Sunday, May 16, 2021

India has paid the price for PM Modi’s ‘strokes of genius’ : Aakar Patel

National Herald: Opinion: Sunday, 16 May 2021.
BBC filed 240 RTI applications before concluding that no expert or ministry was consulted before PM declared lockdown in 2020. We now know, govts need to be prepared and not rely on brilliance of PM
He is a famous name in war but Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery does not have many battlefield victories to his name. In fact, his most famous engagement, called Operation Market Garden (after which the Hollywood movie ‘A Bridge Too Far’ was made) was a disaster. But historians agree that Montgomery had something that all generals should have and that is ‘grip’. This is the faculty of being aware of the situation, being knowledgeable about what resources are at hand and what may be required in future, and being conscious of what events to anticipate.
These are not qualities we associate with our prime minister. His interest is not in the details but in the broad scheme. In a famous interview just before the 2014 elections he said to the journalist Madhu Kishwar: ‘Even today if my officers show me some paper, I say: ‘Tell me what’s in it in two minutes. For me two minutes is sufficient for a 10-page document. This skill is something I have developed.’
But while he has no interest in details, his preference is not to stand aloof from operations but to insert himself through the bold and imaginative stroke. For instance, the BBC reported this year that before the Lockdown last year, not a single ministry was consulted about what the consequences would be. The BBC filed 240 Right to Information (RTI) applications with various Indian government departments - health, finance, disaster management - to find out if and how much they were consulted ahead of the lockdown.
The responses revealed that no expert or government department was consulted. The government refused to give the BBC a statement explaining why concerned departments were not consulted ahead of time.
A second example of the Prime Minister’s style of functioning is the famous Demonetisation. Here also only a handful people knew what was about to happen. As a parliamentary democracy India follows the principle of collective responsibility. But even the cabinet was not told till the day of Demonetisation, Tuesday, 8 November, that India’s 1000 Rupee and 500 Rupee notes, 86% of all currency by value, would be wiped out that evening. The government was not only unprepared for Modi’s move; it was deliberately kept hidden from the government.
My point is not to say that this style is good or bad or whether it has advantages or disadvantages. The evidence is clear and there is no point in discussing that here. The point is to examine whether it works in situations such as the one we find ourselves in. The problem of the pandemic cannot be approached through the single brilliant stroke. It needs the State to be aware of the situation, be knowledgeable about what resources are at hand and what may be required in future, and being conscious of what events to anticipate. In a centralised State, where decision making is often the purview of a few people and sometimes that only of one man, this may be harder to do as we are discovering.
The official position of our government in response to a shortage of vaccines and a shortage of oxygen and of ventilators is that nobody could have anticipated this. But the fact is that the rest of the world anticipated it. What we are receiving today as aid is not new material manufactured yesterday around the world. It is the surplus that was produced by nations which had anticipated the crisis we are going through today. They dealt with it because of their preparedness and that is the reason this material became surplus. No nation keeps useless stocks of expensive things lying around in case India will urgently need them.
The reason we don’t have enough vaccines is that we did not order them at the right time because we didn’t think we needed them. As the Prime Minister said to the World Economic Forum in late January, "India is among those countries which have succeeded in saving the lives of the maximum number of its citizens and the number of people infected with corona is rapidly decreasing.” He added that “it would not be advisable to judge India’s success with that of another country. In a country which is home to 18 percent of the world population, that country has saved humanity from a big disaster by containing corona effectively.”
We had decided based on the evidence we saw that India was unique and had overcome Covid. Other nations thought of the issue as a longer problem not limited to the first wave. They ordered vaccines on time and received them. They let their scientists determine whether the battle against the pandemic was won instead of a divinely inspired leadership. Once the science revealed that only precaution, healthcare preparation and vaccination could stop the pandemic, that is where their execution capacities were deployed.
The question is why we did not anticipate a second wave or a wave of such destructive power. The answer is that if leadership must take full control over situations, then it must have grip rather than strokes of genius.
There may theoretically be times when the latter style is advantageous but this is not the time.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Centre Orders 53 Lakh Remdesivir Injections, 46,000 Ventilators: RTI

NDTV: New Delhi: Saturday, 15 May 2021.
Amid the grim COVID-19 situation in the country, the Union government has ordered the procurement of 53.70 lakh Remdesivir injections and 46,386 ventilators to tackle the calamity.
Out of the order placed till Wednesday, various manufacturers, however, have been able to supply only a little over 38.05 lakh injections and only 43,979 pieces of ventilators to various states, Union territories and the central government's facilities, says the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in response to a plea under the transparency law.
Out of 43,979 ventilators supplied to various anti-Covid facilities, only 38,958 have been installed, the reply to the plea under the Right to Information Act added.
Out of the Remdesivir injections, allotted or ordered to be procured for various states, Maharashtra has been allotted 11.57 lakh injections but has been able to secure a supply of merely 7.99 lakh, the reply said.
After Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh has been able to procure over 3.63 lakh doses of the injection against an allotment of 4.95 lakh doses, while Gujarat has been able to procure 3.54 lakh injections against allotment of 4.19 doses.
The Union Ministry has given its response in reply to a plea by RTI activist Sujeet Swami.
Karnataka for which an order for procurement of 5.75 lakh injections had been placed has been able to procure only 3.26 lakh vials, the reply to RTI plea revealed.
Similarly, an order for the supply of 2.20 lakh injections had been placed for the national capital Delhi which has managed to secure over 1.81 lakh of its doses, the reply added.
Some other states which managed to procure significant supplies of the injection though less than what they had been allocated are Madhya Pradesh (2.14 lakh vials against an order of 2.60 lakh injection), Rajasthan (1.57 lakh against 2.48 lakh), Bihar (92,000 against an order of 1.5 lakh vials), West Beearly one lakh against an order of 1.60 lakh) and Punjab 60,000 against an order of 85,000.
Curiously, among various states, Telangana has got the unique distinction of securing more vials of Remdesivir than what it had ordered for – 1.98 lakh against an order of 1.45 lakh vials.
The RTI reply further revealed that two Union Territories of Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Lakshadweep have till now failed to procure a single vial of the injection despite having been allocated merely 2,000 injections.

