Friday, February 28, 2020

Demand for investigation into school teachers’ recruitments since 2012

The Hindu: Tamil Nadu: Friday, February 28, 2020.
An association approached Madurai Bench of Madras High Court in 2018 demanding an investigation by the CB-CID wing of Tamil Nadu police
Following revelations about irregularities in the recruitment by Tamil Nadu Public Service Commission, a group of people have demanded investigation into school teachers’ recruitments done by Teachers Recruitment Board through Teachers Eligibility Test since 2012.
Alleging that their demand has been ignored for long despite providing documentary evidence indicating widespread irregularities, they blamed the State government and TRB in particular for trying to mislead Madras High Court as well by withholding information.
M. Ilangovan, coordinator, 2013 TET Qualified Candidates’ Welfare Association, said that neither the TRB nor the School Education Department (SED) has till date released the full list of roughly 21,000 persons appointed in 2012.
“Similarly, they have not provided the details of toppers in exams conducted in 2013, 2014 and 2017. They have evaded replying to a number of requests filed under Right to Information Act for obtaining these details,” he said.
S. Vadivelsundar, president of the association, said that information they have collected so far indicated abnormally high numbers of recruitment from a particular center in Salem in the TET examination conducted in 2013. “Similarly, in the recruitment for Geography teachers in the same year, the majority were from Theni and Dindigul,” he said.
He said that the association has also noticed individual anomalies of persons scoring abysmally low marks in the recruitment for secondary grade teachers, but scoring extremely high marks in the relatively tougher paper on the same subject for the recruitment of graduate teachers.
“We approached Madurai Bench of Madras High Court in 2018 demanding an investigation by the CB-CID wing of Tamil Nadu police. The court asked the TRB and the SED to respond, but they have not done so yet,” Mr. Ilangovan alleged. He said that with the ongoing focus on irregularities in recruitments, they were hopeful that their fresh petition to the TRB would be investigated properly.

BJP may ‘play a role’ in US poll, party top gun warns, then deletes

wefornews: Friday, IANS: New Delhi: February 28, 2020.
In the Howdy Modi event, PM Modi had used the phrase, ‘Abki Baar Trump Sarkar’.
Ever since the glitzy congregation at ‘Howdy Modi’ in the US last year there was a murmur, but now a senior functionary of the ruling BJP here has confirmed it with a tweet — India may “play a role” in the US Presidential election.
Though late on Wednesday minutes after the tweet was posted, it also was deleted, the man who posted it added “seriousness” to the matter. That man was none other than B.L. Santosh, the national general secretary (Organisation) of BJP and among the top four influential members of the party.
After Democrat leader Bernie Sanders criticised US President Trump’s silence on the ongoing Delhi riots calling them an internal matter of India, Santosh spit fire. He tweeted: “How much ever neutral we wish to be you compel us to play a role in Presidential election. Sorry to say so… But you are compelling us.”
That unusual and strongly worded tweet came in response to Sanders saying: “Over 200 million Muslims call India home. Widespread anti-Muslim mob violence has killed at least 27 and injured many more. Trump responds by saying, ‘That’s up to India’. This is a failure of human rights.”
The senior BJP leader’s anguish is believed to have stemmed from making the Delhi violence look like a one-sided, anti-minority pogrom, than Sander’s rant at Donald Trump.
While addressing a press conference in Delhi, on the second day of his tour, the US President was asked many times, both about the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act and the ongoing stir in North East area of Delhi. Speaking on the violence, President Trump had said, “As far as the individual attacks, I heard about it, but I didn’t discuss that with him (Modi). That’s up to India.”
Sanders, a left leaning democrat and a staunch critic of Donald Trump labelled the US President’s much publicised India visit that show rare bonhomie between PM Modi and him, as “failure of leadership”.
Sander’s barb, which was perceived by the BJP leader as against Indian government led by the BJP, comes in the wake of another Democratic presidential nominee — Senator Elizabeth Warren spoke out against the Delhi stir.
This is not the first time, Sanders hit out at Modi, either directly or indirectly. He criticised Modi just ahead of the “Howdy Modi” event that saw the two world leaders publicly bond. Though invited to the event, many Democrat leaders like Nancy Pelosi, and Brad Sherman had opted out of Modi’s mega show in Houston, citing prior commitments. At the end it turned out to be a Republican-dominated event, where Modi happily talked about ending Article 370 and Trump about “radical Islamic terrorism”. The entire stadium gave him Trump a standing ovation which seemingly did not go well with the democrats with a looming US presidential election.
In the Howdy Modi event, PM Modi had used the phrase, ‘Abki Baar Trump Sarkar’. Now, with Sanders upping the ante, one of BJP’s most influential leader and increasingly seen as BJP President J.P. Nadda’s eyes and ears — Santosh’s public warning, though deleted, will surely not go unnoticed with the Democrats who have raised objections with Article 370, India’s decision to end special status to Jammu and Kashmir or the recent Citizenship Amendment Act.

