPs as deliberate strategy to once again frustrate the passage of the bill into law.
“Ever since Parliament returned from recess, over 200 Members of Parliament are consistently absent from the Chamber anytime the RTI Bill is up for consideration. It is on record that only between 30 and 50 MPs are in the Chamber anytime the RTI is up for consideration in the past two weeks”, the statement released by the Coalition in part read.
The deliberate attempts by the MPs to frustrate the passage of the RTI Bill into law, according to the Media Coalition, is worsened by the lack of seriousness shown by the leadership of the House.
“This bad practice is giving credence to public suspicions that a high number of MPs are against the passage of the RTI Bill but do not want to openly say so”, the statement noted.
Below is the full statement:
Over 200 MPs abandon RTI Bill.
The Media Coalition on Right to Information (RTI) and the RTI Coalition have noticed the lackadaisical attitude of Members of Parliament (MPs) towards the RTI Bill.
In our view, this constitutes a deliberate strategy to once again frustrate the passage of the Bill into law.
Ever since parliament returned from recess, over 200 Members of Parliament are consistently absent from the Chamber anytime the RTI Bill is up for consideration.
It is on record that only between 30 and 50 MPs are in the chamber anytime the RTI Bill is up for consideration in the past two weeks.
The New Patriotic Party (NPP) Member of Parliament (MP) for Adansi Asokwa, Kobina Tahiru Hammond, who has openly said that he is against the law has taken advantage of the situation to stop the House from considering the Bill by raising the issue of quorum.
He has found a strong ally in Samuel Nartey George, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) MP for Ningo-Prampram, who has also resorted to the quorum call to frustrate the consideration of the Bill.
A third of the 275 legislators, which stands at 92 are needed to form a quorum in the House.
In view of these negative developments, the Media Coalition on RTI petitioned the leadership of Parliament to adopt extended sittings to ensure that the Bill is passed before Parliament rises for the Christmas break.
To our surprise, the leadership of parliament has not considered our request necessary and therefore did not show any seriousness as usual.
There were only 2 days of extended sittings and both ended before 4PM.
We are minded by the fact that Parliament has sat on Monday’s, weekends and sometimes late into the night just to pass some laws in this country and to approve of loan agreements.
Therefore, the ongoing absenteeism anytime the RTI Bill is up for consideration is unacceptable.
This bad practice is giving credence to public suspicions that a high number of MPs are against the passage of the RTI Bill but do not want to openly say so.
At the beginning of the current meeting on October 30, 2018, the Majority Leader, Osei Kyei-Mensah- Bonsu, gave the assurance that the House would pass the RTI Bill into law before it rises in December, 2018. He actually said the leadership was committed to finishing work on the bill before November 15th, 2018 when the budget will be presented to the house.
It is sad that parliament is not worried that its Leader of Government Business has made promises to the people of Ghana but the actions of the House suggests that our MPs see themselves as lords over those who elected them and therefore can renege on their promises at will.
The RTI Bill has passed through the first and second readings and is at the consideration stage, with 138 amendments mostly substitution or deletion of words proposed to be considered by the House.
The object of the RTI Bill is to provide for the operationalisation of the constitutional right to information held by public and some private institutions, subject to exemptions that are necessary and consistent with the protection of public interest in a democratic society.
It also seeks to foster a culture of transparency and accountability in public affairs and to provide for related matters.
The RTI Bill was first drafted in 1999, reviewed in 2003, 2005 and 2007 but was only presented to Parliament in 2010. It was brought back to the Sixth Parliament but could not be passed till the expiration of that Parliament on January 6, 2016.
After months of waiting, the Bill was laid in Parliament early this year (2018) by the Deputy Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Joseph Dindiok Kpemka.