186 elephants killed on railway tracks in over 10 years: MoEFCC

The Hindu: Coimbatore: Saturday, 15 May 2021.
Various measures had been taken to avoid elephant casualties on railway lines
A total of 186 elephants were killed after being hit by trains across India between 2009-10 and 2020-21, according to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), Government of India.
As per the data furnished by the Project Elephant Division of the Ministry, Assam accounted for the highest number of elephant casualties on railway tracks (62), followed by West Bengal (57), and Odisha (27). Uttar Pradesh saw a single death.
Trains claimed the highest number of pachyderms in 2012-13, when 27 elephants were killed in 10 States as per the data accessed by activist R. Pandiyaraja from Tenkasi district in Tamil Nadu through the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
K. Muthamizh Selvan, Scientist ‘D’ and Central Public Information Officer (Project Elephant), said in the RTI reply that various measures had been taken to avoid elephant casualties on railway lines.
According to the Ministry, a Permanent Coordination Committee has been constituted between the Ministry of Railways (Railway Board) and the MoEFCC for preventing elephant deaths in train accidents.
The formation of coordination committees of officers of Indian Railways and State Forest Departments; clearing of vegetation along railway tracks to enable clear view for loco pilots; signage boards at suitable points to alert loco pilots about elephant presence; moderating slopes of elevated sections of railway tracks; underpass/overpass for safe passage of elephants; regulation of train speed from sunset to sunrise in vulnerable stretches; and regular patrolling of vulnerable stretches of railway tracks by frontline staff of the Forest Department and wildlife watchers, were among other initiatives the Ministry had undertaken.
The MoEFCC also stated that it released ₹212.49 crore to elephant range States under Centrally Sponsored Schemes (CSS) of Project Elephant to protect elephants, their habitat and corridors, to address issues of man-elephant conflict and welfare of captive elephants, between 2011-12 and 2020-21. Kerala stood at the top in getting CSS funds of ₹35.39 crore during the period. Punjab received the lowest of the funds ₹ 1.82 lakh, said the RTI document.

10 RTI Activists Killed or Assaulted Since COVID Lock-down in March 2020; As Usual No One Cares: Vinita Deshmukh

Moneylife: Pune: Saturday, 15 May 2021.
The fate of the whistle-blowers, killed because of use of Right to Information (RTI) to expose corruption and to demand transparency, continues unabated, despite the pandemic, with 10 RTI activists having lost their lives, across the country, since March 2020. And what is unnerving is that the cases continue to languish, thanks to apathetic attitude of law enforcing authorities, local authorities, media and society in general.
Since the implementation of the RTI Act in 2005, 91 RTI activists have been killed, 175 have been assaulted, 186 have been threatened and 7 have died by suicide, across the country.
“The increase in the number of attacks on RTI users and activists since March 2020 is very disturbing, to say the least,” says Venkatesh Nayak, RTI research scholar and programme coordinator of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI). “Such instances are rampant in Odisha in particular. The increase in the number of activists killed during this period is indicative of the impunity with which vested interests are acting to prevent crucial information of public interest from seeing the light of the day.”
Pointing to the poor criminal justice system, Mr Nayak says, “India has not exactly covered itself in glory by dragging its feet in punishing the culprits.
"All in all the authorities across the states where such incidents have occurred, do not appear to be the least bit interested in protecting citizens who seek to realise the national motto— Satyameva jayate through their RTI interventions. Meanwhile, rampant corruption, misuse of public funds, illegal diversion and denial of relief meant for the most vulnerable segments of society continues unabated. The lockdown does not appear to act as a check on such illegal activities while law abiding citizens are forced to remain indoors.”
Senior journalist, Prasannakumar Keskar, co-author of Life and death in the time of RTI - a book based on research and ground level investigation of RTI murders in Maharashtra under a fellowship of CHRI, states, “The sheer number of murders of RTI activists is as worrisome as it could be but what I find more disturbing is the increasing tendency of the masses to either overlook, or at times to justify the killings. I vividly remember the shock and outrage expressed from all cross sections of the society when RTI activist Satish Shetty, was murdered, the first such case ever. Such a reaction from the society in general seems to have become almost extinct over the last few years as the entire socio-political atmosphere appears to have become vitiated due to increased polarization. In my opinion, these changing circumstances in the society around us are increasing the risk faced by not only the RTI workers but also journalists and influencers.’’
Following are the RTI activists who were slain or assaulted since March 2020, as per the data uploaded on the www.humanrightsinitiative.org website under the banner Hall of Shame:
1. Rohidas Dastir
Date of Incident: 6 April 2021
Type: Killed
Location: Ahmednagar, Maharashtra
Rohidas Dastir, in his late-40s, was a journalist of a local weekly. He was allegedly kidnapped and was brutally killed in the Rahuri town of Ahmednagar district. There is not much information available except that he was an RTI activist and a case has been registered.  
2. Sarbeswar Behura
Date of Incident: 27 March 2021
Type: Assaulted
Location: Jaipur, Odisha
Sarbeswar Behura, an RTI activist, based in Jaipur district in Odisha, was critically assaulted when bombs were hurled at his four-wheeler in which he was travelling. Behura, who is also a political leader belonging to the BJP, consistently used RTI to expose massive corruption and financial irregularities in various government schemes. As per media reports, two months before he was assaulted, he had lodged a complaint with the Odisha Lokayukta, that certain people were conspiring to blow up an irrigation embankment with dynamites that inundated 4,000 hectares of standing paddy crop in seven gram panchayats of Jajpur district. The Lokayukta had asked the state government to probe the matter.
3. Amitabh Chand
Date of Incident: 4 March 2021
Type: Harrassed or Threatened
Location: Kendrapara, Odisha
RTI activist Amitabh Chand too belongs to Odisha. He had used RTI to expose how four members of a family got government jobs with fake certificates, besides other issues and hence he was threatened. On a complaint to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) by one of his colleagues, the NHRC had sought an action taken report (ATR) from the police.  
4. Amrabhai Boricha
Date of Incident: 2 March 2021
Type: Killed
Location: Bhavnagar, Gujarat
Gujarat-based Amarbhai Boricha, RTI activist as well as a Dalit rights activist, was hacked to death because he lodged a complaint under the SC/ST Act against several upper caste people who abused him while passing by. He was pressurised to withdraw the case but he did not. The police had provided two home guards to protect him but they too remained mute witnesses to the brutal assault. The attack, which occurred in front of his house, injured his daughter. A case has been registered. In 2019, Kaushik Parmar, an RTI activist from Gujarat had sought information on attacks on dalits in Gujarat. The RTI reply stated that 1,545 cases were filed which included 22 murders and 104 incidents of rape.
5. Barkur Shankar Shanti
Date of Incident: 20 February 2021
Type: Assaulted
Location: Udupi, Karnataka
RTI activist Barkur Shankar Shanti was brutally assaulted in a temple, which has incapacitated him for life. He used RTI to expose corruption in various government departments. The main accused in this assault is a PWD contractor. Though a FIR has been lodged, the accused, as per news reports, continue to go scot free. This case too is languishing.
6. KH Enoch
Date of incident: 20 January 2021
Type: Assaulted
Location: Senapati, Manipur
RTI activist KH Enoch was abducted and assaulted because he sought information under RTI, on the dispersal of funds of various development projects of the autonomous district council of Senapati district, where he resides. As per news reports, the funds meant for Nagas, was misappropriated by leaders of other factions. As a result, he was abducted and kept in a lock-up for 10 days and tortured and pressurised to withdraw his RTI application. He gave in due to this threat and was fined Rs15 lakh for filing his RTI and a Rs1.5 lakh penalty was imposed on his wife for filing an FIR of her missing husband. Enoch had filed the RTI application along with K Johnson, an RTI activist. After seeing Enoch’s fate, Johnson has moved out of Senapati to Imphal.
7. Nelavelli Rama Rao
Date of Incident: 26 December 2020
Type: Killed
Location: Khammam, Telangana
In this case, N Rama Rao, RTI activist and politician, was allegedly murdered by his close friend because he did not repay a loan of Rs15 lakh. There is no information on his RTI use except that the BJP district chief stated that Rao used RTI to expose corruption.  
8. Zulfikar Qureshi
Date of Incident: 23 November 2020
Type: Killed
Location: Delhi
RTI activist Zulfiqar Qureshi was shot dead and his son fatally attacked with a knife. He was also a politician and as per his leaders he used RTI to expose illegal scrap dealers.
9. Ramesh Maan
Date of Incident: 4 July 2020
Type: Killed
Location: Hamidpur, Delhi
Veteran RTI activist Ramesh Mann was beaten to death in Hamidpur village on the outskirts of Delhi as he has sought legal intervention in the High Court against a construction company after he procured some sensational information under RTI.
10. Ramashankar Gupta
Date of Incident: 4 May 2020
Type: Assaulted
Location: Mahendragarh, Madhya Pradesh
A veteran and well respected RTI activist, Ramashankar Gupta was assaulted while he was clicking photos of encroachment in a crematorium. Ever since the implementation of RTI, Gupta has been consistently filing RTI applications on various subjects.
As can be seen from the 10 cases of assault, threat and murder, there is little information on the progress of the cases, thus emboldening the antisocial elements to attack and silence the voice of the whistle-blowers!
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)

