Sunday, November 27, 2022

Provide a share in profit to land donors: SIC

Devdiscourse: Chennai: Sunday, 27 November 2022.
The State Information Commission (SIC) has directed the Tamil Nadu State Planning Commission to consider providing a share of the profits made by private and public sector undertakings to the people whose lands were acquired for their very establishment.
SIC Commissioner S Muthuraj gave the direction on November 25 while passing orders on a batch of petitions, which alleged that even though the lands of the petitioners were acquired decades ago, they are yet to receive the compensation.
By virtue of the powers vested under Section 25 of the RTI Act, Muthuraj recommended to the Member-Secretary of the Planning Commission to explore the feasibility of providing a share in the profits and recommend the same to the government for appropriate action.
Most of the lands that are being acquired comprise agricultural lands and the owners of these lands lack knowledge in money management and tend to spend it immediately and later they become penniless. To save them, the industrial or commercial establishments may consider giving a share in their profit, in addition to the compensation given as per the applicable law, Muthuraj said.
The industrial or commercial establishments, for which the lands were acquired, shall be mandated to create a separate fund, wherein money shall be remitted from a percentage of their profit. The amount accumulated to this fund shall be earmarked exclusively for the land donors and divided among them in proportion to the measurement of the land acquired. Such amounts shall be released on a quarterly, half-yearly or yearly basis as dividends and shall be credited directly to their bank accounts, Muthuraj said.
Similar to employees’ stock option scheme provided under the Companies Act, an arrangement can be made for the benefit of the land owners, wherein the establishments, which started functioning in the land provided by the land owners, shall provide an option to them to subscribe to its shares equal to the extent of land provided by them. Moreover on perusal of the Constitution Assembly debates on Article 19(1)(f), The Constitution (Forty-fourth Amendment) Act, 1978 which repealed Article 19(1) (f) and inserted Article 300A and the provisions of Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation Act, 2013 in its letter and spirit, can also be construed in such a way that the legislature always intend to protect the right and the relationship of the land owners with their lands. The government or its Special Purpose Vehicle/SIPCOT shall manage and monitor the working of the above mechanism and conduct frequent audits to ensure its transparency, the SIC said.
At present, the State and Central governments are engaged in acquiring land for Parandur Airport and NLC projects. The NLC shares are open for subscription. Thus the feasibility of dispersing these shares/profit among the land owners may be ascertained as a trial for effective functioning in the future projects. This model of land acquisition will lubricate the friction faced in the land acquisition process between the government and the land owners, the SIC added.
Muthuraj also said that for the fertile lands acquired, the government shall develop an equal size of wasteland for agriculture purposes.

Faridabad police fail to furnish RTI info on tenant verification

Tribune India: Faridabad: Sunday, 27 November 2022.
The police have failed to provide a detailed response to a Right to Information (RTI) application in which the applicant had sought information on the law under which verification process of tenant is carried out.
Details that had been sought:
  • The RTI applicant had asked the police to provide certified copies of the Act under which the verification was mandated
  • He also sought information about the regulation under which the police collect charges to conduct the verification
  • Details of number of verifications done since January 2021
  • The police reply read no SOP or record of the information on several points raised in the application was available
The applicant, Ajay Bahl, in his application dated August 9 had sought information on eight points. He had asked the police to provide him certified copies of the Act (law) under which the verification process had been mandated, the regulation under which the police collects charges to verify a tenant, number of verification done since January, 2021, and cases registered or action taken against the property owners for not getting the verification done.
As per the reply that the police submitted on September 17, the police stations concerned have no information about the majority of queries raised. The reply read no SOP or record of the information on several points raised in the application was available. However, the web portal of the district police mentions that an employee, servant or tenant had to download the verification form, and submit it to the police station concerned with relevant documents and copy of the papers to the president of society’s resident welfare association.
Bahl said that the police didn’t have the information regarding the norms that had to be followed while conducting the verification process. They only put their stamp and collect the verification charges of Rs 500 per application, he added.
“No provision to collect charges for the verification has been mentioned in the reply. However, but the practice has been going on despite no clarity on the rules or provisions,” Bahl added. He said the department should refund an amount of about Rs 25.70 lakh collected from 5,140 persons since January 2021 for the verification process.
He added that he would file a complaint with the State Information Commission as the department had not only failed to provide detailed information to his queries but also had been collecting charges for the verification.