Another multi-crore project on the anvil for Akkulam

Times of India: Thiruvananthapuram: Wednesday, November 14, 2018.
Nine years after the state government launched an ambitious Veli-Akkulam beautification project and drained away crores of rupees without yielding any result, the government is set to launch Akkulam rejuvenation project at a cost of Rs 128 crore.
The detailed project report for the scheme was submitted by Usha Titus, executive chairperson, Akkulam destination management council here on Monday. The project will be executed by the department of tourism, utilizing Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board (KIIFB) funds.
TOI in a series of reports had pointed out how the huge amount spent on dredging of Akkulam lake as part of Veli-Akkulam beautification project had gone unaccounted. Documents obtained through RTI had revealed that the vigilance and anti-corruption bureau in its quick verification (QV) report had detailed about the lapses in implementation of project, however no action was recommended against any of the implementing officials citing that the official had retired.
An answer to the RTI query further revealed that vigilance had not taken any step beyond filing of QV report, although a project that was meant to be completed in 10 months with the simple objective of deepening Akkulam lake went on guzzling crores of rupees and without making any impact.
Scrutiny of documents had revealed that the state government embarked on the Rs 17 crore worth project to dredge nearly 7 lakh cu.m silt from Akkulam lake without having any idea where and how to dispose the huge volume of matter being dredged. The project had so far consumed close to Rs 10 crore and officials who had associated with the project had admitted that it was far from its objectives.
The new project is silent on the money that has been spent on dredging and deepening of the lake for almost a decade. The project mainly aims at cleaning the lake of algae and trash. Waste, including plastic, will be removed and water will be cleaned using recycling method.
An intelligent onsite water quality monitoring system and lab will be installed to check the quality of water. In spots where earth has been piled up, green islands would be created. Bamboo bridge, green bridge, cycle track, corridors and cobbled footpaths are the other components of the scheme.
The main attractions of the Akkulam tourist village phase 2 include a Rs 2 crore worth digital music fountain, a multi-dimensional theatre, cricket bowling pitch, cycle track and walking track.
The park has also undergone a lot of other changes such as art installation, landscaping, artificial water falls, a wide playing arena, a restaurant block and an office block. There were also plans to introduce winch transportation but was dropped owing to cost factor.

Allowance For Madhya Pradesh Lawmakers Over 3 Times The Salary Bill: RTI

NDTV: Indore: Wednesday, November 14, 2018.
According to the data, the salary bill of lawmakers between 2013 and 2018 was Rs. 32.03 crore, while they were paid Rs. 117 crore in various allowances in the same period.
As Madhya Pradesh prepares for assembly elections, an RTI has revealed that Rs. 149 crore were paid from state treasuries in salaries and allowances to 231 outgoing legislators in last five years.
The allowances were over three times the salary bill, the data shows.
According to the data furnished under the Right to Information by the Assembly secretariat, the salary bill of lawmakers between April 2013 and September 2018 was Rs. 32.03 crore, while they were paid Rs. 117 crores in various allowances in the same period.
Travel allowances paid to the MLAs alone accounted for Rs. 34.03 crore.
RTI activist Chandrashekhar Gaud had sought this information.
According to the economic survey for 2017-18 financial year, per capita income of the state was Rs. 79,907 while the average income of legislators was Rs. 14.48 lakh in the same financial year.

Questions raised on RoC grounds for declaring Mistry sacking violative of law: RTI

