Thursday, May 19, 2022

We helped Perarivalan walk free, says RTI activist SS Venkatesh Nayak

The New Indian Express: Bengaluru: Thursday, 19 May 2022.
As Perarivalan walks to freedom, RTI activist Dr SS Venkatesh Nayak, Director (incharge), Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, celebrates quietly. Nayak, who helped Perarivalan’s mother Arputhammal, recalled how a shattered Perarivalan, his mother and a team of lawyers would meet him, requesting for help.
“Perarivalan was convicted for conspiring to assassinate late PM Rajiv Gandhi. He was initially sentenced to death with others. The Supreme Court upheld the sentence in May 1999, after which he filed a mercy petition before the President. The government did not respond for more than 11 years, and then rejected the mercy petitions in August 2011. Soon after, his lawyers contacted me for assistance with the RTI case, to get hold of file notings and correspondence regarding mercy petitions. So I helped them file a complaint with the Central Information Commissioner, seeking urgent hearing on humanitarian grounds."
The Commissioner called for files and directed disclosure of papers, minus the names of officers involved in the decisionmaking process, and actual advice tendered by Union Home Minister to the President on action to be taken on the mercy petition.
More than 500 pages of documents were released quickly in September-October 2011, and were used to show the extraordinary delay in deciding the mercy petition.
The SC agreed that this was an unreasonable delay and commuted death sentence to life imprisonment in 2014, Nayak said.
He recalled the documents they procured through RTI, including the TN government’s communication to IGP Prisons about rejection of the mercy petition, CIC’s decision directing disclosure of documents, and the Supreme Court judgment which commuted the death sentence to life imprisonment.

No consent from T for 52 ROBs, RUBs: SCR in RTI reply

Times of India: Hyderabad: Thursday, 19 May 2022.
The South Central Railway (SCR) has squarely blamed the state government for the delay in construction of road overbridges (ROBs) and road under bridges (RUBs) which often lead to traffic snarls at rail crossing gates.
While 115 ROBs and RUBs have been proposed to be built, the state government is yet to consent to pay its 50% share for 52 of them, including 17 in Hyderabad, an RTI reply from the SCR said.
SCR deputy chief engineer (works) N Anjaiah said that out of 52 projects where state government did not give consent for constructing RUBs and ROBs on a cost-sharing basis, 17 are in Hyderabad, including Budvel, Falaknuma, Umdanagar, Timmapur, Masaipet, Ammuguda and Moula Ali. The local MP has sent proposals to the railways but they are all still pending waiting for consent, the SCR said in the RTI reply.
The projects for which consent was given are under various stages of construction. “In some projects, there is no response from the state government on giving its share. In some cases, alignment planning and joint inspections are done,” the RTI reply revealed.
Emergency services like 108 are often stalled for more than 10-15 minutes at these railway crossings due to huge traffic jams. For instance, the RUB at Manikeswarinagar between Sitaphalmandi and Arts College, the project cost is yet to be deposited by the state government. An amount of 5.23 crore is yet to be granted by the state government for construction of the RUB near Manikeswaranagar.
RTI activist Robin Zaccheus said despite several claims made by the state government on developing Hyderabad’s infrastructure, the fact is that the state has 115 projects, out of which 52 are yet to be taken up by state government. “Almost all the 63 projects were taken up a decade ago on 50:50 cost-sharing basis,” he said.
He said the government has repeatedly failed to release funds to the SCR within the stipulated time because of which the cost has increased. Recently, minister KT Rama Rao held meetings with the railways and GHMC officials on the pending projects. “The government should immediately release funds,” Robin said.

HC stays APIC order on appeal case

The Arunachal Times: Itanagar: Thursday, 19 May 2022.
The Itanagar permanent bench of the Gauhati High Court (HC) has stayed a judgment order passed by Arunachal Pradesh Information Commission (APIC) on 17 March this year, which directed the Superintending Engineer (CSQ) PWD, who also is the Public Information Officer (PIO) to furnish information to an appellant free of cost within a month.
The APIC after receiving an appeal from one Shoney Pertin of Pasighat registered a case (No APIC-228/2021) and took up it for hearing.
Appellant Pertin, who sought information/official documents pertaining to past experience of completed works/ submitted by M/s Agam Construction, owned by Tarem Darang of Pasighat, when he applied for registration as Class- III, Class-II and Class-I registered contractor under APPWD.
The Commission held hearings of the case four times, but the PIO did not furnish the detailed information as sought by the applicant/appellant.
The PIO in his reply stated that the credential document sought by the appellant was “third party information,” whereupon the proprietor of M/s Agam Construction objected not to divulge or furnish the credential documents as sought.
The State Information Commissioner finally came to a decision that the information sought by the appellant (Shoney Pertin) is public document and should be available with the PIO (not third party information) which is not exempted from disclosure under section 8(1) (i) of the RTI Act, 2005.
The State Information Commissioner in the order noted that “every individual applying for registering himself or herself as registered contractor of any class or of any category under works department of the government has to submit his or her past experience of completed works as required under provisions of the Arunachal Pradesh Enlistment of Contractor in Works Department Rules-2008, and such completion of works must only be of public works.”
The APIC after completion of the hearings on the appeal case, arrived at a conclusion that the PIO was not justified in denying the information so sought in question to the appellant. The State Information Commissioner on 17-03-2022 ordered that the PIO shall furnish all information at free of cost to the appellant within a period of one month from the date of receipt of the judgment order.
But, significantly, proprietor of M/s Agam Construction of Pasighat, Tarem Darang is moving the HC, challenging the APIC order.
The High Court hearing the WP(C)-180/2022 case, on 17-05-2022 stayed the impugned order passed by the State Information Commissioner vide Appeal No. APIC-228/2021 and issued notice returnable in four weeks.
Earlier too, the owner of M/s Agam Construction moved the HC in similar cases, wherein the APIC ordered the PIO concerned to furnish credential documents pertaining to his firm.