SC order to pay remuneration to imams is in 'violation of Constitution': CIC

Hindustan Times: New Delhi: Sunday, 27 November 2022.
The orders of the commission, the highest body to decide appeals and complaints under the RTI Act, are often challenged in high courts through writ petitions.
The Central Information Commission has said the 1993 Supreme Court order allowing remuneration to imams in mosques was in "violation of the Constitution" and besides setting a "wrong precedent", has become a point of unnecessary political slugfest and social disharmony.
Information Commissioner Uday Mahurkar, while hearing an RTI application filed by an activist demanding details of salaries to imams by the Delhi government and the Delhi Waqf Board, also observed that the order violated constitutional provisions that say "tax payers money will not be used to favour any particular religion".
The Supreme Court in 1993 on a petition from the All India Imam Organisation had directed the waqf board to give remuneration to imams in mosques managed by it.
He has directed that a copy of his order be sent to the Union law minister with suitable action to ensure enforcement of provisions of articles 25 to 28 of the Constitution in letter and spirit to keep all religions on par in terms of monthly remuneration to priests of different religions at the cost of the public exchequer both central and states and also other matters.
"Further with regard to the judgment by the Supreme Court in the case between the 'All India Imam Organisation and ... vs Union Of India And Ors' on 13 May, 1993, that opened the doors to special financial benefits from public treasury to only imams and muezzins in mosques, the commission observes that the highest court of the country in passing this order acted in violation of the provisions of the Constitution, particularly Article 27, which says tax payers money will not be used to favour any particular religion," Mahurkar said.
"The commission notes that the said judgment sets a wrong precedent in the country and has become a point of unnecessary political slugfest and also social disharmony in the society," the information commissioner said.
He also directed the Delhi Waqf Board to pay a compensation of ₹25,000 to RTI activist Subhash Agrawal for the loss of time and resources in chasing the response to his application. The activist was not being able to get a satisfactory response to his application.
"It is necessary to go into the history when it comes to giving special religious benefits to the Muslim community by the State. A religious (Islamic) nation Pakistan was born out of the demand of a section of Indian Muslims for partition of India along religious lines. Despite Pakistan choosing to be a religious (Islamic) nation, India chose a Constitution guaranteeing equal rights to all religions," Mahurkar said.
"It is necessary to note here that it was the policy of giving special benefits to the Muslim community before 1947 that played a key role in encouraging pan-Islamic and fissiparous tendencies in a section of Muslims, ultimately leading to the nation's partition," he said.
So giving remuneration to imams and others only in mosques, amounts to "not just betraying the Hindu community and members of other non-Muslim minority religions, but also encouraging pan-Islamist tendencies amongst a section of Indian Muslims which are already visible", the information commissioner said
Steps such as giving special religious benefits to the Muslim community only like the one taken up in the present matter, in fact, severely affects interfaith harmony as they invite contempt for the Muslims as a whole from a section of ultra nationalist population, Mahurkar said.
He said the Delhi Waqf Board (DWB) gets an annual grant of around ₹62 crore from the Delhi government while its own monthly income from independent sources is just around ₹30 lakh.
"So the monthly honorarium of ₹18,000 and ₹16,000 being given to the imams and muezzins of DWB mosques in Delhi is being paid by the Delhi government virtually from the tax payers money which in turn is in sharp contrast with the example quoted by the appellant in which the priest of a Hindu temple is getting a paltry ₹2,000 per month from the trust controlling the said temple," he said.
Mahurkar said those who justify such steps in the name of protection to religious minorities raise a question that if a particular religious minority has a right to protection, the majority community too has a right to protection in a multi-religious country where it is incumbent that the rights of the members of all religions are protected equally in the interest of inter-faith harmony and unity of the nation.
He said Delhi Waqf Board initially denied salaries to imams but later in a revised reply said it is only an honorarium not a salary.
"The commission observes that there was a clear attempt to hide the information in the initial period by a play of words which showed complete lack of transparency on the part of the respondent authorities in a case which in turn affects the provisions of the Constitution, and also social harmony and uniform applicability of laws for all religions in keeping with the constitutional direction that citizens of all religions be treated equally," he said.
Mahurkar directed the Delhi Waqf Board and office of Delhi Chief Minister to provide responses to the RTI application of Agrawal.
The orders of the commission, the highest body to decide appeals and complaints under the RTI Act, are often challenged in high courts through writ petitions.
The government through an amendment in the RTI Act had diluted perks, salaries and tenure of information commissioners from being on par with central election commissioners or to that of bureaucrats serving at their pay scale. The fixed tenure of five years given to an information Commissioner in the RTI Act was also reduced to three years.