Information Ministry sensitises staff of MDAs on RTI law

Business Ghana: Ghana: Friday, February 28, 2020.
The Ministry of Information (MoI) has begun sensitisation exercises on the Right to Information Act (RTI) for the management and staff of the various Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), as part of the implementation of the RTI (Act 989).
The sensitisation exercise, which began on Monday, February 24, is expected to continue for the next 16 days and would highlight key areas of the RTI to ensure its effective implementation.
At a sensitisation workshop for workers of the Ministry of Railways Development in Accra, Mr Mawuli Segbefia, a Principal Value Officer at the Policy Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation Directorate at the Ministry, said the RTI law was very important because it would help build a culture of transparency and accountability in public affairs.
He said the law was revolutionary since it would change the way information was generated, stored and diffused in the public service and ensure that no one is denied access to information.
Mr Segbefia, providing an overview of the legal framework of the Act, said there is the need for clear times lines for response to a request and proactive disclosure of information.
The process of requesting for information include: picking up a standard access to information request form from a public institution, filling the form and submitting it to the information unit or registry of the public institution, he said.
He said the application form would be received and the applicant notified within 14 working days after submission on the availability or existence of the information requested.
In situations where the information exists, he said, the applicant would be notified of the manner and data in which access may be granted between one and 120 days upon notification on the existence of information and the prescribed fee for the reproduction of the information requested.
Mr Segbefia said offences under Act 989 included: failure or neglect by an information officer or other public officers to perform his/her function under the law, obtaining personal information of third party under false pretense and willfully providing false statement in order to obtain information.
He said people found to have violated the law would attract either a summary conviction of a fine between 250-500 penalty units; a prison term between one to three years; or both.
Mr Segbefia said even though the RTI granted access to information, the law exempts certain disclosures including information about the president or vice president; information relating to Cabinet; information relating to law enforcement and public safety.
More so, information affecting international relations and information that affects the security of the state.
Mr Segbefia said although the implementation of the RTI law had started there was some work to be done including the setting up of the RTI Commission for appeals, establishment of information units at the various MDA's headed by a fully trained RTI Officer; and nationwide deployment of Information Technology based solutions for the archiving and retrieval of information.
He urged the MoI in the interim, to designate an RTI officer and ensure that the front desk and designated RTI officials are briefed on the handing of request for information and make available application forms for requesting information.
Again, the Ministry should release the designated RTI officer and the Chief Records Officers for training which is expected to start from March 11.
Mrs Patricia Dovi Sampson, the Director of the PPME of the Ministry, noted that information exempted from disclosure should it be disclosed, would undermine the deliberating process.
She mentioned those exemptions as information that could contravene parliamentary privileges, prejudice the fair trial of a person and infringe privileged information.
She encouraged the workers, including the drivers and security and guards to be aware of the RTI law and help in the implementation of the law by directing all visitors who enquire about the RTI to the appropriate office.
Ms Ama Frimpong, a member of the sensitisation team, said applicants who feel they have been wrongly denied access to information could appeal to the RTI Commission, an external body mandated to promote, protect and enforce the RTI.
In addition, the applicant can appeal to the high court if he or she is not satisfied with the decision of the Commission.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Certain aspects of NPR ‘under process of finalisation’: RTI

The Hindu: Hyderabad: Thursday, 27 February 2020.
I will be filing a first appeal shortly, says activist S.Q. Masood
With just over a month for the National Population Register (NPR) exercise to begin, the NPR Division of Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), in response to a Right to Information query, has indicated that certain aspects of the exercise are still being finalised.
These include a provision to assure respondents that the enumerator has entered the correct information, and the terms of reference between the NPR app developing agency and the Government of India.
The MHA responded to a set of questions asked by RTI activist S.Q. Masood, who told The Hindu, that he wanted clarity on a host of issues connected to the exercise before it is scheduled to begin with the first phase of House Listing and Housing Census on April 1.
In its response to the method of data capturing – whether there will be two devices, or if the same device with two apps will be used – the MHA’s NPR Division stated that the ‘NPR and Census are two different exercises’ and ‘there will be different applications for Census 2021 and NPR 2020’.
Growing apprehensions
Given that there are growing apprehensions among citizens, especially those within the Muslim community, the RTI activist also sought to know whether there exists a provision for respondents to know if information entered by the enumerator is correct. The RTI response reads that ‘it is under process of finalisation’.
Another question seeks information about the agencies which have been engaged by the Union government to develop NPR application and related software, and a copy of the terms of reference between them.
The response to this too is that ‘it is under process of finalisation’.
The response to a request to provide screenshots of the NPR app showing data capturing too did not yield much.
“There is a lot of fear about NPR among citizens. The timing of NPR with Census could ruin both the operations as many have called for a boycott of the NPR. I wanted clarity on the several aspects. Unfortunately, in the RTI reply I received form MHA last month, the clarity I was hoping for was not there. I would be filing a first appeal shortly,” Mr Masood said.