Bank Inspection Reports: 'Undecided' CIC Asks CPIO & FAA to Take Own Decision on Disclosing Information under RTI: Yogesh Sapkale

Moneylife: Pune: Thursday, 19 May 2022.
Despite two explicit judgements by the Supreme Court, the Central Information Commission (CIC) could not decide upon directing central public information officers (CPIOs) of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to furnish information on inspection reports of banks and financial institutions (FIs). In one paragraph, the division bench at CIC says the CPIO should decide on his own before providing information under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. In the next paragraph, however, the CIC says the public authority, if expedient, may wait for the outcome in two writ petitions (WP) filed in the Supreme Court.
While setting aside orders passed by CPIO and first appellate authorities (FAAs), information commissioners Neeraj Kumar Gupta and Suresh Chandra, say, "The Commission also expects that the CPIO will take a view on various objections filed by the banks and financial institutions and submissions made by the applicant to reach the decision in favour or against redaction of various parts of the report on case to case basis."
"...any decision of redaction or disclosure of information, without waiting for decision in the WP Nos1159/2019 and 768/2021 and others tagged may cause irrevocable damage against right of privacy and protection of commercial interest. Hence, the respondent public authority if expedient may wait for the outcome in WP Nos1159/2019 and 768/2021 and others tagged or seek clarification from the Supreme Court and accordingly decide these RTI applications by following process as enumerated in the earlier paras by the Commission in the interest of principles of natural justice. While disclosing the information, they should be cautious in taking a considerate view balancing right to privacy, protection of national and commercial interest, on one hand, vis-à-vis larger public interest," the CIC says in its order passed on 5 May 2022.
Interestingly, in 2015, the Supreme Court had directed RBI to share the reports under RTI. However, the central bank went one step ahead and denied information citing one paragraph from the apex court's ruling. (Read: Bank Inspection Reports: RBI Intends To Share It under RTI but Is Delaying It Using the Rulebook)
On 28 April 2021, the apex court, on legal grounds, had refused to recall its now famous 2015 judgement in the Jayantilal N Mistry case, which had held that RBI will have to provide information about banks and financial institutions regulated by it under the transparency law. (Read: Supreme Court Rejects Banks' Appeal To Restrict RBI from Disclosing Defaulters' List, Inspection Report under RTI)
Both the writ petitions mentioned in the CIC order are admitted in the SC seeking guidance and direction on non-disclosure of certain type of information which are essentially part of RBI's annual inspection report (AIR) and risk assessment reports (RARs) of banks and financial institutions.
Mumbai-based RTI activist Girish Mittal had filed the RTI application on 1 May 2021 and sought information regarding AIR/RARs made by RBI after completing the inspection, 15 banks and financial institutions (FIs) for the past three years. He also asked for copies of show cause notices issued to any of the banks and response of these banks and FIs.
He sought copies of reports of HDFC Bank Ltd, RBL Bank, Yes Bank, Axis Bank, ICICI Bank, Bajaj Finance Ltd, State Bank of India (SBI), Bank of Baroda (BoB), Induslnd Bank, Kotak Mahindra Bank (KMB), HDFC Ltd, Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services (IL&FS), IDFC Bank and Sahara India Financial Services or any entity of Sahara group registered with RBI.
Intending to disclose the information, the CPIO of RBI issued notices under section 11(1) and 11(3) to the banks and FIs. These banks and FIs filed apeal befor the FAA, which was dismissed. Some banks then filed second appeal before the CIC.
These banks contended that the information sought as a whole is exempted from disclosure under sections 8(1)(d) and 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act and that the CPIO and FAA have not passed any reasoned order settling their objections nor gave any opportunity of hearing to them.
The CIC observed that it is already a settled position in Jayantilal Mistry's case that RBI is not fiduciary in relationship with the banks and financial instution irrespecitve of these being public or private entities. But, it says, "contents of those reports viz. names of depositors/ borrowers, their transaction and financial history, entrusted by the clients to their respective banks or financial institutions are interspersed in these reports and have to be examined in the light of para nos. 77 of the same judgment and various other judicial pronouncements protecting right to privacy and protection of commercial interests."
In the RBI vs Jayantilal N Mistry case, the Supreme Court had said, "In the instant case, the RBI does not place itself in a fiduciary relationship with the financial institutions (though, in word it puts itself to be in that position) because, the reports of the inspections, statements of the bank, information related to the business obtained by the RBI are not under the pretext of confidence or trust. In this case neither the RBI nor the banks act in the interest of each other. By attaching an additional 'fiduciary' label to the statutory duty, the regulatory authorities have intentionally or unintentionally created an in terrorem (serving or intended to threaten or intimidate) effect."
"Furthermore, the RTI Act under section 2(f) clearly provides that the inspection reports, documents etc. fall under the purview of 'Information', which is obtained by the public authority (RBI) from a private body," the apex court observed.
In the judgement, the SC had conclusively stated that "As in this case, the RBI is liable to provide information regarding the inspection report and other documents to the general public."
In reply to Mr Mittal's RTI application, the CPIO of RBI has cited para 77 of the same judgement. Para 77 of the Supreme Court judgement, however, talks about information sought by SS Vohra based on a written statement on 24 July 2009 made by the then finance minister in Parliament and an order issued by the central information commissioner.
"This is a matter of concern since it involves the violation of policy guidelines initiated by the RBI and affects the public at large. Transparency cannot be brought overnight in any system and one can hope to witness accountability in a system only when its end users are well- educated, well-informed, and well-aware. If the customers of commercial banks remain oblivious to the violations of RBI guidelines and standards which such banks regularly commit, then eventually the whole financial system of the country would be at a monumental loss. This can only be prevented by suo motu (relating to an action taken by a court of its own accord) disclosure of such information as the penalty orders are already in the public domain."
This is what para 77 of Supreme Court judgement says in the Jayantilal Mistry case.
"The Commission is of the view that it is not a simple set of information as inspection and audit report consists of data about client, borrowers and institution beside, its analysis, judgment and observations on the analysis on the data provided by the banks on its functioning, regulatory compliance, deficiencies and strengths, suggestions for course of correction, and penal action as per provisions of the law and may be much more which the Commission may not be in a position appreciate in toto at this stage," it added.
Outlining deficiency in the conduct of the CPIO and FAA, the CIC also directed them to take  due care by according opportunity of personal hearing and making reasoned order with reference to the objections in the hands of the CPIO and later in the hands of FAA, if any appeal is preferred.
It further says that the two writ petitions also seek the protection of interim communication between the regulator and the regulated entity in the finalisation of these reports or otherwise.
"It is obvious that decision in these writ petitions will provide clarity and guidance to the public authority on redaction or non-disclosure of a set of information inspite of being part of these reports which are open to disclosure. At this stage, any decision by the public authority will amount to pre-judging the issues pending admitted writ petitions before the Supreme Court. Various banks, financial institutions, respondent public authority and the RTI applicant have already impleaded party and are presenting their arguments before the apex court," the CIC says.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Central depts owe ₹370 crore tax dues to GHMC, reveals RTI reply