‘Personal info’ biggest reason for RTI rejections

Times of India: Ahmedabad: Saturday, 15 May 2021.
In 2019-20, the biggest reason for state government departments to reject applications filed under the Right to Information Act, 2005, (RTI), was that the information sought related to the personal life of a person, and had no connection to the larger public interest.
As many as 458 RTI applications were rejected by government departments for this reason. This was followed by the rejection of 303 applications on the grounds that information sought could adversely affect the sovereignty of the country and could instigate an offence. Third on the list of reasons why RTI applications were rejected in 2019-20 is that the information sought could impede the process of investigation or prosecution of offenders.
During the year 2019-20, state government departments and public authorities received a total of 1,51,159 RTI applications. Of these 3,658 applications (2.42%) were rejected.
While the average rejection percentage was 2.42%, some departments such as the finance department (12.64%), GAD (11.86%), legal department (10.63%), Gujarat legislative secretariat (5.56%), tribal development department (5.31%) and health and family welfare department (5.9%) had higher rejection rates.
Those who have been using RTI as a tool to get information from government departments, say the rejection percentage ought to be zero, but departments routinely reject application, citing various sections of the RTI Act. Some RTI activists allege that often, the information commission supports departments in not providing information to applicants.

uppliers struggling to match Centre's order for Remidesivir, ventilators: Reply to RTI plea

New Indian Express: Kota: Saturday, 15 May 2021.
Amid the grim Covid-19 situation in the country, the Union government has ordered the procurement of 53.70 lakh Remdesivir injections and 46,386 ventilators to tackle the calamity.
Out of the order placed till Wednesday, various manufacturers, however, have been able to supply only a little over 38.05 lakh injections and only 43,979 pieces of ventilators to various states, Union territories and the Central government's facilities, says the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in response to a plea under the transparency law.
Out of 43,979 ventilators supplied to various anti-Covid facilities, only 38,958 have been installed, the reply to the plea under the Right to Information Act added.
Out of the Remdesivir injections, allotted or ordered to be procured for various states, Maharashtra has been allotted 11.57 lakh injections but has been able to secure a supply of merely 7.99 lakh, the reply said.
After Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh has been able to procure over 3.63 lakh doses of the injection against an allotment of 4.95 lakh doses, while Gujarat has been able to procure 3.54 lakh injections against allotment of 4.19 doses.
The Union ministry has given its response in reply to a plea by RTI activist Sujeet Swami.
Karnataka for which an order for procurement of 5.75 lakh injections had been placed has been able to procure only 3.26 lakh vials, the reply to RTI plea revealed.
Similarly, an order for the supply of 2.20 lakh injections had been placed for the national capital Delhi which has managed to secure over 1.81 lakh of its doses, the reply added.
Some other states which managed to procure significant supplies of the injection though less than what they had been allocated are Madhya Pradesh (2.14 lakh vials against an order of 2.60 lakh injection), Rajasthan (1.57 lakh against 2.48 lakh), Bihar (92,000 against an order of 1.5 lakh vials), West Beearly one lakh against an order of 1.60 lakh) and Punjab 60,000 against an order of 85,000.
Curiously, among various states, Telagana has got the unique distinction of securing more vials of Remidesivir than what it had ordered for – 1.98 lakh against an order of 1.45 lakh vials.
The RTI reply further revealed that Two union territories of Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Lakshadweep have till now failed to procure a single vial of the injection despite having been allocated merely 2,000 injections.

Friday, May 14, 2021

MHA denies info on FCRA amendments citing 'national interest' as NGOs battle fund crunch