Bank ATMs start dispensing more of Rs 500 instead of Rs 2,000

The Indian Express: New Delhi: Thursday, 27 February 2020.
In a move that could see lower availability of Rs 2,000 notes in the market, many banks are increasingly filling their ATMs (automated teller machines) with lower denomination currency notes of Rs 500 or below. Some banks have started recalibrating their ATMs to account for a greater chunk of lower denomination notes. While the Finance Ministry has maintained there is no plan to phase out Rs 2,000 notes, banking industry executives see the proportion of this falling over years.
State-owned Indian Bank has already announced it has decided to stop using Rs 2,000 notes in their ATMs and more lenders are going slow on dispensing this currency through their ATMs. The high-value currency note was introduced along with a new Rs 500 note after the Centre, on November 8, 2016, declared old Rs 500 notes and Rs 1,000 notes as invalid, thereby pulling out of the economy nearly 86 per cent of the currency in circulation by value.
On February 11, the Ministry clarified in Parliament that there is “no proposal under consideration” to withdraw Rs 2,000 currency notes from circulation. However, RBI data shows that circulation of this currency has fallen sharply in proportion to the Rs 500 note. As per latest data available with the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), the share of Rs 2,000 notes in the total bank notes in circulation fell to 3.0 per cent in FY19 against 3.3 per cent in FY18 and 3.3 per cent in FY17. On the other hand, the share of Rs 500 notes in the total bank notes in circulation rose more than threefold to 19.8 per cent in 2018-19, against 15.1 per cent in 2017-18 and 5.9 per cent in 2016-17. In terms of value, the share of Rs 2,000 notes fell to 31.2 per cent in 2018-19 from 50.2 per cent in 2016-17; meanwhile, the same for Rs 500 notes rose to 51.0 per cent in 2018-19 from 22.5 per cent in 2016-17.
The value of all Rs 2,000 notes issued in 2018-19 stood at Rs 6,58,200 crore, roughly the same as Rs 6,57,100 crore in 2016-17. In contrast, the value of all Rs 500 notes issued in 2018-19 stood at Rs 10,75,900 crore, a more than three-fold surge from Rs 2,94,100 crore in 2016-17.

2-day info fair begins

The Daily Star: Bangladesh: Thursday, 27 February 2020.
A two-day information fair began in Savar yesterday, with an objective to inform people about the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
Sachetan Nagarik Committee, a unit of Transparency International Bangladesh, and the upazila administration are hosting the event.
State Minister for Relief and Disaster Management Dr Md Enamur Rahman inaugurated the fair as chief guest on the upazila administration premises, where 30 stalls have been set up by different government and non-government organisations.
Prof Dipak Roy, president of Sachetan Nagorik Committee in Savar, said RTI act is for people and awareness on the act's benefits can maximise its use. "We have been holding the fair for last 11 years to build awareness on the act," he added.
Salahuddin Khan, secretary of Durniti Protirodh Committee (Savar), said the fair will help people gain more knowledge on how they can apply for information.

Can information commissions make a difference?

The Express Tribune: PK: Thursday, 27 February 2020.
Governments in Pakistan have traditionally been reluctant to the point of resentment when it comes to sharing information that ought to be available to the public anyway. As impressive and imposing they may appear to the naive, legislations like articles 19(A) of the Constitution or the Right to Information (RTI) Acts are of little help when it comes to getting information from public bodies. Missing, ineffective or debilitated, information commissions lie at the heart of this malaise.
However, even in this gloomy ‘information shielding’ scenario, something remarkable has begun to happen. Unlike scores of other sleepy and ineffective commissions, the Pakistan Information Commission (PIC) at Islamabad is creating new traditions of excellence and professionalism. Despite its shortcomings of staff, resources and office space, it has demonstrated how a handful of committed individuals can make decisions that can impact the lives of millions. Many reluctant public-sector organisations are, for the first time, being compelled to cough out the information that they so jealously keep hidden in their archives.
The recent saga of how the RTI was used to enhance the illegal low wages of contracted janitors of Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is an inspiring case study. It demonstrates how ordinary citizens and a responsible information commission can come together to bring changes even in the most unwilling bureaucratic systems. A civil society group, Citizens for Equal Rights, took up the matter of janitors receiving less than minimum wage with the CAA. Using their right to information, the citizens demanded copies of the contracts that defined the wages of CAA’s contracted janitors. When, despite numerous letters, complaints and e-mails, the CAA failed to do so, the matter was referred to the PIC.
The PIC promptly and professionally heard both sides and decided that the CAA had no reason to deny the requested information. In a landmark decision, the CAA was directed to provide the group the contracts under which the wages were paid to the contracted janitors. The CAA promptly complied and provided a copy of its janitorial contract to the applicants.
A study of the contract revealed that while the CAA paid close to Rs20,000 per person to the contractor, a janitor received a monthly amount of only Rs15,000. This amount was a blatant deviation from the minimum legal wage defined by the federal government. Equipped with this information, the Citizens for Equal Rights wrote to the CAA and demanded immediate compliance of minimum wage for all its contracted janitors.
The CAA acted promptly and undertook a number of salutary, humane and praiseworthy steps. The third-party contractor was fired and the same manpower re-employed on a retainership basis by the organisation itself. Most importantly, the CAA raised the monthly wages of its janitors to Rs25,000 and agreed to do the same for janitors working at all airports and locations.
The CAA’s actions are laudable. It provided the much-needed relief and dignity to a class that for long has lived a life of extreme misery, poverty and wretchedness. This exemplary step is also a strong message for all those organisations in Pakistan who continue to pay less than the legal minimum wage to their employees an act that can only be categorised as cruelty, exploitation and modern-day slavery.
Finally, this success story is a tribute to the PIC, who’s meaningful and judicious decisions have opened a new chapter of hope and possibility for the people of Pakistan. There is much to learn and emulate from this example, both for citizens and other information commissions. In a scenario of painfully slow and expensive judicial processes, one hopes that effective information commissions and a responsible citizenry will become the next best option for accountability and change in Pakistan.