Times of India: Hyderabad: Wednesday, 18 May 2022.
Not just state government departments and other undertakings which owe over 5,500 crore tax dues to the GHMC, even the central government departments and PSUs have pending tax arrears running into hundreds of crores of rupees to the GHMC.
A Right to Information Act reply from GHMC commissioner DS Lokesh Kumar revealed that various central departments’ arrears stand at 281 crore, with South Central Railway emerging as the biggest defaulter of property tax for nine years. The SCR owes 172 crore, while the BSNL is the top defaulter among the PSUs. Central PSUs collectively owe around 89 crore to the civic body. Salarjung Museum (SJM) and Central Detective Training Institute (CDTI) are among the other defaulters.
The RTI was filed by Forum for Good Governance secretary M Padmanabha Reddy, seeking details of the defaulters.
Officials said central organisations are better than state government departments in clearing the property tax. However, some haven’t paid despite regular demand notices being sent to them.
Central public works department has outstanding dues of 26.8 crore over 11 years, according to the RTI reply.
Defence organisations like DRDO, DMRL and DLRL owe 10.6 crore for the last year. Central Research Institute of Unani Medicine owes 7.4 crore for the past 25 years to the GHMC.
CDTI has 5.3 crore arrears for the last seven years and SJM’s dues stand at 4.5 crore over seven years. Central excise and customs department has pending dues of 2.4 crore. Several research institutes have also failed to pay the property tax which have been pending with a duration of one year to 10 years.
Among central government undertaking units, HMT lamp division owes 30 crore for the past seven years and BSNL 36.5 crore for six years.
However, several central government departments have raised concerns at the way the property tax arrears have been calculated. A spokesperson of SCR said the SCR and GHMC formed a mediation committee to discuss the property tax. “We have objected to the calculations made by the GHMC. The committee has been deliberating on the issue. Since 2015-16, the issue has cropped up. However, we have been depositing a certain amount every year with the GHMC. We can’t be called defaulters as the negotiations are still on,” he said

Bhaskara Rao Commission report yet to see the light of day

The Hindu: Hyderabad: Wednesday, 18 May 2022.
The commission was constituted to probe the police firing that led to the death of five people
The inquiry report of Justice V Bhaskara Rao Commission, which was constituted to probe the police firing on May 18, 2007, the day an improvised explosive device went off and killed nine people, remains a mystery as it has not been made public.
The Commission was constituted given that after the blast, the crowd became restive, and police opened fire on it. Five persons identified as Mohammad Dastagir, Saleem Khan, Iftequaruddin, Md Ather Mohiuddin and Mohammed Zameeruddin died of bullet injuries.
Constituted in June 2007, the Commission submitted its report to the government of undivided Andhra Pradesh, then led by the Congress, in 2010. It was not tabled in the Legislative Assembly. The current ruling dispensation too has not tabled it.
Attempts to obtain a copy of the report proved to be futile.
Noted advocate S R Mahajir, who appeared before the commission and cross-examined several policemen, said that the Commission was constituted with specific terms of reference on grounds that what had transpired was of great public importance and to inform the public and government of what had gone wrong and measures which could ensure such abberations do not happen in the future.
“As I recall , the evidence clearly established that police had stated things incorrectly before the commission. The requirement of law is that when a fact-finding body under Commissions of Inquiry Act, inquires into a matter, nobody can be prosecuted for material which is placed before that tribunal, except on the grounds of fabrication or false evidence. Therefore, the police have given evidence which categorically establishes that reports filed before the authorities, including the DGP of that time, as well as before the commission, were incorrect statements on the part of the police. And therefore such police personnel involved ought to have been prosecuted,” Mr Mahajir told The Hindu.
Meanwhile, activist S Q Masood, who sought to obtain a copy of the Commission’s report, said that his Right to Information request was rejected. The activist said that he had wanted to know the terms of reference of the Commission as well as a copy of the report. “They had rejected the request under Section 8 (1) (c) of the RTI Act which says the disclosure of such information would cause a breach of privilege of the Parliament of the State Legislature. Nothing has come of it,” he said.