Deccan Herald: New Delhi: Friday, 14 May 2021.
An RTI showed that the Centre denied information, including Cabinet Notes and file noting, on the new amendments to the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act, 2010 citing "national interest", which have adversely hit NGOs in their Covid-19 operations.
Transparency activist Venkatesh Nayak had in October-November last year filed two RTIs seeking information on Cabinet notes, file noting, inter-ministerial consultations and other correspondences but even after an appeal, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has declined to provide information.
Last September, Parliament had passed amendments to the FCRA, which stipulated NGOs to open a link account in an SBI branch in Delhi. It also prohibited any NGO to transfer foreign funds to any other person and asked to provide Aadhaar numbers of its Trustees and office bearers. Due to the pandemic, many NGOs are unable to complete formalities and are not able to get foreign funds that could be used for Covid-related work. They have been asking the government to keep the amendments in abeyance.
To queries on information like Cabinet Notes and official documents held by the MHA on the issue, the MHA cited the 8(1)(a) and 8(1)(e) of the RTI Act and said the information held by the Ministry has "fiduciary relationship with multiple stakeholders and disclosure of the same is not likely to serve larger public interest".
On file noting and correspondence held by the Ministry in paper and electronic form, the MHA cited "national interest".
"As the Act's regulations intend to safeguard national interest (security strategy or economic etc) of the state, the requested information may impinge upon the elements of Section 8(1)(a) of RTI Act. Hence it may not be disclosed," it said.
As the information was denied, Nayak submitted first appeals on the two RTIs in February and the decision came last month upholding the earlier decision. It said, "It is found that disclosure of the information in this matter will not serve any public interest. It may undermine the relations of state with foreign states and also hit strategic and economic interests of the state."
"If there is no public interest in disclosure, then why was the FCRA amended and the new Rules notified? Those actions are guided by what the government thinks is in the public interest, namely, the need for imposing a stricter and tougher regulatory regime that will make it more and more difficult for most NGOs to receive foreign funds," Nayak, who will be approaching the Central Information Commission with a second appeal, told DH.
"The NITI Ayog is also holding online meetings with around 1,000 NGOs to help fight the pandemic on the one hand while severely impeding their ability to attract funds from abroad to deliver in areas where the government's reach is minimal if non-existent. It is also quite audacious for them to ask NGOs what they have done to fight the pandemic and mitigate the suffering of people like they did last year while trying to cut the flow of funds to such organisations," he said.
NGOs have approached Delhi and Guwahati High Courts against the amendments. An NGO has moved the Delhi High Court against the provision that these organisations should open a bank account in Delhi while another has approached the Guwahati High Court against the provision of providing Aadhaar numbers of its functionaries.

Action being taken on GOM communication report, says Govt

Hindustan Times: New Delhi: Friday, 14 May 2021.
Action taken on the GOM report is still continuing,” the RTI response said, adding that “it may be premature to disclose the details as it would serve no public interest.”
The government is working on recommendations made by the working Group of Ministers on communication (GOM) formed last year to improve the centre’s media outreach strategy, the ministry of Information and Broadcasting said in response to a Right to Information (RTI) application filed by Hindustan Times.
“Action taken on the GOM report is still continuing,” the RTI response said, adding that “it may be premature to disclose the details as it would serve no public interest.”
Hindustan Times, which reviewed the GOM report, on December 8 reported that the Union government was working on a strategy to overhaul its media and public outreach, with a group of ministers (GoM) comprising nine Union ministers recommending a focus on 10 key areas as well as detailing ways in which criticism could be addressed and positive messaging can be spread wider.
“The final deliberations of the GOM will have to be cleared by the Cabinet,” a senior government official said on condition of anonymity.
The recommendations also focused on social media discourse, saying there is a need to constantly track 50 “negative influencers”, and to engage with 50 “positive influencers” to put the “government’s view point in the right perspective.”
The RTI filed by HT seeking details on the action taken by the GOM was disposed by the First Appellate Authority citing section 8 1 (I) of the RTI Act, 2005. The section refers to cabinet papers including records of deliberations of the Council of Ministers, Secretaries and other officers: “ Provided that the decisions of Council of Ministers, the reasons thereof, and the material on the basis of which the decisions were taken shall be made public after the decision has been taken, and the matter is complete, or over: Provided further that those matters which come under the exemptions specified in this section shall not be disclosed,” it states.
The GoM comprises Cabinet ministers Ravi Shankar Prasad, Smriti Irani, Prakash Javadekar, S Jaishankar, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, and ministers of state Kiren Rijiju, Hardeep Singh Puri, Anurag Thakur and Babul Supriyo.
The group made its first presentation to the Prime Minister, who guided the GoM with his insights and gave vital inputs, the December report noted.
“After detailed deliberations, it was decided to identify 10 big narratives of the Government. These narratives are reflective of the good work / initiatives taken by the Government for the welfare of the people. It was agreed to identify the strategies that can be adopted to take these messages to the people and to suggest the specific action points by which it can be done,” the GOM report said.
The 10 areas identified were: India at 75; plans to make the country a $5 trillion economy; initiatives under Aatmanirbhar Bharat; the overall Sabka Saath, Sabha Vikar, Sabha Vishwas philosophy of the government; Digital India; the Swach Bharat, Swasth Bharat campaign; welfare schemes for women; Skill India; the focus on sustainable development; and the projection of the country’s soft power.
The report attracted criticism from the opposition. CPM chief Sitaram Yechury earlier this year said: “So much focus on managing headlines, spin and PR, all this in the middle of a global pandemic, record and growing unemployment and economic collapse.”
The report also included recomendations made by the members of the GOM . Anurag Thakur suggested that “right-wing parties of other countries need to be roped in so that some common ground could be found”.Aviation minister Hardeep Puri said “we are in confrontation situation with political interest and commercially-backed interests” and emphasised the “strong need to deal with the international media and shape the global narrative”.Union minister for minority affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi Proposed to identify a “strategy to neutralise people who are writing against the government without facts and set false narratives/ spread fake news.”

Replacing J&K RTI Act With Centre's Law Has Weakened People's Right to Know: Raja Muzaffar Bhat