RTI reply: Similar plaint was ‘rejected’ by Chief Secretary in July

Tribune India: Haryana: Sunday, 27 November 2022.
In the investigation of the issuance of arms licences by former Kaithal Deputy Commissioner Pradeep Dahiya during his tenure, a fresh revelation has come to the fore that a similar complaint, filed with the same name, was rejected earlier on July 4 by the Chief Secretary as the complaint did not have a full name with address, evidence or details to prove the allegations.
This was revealed in a reply sought under the Right to Information (RTI) Act filed by Pradeep Dahiya, who is holding the charge of Commissioner, Municipal Corporation, Hisar.
Dahiya had sought information regarding any complaint against him for the issuance of arms licences during his tenure as DC Kaithal received in the Chief Secretary’s office. Besides, he sought information about the decision on the complaint if any received.
The Chief Secretary’s office provided details in the RTI reply and said that a complaint was received against Dahiya with the name Gurmeet Singh, son of Ujagar Singh, of Kaithal on June 26.
“In the absence of any specific names/complaint and also keeping in mind the fact that the District Magistrate approves the licence after the specific recommendation of the district police or the SP, the complaint be filed (rejected) because of its anonymous/pseudonymous nature and vagueness,” said the Chief Secretary in his order, a copy of which has been provided through the RTI.
The Chief Secretary’s office also made it clear that as per the Government of India guidelines, complaints containing vague allegations could also be filed without the verification of the identity of the complainant.
A fresh similar complaint with the same name was filed with the Union Home Minister on May 26, alleging that irregularities were made during the issuance of arms licences, following which the DGP Haryana and ACS (Home) sought a report. Divisional Commissioner Karnal Division, Sanjeev Verma has sought a fact-finding report from the Kaithal DC Sangeeta Tetarwal, who has constituted a team led by the ADC.
As per the records, 89 arms licences were issued during the 11 months tenure of Dahiya. The complainant had filed a complaint with the Union.
Kaithal Ex-DC issued 89 arms licences
As per the records, 89 arms licences were issued during the 11-month tenure of Pradeep Dahiya, Kaithal, ex-DC. The complaint was filed to the Union Home Minister

Public can now avail information under RTI Act in Telugu in Andhra Pradesh

The Hindu: Andhra Pradesh: Sunday, 27 November 2022.
In order to reach out to the common man, the office of Andhra Pradesh Information Commission (APIC) has decided to provide information in the Telugu language, as requested by many citizens.
R. Mahaboob Basha, Chief Information Commissioner (CIC), within a week of assuming the office of CIC, issued orders to all the Information Commissioners (including office of State CIC) and the First Appellate Authority, Public Information Officer of APIC to pronounce decisions, orders, determination of issues pertaining to all the applications, appeals (First and Second Appeals), complaints addressed to this Commission (APIC) by the citizens in the Telugu language.
Mr. Basha observed that if a citizen asked information in his mother tongue, Telugu, and the information was provided in English, it would be difficult for him or her to understand. To avoid this ambiguity, the CIC had taken the new initiative.
In his orders, Mr. Basha said: “It has been brought to the notice of this office (SCIC) that most of the citizens, who have availed themselves of various remedies before this commission by duly filing their applications, appeals, complaints or other miscellaneous applications in Telugu are unable to comprehend the decisions, orders, determination of issues pronounced in English by Information Commissioners and the First appellant authority, Public Information officer of APIC.”
Based on these circumstances, the APIC promulgated the directions to pronounce in writing all decisions, orders, determination of issues in Telugu pertaining to all the pending applications, appeals (First and Second Appeals), complaints addressed to this commission (APIC) by people in Telugu Language from December 1, 2022.
Meanwhile, Mr. Basha also ordered to upload the latest version of the Right to Information Act, 2005, including all amendments and other notifications, orders in English along with translations from English to Telugu, Urdu and Hindi languages, on the official website of APIC, https://sic.ap.gov.in.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Number of RTIs filed go up in Prayagraj; lawyers lead charge

Hindustan Times: Prayagraj: Saturday, 26 November 2022.
A lawyer said that the number of RTI queries filed by them are more as they file it seeking information on all accurate points
The number of RTI applications seeking information from the police is increasing every year. Records show that 4,200 RTIs have been filed this year.
While many individuals file RTI queries themselves, many citizens take the help of lawyers to file an RTI application.
As citizens themselves are mostly unaware of the process for filing RTI and often fail in getting information from the police, they take the help of lawyers practising in the high court and district court to get information regarding cases, action, final report, chargesheet, pending cases, crimes etc from police officials. As the number of lawyers in Prayagraj are more due to the high court, they do not lag behind in filing RTI queries for taking information.
As per records, 300 to 400 RTI applications are filed each month to get information regarding cases in city and rural areas of the district. Among them 85 to 90% are filed by lawyers who do not conceal their identity while seeking information.
The RTI application is first recorded in registers and then uploaded online.
A lawyer said that the number of RTI queries filed by them are more as they file it seeking information on all accurate points while individuals are often not given full and clear information by police.
Besides lawyers, local leaders also file RTI queries in large numbers.
In 2022, the number of RTI application went up to 4,200 among which 3,000 were filed by lawyers.
In 2020, the number of RTI applications seeking information from police was 2,323, while in 2021, it was 2,670.
Lawyers Kashan Siddiqui, Vishwa Vijay said that common people seeking information are often not entertained by the police so they approach lawyers.
In many cases, police conceal the action they take. Status reports in such cases can be obtained only through an RTI application, they added.