245 hosps in Haridwar do not have facility to dispose bio-medical waste, reveals RTI

Times of India: Haridwar: Thursday, 27 February 2020.
The menace of dumping bio-medical waste in the open continues unabated in Haridwar. An RTI reply from the health department has revealed that out of the total 306 private and government medical facilities in the city, only 61 have proper arrangements for disposing bio-medical waste scientifically. Among these 61 facilities, 42 are government-run centres.
The rest 245 medical facilities openly dump bio-medical wastes in the residential areas which could trigger a spread of several diseases. The RTI was filed by Shiv Sena district president Charanjeet Pawha.
Locals claim that hospitals and clinics do no not abide by the rules and dump their waste in public dustbins, due to which bio-medical waste gets mixed with domestic waste.
Social activist Vishal Garg told TOI, “Sanitation facilities are in a bad shape in Haridwar and bio-medical waste is being dumped in the open and is getting mixed with domestic waste. This could lead to a spread of infections in the city but local officials are not taking concrete steps to address this issue.”
When queried on the issue, Haridwar’s chief medical officer Saroj Naithani told TOI, “A total of 306 hospital, clinics, and pathology labs are registered under the Clinical Establishment (Registration and Regulation) Act in the city. We ask them to follow guidelines in regards to disposal of bio-medical waste. We will set up an inquiry into the matter and strict action will be taken against those who violate rules.”
Notably, Haridwar generates around 250 metric tonnes of garbage (on an average) daily and Roorkee Municipal Corporation collects around 125 metric tonnes of it. During festival and religious fairs, the garbage quantity increases by 25%. “All this waste isn’t treated. In fact, Haridwar Municipal Corporation collects garbage from the city and dumps it in Sarai village. This continued dumping has triggered a health scare among the people who live there,” a local said.
Meanwhile, Haridwar Municipal Corporation commissioner Narendra Singh Bhandari told TOI, “We do not collect bio-medical waste from hospitals or nursing homes. We have directed our sanitation workers to not collect waste from hospitals. We will take action if they are found dumping bio-medical waste in public dustbins.”

Information Ministry sensitises staff of MDAs on RTI law

Ghana News Agency: Ghana: Thursday, 27 February 2020.
The Ministry of Information (MoI) has begun sensitisation exercises on the Right to Information Act (RTI) for the management and staff of the various Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), as part of the implementation of the RTI (Act 989).
The sensitisation exercise, which began on Monday, February 24, is expected to continue for the next 16 days and would highlight key areas of the RTI to ensure its effective implementation.
At a sensitisation workshop for workers of the Ministry of Railways Development in Accra, Mr Mawuli Segbefia, a Principal Value Officer at the Policy Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation Directorate at the Ministry, said the RTI law was very important because it would help build a culture of transparency and accountability in public affairs.
He said the law was revolutionary since it would change the way information was generated, stored and diffused in the public service and ensure that no one is denied access to information.
Mr Segbefia, providing an overview of the legal framework of the Act, said there is the need for clear times lines for response to a request and proactive disclosure of information.
The process of requesting for information include: picking up a standard access to information request form from a public institution, filling the form and submitting it to the information unit or registry of the public institution, he said.
He said the application form would be received and the applicant notified within 14 working days after submission on the availability or existence of the information requested.
In situations where the information exists, he said, the applicant would be notified of the manner and data in which access may be granted between one and 120 days upon notification on the existence of information and the prescribed fee for the reproduction of the information requested.
Mr Segbefia said offences under Act 989 included: failure or neglect by an information officer or other public officers to perform his/her function under the law, obtaining personal information of third party under false pretense and willfully providing false statement in order to obtain information.
He said people found to have violated the law would attract either a summary conviction of a fine between 250-500 penalty units; a prison term between one to three years; or both.
Mr Segbefia said even though the RTI granted access to information, the law exempts certain disclosures including information about the president or vice president; information relating to Cabinet; information relating to law enforcement and public safety.
More so, information affecting international relations and information that affects the security of the state.
Mr Segbefia said although the implementation of the RTI law had started there was some work to be done including the setting up of the RTI Commission for appeals, establishment of information units at the various MDA’s headed by a fully trained RTI Officer; and nationwide deployment of Information Technology based solutions for the archiving and retrieval of information.
He urged the MoI in the interim, to designate an RTI officer and ensure that the front desk and designated RTI officials are briefed on the handing of request for information and make available application forms for requesting information.
Again, the Ministry should release the designated RTI officer and the Chief Records Officers for training which is expected to start from March 11.
Mrs Patricia Dovi Sampson, the Director of the PPME of the Ministry, noted that information exempted from disclosure should it be disclosed, would undermine the deliberating process.
She mentioned those exemptions as information that could contravene parliamentary privileges, prejudice the fair trial of a person and infringe privileged information.
She encouraged the workers, including the drivers and security and guards to be aware of the RTI law and help in the implementation of the law by directing all visitors who enquire about the RTI to the appropriate office.
Ms Ama Frimpong, a member of the sensitisation team, said applicants who feel they have been wrongly denied access to information could appeal to the RTI Commission, an external body mandated to promote, protect and enforce the RTI.
In addition, the applicant can appeal to the high court if he or she is not satisfied with the decision of the Commission.