The Wire: J&K: Friday, 14 May 2021.
In December 2020, my colleague and I filed four right to information (RTI) appeals with the Central Information Commission (CIC), New Delhi, under the RTI Act, 2005.
Midway through May 2021, not even one of those four appeals has been listed for a first hearing. Is this what the Central government means by ‘empowerment’?
I ask this question because, until August 2019, when Jammu and Kashmir was still a state, the J&K RTI Act, 2009, was stronger than the Centre’s RTI Act, 2005, in many respects. When the Centre repealed J&K’s RTI legislation and replaced it with the Union RTI legislation, J&K was disempowered completely.
One of the Centre’s justifications for removing J&K’s special status under the Constitution of India was that Article 370 had deprived the citizens of J&K of certain constitutional and legal rights that other Indian citizens enjoyed. Article 370, BJP leaders maintained, had not allowed the Union government to extend Central laws to J&K.
So when the J&K Reorganisation Act, 2019, was passed, one of the issues it covered was the laws of the erstwhile state. The Act legally protected more than 160 laws that had been in effect in the former state, but repealed others. Some of the laws it protected were anti-people laws, such as the Jammu & Kashmir Public Safety Act (PSA), 1978. Some were pro-people laws, such as the Jammu & Kashmir Public Services Guarantee Act 2011 (PSGA). But the decision to repeal the J&K Right to Information Act, 2009, and replace it with the Centre’s RTI Act, 2005 was taken too hastily.
State versus Centre
Without knowing the facts of the matter, BJP leaders had maintained that the people of J&K had had no access to information under the Right to Information Act until Article 370 was read down.
But the erstwhile state of J&K had actually enacted an RTI law a year before the Centre’s RTI Act. The state’s RTI Act was enacted in 2004 by the People’s Democratic Party and Congress party-led state government. When the J&K RTI Act of 2004 proved to be weak in comparison with the Centre’s RTI Act of 2005, the Omar Abdullah-led National Conference government introduced a much stronger RTI legislation in 2009 after consultations and deliberations with experts including reputable NGOs and the then chief information commissioner, Wajahat Habibullah.
The J&K RTI Act, 2009 (now repealed), was similar to the RTI Act, 2005. But on certain counts, it was much better than the Centre’s law. The reason was its time-bound disposal of appeals. This provision for disposals doesn’t exist in the RTI Act, 2005, and that is why thousands of appeals remain pending before the Central and state information commissions across the country. When the draft bill was prepared for the J&K RTI Act, 2009, the lacunae of the Central RTI Act were noted and kept out of the state Act.
The Centre’s RTI Act, 2005, was extended to J&K with effect from October 31, 2019. If an in-depth study of the changes wrought by this law were to be done by a reputable institution, the results would be astonishing. The repeal of the J&K RTI Act 2009 and many other erstwhile state laws has left the people of J&K feeling disempowered.
Under the J&K RTI Act 2009, the people of J&K and Ladakh had an independent state information commission (SIC) where they could file appeals and complaints against erring government officers. Since J&K is no longer a state, there is no longer an information commission and aggrieved RTI appellants and complainants must file their appeals and complaints in the Central Information Commission, New Delhi.
Once the appeal is filed, it takes a minimum of six to seven months for the complaint to have even its first hearing. In comparison, the J&K RTI Act 2009 made it clear that the Jammu and Kashmir SIC had to dispose of appeals within 60 to 120 days. This meant that the appeal was usually listed within a month of being filed.
New Act, new woes
According to Section 26 of the RTI Act 2005, it is mandatory for the government to train designated public information officers (PIOs) and citizens, especially those belonging to the disadvantaged communities, in the use of the Act. Section 26 says:
“The appropriate Government may, to the extent of availability of financial and other resources:
Develop and organise educational programmes to advance the understanding of the public, in particular of disadvantaged communities as to how to exercise the rights contemplated under this Act;
Train Central Public Information Officers or State Public Information Officers, as the case may be of public authorities and produce relevant training materials for use by the public authorities themselves.”
But not a single RTI workshop has been held by the government for the people of the backward regions of the union territories of Ladakh and J&K since the RTI Act, 2005 came into effect at the end of October 2019. The government has even failed to train its own designated PIOs via any mode: face to face or virtual.
Early this year, when I sought details under the RTI Act about any workshops that may have been conducted to train officers in the district of Budgam on the use of the RTI and J&K Public Services Guarantee (PSGA) Acts, the assistant commissioner of revenue (ACR), who is the designated PIO in the deputy commissioner’s office, Budgam, gave me a misleading response. He said the information I had asked for was not available in the repository of his office.
But I had not asked for a 50-year-old official record. I had simply wanted the details of any workshops that may have been held between November 1, 2019 and January 2020. My first appeal was also not taken up. I then moved an appeal before the CIC, New Delhi, but the case has still not been listed for hearing.
I don’t blame the PIO in the district commissioner’s office in Budgam. This is the fault of the bureaucrats sitting in the ministry of home affairs in New Delhi and the Civil Secretariat in Srinagar and Jammu.
The Narendra Modi government at the Centre claimed that the people of J&K would get effective and corruption-free governance after Article 370 was read down. So why don’t the field officers act? Why do they constantly refuse to share information under RTI? Why do we have to file an RTI to get the beneficiary list under a scheme like the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) or even an old-age pension scheme? Why isn’t this information available on district websites?
I have highlighted this issue dozens of times in the last 18 months. My colleagues and I held peaceful protests, but there was nobody to listen. I even met Lieutenant Governor, Manoj Sinha, on January 18 this year and apprised him of issues related to RTI and the lack of updates on government websites. He was very cordial and within a few days, he had orders issued by the secretary of the general administration department (GAD). But once again there was no action. The deadline set by the GAD to update government websites expired at the end of February this year. The websites remain filled with obsolete information.
Why are the designated officers not trained? Why isn’t COVID related information made proactively available on official government websites? Governance is so poor that even block development officers (BDO) and tehsildars (land revenue officers) will not share information with the public. They know that the state information commission has been shut down and that they won’t be penalised anymore, because only very few people will appeal to the CIC in New Delhi.
Some months ago, Mushtaq Ahmad, a resident of Bonen village in central Kashmir’s Budgam district, was made to wait for six months by the BDO of Khag block for the information he had sought about the PMAY beneficiary list of Drang village and works executed under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA). He received the information only after the intervention of the director of rural development in Kashmir. However, despite the intervention of the directorate, the BDO did not give Mushtaq all the details he had sought.
Ordinary villagers in J&K cannot approach the New Delhi-based CIC because the government has failed to set up facilitation centres. Because of the lack of information and awareness, most RTI applicants in J&K now rarely file a second appeal before the CIC. There is nobody to guide them except for a handful of RTI activists in Srinagar, Jammu, Budgam and a few other districts. The situation in Ladakh is even worse: I get frequent calls from the Kargil and Leh districts where many government officers do not provide information under RTI.
Ignorance compounded
I recently came across a unique case in the Ajas tehsil of Bandipora district, in which a tehsildar who was the local designated PIO made his own interpretation of the RTI Act 2005 and issued a summons to a villager to reveal information under RTI about a piece of land in his possession.
This officer was so ignorant of the RTI law that he did not even know that the Act applies only to public authorities and not to ordinary citizens.
This is how the story unfolded. A retired government officer named Abdul Rashid had filed an RTI application before the tehsildar of Ajas to exert pressure on a villager named Mohammad Ramzan Rather, whose son Fayaz Ahmad Rather had filed an RTI application on July 20, 2020, in the BDO office of Hajin district, Bandipora.
In his RTI application, Fayaz Rather had alleged that Abdul Rashid had encroached upon a lane in Ajas village, Hajin, which had been constructed under the MGNREGA scheme by the local panchayat.
Fayaz Rather wanted to know if the lane in question had indeed been constructed under the MGNREGA scheme. However, the BDO did not provide the information, so Fayaz moved an appeal before the director, Rural Development, Kashmir. Finally, information was provided that the lane in question had definitely been constructed under MGNREGA.
This infuriated Rashid, who started using RTI as a tool to harass Fayaz’s family. In March this year, Rashid filed an RTI before the tehsildar of Ajas and asked him how much land Mohammad Ramzan Rather, the father of Fayaz, owned at a local stone quarry where he, like his son and hundreds of other villagers, works. This stone quarry is part of the village’s ‘common land’. Rashid also sought the income certificate of Mohammad Ramzan Rather from the tehsildar.
Instead of dismissing the RTI application, the tehsildar issued a summons to Ramzan Rather on March 19, 2021. The summons, written in Urdu, reads: “Notice in the name of Mohammad Ramzan Rather s/o Abdul Aziz Rather R/O Ajas, Rawathpora. This office has received an RTI application. In this connection you are directed to produce the relevant revenue extracts (Jamabandi, Girdawari) [documents of ownership] and other documents in this office within two days. The matter is of an urgent nature.”
Had Rashid simply wanted to know these details, the tehsildar could have provided him with that information without even informing Ramzan Rather about it. But the idea was to pressurise Ramzan Rather and RTI was used as a tool by the applicant and the PIO.
Shakeelul Rasool, a local RTI activist, alerted me to this incident. I was astounded. In all my 15 years of RTI activism, I had never heard of a case where an ordinary citizen had been summoned to provide information under RTI. Even if Mohammad Ramzan Rather had been subject to the ambit of RTI, the tehsildar (and PIO) was himself the custodian of the land revenue records in the village. The only reason he hadn’t given Abdul Rashid this information directly was that he wanted to pressure Ramzan at the behest of Abdul Rashid.
I told Shakeel to tell Ramzan not to respond to the summons. On March 30, Abdul Rashid moved another application before the ACR in the deputy commissioner’s office in Bandipora. Also ignorant of the RTI act, Rashid requested the ACR to provide information under the RTI Act, 1994, which does not even exist.
The ACR, a designated PIO in the district commissioner’s office, also appeared to be ignorant about the RTI Act, 2005, and its provisions. He did not think twice before forwarding Rashid’s application to the tehsildar of Ajas, asking him in an official communication dated April 8, 2021,to provide the information to Rashid directly.
This gave the Ajas tehsildar motivation to harass Ramzan and Fayaz Rather again. On April 23, 2021, the tehsildar issued a fresh notice to Mohammad Ramzan Rather, directing him to reveal the information within three days.
When I saw a copy of this letter, I made a phone call to the officer. I asked him some basic questions on the RTI Act, 2005 and its applications. He had no answers. Eventually, the officer told me to ask Ramazan Rather to give him a letter stating that the RTI Act 2005 does not apply to him.
A state without a centre
In response to a public interest litigation (PIL) I had filed in the high court of Jammu and Kashmir in 2018, I learned that just two RTI workshops had been conducted in the state between 2015 and 2018. The Institute of Management, Public Administration & Rural Development, a government-owned training institution, had organised these workshops to train 42 officers, mostly PIOs and first appellate authorities.
In contrast, between 2011 and 2013, the state government of Jammu and Kashmir had conducted 75 RTI workshops, in which more than 2,500 officers were trained. Since 2018, not even two dozen officers or citizens of Jammu and Kashmir have been trained on the RTI Act.
The government websites contain obsolete information. COVID-related information is not updated, and no government officer responds to letters sent to official email addresses. It appears that these official email addresses are not operational. Some government departments, such as the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY), J&K, have no official website except for a portal for e-tenders. The detailed project reports of the PMGSY’s road projects are not in the public domain. There are no online RTI portals where people can file RTI applications, which is much needed at this time of the pandemic.
Had the J&K RTI Act 2009 not been repealed, matters would not have been so complicated. As it is, the government has even failed to implement the J&K Public Services Guarantee Act, a protected erstwhile J&K state legislation that guarantees public services within a specified time. People do not know who the designated officers under this act may be. And the designated officers themselves don’t know what their jobs are.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