Business Standard: Mumbai: Wednesday, November 14, 2018.
The Ministry of Corporate Affair's western region director had raised questions on some of the grounds Registrar of Companies (RoC) used to declare that the sacking of Cyrus P Mistry as chairman and director of Tata Sons and Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) violated Companies Act and RBI rules, according to an RTI reply.
In response to a Right to Information (RTI) query filed by Shapoorji Pallonji Mistry Group, which is the single largest shareholder of Tata Sons with 18.4 per cent shareholding, the Ministry of Corporate Affairs last month furnished two letters - a January 25, 2017 letter of the RoC, Mumbai and a February 17, 2017 letter from the Office of the Regional Director, Western Region of the ministry.
Responding to the observation of RoC, Mumbai on the procedural aspects like documents submitted or the signing authority, in removing Mistry as chairman and director of TCS, the Regional Director, Western Region, Ministry of Company Affairs the senior reporting authority, raised doubts on the efficacy of the findings.
According to the RTI response, the Regional Director (Western Region) asked RoC, Mumbai if a similar standard was followed or prescribed by RoC in all other cases of removal of directors.
It also asked RoC to furnish a list of companies where directors were removed under the Companies Act, 2013 and the details of documents furnished/called for in such cases.
In addition, the Regional Director questioned RoC on whether as per law, many documents which were not annexed to the Form DIR 12 filed by TCS pursuant to the removal of Mistry as director, were mandatorily required to be annexed. If not mandatory, whether RoC can insist on the same, it asked.
As per law, Form No. DIR-12 is to be filed with the Registrar within 30 days of the appointment/removal of a director.
According to the letter furnished in the RTI reply, RoC cited not sending of representation made by Mistry against his sacking to all shareholders but instead making it available for inspection at the company office as a violation of the Companies Act.
Other violations, according to it, were that the Special Notice for the sacking was not "properly authenticated". Also that the Article of Association of Tata Sons prescribed process of removal of the Chairman and that such a removal required prior approval of RBI as Tata Sons was registered as a non-banking finance company.
A Mumbai-bench of the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) in July this year dismissed a petition by Mistry who had alleged oppression of minority shareholders and mismanagement.
NCLT ruled that the board of directors is competent to dismiss executive chairman, adding that Mistry's conduct does not augur well for the smooth functioning of the group.
Mistry, who was ousted from the board of Tata Sons after a four-year stint in October 2016, claimed in his petition to NCLT in December 2016 that he was illegally removed as chairman of the software-to-salt conglomerate. He has challenged the NCLT order in the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT).
The RTI query was filed more than a month after the NCLT verdict, on August 31, 2018 and the reply was submitted to the applicant on October 3.
Tatas had vehemently denied any violation when the contents of the RoC letter revealed in the RTI were reported late last month.
Tata Sons had said all the requisite processes under the Companies Act were followed in removing Mistry as the group chairman and also from the board of TCS.
"The respective board of directors acted as per the provision of the Companies Act as well as in compliance of the articles of association of the company. This was subsequently approved by both the shareholders of Tata Sons and TCS the NCLT has also confirmed that the process followed for removal of Mistry was valid and accordance with law," a Tata Sons spokesman had said. "All requisite processes were followed in line with the Companies Act in case of Mistry's removal from the board of TCS as also as the chairman of TCS and Tata Sons.

Former info commissioner files RTI petition with CM

Times of India: Pune: Wednesday, November 14, 2018.
Stressing on the need for more transparency in the Right to Information (RTI) mechanism and better implementation of the act, a petition was recently addressed to chief minister Devender Fadnavis. One specific demand in the petition is for all RTI responses to be put up on the government websites.
Former information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi, who initiated the petition, told TOI, “We wish to draw attention to the growing illegal and anti-democratic practice in many government and municipal bodies of denigrating and abusing RTI users.”
“Such practices have also led to violence against and murder of RTI users,” he added. Gandhi, who is am RTI activist, said if all the information is made available on the websites, nobody can be blackmailed. He has requested the chief minister to ensure that the practice of abusing RTI users stops and citizens are treated with respect. Those who defame and bully citizens must be punished, he said in the petition.
Gandhi also called for the scrapping of the police complaints against RTI users.
On Monday, Gandhi said he received a text message from the chief minister with an assurance that he would look into the issue and that the Chief Minister’s Office will forward the petition to the home and urban development departments
Though the state general administration department had issued a directive on August 25, 2015, asking all public authorities to upload all RTI queries and the responses on their websites, this is not being implemented.