CIC Slams RTI Applicant for ‘Clogging the System with a Barrage of RTI Applications’ – Over 118 of Them on the Same Issue!: Vinita Deshmukh

Moneylife: Pune: Saturday, 26 November 2022.
An applicant, who has been filing numerous right to information (RTI) applications to seek redressal from various public authorities over 118 of them in the last several months was slammed by chief information commissioner YK Sinha for not only filing them to irrelevant public authorities but also remaining absent for each and every second appeal hearing, that he asked for!
Mr Sinha, in his order, stated that RTI applicant Chitresh Kumar Banjare filed his application to public authorities which are “not even the actual custodian of information” and “notwithstanding the multiplicity of cases filed, inevitably he remains absent during the hearing of his cases.”
Of course, the RTI Act provides a clause wherein the PIO has to forward the RTI application to the relevant public authority in case the RTI applicant has wrongly addressed it to him or her, but apparently Mr Banjare did so a bit too often, much to the consternation of the CIC.
Mr Sinha, who clubbed 26 of Mr Banjare’s second appeals together during the hearing last week (many others were disposed of by other information commissioners earlier), observed that “perusal of documents and averments made during the hearing indicates that replies have been duly provided to the appellant, in terms of provisions of the Act in the aforementioned cases.”
Most of his RTI applications were addressed to the JNU.
Mr Sinha pointing to the judgment of the Supreme Court in Central Board of Secondary Education & Anr vs Aditya Bandopadhyay & Ors directed Mr Banjare, “not to disproportionately divert the resources of the public authorities by filing multiple RTI applications on similar issues.”
While several information commissioners face this issue of multiple RTI queries by a single RTI applicant, often on the same issue, RTI activists have a different take. Time and again, they have been advocating that if the public authorities follow in letter and spirit, the suo motu disclosures mandatory under Section 4 of the RTI Act, then to a large extent, not only such multiple RTI applications but RTI applications filed under Section 6 of this law will reduce to over 90%. They also have stated that the CIC must, time and again, slam public authorities which do not upload information required under Section 4, on their websites, at regular intervals.
Mr Banjare, the RTI applicant in question, was also reprimanded for asking the public information officer (PIO) for seeking disputes.
Mr Sinha, in his order, stated that “the judgement of the Apex Court in Union of India vs Namit Sharma (Review Petition [C] No.2309 of 2012) dated 3 September 2013 wherein it was held that the information commission does not decide a dispute between two or more parties concerning their legal rights other than their right to get information in possession of a public authority. Yet, it is found that the Appellant has undermined the spirit of the RTI Act by clogging the system with a barrage of RTI applications, merely claiming irregularities within the JNU administration.”
Mentioning that more than 118 cases of the same appellant on the same subject matter have so far been adjudicated by different information commissioners of this commission, Mr Sinha concluded in his order, “The Commission is not inclined to entertain any further adjudication on the same subject, since no cause of action subsists under the RTI Act. Hence, all the above-mentioned appeals are disposed of as such.”
It may be recalled that recently, Gujarat-based RTI applicant Paresh Gandhi, had filed over 100 RTI applications to get information on various civic works of the Padra municipality. He was blacklisted by a general body resolution of the Padra municipality in April 2021. He then filed RTI applications to the information commissioners of Gujarat, the state secretariat, and the governor’s office, seeking information on whether an RTI activist can be blacklisted and the answer was a `No’ from the Gujarat state information commissioner but that is another story!

Watered down RTI, The amendments proposed in the Data Protection Bill threaten to dilute the historic RTI Act and thereby, citizens’ rights