RTI, cheating, forgery — HC probe details 609 ‘illegal’ recruitments of staff in Bengal schools

The Print: Kolkata: Wednesday, 18 May 2022.
Calcutta HC on 6 December formed committee to probe alleged irregularities in appointments by West Bengal Central School Service Commission. The 68-page report was submitted last month.
A recruitment drive conducted by the West Bengal Central School Service Commission (WBSSC) in 2016 has returned to worry the Mamata Banerjee government after six years.
An inquiry committee constituted by the Calcutta High Court has described in its report how at least 609 allegedly illegal recruitments of Group ‘D’ staff were conducted.
In a 68-page report submitted last month, a copy of which was accessed by ThePrint, the committee has detailed how the Right to Information (RTI) Act was allegedly misused to facilitate the “illegal” recruitments.
Candidates who had been unsuccessful in the recruitment exam, it is alleged, could file an RTI application and get their answer sheets for inspection. Subsequently, they were able to file an application to have their scripts re-evaluated and their marks increased.
However, there’s no provision under the School Service Rules to increase marks or ranks in such a way which is why the resulting appointments have been called “illegal”, with a money trail suspected. Last year, a single-judge bench of the high court ordered an investigation by the CBI, but this was stayed by a division bench, which instead constituted an inquiry committee.
“Right To Information can only provide information of the marks received by the candidates,” advocate Arunava Banerjee, who was a member of the HC-appointed committee, told The Print.
“RTI cannot increase a candidate’s marks, as was done in the case of Group ‘D’ recruitment,” he alleged.
The Print reached state cabinet minister Partha Chatterjee, who held the school education portfolio from 2014 to 2021, via telephone, text message, WhatsApp and email on 2 May. This report will be updated once his response is received.
The state’s present education minister, Bratya Basu, refused to speak about the alleged scam, but said, “I don’t want to comment (on) what’s happened in the past. But we assure you, we will ensure transparency in recruitment.”
Speaking to the media at the state secretariat after a cabinet meeting on 5 May, Basu said, “We won’t set up any internal inquiry. That’s for other departments to do. Our job is to appoint. Not inquire.”
How the ‘scam’ was revealed
The WBSSC is in charge of appointing teaching and non-teaching staff in all government-aided and recognised schools functioning under the state education department. According to the inquiry report, it had published an advertisement on 8 August 2016, to fill up vacancies for Group ‘D’ posts. The written exam for interested candidates was held on 19 February, 2017.
Candidates appear for written exams, followed by a personality test. Successful candidates receive recommendations from regional commissioners, followed by appointments.
According to the rules, any recruitment panel candidates who qualify the written exam are put in panels, based on district and category is valid for a term of one year from the date of acceptance of the panel by the concerned regional commissioners. An extension of only six months is allowed, beyond which the panel cannot be extended.
In this case, the original panel was published on the central commission website on 6 November 2017. The panel for Group ‘D’ expired on 4 May 2019.
The inquiry committee report claims, however, that the ranks of some candidates were changed on 18 June 2019 (based on the system of RTI applications) and the final panel was uploaded on the central commission website on 20 June 2019 more than a month after its expiry.
According to the inquiry report, under the School Service Commission Rules, 2009, there’s no provision for re-evaluation/re-checking of answer scripts or optical mark recognition (OMR) sheets that are digitally evaluated. In spite of this, WBSSC officials told the committee that candidates could seek re-evaluation/re-checking of OMR sheets by submitting an application under the RTI Act.
Based on such applications, the inquiry report says, the WBSSC would supply the OMR sheets to the candidates, along with the answer keys. Candidates could then make their own assessments and submit a separate application for increasing marks if required. This would then be processed by the commission, and if approved, the candidates’ marks would be increased and their ranks upgraded in the panel of Group ‘D’ recruitments.
 