We are under-resourced – RTI Commission

Myjoyonline: Ghana: Thursday, May 13, 2021.
The Right To Information (RTI) Commission has bemoaned the lack of personnel and other resources needed to facilitate its work.
Speaking on Joy FM’s Super Morning Show, Executive Secretary of the Commission, Yaw Sarpong Boateng disclosed that the Commission lacks an office to operate from.
“Currently, we don’t even have staff,” he added.
That notwithstanding, he stated that the outlined challenges have not affected the efficiency of the Commission.
“The Commission has been working effectively in the background. We have not sat back to say that because we do not have an office we will fold our arms and complain but we have come up with a few statements here and there to curt public compliance,” he said.
The comments come on the back of discussions on the functions and impact of the RTI Commission since it was inaugurated by President Akufo-Addo in October 2020.
The Commission is mandated to ensure that state institutions provide the right information to the public as stated in the Right to Information Act, 2009.
However, it has been working under some very restrictive conditions.
Though a budget has been presented to Parliament and approved by the House, Vice-Chairperson, Elizabeth Asare said the funds are not able to sustain the activities of the commission. She, therefore, has called on authorities in charge for a review.
“We were expecting a foundational budget; something that will help us roll out RTI to the full,” she said. What we were given is woefully inadequate but it doesn’t that we wont work with it but we are hoping that in the course of rolling out the RTI, more funds will be available because there’s a lot of work to be done,” she said.
On his part, Private legal practitioner, member of the RTI Coalition, Zacharia Tanko Musah, said the Commission has not done enough in creating awareness on the new law.
He stated that this could result in citizens losing interest in the system.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Amitabh Thakur challenges compulsory retirement

Daily Pioneer: Lucknow: Wednesday, 12 May 2021.
Compulsorily retired by Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on recommendation of UP government in March this year, IPS officer Amitabh Thakur challenged the order in the Lucknow Bench of Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT).
Thakur maintained that the move of the MHA and UP government was completely unlawful and taken with prejudice and personal grudge against him as a result of which his entire family mentally aggrieved.
The officer further charged that he along with some other officers were singled out without any concrete government policy and were removed from service citing no other reason except for ‘public interest’.
Sources said that Thakur approached the CAT after the MHA reportedly denied sharing information with him regarding his compulsory retirement and said that it could not be provided. The MHA denied the information under Section 8(1)(i) of the RTI Act, 2005. Thakur got a reply in Hindi from the MHA on April 26 against his three questions sought from the ministry through RTI.
“Disagreeing with the decision, Amitabh preferred the first appeal saying that the decision had already been made in this case and hence denial under Section 8(1)(i) was not correct,” said Nutan Thakur, the wife of the former IPS officer.
“Amitabh also called denial of information related to his livelihood as being against the basic spirit of the RTI Act,” Nutan said.
When asked about this, the Home Ministry officials refused to comment and said that they were not aware of any RTI reply to Amitabh Thakur.
Thakur was compulsorily retired with immediate effect in ‘public interest’ on March 23 last. Thakur was ‘not found fit to be retained for the remaining tenure of his service’.
“In the public interest, Amitabh Thakur is being given premature retirement before completion of his service with immediate effect,” a Union Home Ministry order said.
In 2017, Thakur had urged the Centre to dispose of his request for change of cadre to any state other than UP, saying the ‘bias’ against him did not exist anymore after the then ruling Samajwadi Party was routed in Assembly polls.
The officer was suspended on July 13, 2015, days after he accused SP patron Mulayam Singh of threatening him. A Vigilance enquiry was also initiated against him. However, the Lucknow Bench of Central Administrative Tribunal stayed his suspension in April 2016 and ordered his reinstatement with full salary with effect from October 11, 2015.