Millennium Post: New Delhi: Saturday, 26 November 2022.
The passage of the Right to Information (RTI) Act in 2005 was a historic moment. Finally, the common man could hold accountable any government department. A weapon in the hands of the 'aam aadmi' to gather almost any information related to the government and ensure, if needed, a fight against injustice, malpractice, or administrative corruption. The RTI was a gamechanger in the Indian democracy that has promised a transparency of governance. The recent amendments to the proposed Digital Personal Data Protection (DPDP) Bill can change all that.
As of now, Indian citizens can access almost all information, save ten kinds as contained in Section 8 (1). The amendment proffered by the Data Protection Bill (point 30(2)) suggests that information related to a person may be declined. If this amendment comes into effect, then any information pertaining to government officers can be denied on the same grounds. Any such change will render the RTI into a toothless act and relegate it to mere words triggering zero action.
Removing individuals from its purview or even expanding the exemptions will only weaken the RTI Act. Section 8 (1)(j) states that "...information which relates to personal information the disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest, or which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual unless the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer or the appellate authority, as the case may be, is satisfied that the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information: Provided that the information, which cannot be denied to the Parliament or a State Legislature, shall not be denied to any person."
The Data Protection Bill after the amendment would read, "(2) Clause (j) of sub-section (1) of section 8 of the Right to Information Act, 2005 shall be amended in the following manner: (a) The words 'the disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest, or which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual unless the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer or the appellate authority, as the case may be, is satisfied that the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information' shall be omitted;  b. The proviso shall be omitted."
Ask those who have sought to use the RTI Act, and they'll confirm that even with the current law, refusal of information under the exemptions was rife. Left to the information commissioner's discretion to decide if personal information about government officers can be released in public interest, experts say the section 8.1 (j) clause has been the most cited reason for refusing information. The widened caveat of "information which relates to personal information" would kick into effect a cycle of newfound red-tapism.
Why must we persuade against and protest the changes to the RTI Act? Because these are damning changes that threaten to dilute the power of this iconic legislation. Remember that in a democracy, any government serves at the pleasure of its people. We elect our government and allow them to put administrators in place. If we are not satisfied with the governance of any department, we should have the right to ask questions. But without proof of misgovernance, railing and ranting mean squat. No amount of venting on Twitter can bring about actual change. I refuse to believe that any government is completely corrupt. Our current government has gone to great lengths to end administrative corruption and the results show at many levels of the central and state governments. However, in a country like ours, corruption is unfortunately deeply-ingrained. To weed out systemic corruption and allow for continued good governance, the power must rest with the people. In order to guarantee that efficient, proactive, performing cogs keep turning in the government machinery and their efforts are not thwarted by the actions of a misguided few, the RTI Act must be allowed to stay untouched.

Supreme Court launches online RTI portal: Here is how it works

The Indian Express: New Delhi: Saturday, 26 November 2022.
The Supreme Court on Thursday launched an online portal that will help citizens file and access applications under the Right to Information (RTI) Act in matters related to the court. Chief Justice DY Chandrachud said that the portal would be ready to use shortly.
On Thursday, the CJI said, “Before we start with the mentioning (of cases), I wanted to say that the RTI portal is ready. It will start working in 15 minutes. In case, there are some problems, please bear with us. If there is some problem, get back to me…I will be more than happy to look into it.”
What is this online portal, why was it set up and how can one file an RTI on it? We explain.
What is the online RTI portal?
The online RTI portal has been initiated to make it convenient for people to access information about the Supreme Court. So far, RTI applications at the Supreme Court had to be filed only via post.
Various public interest litigation (PILs) had been filed before the Supreme Court seeking an online RTI portal for the Court. Students said that though the committee had provided a mechanism for filing petitions online, it did not provide the same when it came to the filing of RTI applications.
Earlier last week, the bench headed by the CJI was hearing a petition filed by two law students, Akriti Agarwal and Lakshya Purohit, and said that the portal was “practically ready for being launched.” The online portal is likely to streamline responses of the Supreme Court under the Right to Information Act.
How does the online portal work?
The online portal can be accessed at https://registry.sci.gov.in/rti_app.
Essentially, the process of filing an RTI in the Supreme Court is the same as how one normally files the application.
This web portal can be used only by Indian citizens to file RTI applications, first appeals and to make payment for fees, and copying charges, under the Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act). The website makes it clear that only those who wish to obtain information on the Supreme Court can access it and any other information from public authorities can be done through the respective Central/State government portal.
First, an applicant must create an account and sign in to the portal, after which they can fill out the RTI application. While registering the account, it is mandatory to provide your address proof.
After clicking the “Submit button”, the applicant has to fill in the required details on the page that will appear, and any supporting document/annexures must be attached as a PDF document in the “Supporting document” section within the specified file size.
The applicant can pay the prescribed fee through internet banking, credit/debit card of Master/Visa or UPI. The fee per RTI application is ₹10.
Any applicant who is Below Poverty Line (BPL) is exempted to pay the application fee under the RTI Rules, 2012. The applicant must attach and upload a copy of the BPL certificate issued by the government.
On successful submission of an application, a unique Registration/Diary number would be generated and the same should be referred to by the applicant for any future references and correspondences, the website mentions. If in case the applicant has made a payment and does not receive the registration number, then the applicant should wait for 24-48 hours for the number to be generated. The guidelines on the website mention that an applicant must not retry or make an additional attempt to make the payment again.
When can you expect a response?
By law, RTIs must be replied to within 30 days. In fact, in life and death cases, RTIs must be responded to within 48 hours.