Four unsuccessful candidates then brought to the notice of the Calcutta High Court the names of 523 people who had allegedly been appointed after the expiry of the recruitment panel. After this, the high court in an order passed on 22 November 2021 handed over the investigation of the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
The inquiry report says: “Hon’ble Single Bench of High Court gave direction for CBI to conduct an inquiry to trace out the invisible hands involved in preparing and sending recommendation letters to the president of the Board for appointment of undeserving candidates in Group ‘D’ posts as the Hon’ble judge was of the view that corruption (was) writ large in the whole process of public employment and also suspected money trail.”
The court tasked the CBI with enquiring into the “extreme illegality in making recommendations and appointments to the underserving candidates in Group ‘D’ posts”. However, the West Bengal government challenged the CBI inquiry and filed four separate appeals before a division bench.
A division bench of Justice Harish Tandon and Justice Rabindranath Samanta then put a stay order on the CBI probe. Instead, it constituted a three-member inquiry committee on 6 December 2021, comprising advocate Arunava Banerjee, professor Ashutosh Ghosh a member of the board of the Central School Service Commission and Paromita Roy, deputy secretary (administration), West Bengal Board of Secondary Education. Retired high court justice Ranjit Kumar Bag was appointed to supervise the committee.
The division bench said that the single bench that had ordered the CBI probe would be given a copy of the inquiry committee’s report. The committee submitted its findings on 11 April. After reading the report, the single bench again ordered a CBI inquiry, but that too was stayed by the division bench on 13 April.
The modus operandi
For the inquiry, the committee randomly picked 16 candidates who had appeared for the Group ‘D’ recruitment examination. It then found that 15 of these people got appointment letters after the expiry of the recruitment panel.
Allegedly, none of these 15 candidates took part in counselling for Group ‘D’ recruitment, as required under Rule 18 of the School Service Commission Rules, 2009. Rather, they got “fake recommendation letters” from the office of the central commission on the basis of their RTI applications.
According to the report, however, these candidates couldn’t supply a copy of the RTI when asked by the inquiry committee.
M/s NYSA Communications the company that was engaged for evaluating the OMR sheets confirmed to the inquiry committee that it had handed over all the answer scripts to the WBSSC after publishing the results. The company said that it had never re-evaluated/ rechecked any answer scripts, contrary to what officials of the state education board had claimed in order to justify appointments allegedly based on RTI applications.
The report also says that the panel of successful candidates was prepared at the WBSSC’s office, without any involvement from the chairpersons of the regional commissions. It’s the latter who are supposed to give the recommendation letters according to the School Service Commission Rules, 2009.
The investigation had also allegedly disclosed that the chairman of the WBSSC had instructed the chairpersons of the five regional commissions to scan and store their signatures on the WBSSC’s application server. These were later used as “illegal digital signatures” for more than 500 “fake” recommendation letters.
These “fake” appointment letters were then allegedly hand-delivered to the undeserving candidates by specific peons and special messengers and not through speed post or registered post, as stipulated in the rulebook. This way, there was no memo number maintained in the office register of these letters.
Then, on 1 November 2019, a joint secretary to the West Bengal government passed an order and formed a committee to complete some still-pending recruitments, the inquiry report says.
Dr Shanti Prasad Sinha, an advisor to the central commission, was appointed convener, to supervise, monitor and guide this committee. Not only was this committee constituted after the expiry of the Group ‘D’ recruitment panel, its formation was “illegal in the eyes of law” according to the inquiry report, as the WBSSC is the only body empowered to conduct the recruitment procedure.
The inquiry claims to have revealed how the convener of this “illegal” committee was making “illegal” appointments of Group ‘D’ staff, along with officials of the state education department.
Indictments and current probe status
The inquiry committee in its report has suggested that FIRs be filed against Dr Shanti Prasad Sinha under sections 465/417/468/34 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) making false documents, cheating, forgery and criminal acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intentions.
Reached for comment, Sinha said: “As convenor, I convened two meetings but no meeting was held. As an advisor, I have no connection with illegal recommendations. Please ask the chairman and secretary.”
Blame has also been pinned on Dr. Kalyanmoy Ganguly, president of the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education; Professor Saumitra Sarkar, former chairman of the central commission, and Ashok Kumar Saha, former secretary of the WBSSC. The report calls for FIRs to be filed against them under section 120B (criminal conspiracy) of the IPC.
The Print spoke to Ganguly, who said that the matter is sub judice and he wouldn’t like to make any comments at the moment. When asked about the allegations in the inquiry report, he said: “I haven’t seen the report. A copy hasn’t been given to me. So I can only respond once I read the report myself.”
Reached for comment, Sarkar said: “I am unaware of the report and its findings since it’s not been published.” Asked if he was aware of the alleged illegal recruitments during his tenure as mentioned in the inquiry report, he said he did not know anything about it.
The Print also reached Saha over phone, but he said, “At this stage no comments can be given, I’m sorry.”
Meanwhile, the CBI, which was probing the case until the division bench of the HC stayed it, had questioned Shanti Prasad Sinha on 6 April. Four other members of the allegedly illegal committee supervising the recruitment appeared before the CBI for questioning on 4 April.
The central agency has also interrogated the private secretary of minister in charge (MIC) Partha Chatterjee. Although the order for the constitution of the committee to complete selections was signed by the joint secretary, according to the inquiry report, “Such steps are taken only after the approval of the MIC. So Partha Chatterjee was aware of the committee.”
Last month, the high court had directed Sinha to appear before the CBI.
The single judge bench of the Calcutta HC had on 13 April also asked minister Chatterjee to appear before the CBI, but the order was stayed by the division bench on the same day, for four weeks.
The division bench also issued a stay order on the CBI inquiry for the same period.

Nagaland, Arunachal CICs against misuse of RTI Act

The Arunachal Times: Itanagar: Wednesday, 18 May 2022.
Nagaland’s Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) Meyionen Jamir and his Arunachal counterpart Rinchen Dorjee have decided to approach the appropriate authority for further strengthening the RTI Act by amending the relevant portions to avoid misuse of the Act and for stringent action against the delinquent PIOs/APIOs, who do not abide by the Act.
The CICs took the decision here on Tuesday during a discussion related to implementation of the RTI Act.
SICs Goto Ete and Gumjum Haider were also present during the discussion.
Jamir, who was appointed as the Nagaland’s CIC in February this year, toured Manipur and some other NE states prior to his arrival in Itanagar. He will also be visiting Assam and meeting his Assam counterpart.
Earlier, he visited the Buddhist monastery, civil secretariat and the legislative assembly secretariat.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Central, state departments owe water arrears of ₹105 crore to PMC

Hindustan Times: Mumbai: Tuesday, 17 May 2022.
A Right to Information (RTI) query by social activist Vivek Velankar has revealed that various state and central governments owe water arrears of Rs105 crore to the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC)
The dues to be paid by public works department (PWD), police, Maharashtra Jeevan Pradhikaran, Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Limited (MSEDCL), postal department, Akashwani and police collectively is ₹54 crore.
Velankar said that even as the annual budget allocation for the defence sector is ₹5 lakh crore, PCB has to pay ₹46 crore water arrears and CR has increased platform tickets rates yet need to foot the pending water bills.
However, this time, the PMC water department has warned defaulting departments that it will not hesitate to cut off water supply if dues are not paid within eight days of the receipt of their notice.
“In order to recover the arrears from these central and state government establishments, one has to pay attention towards the long pending non-payment of water bills by government organisations. The PMC administration must meet the heads of defaulting departments and warn them to cut off water supply. The then municipal commissioner Mahesh Zagade had stopped water supply of PCB and forced them to pay. Such action show that PMC deals with common and government defaulters on equal terms,” Velankar said.
Aniruddha Pawaskar, head, PMC water department, “We keep sending pending water bills to government departments and meet their senior officials. Court notices have been sent, including written reminders. The water supply will be cut off within eight days of the receipt of the current notice.”
PMC water supply department also provides water through a meter-based system to areas where demand is high.
In March 2022, PMC had a non-recovery of arrears wherein the amount has increased to around ₹600 crore.