Dr Jitendra highlights major DoPT achievements of Modi Govt

Daily Excelsior: New Delhi: Thursday, 27 February 2020.
Union Minister of State (Independent Charge) Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER), MoS PMO, Personnel, Public Grievances, Pensions, Atomic Energy and Space Dr Jitendra Singh today highlighted some of the major DoPT (Department of Personnel & Training), DARPG (Department of Administrative Reforms & Public Grievances) and Department of Pensions achievements of Modi Governmemt 2.0, in its second term beginning from May 2019.
He was briefing the media after chairing a comprehensive review meeting of the Union Ministry of Personnel here.
Dr. Jitendra Singh referred to RTI Amendment Act, 2019, whereby RTI Act, 2005 was amended to provide enabling provisions of administrative nature for making rules regarding tenure and service conditions of the Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners of the Central Information Commission as well as State Chief information Commissioner and State Information Commissioners of the State Information Commission. Consequently, the rules relating thereto were also notified on 24.10.2019 in the official gazette.
The process of selection and appointment of Chief Vigilance Commissioner and Chief Information Commissioner was accomplished successfully and orders of the appointment of new CVC and new CIC have been issued.
Making a departure from past practice, Common Foundation Course for all Civil Services Officers was started and Prime Minister Narendra Modi interacted with 425 officer trainees from 20 Servcies on 31.10.2019 at Kevadia, Gujarat.
Integrated Grievance Cell & Call Center was inaugurated on 20th June, 2019 for pensioners with the objective to provide easy access to pensioners in registering their grievances and getting resolution in speedy manner. This centres also working as pressure on the departments to resolve the problems of the elderly pensioners.
Dr Jitendra Singh also mentioned Centralized Public Grievance Redress and Monit-oring System (CPGRAMS) constituted by DARPG. The new CPGRAMS reforms has been developed to ensure user friendly lodging of grievance by a citizen and enable a navigation of the grievance to reach the field office responsible for resolution of the same.
Regional Conferences were organized on specific themes in association with various State/ Union Territory Governments with a view to bring National and State level organizations along with other stakeholders including NGOs, intelligentsia, media etc. on the same platform to share experiences in the formulation and implementation of good governance practices.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Govt Disregarded 90% Objections To 2019 Coastal Zone Law: Investigation