Friday, November 25, 2022

RTI Portal To Help People Access Information About Supreme Court Launched

NDTV: New Delhi: Friday, 25 November 2022.
The online portal will streamline responses of the Supreme Court under the Right to Information Act.
A portal for filing RTI applications to help people access information about the Supreme Court was operationalised today.
At the outset of the hearing, the Chief Justice of India, who was sharing the bench with Justices Hima Kohli and JB Pardiwala, said the portal will start functioning soon.
"Before we start with the mentioning (of cases), I wanted to say that the RTI portal is ready. It will start working in 15 minutes. In case, there are some problems, please bear with us. If there is some problem, get back to me...I will be more than happy to look into it," the CJI said.
The bench headed by the CJI had been hearing a plea filed by law students Akriti Agarwal and Lakshya Purohit seeking a mechanism to file RTI applications online in the top court.
Earlier, the CJI, while hearing the plea on November 11, had said that the portal was "practically ready" for launch.
The online portal will streamline responses of the Supreme Court under the Right to Information Act.
Earlier, RTI applications with respect to the top court were being filed through post only.

RTI portal to help people access information about Supreme Court operationalised

The Hindu: New Delhi: Friday, 25 November 2022.
The Supreme Court on Thursday launched its online Right to Information (RTI) portal to help people access information about the Supreme Court.
The announcement about the RTI portal, through which people can file applications, was made by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud in his courtroom before his Bench began work for the day.
"Before we start with the mentioning [of cases], I wanted to say that the RTI portal is ready. It will start working in 15 minutes. In case, there are some problems, please bear with us. If there is some problem, get back to me...I will be more than happy to look into it,” the CJI said.
The SC has already made strides in the “open court” system by embracing video conferencing and commencing the live streaming of Constitution Bench hearings.
The portal has been launched even as the Bench headed by the CJI is hearing a plea filed by law students Akriti Agarwal and Lakshya Purohit seeking a mechanism to file RTI applications online in the top court.
(ONLINE RTI PORTAL OF SUPREMECOURT OF INDIA)

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Activists oppose data safety bill

Times of India: Jaipur: Thursday, 24 November 2022.
Civil society groups have termed the Digital Personal Data Protection bill, 2022, a tool to weaken the Right to Information Act by adding a provision to prevent the release of personal information of the subject. Clause 30(2) of the draft proposes an amendment to Section 8.1.(J) of the RTI Act which the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) fears will override the right of getting information related to public interest.
Nikhil Dey of MKSS said the provision of the amendment is a serious matter which will bring an end to the release of it in public interest.
“This is the beginning of the weakening of the RTI Act. It will curtail the rights of a citizen to access information which is his right,” said Dey.