Day after RTI activist's arrest, scribe with fake stamps held in Gurugram

Daijiworld: Gurugram: Wednesday, 12 May 2021.
A day after the arrest of an RTI activist and his two sons for committing a property loan fraud of over Rs 15 crore, the police in Gurugram on Tuesday arrested a journalist in connection with the case for his alleged role in creating fake documents using fake stamps of a Tehsildar of Haryana Urban Development Authority (HUDA).
The accused has been identified as Shahnawaz Alam, a native of Jharkhand presently residing in Laxman Vihar in Phase-2. The police have also recovered two fake stamps of HUDA from his possession.
Meanwhile, arrested RTI activist Harinder Dhingra and his two sons Tarun and Prashant were produced before a local court on Tuesday, which sent Harinder Dhingra to judicial custody, while his two sons were sent to six-day police remand.
During questioning, Alam disclosed before the police that he was associated with the RTI activist and had provided him a fake stamp of a Tehsildar of HUDA to prepare fake documents of the property, which were used by the Dhingra family in court cases.
"During preliminary investigation it was also revealed by Alam that Dhingra used to provide him information of traders, builders and government officials, which he obtained via the RTI Act and the same information was published by the accused journalist in newspapers and magazines," Subhash Boken, spokesperson of the Gurugram police, told IANS.
In return, Dhingra gave him money several times, both through online transfer and in cash, he said.
"The accused is being questioned in depth to ascertain more information about his accomplices and his involvement in any other matter," Boken said, adding that the Gurugram police have urged the public to inform them in case any person has any information or documents against Harinder Dhingra and his associates.
"We will take an action against them as per the law," the officer said.

RTI in Bangladesh: Narrowing the perception gap between citizens and public authorities

The Daily Star: Bangladesh: Wednesday, 12 May 2021.
The Bangladesh Right to Information (RTI) Act 2009 is a unique piece of legislation. Most laws are largely founded on the concept of government responsibility to regulate citizen behaviour, but the RTI law establishes government accountability to its citizens. It seeks to ensure the primacy of citizens over the government. The RTI law is not only unique, but revolutionary.
Such a revolutionary concept takes time to turn into practice and to mature. Both sides the public and their officials need a fundamental mindset shift. Public officials, long used to exercising unbridled state power, must give up their instinctive response to resist and learn to accept the new reality. Citizens, the main beneficiaries of the law and as such its best custodians, are unprepared to play the role. There is thus little pressure from them for change.
Like many countries, Bangladesh is going through its RTI teething problems. The law is neither popular with the majority of citizens the demand side nor with the majority of public authorities, the supply side. Since citizens were not sufficiently sensitised before adoption of the law, they tend to be skeptical that the necessary changes in official culture will take place. They are at best tepid and at worst indifferent, and unlikely to fight for the law. The few who believe in its potential, doubt whether the system can protect them from the wrath of irate officials who may find their RTI requests bothersome.
The public authorities, on the other hand, see no reason to change their stance. Since the Act was adopted, they have received occasional exhortations from the higher authorities to respect the law but no serious warnings far less, penalties for failure to apply it.
Twelve years since the enactment of the RTI law, some public officials are still unaware about the law, though their numbers are dwindling; and many more feel little compulsion to obey it. Caught in such a tenuous situation between both the public and its officials, the Information Commission seems to have taken the position of letting the law find its own course rather than guiding it more purposefully.
A nation with a long tradition of citizen activism for change cannot remain oblivious to the power of this law, though; and glimmers of light give us hope.
Our optimism is based on a few positive albeit faint developments. The number of RTI requests in the country has risen slightly, and more than 90 percent of the 12,000 plus annual RTI applications reportedly receive positive responses.
We have seen how over the years, the RTI has been used to promote transparent disbursement of funds under the government's SafetyNet programmes for vulnerable populations. Government scholarship programmes for students have also benefitted. More recently, there is a noticeable trend to use the law for seeking information on tendering processes, pension disbursements, police work, sanitation work, construction projects and the like. The largest users of such requests are still limited to the more disadvantaged, lower-income, and semi-urban population groups, who are being helped by a number of dedicated NGOs. Fortunately for the nation, the latter have continued to promote use of the law under their respective mandates including poverty alleviation, environment and climate change, land rights, gender issues etc.
Hopefully, the use of the law will grow to requests which go beyond personal needs and transparency requests for easily available open-source information to actually improve governance by holding officials accountable.
Topping it all are some positive developments on the supply side. In our last column, we referred to government efforts to track implementation of the RTI Act through several committees set up at different levels of the administration. Although not much is known about their outcome, they appear to indicate a trend, however feeble, in the supply side to nudge the law forward.
Similar trends are also reflected in NGO reports. One such report on a meeting in Dinajpur last month, which brought a large number of RTI users and public officials together, is particularly reassuring. A senior official of the district lamented that while government officials were trained and prepared to respond to citizens' RTI requests, the latter appeared unprepared to utilise them fully. He underlined many shortcomings in the applications, including unclear identification of the information sought and procedural mistakes in their submissions, resulting in the rejection of many requests.
Another senior official promised a quick update to his office's outdated website and provided assurances that the names and particulars of Designated Officials, often very difficult to obtain, would be properly displayed at prominent spots in his office. An Assistant Judge confessed that though many government officers had received training, "they hardly understood the true spirit of the RTI law (and) always looked for opportunity to evade compliance." The district Fisheries' Officer opined that effective implementation of the law required the demand and supply sides to work together and help each other.
Such positive sentiments reveal some light at the end of the tunnel. They also indicate the growing maturity of both the demand and supply sides of the law.  This has been possible largely due to increased interaction between them, aided by the efforts of many individual RTI workers and persistent efforts of many NGOs, both to spread awareness about the law and assist users to apply it more efficiently.
The narrowing of the perception gap between citizens and public authorities on RTI is cause for rejoicing. It is time that other citizen groups, particularly those from the more educated and socially aware sections, recognise that the RTI Act has opened a new opportunity for them to play a constructive role in making public offices accountable to citizens. By not playing that role they are, in effect, reneging on their obligations as responsible citizens.
In economic theory, the market price of a product is determined at a point where the forces of supply and demand meet, which is called equilibrium. For the RTI Act to reach such equilibrium, there must be constant and regular interaction between information-providing supply side and information-seeking demand side. This is indeed the ultimate goal of all RTI laws.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Only 27% Maharashtra health workers received PM insurance cover money: RTI