Maharashtra: Costs for running Raj Bhavan went up by Rs 12 crore in 2 years

Times of India: Mumbai: Tuesday, 17 May 2022.
The Maharashtra government has said in response to an RTI application that it has disbursed Rs 60 crore in the last two years for the running of Raj Bhavan and that expenditure on Raj Bhavan increased by Rs 12 crore in the last two years. Data about the funds revealed the lion’s share was released for maintenance of Raj Bhavan and the upkeep of gardens, as also for the governor’s secretariat.
The state’s general administration department provided RTI activist Anil Galgali information about funds disbursed to Raj Bhavan in the last five years; these costs were included in the budget estimates. An amount of Rs 13.9 crore was provided for in the year 2017-18, of which Raj Bhavan spent Rs 12.5 crore. The total provision in 2018-19 was Rs 15.8 crore, while Rs 13.7 crore was spent. In 2019-20, the state provided for Rs 19.9 crore, of which Rs 17.6 crore was spent. Again, in 2020-21, the state made a provision for Rs 29.7 crore but disbursed Rs 29.5 crore. In 2021-22, the government handed out Rs 31.4 crore, of which Rs 27.4 crore was spent by the governor’s office.
Raj Bhavan did not respond to TOI’s request for comment.
“The Raj Bhavan office should make public information about the increased expenditure and ensure its books of accounts are audited and all expenses uploaded on the website,” said Galgali, who has urged the present governor to do so in order to ensure transparency. Galgali stated CM Uddhav Thackeray and deputy CM Ajit Pawar should follow suit. “After all, this is public expenditure spent on the upkeep of official residences and bungalows.”

Resistance To The Information Act : Dr Farid A Malik

The Nation: PK: Tuesday, 17 May 2022.
The bureaucracy of Pakistan remains shrouded in the Government of India, Official Secrets Act 1923. The colonists desired to protect their anti-people activities of loot and plunder of natural resources of their colonies. The colonial masters were not answerable to their subjects. Despite getting our freedom in August 1947, the state of Pakistan has been secretive of its acts. Pakistan attained the status of a constitutional democracy on August 14, 1973 yet the Government of India Act 1930 is widely quoted in administrative and legal matters. In modern management it is widely believed that ‘mystery is mischief’. With the advent of the information age, the hoarding of information is a highly objectionable offence. In a world driven by technology, data is vital for correct and timely decisions. Information is a fundamental right of the citizen that can no longer be denied.
Pakistan inherited this closed and unaccountable system. The founding fathers were aware of the serious lopsided shortcomings of the colonial structure and provided relief to the common man, but after their fading away, evil came back with full vengeance. My multi-talented friend, Javed Jabbar has played a pivotal role in ensuring the free flow of information. In the year 2002, as Minister of Information, he enacted the ‘Right to Information Act’. Unfortunately, it fell through the cracks due to lack of constitutional support. Then came the Charter of Democracy (COD) which was signed in London by Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif in which the Right to Information was recognised. Then Comrade Raza Rabbani skilfully included the Act in the 18th constitutional amendment which was passed by the parliament in the year 2010. The elected government of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf took the lead by establishing the first information commission in the year 2013, which was then followed by the formation of the Punjab Information Commission in December the same year. The federal government, in the year 2017, established the Pakistan Information Commission. I have personally interacted with the commissions in Lahore and Islamabad with my city taking the lead in providing the much needed information but with firm resistance from the bureaucracy. I have sat through several hearings skilfully conducted by the Chief Information Commissioner, Mehboob Qadir Shah Sahib, who is a retired Sessions Judge by profession and an activist by descent and temperament.
Under the act, every government department is mandated to have a Principal Information Officer (PIO) to deal and interact with the public for the free flow of information. There is a fourteen-day deadline in which the requested information has to be provided by the department, failing which the applicant can approach the Commission for a hearing. The appointment of PIO’s by most departments is not taken seriously despite being a mandated legal requirement. In every hearing that I have attended, a different person appears before the Commission, resulting in unnecessary delays. There is an evident lack of seriousness within the bureaucracy. I suggest that the Commission sets a deadline for the appointment of PIOs in all departments followed by audits and fines in case of non-compliance. There is a famous proverb ‘taking the bull by the horns’. The bureaucracy in Pakistan has acted like an out of control ‘bull’ which has to be tamed by holding its horns. The bureaucracy has defied all attempts at reforms including the most recent efforts by Dr Ishrat Hussain. The Information Act is a big step in the restoration of citizen’s rights, which has to be implemented in letter and spirit. The appointment and positioning of PIOs has to be ensured for the success of this crusade for the people.
From 2002, when the first Right to Information bill was conceived till today, a lot of water has flown under the bridge in two decades, yet the people of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan continue to suffer mainly due to a lack of the much-needed information which can result in relief. Historically speaking, in the 1972 Interim Constitution, Article 212 was inserted for the formation of Administrative Accountability Courts. In the 1973 permanent document, a toned down version was included as Article 216, which was finally removed in 1979 by the third usurper, leaving the masses at the mercy of the bureaucracy. More than half of civil litigation today is a direct result of bureaucratic abuse which can be contained with effective and responsive information commissions that are now in place at the federal and provincial levels. As a finishing note, while the largest province of the federation has the worst performing bureaucracy when it comes to relief to the public, it is blessed with the most vibrant Information Commission to contain the ‘bulls’ to squeeze information from them. With the flow of information, relief will definitely follow, ending the ‘Colonial Era’ and its Official Secrets Act of 1923 together with the Government of India Act of 1930. The unanimously agreed constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan has to be followed to ensure citizen’s rights together with access to information as and when desired.
(The writer is Ex-Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation, email: fmaliks@hotmail.com)