India is losing its cherished right to know: Saurav Das

The Hindu: Opinion: Thursday, 24 November 2022.
The possibility that the very institution mandated to guard India’s transparency regime could also be responsible for its own downfall is cause for concern
The most vital mandate of the Central Information Commission, the apex body under India’s transparency regime, is to decide whether certain information sought by a citizen ought to be disclosed or not. Its primary duty is to decide the disclosure or the non-disclosure of information. But the commission has seemingly relinquished this primary duty in cases of larger public importance.
Citizens can file applications under the Right to Information Act with any public body and are guaranteed a reply from the public information officer of that public body within 30 days. In case of a no reply or dissatisfaction with the response, the citizen can file an appeal at the departmental level and then a second and final appeal with the Information Commission. Each State has its own State Information Commission to deal with second appeals concerning State bodies.
At the centre, it is the Central Information Commission (CIC). Until the 2019 amendment to the RTI Act, Information Commissioners (ICs) appointed to the CIC were equal in status to the Chief Election Commissioner, and that of a Supreme Court judge. They had a five-year fixed term and terms of service. After the amendments of 2019, the Centre gave itself powers to change and decide these terms whenever it wished, thereby striking at the independence of the commission and those who man it.
From transparency to hurdles
The CIC was a functioning institution until four years ago. It had passed orders seeking transparency in many cases of public importance from boldly pronouncing that political parties were under the RTI Act’s ambit, and hence accountable to the public, to ordering disclosure of the current Prime Minister’s education qualifications and the Reserve Bank of India’s list of willful defaulters of loans. The commission acted as a strong proponent of transparency in public life.
Now, the CIC has become more like a walking dead institution, where records will show that not a single order for disclosure has been forthcoming in matters of public importance. The present set of Information Commissioners have together adopted a new jurisprudence that has created additional hurdles in a citizen’s quest for accountability.
Cases at the CIC come up for a hearing roughly after a two year wait. If the matter is not already infructuous or lost its significance, one can look forward to the commission deciding one’s case. But in matters of public importance, such as cases seeking disclosure of files related to the national lockdown during COVID-19, or the case seeking disclosure of data pertaining to phone tapping orders passed by the Home Ministry, the Commission has adopted a new way of delegating its mandate to decide cases to the Ministry before it (the very same party that stands accused of prohibiting transparency). In most cases, the Ministries reiterate their earlier stand of non-disclosure, most often under vague grounds of national interest.
More worryingly, after these public authorities pass fresh orders, which are usually a reiteration of their earlier stand against disclosure, the CIC refuses to accept any further challenge to such orders, therefore, refusing to do its duty of deciding the cases. One of the cardinal rules of natural justice is that no one should be a judge in their own cause. However, the commission now allows, or rather wants, the very Ministry that stands accused of violating the RTI Act to act as the judge in their own cause and decide whether a disclosure is necessary.
A similar situation arose when the CIC refused to hear the Internet Freedom Foundation’s challenge to the fresh non-disclosure order passed by the Home Ministry in the phone tapping case. The organisation had the resources to challenge this before the Delhi High Court and enforce their right to a fair hearing before the Commission. But many do not, in a country where a small percentage of the populace has the access and the resources to justice redress. And it is not as though the Information Commissioners were not made aware of this problem with their orders. They were. Hence, the need to strongly protest such conduct on their part which continues.
Fairly simple to handle
More recent examples from CIC cases do not instill confidence about where India’s information regime is headed. In a case seeking disclosure of documents relating to the making of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act, 2019, the commission has resorted to keeping the matter pending for final order for more than three months now, something which is unheard of. Unlike court cases, RTI matters do not involve complex legal arguments and are fairly simple to adjudicate. In another case related to disclosure of non-performing assets and top defaulters of a co-operative bank, the matter was listed out-of-turn to issue a “stay” order against the Bank’s First Appellate Authority’s order for disclosure. A stay order is unheard of and there is no provision in the RTI Act for the same.
One cannot help but ask whether actions or inactions such as these are meant to deliberately frustrate citizens who dare to seek answers from the powers that be, and reduce the efficiency of the RTI Act. The effects are already being felt. It is getting more difficult, if not impossible, to extract any information of importance under the present dispensation. Bureaucrats reject RTIs with glee with no fear of facing penal provisions outlined in Section 20 of the RTI Act, knowing fully well that they have a free hand under the Information Commissioners.
To even think of the possibility of the very institution mandated to guard India’s transparency regime to be responsible for its downfall should set alarm bells ringing as far as civil society and citizens who care and dare to question are concerned. Dark clouds surround India’s transparency regime. Citizens have to mount intense pressure on authorities to act and appoint commissioners of integrity. Lawyers have to help willing citizens take matters to court and seek justice. If there is a failure to do so, India will lose its cherished right to know.