India Spend: New Delhi: Wednesday, 26 February 2020.
In April 2018, over 3,000 fishing collectives, environmental groups and citizens  across India submitted their objections to the draft of the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification, the law that governs the development of the country’s 7,500-km coastline. Nine months later, disregarding over 90% of representations--in violation of the February 2014 Pre Legislative Consultation Policy--and without publishing the draft in the official gazette as mandated, the government pushed through the final notification, show documents reviewed by IndiaSpend.
Fishing collectives and environment groups objected to the notification, which opened up India’s coastline for enhanced commercial activities, primarily on the grounds that:
No prior consultation was held with coastal communities, especially the fisherfolk;
The lifting of development restrictions would be disastrous for the coastal environment and the traditional communities that live off it;
Interfering with ecologically sensitive coastal areas would leave them more vulnerable to natural hazards.
The new law lifted the prohibition on construction in the previously protected 200-metre no-development zone (NDZ) in rural areas and 100-metre NDZ along tidal-influenced water bodies, reducing it to 50 metres for these water bodies and densely populated rural areas (with a population density of 2,161 per sq km). This would make way for more real estate, hotels and beach resorts, exposing more lives and property to the danger of extreme weather conditions, the groups argued. Amendments brought between 2014 and 2018, and retained in the new law, also allow for activities such as mining of atomic minerals in CRZ areas and reclamation of sea for monuments and memorials.
Sand dunes and mangroves provide the much-needed buffer against cyclones and storm surges. Yet "eco-tourism" constructions and activities are now allowed in vulnerable areas, as is mining for rare earth minerals in sand dunes and waste treatment in sensitive inter-tidal areas.
“Yeh lokshahi nahi thokshahi hai (this is not democracy, this is governance by force),” said Kiran Koli, general secretary of Maharashtra Machhimar Kruti Samiti, a Mumbai-based fisherpeople's collective, about his and 352 of his fellow members’ views being ignored by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC).
The CRZ notification is critical to the lives and livelihoods of the communities--around 171 million people or 14% of India’s population--living across 70 coastal districts, 66 in mainland India and four in island territories. Their future, especially that of marginalised communities, is directly linked to the health and disaster preparedness of the coasts, as IndiaSpend reported in October 2019.
If the ecological services of the coasts such as the maintenance of water balance, control of erosion and waste processing are factored in, it becomes even more important to ensure the health and resilience of coastal areas.
Upto 36 million Indians are likely to encounter coastal floods due to rising sea levels by 2050, an October 2018 study released by Climate Central had predicted. Urbanisation can increase the flood peaks up to eight times and flood volumes by six times, according to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).
Allowing intense development closer to the sea would exacerbate the risk for the coastal infrastructure and vulnerability of coastal populations, according to a paper released in August 2019 by the Observer Research Foundation.
Yet, the notification allowed for higher floor space index or floor area ratio--that is, more covered area, including all floors, in a property--for buildings in disaster-prone urban areas. Many of these urban areas are densely populated cities such as Mumbai, Kolkata, Vishakhapatanam and Chennai.
IndiaSpend emailed a detailed questionnaire to the joint secretary, CRZ, MoEFCC on January 30, 2020 seeking the ministry’s explanation for these omissions. This was followed up with two phone calls over 25 days. However, we did not get any official response to our queries. This story will be updated if and when we receive a reply.
3,469 objections to draft
The MoEFCC published the draft CRZ notification on its website on April 19, 2018. This draft was prepared on the basis of representations from coastal states and ‘other stakeholders’ and recommendations of the Shailesh Nayak Committee, set up to review the CRZ law of 2011, the government stated.
The draft was open for two months for public responses. The ministry received 3,833 representations, of which 3,469 were objections to the draft, documents obtained through a Right to Information (RTI) application revealed.
The ministry, finalising the law in January 2019, argued that the objections did not warrant attention because they “principally” fell within the set of concerns already addressed by the Nayak Committee, constituted in 2014. But this panel did not meet with the public while reviewing the law, and submitted its report in 2015.
On the non-publication of the draft notification in the official gazette, the ministry countered that this purpose was served by uploading the draft on to its website. However, publication of draft laws only in the administrative ministry's website does not facilitate the kind of discussion and engagement such laws deserve, observed an August 2019 analysis by public policy researchers Arun P S and Sushmita Patel.
Review of 2011 notification
The CRZ notification was first promulgated in 1991 for the protection of the coast. Over the following decade and a half, the notification went through eight reviews and 20 amendments. To compile these amendments in one document and to address the long-standing demand of fisher communities for recognition of their livelihood, the notification was replaced by a fresh law in 2011, according to a blog post by Centre for Policy Research (CPR), a think-tank in Delhi.
In June 2014, the environment ministry constituted a committee under the chairpersonship of Nayak, the erstwhile secretary of the Ministry of Earth Sciences.
The panel’s scope included addressing concerns raised by the state governments, eliminating ambiguities and simplifying clearance procedures. The committee held consultations with the state governments over the following six months and submitted its report to the ministry in January 2015.
While the ministry did not make the committee report public, it started chipping away at the notification’s progressive clauses by incorporating the changes suggested by the panel--such as the lifting of certain restrictions on the construction of buildings in coastal towns, allowing mining of atomic minerals even in intertidal areas, and reclamation to build monuments and memorials.
Between November 2014 and July 2018, 14 amendments were made to the CRZ law, four as drafts available for public review and ten as final amendments. The 2018 draft not only pieced together all the amendments, it also proposed further dilutions such as reduction of the NDZ and eco-tourism structures in ecologically sensitive areas, several stemming from the committee’s suggestions, an analysis by CPR shows.
‘Committee sought no public inputs’
In an interview in 2016, Shailesh Nayak had stated that the committee had met with the chief minister of Kerala, the chief secretary of Maharashtra and senior government officials of all coastal states and union territories. The panel had met with “other stakeholders” as well, the environment ministry had claimed repeatedly. But Nayak categorically denied meeting anyone other than state officials.
“The committee worked in an opaque and exclusionary manner, seeking no public inputs,” remarked Kanchi Kohli, senior legal advisor at CPR.
Nayak also denied receiving submissions from NGOs and other groups during the review. However, think-tanks and NGOs countered that they had made submissions with requests for meetings. “I sent him numerous emails requesting that we be given a hearing by his committee, and he refused to do so,” said Debi Goenka, executive trustee with Conservation Action Trust, a non-profit organisation based in Mumbai.
In these consultations, state governments sought reduction in the no-development zone, relaxations for tourism and mining activities and the extension of existing town and country planning norms to urban constructions in coastal areas as well, according to a summary of states’ representations prepared by CPR. The committee turned these demands into suggestions which were eventually made part of the new law.
“If you look at his report, it is evident that all that his committee did was accept almost all the demands of all the state governments to dilute the CRZ,” Goenka said. “Concerns of coastal inhabitants, fisherfolk, NGOs, etc. were not really relevant to his committee.”
The committee presented its initial findings before the ministry in November 2014 and submitted its report in January 2015. Coastal communities, citizen groups, scientists and the general public remained unaware of these developments. The Central Information Commission had to direct the ministry to share the report with CPR’s Kanchi Kohli, who had filed an RTI application and followed it up with first and second appeals for a copy of the report.
But the ministry, through its justification for ignoring the objections to the draft, implied that the Nayak committee had “dealt with” public concerns even before they were raised.
“It is a travesty of justice when the ministry claims that all the objections raised by the public in due earnestness had already been addressed and resolved by the committee's process,” said Kohli. “The Shailesh Nayak committee report has still not been officially made public by the environment ministry.”
Overlooked policies and rules
As the second consecutive term of the United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre was drawing to a close, in February 2014, the ministry of law and justice had promulgated the pre-legislative consultation policy. The policy was a result of a meeting of a committee of secretaries of the outgoing regime held in 2014. It also incorporated the recommendations of the National Advisory Council, an advisory body created by the UPA government in 2004 that ceased to exist under the current regime and the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution.
As a step towards “transparent government”, it suggested a set of practices to be followed “invariably” by all ministries and departments before finalising a legislation. Besides advising that the proposed law be published through the internet and “other means” for a minimum period of 30 days, the policy recommended that the summary of feedback received should be made available on the website of the ministry concerned.
The environment ministry did not upload the summary of comments received on the draft CRZ law on its website. The comments were obtained through an RTI application and made available by the CPR on its website.
For laws that could impact a specific group of people, the policy had suggested that the law should be made available in such a manner that it gives “wider publicity to reach the affected people”. Also, to “enable wider comprehensibility”, draft policies should be made available in regional languages but it is often not the case, commented scholars Arun and Patel.
As a good practice, the policy also recommended that the ministry concerned could hold public consultations in addition to making the draft available in the public domain, the degree and mode of which it could decide. This was not done.
There were no such gaps in the process when CRZ 2011 was being drafted. Extensive consultations were held with numerous stakeholders on several contentious issues at the time. “In 2010, more than 10 consultations were conducted, in all coastal states and UTs,” recalled T Peter, secretary, National Fishworkers’ Forum. “The final law of 2011 did not include everything that we sought. But it had addressed several of our concerns.”
Clause 5 of the Environment (Protection) Rules, 1986 empowers the central government to impose any restriction regarding the location of certain industries or operations. It is on the basis of this provision that the environment ministry issued laws such as the very first version of the CRZ notification of 1991 and subsequent iterations of 2011 and 2019, and Environment Impact Assessment Notification, 2006. Sub-clause (3) of this clause specifies that the government can bring in such stipulations “by a notification in the Official Gazette”.
But the ministry did not publish the draft in the gazette.
“Results of public consultations are legally non-binding but if the draft CRZ notification was not published in the gazette it is a violation of the environment protection rules,” said Rahul Choudhary of Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment, an NGO in Delhi.
The non-publication of the draft in the official gazette may be considered an “exceptional case”, the ministry said, as it had been uploaded on its website.
Fishing community ignored
Of the 3,833 representations made against the 2019 notification, over 2,000 were from fisherpeople’s collectives, all of which rejected the draft, the compilation of comments on the draft shows. “The Shailesh Nayak Committee did not consult us,” said Debasis Pal, a Rajahmundry-based social activist and general-secretary of the Democratic Traditional Fishers’ and Worker Forum, Andhra Pradesh (DTFWF).
DTFWF alone sent 1,500 representations rejecting the draft. “The draft did not come in vernacular,” Pal said. “How many of the fishers are literate or can understand English/Hindi?”
Besides the fisher groups, another prominent actor in coastal governance was kept out of the review process--the State Coastal Zone Management Authorities (SCZMAs). These bodies are responsible for implementing the CRZ Notification in their respective states/UTs. They coordinate the preparation of coastal management plans, appraise project proposals, identify and assess CRZ violations, and take measures for conservation of ecologically important sites.
Antonio Mascarenhas, scientist at the National Institute of Oceanography and until 2016 a member of the Goa SCZMA, has expressed his disappointment with the CRZ review exercise. His was one of the 3,469 submissions that rejected that draft law. In support of his submission to the environment ministry, he provided a set of academic papers and stated “these seven scientific papers may please be considered so as to understand coasts need to be protected and not opened up for indiscriminate commercial use”.
Yet, the ministry went ahead.
“The CRZ is a critical regulation for conservation and livelihood protection on the coast,” said Kohli. “CRZ 2019 stands as a testimony of a perfunctory exercise to achieve an objective that was fait accompli from the outset.”