Government renders GHMC poorer by over ₹5,500 cr

The Hindu: Hyderabad: Tuesday, 17 May 2022.
Prohibition and Excise and Secretariat owe property tax dues for years, a RTI appeal finds
More than 90 State government entities and departments owe the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation a whopping ₹5,258 crore by way of property tax dues for the durations ranging between a few months to over 25 years.
Accumulated arrears from the properties of the State government undertakings account for another ₹306 crore.
The fact and figures was shared by GHMC in response to a query under the RTI Act by the Forum for Good Governance (FGG), which showed that the Medical & Health department has an unpaid property tax bulk at ₹1185 crore for over 23 years, carving the biggest dent into the revenues of the civic body.
During the recent GHMC Council meeting, Commissioner D. S. Lokesh Kumar shared the figures and said the corporation’s hands are tied when it comes to taking action as the major portion of the dues lay with Education and Health departments, which are at the core of public services that cannot be interrupted.
However, that does not explain why the department of Prohibition & Excise has an accumulated debt of ₹895 crore for over 21 years, or police stations, a debt of ₹420 crore, both of which are way higher than the ₹385 crore owed by the educational institutions.
At ₹392 crore, the dues from the State Secretariat for the past 13 years too are slightly higher than what the educational institutions owe to the GHMC.
Mentioning the figures in a letter to the Chief Secretary, the FGG wondered how the Prohibition & Excise department which earns an annual revenue ₹35,000 crore is unable to pay the property tax arrears.
For the local bodies, main revenue comes from property tax, and ordinary citizens are prompt in payment of the same, the letter reminded.
The huge response to the recent Early Bird scheme by the civic body is a proof, whereby the assessees paid ₹750 crore against a targeted ₹600 crore. Government is setting a bad example to the law abiding citizens by defaulting on the tax arrears for so long, the letter said.
The government is virtually starving GHMC not only by defaulting on tax payments, but also by not devolving the GHMC’s share as per recommendations from the State Finance Commission.
Due to this reason, GHMC is unable to provide the citizens basic minimum services, the letter said, and requested the Chief Secretary to issue necessary instructions to all the department heads.

VMC spent 6.5L in 13 mths on snacks, tea

Times of India: Vadodara: Tuesday, 17 May 2022.
Reply to an application under the Right to Information (RTI) Act by an activist has revealed that Rs 6.5 lakh was spent by the Vadodara Municipal Corporation (VMC) in 13 months on refreshments, tea and coffee for the offices of four elected functionaries of the civic body.
Activist Atul Gamechi had sought the details of the amount spent on refreshments in the offices of the mayor, deputy mayor, standing committee chairman and leader of the ruling party. The offices of the four functionaries together spent Rs 6,49,554 from March 2021 to March 2022.
The expense in the mayor’s office was the lowest at Rs 89,172, while the standing committee chairman’s office spent the highest amount of Rs 2,98,313. An official said that the chairman’s expenditure was the highest because it included expenses during the weekly standing committee meetings as well as the marathon budget meetings of the committee.

CIC warns to initiate penal action against ACR, XEn for obstruction in info dissemination

Daily Excelsior: Jammu: Tuesday, 17 May 2022.
Continuing to expose the slack and casual approach towards implementation of transparency law in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, the Central Information Commission (CIC) has warned to initiate penal action against the Assistant Commissioner Revenue (ACR) and Executive Engineer of the Roads and Buildings Department for creating obstruction in the dissemination of information under the Right to Information Act. Moreover, the Commission has issued directions for furnishing status of enquiry ordered into the allegations of corruption to the RTI applicant.
The case before the Commission was that on July 30, 2019 an application was filed before the CPIO seeking information about several revenue matters including the detailed report regarding implementation of the High Court order vis-à-vis Khasra Nos. 1235 and 1236.
Having not received any information from the CPIO, the appellant filed a First Appeal on September 9, 2019, which was also not adjudicated by the First Appellate Authority. Aggrieved of non receipt of the information, the appellant approached the Central Information Commission with the Second Appeal.
During the course of hearing before the Commission, the appellant was present and heard through video conference but none was present from the respondent-Assistant Commissioner of Revenue despite service of hearing notice in advance.
“It is noted from the records of the case that no response seems to have been provided by the respondent to the queries raised by the appellant. The respondent has neither attended the hearing nor deputed any representative or submitted any written statement to assist in the proceedings”, the Chief Information Commissioner Y K Sinha has mentioned in the decision.
Accordingly, the Commission has directed the Registry to issue show-cause notice to the Assistant Commissioner of Revenue-Zaheer Ahmad Kaifi to explain why maximum penalty should not be imposed on him for violation of the provisions of the RTI Act by causing deliberate obstruction in the dissemination of information and vitiating the proceedings by his absence and for not submitting any record.
“A response to the show-cause notice must reach the Commission by June 15, 2022 and in the event no response is received from the Assistant Commissioner of Revenue by the stipulated time, the matter shall be decided on the basis of the available records”, read the order issued by the Commission.
The same applicant had also filed RTI application on January 15, 2019 seeking information on 29 points from the PIO-Executive Engineer PWD (R&B) Poonch Division. However, neither the PIO provided the information not the First Appellate Authority decided the First Appeal and finally matter was brought to the notice of Central Information Commission.
Now, the Commission has observed, “the Executive Engineer Harvinder Singh has not submitted any proof so far, in support of his claim that the information held by them has been duly provided to the appellate in response to RTI queries”.
Accordingly, the Commission has directed the Executive Engineer to send complete information to the appellant and submit compliance report before the Commission by June 15, 2022. The Commission has made it clear that non-compliance of these directions shall attract penal action as per the law.
As per another case before the Commission, an applicant had filed application seeking information vis-à-vis works executed by the Block Development Officer Padder in Kishtwar district. However, as usual required information was not furnished to the applicant.
During the course of hearing of the Second Appeal, the officer representing the BDO submitted before the Commission that issues raised in all these applications pertained to allegations of corruption in the public work carried out by the office of the BDO Padder. He informed the Commission that inquiry was ordered into the matter by the local jurisdictional court in Kishtwar and the same is being carried out by the Additional SP Kishtwar, Although, the latest status of the enquiry was not available with him.
However, the Commission observed, “a vague and cyclostyled reply has been provided to the appellant which is in contravention to the requirements under Section 7 of the RTI Act, 2005”. Accordingly, the Commission has directed the PIO and BDO Padder to provide point wise response to the RTI application along with the status of the inquiry proceedings after procuring the same from the Additional SP Kishtwar under intimation to the Commission.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Meet the women using RTI to change the face of their neighbourhoods