CIC imposes Rs 15,000 penalty on BDO; issues show cause notices to CEO, 3 others

Daily Excelsior: Jammu: Thursday, 24 November 2022.
The Central Information Commission (CIC) has imposed penalty of Rs 15,000 on a Block Development Officer (BDO) of the Rural Development Department and issued show cause notices to two other BDOs, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Municipal Committee and Executive Engineer of Public Works Department for causing obstruction in the dissemination of information and violation of Right to Information Act.
As per the orders of the Commission, the copies of which are available with EXCELSIOR, Chief Information Commissioner Y K Sinha, while dealing with the Second Appeal exposing violation of provisions of RTI Act and non-implementation of directions of First Appellate Authority (FAA), had directed the PIO/BDO, Rajgarh, Ramban Rajesh Sharma to submit an explanation as to why penalty should not be imposed on him for willful violation of the provisions of the RTI Act.
When the case was taken up few days back, the Commission observed, “a written submission has been received from the BDO, Rajgarh in the form of an undated letter which does not bear the name of the signatory”, adding “upon examination of the facts it is noted that the response received from the BDO is inadequate and deficient on multiple counts”.
The Chief Information Commissioner said, “the Commission had granted time and opportunity to the officer even during the hearing of show cause notice but he has not been able to justify the lapses and most importantly the denial of information by him”, adding “in fact the officer has failed to explain his conduct of deliberate and willful obstruction in the dissemination of information and displayed callous attitude”.
Accordingly, the Commission, in exercise of powers vested under Section 20(1) of the RTI Act, 2005 has imposed penalty of Rs 15,000 on Rajesh Sharma, the then PIO/BDO, Rajgarh, Ramban.
Similarly, the non-implementation of RTI Act and non-compliance of directions of First Appellate Authority by the Block Development Officer Mankote in Poonch came to the notice of Commission by way of Second Appeal.
In this case, the CIC observed, “examination of the records of the appeals reveals that the PIO/BDO, Mankote has not sent any submission which indicates that the order dated 23.12.2020 passed by the FAA was complied with”.
In the absence of representation or submission from the respondent to this effect, the Commission directed the Registry to issue show cause notice to Mohd Maqbool, PIO/BDO, Mankote seeking his explanation as to why penalty in terms of Section 20 of the RTI Act, 2005 should not be imposed upon him for the unexplained absence during the hearing and for violation of the provisions of the RTI Act, 2005 by deliberate denial of information and disregarding the specific orders of the FAA.
While reprimanding Manzoor Hussain, the then PIO/BDO of Marwah for blatant violation of provisions of the transparency law, the CIC said, “examination of the records of the appeal reveals that neither the PIO/BDO has sent any submission which indicates that information was furnished in terms of provisions of the RTI Act, 2005 and if so, on which date, nor has he justified with any reasons whether information has been denied”.
“The PIO has not bothered to appear for the hearing nor apprised the Commission with the factual position of the case. Hence, the Registry is directed to issue show cause notice to Manzoor Hussain, the then PIO/BDO, Marwah seeking his explanation as to why maximum penalty to the tune of Rs 25,000 should not be imposed upon him for causing deliberate obstruction in the dissemination of information and violation of provisions of the RTI Act”, read the order.
The Registry has also been directed to send a copy of order to Atul Dutt Sharma, Assistant Development Commissioner bringing the failure of functioning of his officials and the gross and willful violation of the RTI Act, 2005, to his notice. “The FAA must ensure that such lapses do not recur in future, failing which steps shall be initiated as per law”, the CIC said.
Similar show cause notice has also been issued to Amit Chaudhary, PIO/Chief Executive Officer-Municipal Committee, Samba seeking his explanation as to why maximum penalty to the tune of Rs 25,000 should not be imposed upon him for causing deliberate obstruction in the dissemination of information and violation of provisions of the RTI Act.
Puneet Sharma Director/FAA Urban Local Bodies has also been asked to highlight the failure of functioning of his officials and the gross and willful violation of the RTI Act and ensure that such lapses do not recur in future.
Likewise, show case notice has been issued to Vinod Kumar, Executive Engineer PWD(R&B), Kathua seeking his explanation as to why penalty in terms of the Section 20 of the RTI Act, 2005 should not be imposed upon him for the unexplained absence during hearing and for violation of the provisions of the RTI Act.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

What is a loan write-off and why do banks do it?

The Indian Express: Mumbai: Wednesday, 23 November 2022.
Banks wrote off more than Rs 10 lakh crore in loans over the last five years, according to RBI data obtained by The Indian Express under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. They have been able to recover only 13% (Rs 1,32,036 crore) of the Rs 10,09,510 crore ($123.86 billion) they wrote off, according to the reply.
While public sector banks reported the lion’s share of write-offs at Rs 734,738 crore, private sector banks were not far behind in bringing down their non-performing assets (NPAs). Private banks accounted for 27.28 per cent of the total banking sector write-offs over the last five years, the RBI’s reply shows.
What is a loan write-off?
Writing off a loan essentially means it will no longer be counted as an asset. By writing off loans, a bank can reduce the level of non-performing assets (NPAs) on its books. An additional benefit is that the amount so written off reduces the bank’s tax liability.
Why do banks resort to write-offs?
The bank writes off a loan after the borrower has defaulted on the loan repayment and there is a very low chance of recovery. The lender then moves the defaulted loan, or NPA, out of the assets side and reports the amount as a loss.
After the write-off, banks are supposed to continue their efforts to recover the loan using various options. They have to make provisioning as well. The tax liability will also come down as the written-off amount is reduced from the profit.
However, the chances of recovery from written-off loans are very low as the RTI reply shows which raises questions about the assets or collateral against which the banks lent funds to these defaulters.
What is the amount written off by private banks?
Private banks wrote off loans worth Rs 2,74,772 crore in the last five years in their effort to bring down NPAs and whitewash their balance sheets. This works out to 27.28 per cent of the total write-off of Rs 10,09,510 crore of the banking sector.
Private banks wrote off Rs 53,000 crore in 2018-19 and Rs 58,293 crore in 2019-20 when the entire banking sector witnessed the maximum loan write-offs.
Who is at the forefront of write-offs?
Among private banks, ICICI Bank’s reduction in NPAs due to write-offs was Rs 50,514 crore in the last five years. Axis Bank wrote off Rs 49,715 crore and HDFC Bank Rs 34,782 crore during the period, according to the RBI. The loans written off by the banks are the depositors’ money.
How much did PSU banks write off?
Public sector banks reported the lion’s share of write-offs at Rs 734,738 crore accounting for 72.78 per cent of the exercise. Among individual public sector banks, reduction in NPAs due to write-offs in the case of State Bank of India Rs 204,486 crore in the last five years, Punjab National Bank Rs 67,214 crore and Bank of Baroda Rs 66,711 crore.