‘RTI activist’ arrested for extortion in Bandra

The Hindu: Mumbai: Wednesday, 26 February 2020.
A 32-year-old “RTI activist” was arrested for allegedly trying to extort ₹3 lakh from a real estate developer in Bandra, the police said on Tuesday. The Nirmal Nagar police on Sunday nabbed Sandesh Kadam, while a manhunt has been launched for another activist Mahendra Pawar, an official said.
The accused had demanded ₹3 lakh from Kunal Sarmalkar in exchange of not lodging a complaint against his ongoing project at Amrutnagar in Bandra (East). The duo frequently lodged queries and complaints at the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, he said.
Mr. Sarmalkar had filed a police complaint on December 27 stating that the accused had been harassing him since October and he had already paid them ₹50,000.
Mr. Kadam was arrested under Sections 384 and 34 of the Indian Penal Code.

Indian Railways Earned 9000 Crore Through Cancel Ticket And Waiting Cancellation, Revealed In Rti

OBN: New Delhi: Wednesday, 26 February 2020.
Indian Railways earned 9 thousand crore rupees in three years by canceling tickets and never canceling ready tickets. This data has been revealed underneath RTI.
Sujit Swamy, a resident of Kota, Rajasthan, had requested some questions underneath the Right to Information Act (RTI). Responding to this, the 'Center for Railway Information System' (CRIS) mentioned that through the three-year interval from January 1, 2017 to January 31, 2020, 9 and a half million passengers didn’t cancel tickets with ready checklist. This earned the Railways Rs 4,335 crore.
Meanwhile, the Railways earned greater than Rs 4,684 crore from the cancellation of confirmed tickets. In each these instances, the best incomes was from sleeper class tickets. Third AC tickets adopted that.
Online ticket reserving extra:
Chris mentioned in response to RTI that there’s a huge distinction within the quantity of people that purchase tickets by going to the web and counters. Over a interval of three years, greater than 145 crore individuals took tickets on-line whereas 74 crore individuals took tickets by visiting railway counters.
These allegations had been levied on the railways:
Swami, a social activist, had filed a petition within the Rajasthan High Court alleging that the reservation coverage of Indian Railways is discriminatory. He mentioned that there’s pointless monetary and psychological burden on the passengers on account of distinction of insurance policies concerning on-line and counter reservation. The petition seeks to finish this and order reduction to the passengers and withholding the earnings improperly.