The Business Standard: Features: Monday, 16 May 2022.
Enacted in 2009, the Right to Information (RTI) act could empower citizens and bring significant social changes. A decade has passed but the potential remains untapped because most people do not know about the law
Social norms dictate Jhorna Begum mother of a school-going daughter and housewife in a lower-middle-class family is a caregiver who takes care of her children, husband, and her elderly parents-in-law.
South Goran's Jhorna Begum does indeed take care of her family. But she doesn't just look after her own family. Empowered by information, she takes care of the society she lives in as well.
In the last few years, she brought at least two significant changes in her community through the right to information (RTI) act by holding authorities accountable.
"A few years back, when my husband caught dengue fever, I realised that the mosquito menace persisted in our locality because the city corporation didn't spray insecticide. Since I knew how to submit an RTI request, I asked them (the city corporation) if they had plans to spray medicine in our neighbourhood. I also asked them how frequently they sprayed the medicine here," Jhorna reminisced about the beginning of her journey with the RTI.
When her application went unheeded, she appealed to the higher authority for answers. This time they responded, and the manner the authority responded took her family by surprise and made them anxious as well.
"Five to six city corporation employees came to our home and told my mother-in-law that I filed a 'case' against them. When I returned home after my daughter's school, I found my mother-in-law in anguish. She was worried that I had gotten myself in trouble," Jhorna said.
The city corporation employees returned the same evening and claimed that they spray medicine regularly; they argued that people could not see it because they 'sprayed liquid medicine during Fajr time'. And hence they requested her to withdraw her application, so they do not get in any trouble.
"But I had no reason to believe them. I instead asked them to spray medicine regularly. I told them nothing would happen to you if you start spraying medicine regularly," Jhorna said.
Ever since her application, the authority has been spraying medicine regularly. They report to her every time they spray, and thus the neighbourhood was free of mosquito menace.
Jhorna also freed her locality of filth as the city corporation didn't collect waste every day due to a shortage of cleaning automobiles. After the submission of her RTI application and further follow-ups, the Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) increased the number of cleaning vehicles. They built a concrete installation in her locality a few months later to ensure regular waste collection.
In the Goran area, Jhorna is not the only RTI change-maker. Several other women have been impacting society for the better through awareness and information.
Among them, Fatema Akter Suborna filed an RTI about an open drain that runs along the main street in their neighbourhood. The authority pledged to build a bridge over the drain, but the promise was never realised. Even though the city corporation hasn't built the bridge yet, thanks to her application they fixed the small road beside the open drain.
Rabia Khatun Shorna, another young woman from the same locality, got the manhole covers in her neighbourhood fixed as rickshaws and vehicles used to trip over the open manholes.
These are some examples of how the RTI has been helping to empower ordinary people. But such instances are not common; rather, only a handful of people across the country are aware of how they could make a difference with the RTI act.
The Right to Information Act was enacted in Bangladesh in 2009 so that citizens have access to the free flow of information to help establish good governance. The idea is that the citizens can seek information about anything of public interest.
For example, after the completion of a particular project, if a citizen feels the work done was not enough or chances are that the quality of work was compromised due to reasons like corruption, they can submit an RTI request to the concerned authority asking for the expenditure budget for the project.
So, how does change come when you merely seek an expenditure budget?
"Suppose you ask me for the expenditure budget, then I will have to check if I really did the work and if I bought what I was supposed to buy while responding to you, because you will visit the project physically to authenticate my claims. Sometimes when you ask for information, the authorities complete the task that they didn't earlier, before giving you the information," said Hasibur Rahman, the Executive Director of Management and Resources Development Initiative (MRDI), an organisation working to promote RTI in Bangladesh.
"We often see that the authorities didn't respond to an RTI application, but executed the work. So, the more you apply for information, the further decline we will see in people taking money without working. When the designated officer is aware that someone in his locality has a history of filing RTI applications, the next time he works on a project he will not approve a bill of payment without working," Rahman added.
How many RTIs can an individual file?
There is no limitation. You can file as many as you need to bring the change you seek. Shahidul Alom from Fulbari Dinajpur has filed more than 80 RTI requests in less than a year.  "I have received a few replies, and some changes have been made," Shahidul said. "But sometimes they delay in responding, which is depressing," he added.
Hasibur Rahman said that if a concerned authority doesn't respond to an RTI request, that is not the end of the process. It entails an appeal to the higher authority and then finally to the information commission.
The Information Commission of Bangladesh (ICB) has been delegated to deal with publishing and providing information on demand of the citizens. They organise hearings based on the citizens' RTI applications.
The RTI activists said the benefits of the RTI cannot be adequately explored in Bangladesh as of yet because most people do not know about the law.
According to a national survey conducted by OrQuest, MRDI and Manusher Jonno Foundation that the World Bank and UKaid supported, only 7.7% of the 12,800 citizens surveyed across the country said they were aware of the law.
The act has its fair share of criticism. Especially section 7 of the RTI Act says none of the authorities is obliged to provide information concerning law enforcement, investigation activities, intellectual property rights, etc., to the citizens.
So far except for journalistic purposes, the overall demand creation among the common citizens has been low. "The supply side is strong. But only a few people are working to create demand," said  Hasibur Rahman.
"The way civil society worked to popularise Orsaline, or to stop child marriage; if they campaigned for the RTI act the same way, many marginalised people would have benefited. Society would have become empowered through information. It is imperative to make people understand the power of information," Rahman added.
Goran's Jhorna paused her RTI activities during the Covid-19 pandemic. Now she is preparing to file new RTI requests.
"People like the results of our RTI requests. But only a few of us are in the field. If more people came forth and worked with us, we could bring significant changes in our locality," she said.
She added, "I filed an RTI request on behalf of the people of Shantipur-7 street regarding their gas line problems. The authorities didn't care much about it, because I do not live there and the situation remains the same today. But if a few people from that street filed an RTI request for their cause, wouldn't their situation improve?"