‘Everyone has right to information’

The Daily Star: Bangladesh: Wednesday, 26 February 2020.
The Right to Information Act is for people, and awareness on the act's benefits can maximise its use, said speakers at the inaugural programme of a camp in Jashore yesterday.
The opening ceremony of "Right to Information Camp" was held at CTK Adorsho Junior Girls School in Bhojgathi union under Manirampur upazila.
Management and Resources Development Initiative (MRDI) and Jagroto Nagorik Committee (Janak) jointly organised the camp with support from UK Aid and Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF). Thirty individuals from the union are going to participate in the camp, said a press release.
Martuza Ahmed, chief information commissioner of Information Commission, was present as chief guest.
Md Shafiul Arif, deputy commissioner of Jashore; Md Ashraf Hossain, superintendent of police in the district; Nazma Khanom, Manirampur upazila chairperson; Md Ahsan Ullah Sharifi, UNO of Manirampur; and Md Abdur Razzak, UP chairperson of Bhojgati, were special guests.
MRDI Executive Director Hasibur Rahman delivered the welcome address. Convenor of RTI Forum and MJF Executive Director Shaheen Anam chaired the programme.
Hasibur Rahman said, "…Through this camp, participants will be taught how information can change people's lives and how they can apply for information."
Apart from local villagers, people from various occupations were present on the occasion.

Information Ministry begins sensitisation on RTI for MDAs

Myjoyonline: International: Wednesday, 26 February 2020.
The Ministry of Information (MoI), as part of the implementation of the Right to Information (RTI) Act (ACT 989), has begun sensitisation exercises on the Act for the management and staff of the various Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).
The aim of these exercises, which began on Monday and is expected to continue for the next 16 days, is to introduce key areas of ACT 989 to the management and staff of the various MDAs in order to ensure the effective implementation of the law.
At a sensitisation exercise for workers of the Ministry for Railways Development, a member of the sensitisation team and Principal Value Officer at the Policy, Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation Directorate (PPME) of MoI, Mawuli Segbefia, in a presentation, stated that the RTI law was very important because it would help build a culture of transparency and accountability in public affairs.
Mr. Segbefia indicated that the law was revolutionary since it would change the way information was generated, stored and diffused in the public service and would also ensure that no one would be denied access to information s/he requested.
He highlighted that the law provided a solid legal framework for access to information, a clear application procedure, clear times lines for response to request and also provided for a proactive disclosure of information.
Mr. Segbefia explained that the process of requesting for information entailed: the picking up of a standard access to information request form from a public institution, filling the form and submitting it to the information unit or registry of the public institution.
He added that the application form would be then received and the applicant notified in with 14 working days after submission on the availability or existence of the information requested; and that where the information exists, the applicant shall be notified of the manner and data in which access may be granted (between one and 120 days upon notification on the existence of information) and the prescribed fee for the reproduction of the information requested.
According to Mr. Segbefia, offences under Act 989 included: failure or neglect by an information officer or other public officers to performance function under the law; obtaining personal information of third party under false pretense; willfully providing false statement in order to obtain information; destruction, alteration or concealing of documents; false entry on documents.
He pointed out that people found to have violated the law would attract either a summary conviction of a fine between 250-500 penalty units; a prison term between one to three years; or both.
Mr. Segbefia further noted that, even though the RTI granted access to information, the law exempts certain disclosures which include, information for the president or vice president; information relating to cabinet; information relating law enforcement and public safety; information affecting international relations; and information that affects the security of the state.
He further indicated that although the implementation of the law had started there was some work to be done such as the setting up of RTI Commission for appeals, establishment of information units at the various MDA’s headed by a fully trained RTI Officer; and the nationwide deployment of Information Technology based solutions for the archiving and retrieval of information.
He urged the Ministry on the interim to designate an RTI officer; ensure that the front desk and designated RTI officials are briefed on the handing of request for information; make available application forms for requesting information; and that the ministry should release the designated RTI officer and the Chief Records Officers for training which would start from 11th March, 2020.
In a remark, the Director for PPME of MoI, who was also a member of the sensitisation team, Mrs. Patricia Dovi Sampson, reiterated that information was exempted from disclosure when the disclosure of that information would reveal an opinion, an advice or a recommendation made to a public institution and was likely to undermine the deliberating process.
She added that the exemption included; information that could contravene parliamentary privileges, prejudice the fair trial of a person and infringe privileged information.
The Director encouraged the workers, particular the drivers and security guards, to be aware of the RTI law and help in implementation of the law by directing all visitors who enquired about the RTI to the appropriate office.
Miss Ama Frimpong, a member of the sensitisation team as well as the government communication unit of MoI, echoed that government agencies could not wrongly deny access to information since the law was very specific on issue that were exempted from disclosure.
Miss Frimpong indicated that applicant who felt that they had been wrongly denied access to information had the right to appeal at the RTI Commission which was an external body mandated to promote, protect and enforce the RTI; adding that the applicant can even appeal to the high court if s/he was not satisfied with the decision of the commission.