India Today: Mumbai: Tuesday, 11 May 2021.
Under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Package (PMGKP), an insurance scheme for healthcare workers fighting Covid-19, only 27% applicants have received the insurance money.
RTI activist Jeetendra Ghadge of The Young Whistleblowers NGO had filed an RTI and got to know that Maharashtra government had sent total of 210 applications to the central government out of which just 58 cases were paid the insurance amount. The figure is just 27% of the total applications sent from Maharashtra.
Ghadge had filed this RTI in November. However, neither the central government nor the insurance company, replied to his queries.
Only the Maharashtra government replied to Ghadge’s queries. Ghadge had sought district-wise details of the applications received and forwarded by Maharashtra government.
The RTI reply, which was received by him from Maharashtra, said Pune had sent a total of 47 applications whereas Mumbai has sent only 38 applications even though the mega city had seen the highest number of casualties.
However, when it came to the approval, only three cases from Pune were been approved while just 22 cases were approved from Mumbai.
Ghadge says: "The healthcare staff is taking serious risk while taking care of us. Unfortunately, we are letting them down by delaying process of getting this claims approved. Besides only the Central government scheme covers the health workers while the state government covers other Covid warriors. It's important to boost the morale of our health care workers by giving them financial security. I hope the government takes notice of these figures.”
PMGKP was implemented with effect from 30 March 2020, initially for a period of 90 days to provide an insurance cover of Rs 50 lakh to the healthcare workers fighting the pandemic. Later, the duration of the scheme was extended up to March 24, 2021. It was again extended on April 20, 2021 for one year due to the second wave.
The data, when analysed profession-wise, shows that only 10 out of 19 doctors' applications have been approved. Surprisingly, only one application for a doctor, which was sent from Mumbai, got rejected.
IMA has stated that a total of 74 Doctors from Maharashtra have lost their lives due to Covid-19.
Further, from Maharashtra, only 3 out of 9 nurses have received the compensation whereas only 3 out of 6 Asha workers have received the money.

Aadhaar e-KYC: UIDAI Earned Rs239.1 Crore Just from Authentication in Past 21 Months

Moneylife: Pune: Tuesday, 11 May 2021.
Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), the body entrusted with the Aadhaar scheme, has become a fully for-profit business in the name of service. For example, for providing authentication service for e-know-your-customer (e-KYC), UIDAI have earned nearly Rs240 crore over the past 21 months.
As per information obtained by Aniket Gurav, a law student and Right to Information (RTI) user, for the 21-month period between May 2019 and March 2021, UIDAI says it has earned Rs239.09 crore for e-KYC authentication service alone. Even for just providing feedback in yes or no formant, the resident numbering authority earned Rs14.98 crore during the same period.
Overall, for providing e-KYC authentication and yes or no answer, UIDAI has garnered Rs299.81 crore, including goods and services tax (GST). The contribution of GST is Rs45.73 crore. This means, in the 21-month period, UIDAI earned Rs254.08 crore from just two services. More about other paid services offered by UIDAI later.
In his RTI application, Aniket had asked for information about the total amount collected by UIDAI for Aadhaar authentication services for e-KYC transactions and for each yes or no authentication transaction from requesting entities between May 2019 and March 2021.
He had also asked for names of entities that have not deposited authentication transaction charges within 15 days of issuance of the concerned invoice based on the usage and the amount not deposited in such cases.
Further Aniket had requested UIDAI to provide names of entities that have been discontinued for authentication and e-KYC services for failing to deposit the requisite payment to the authority.
For both the queries, Sanjeev Yadav, assistant director general and central public information officer (CPIO) of UIDAI denied sharing information to Aniket. In the reply, Mr Yadav says, "The information sought cannot be disclosed as per provision of section 8 (1) (d) of RTI Act 2005."
Section 8(1)(d) of the RTI Act, says, "information including commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property, the disclosure of which would harm the competitive position of a third party, unless the competent authority is satisfied that larger public interest warrants the disclosure of such information."
Shailesh Gandhi, former Central Information Commissioner says that the claim of 'commercial confidence' in denying access to information to citizens runs counter to the principles of the RTI Act. "In my opinion the claim for exemption under Section 8 (1)(d) is flawed since it cannot be classified as being 'commercial confidence, trade secret or intellectual property," he says.
Coming back to the for-profit business of UIDAI, which also earns money when the Aadhaar number holder wants to make any change or rectification in the records.
As reported by Moneylife, every time an Aadhaar number holder wants to do an e-KYC or even yes or no authentication, she will have to pay the money. And this includes paying charges for availing ration from the public distribution system (PDS) shops as well since the buyer is required to undergo biometric-based Aadhaar authentication. This is because these shops, which are part of the public distribution system (PDS) are still private entities, which are mandated to use Aadhaar authentication.
In a gazette notification issued on 6 March 2019, UIDAI says, "Aadhaar authentication services shall be charged at Rs20 (including taxes) for each e-KYC transaction and Rs0.50 (including taxes) for each yes/ no authentication transaction from requesting entities; and government entities and the department of posts shall be exempt from authentication transaction charges." (Read: Aadhaar: Start Paying Rs20 for Each e-KYC, 50 paisa for Yes/No Authentication Now!)
Further, as per an office memorandum issued by UIDAI on 12 April 2021, residents are required to pay certain charges for various Aadhaar related services at all enrolment and update centres. Aadhaar enrolment and mandatory (first time) biometric update along with demographic details is free of cost. This is how UIDAI garners data from gullible residents, who have no idea of subsequent charges, they need to pay for making changes in their own data that is used by the authority to earn money.
As per the circular, whenever the Aadhaar holder wants to updated her biometrics with or without demographic updates, she needs to shell out Rs100 every time. If only demographic needs to be updated, the charge is Rs50 per update. UIDAI says update of more than one field on a single instance is considered as one update.
UIDAI charges Rs30 for e-Aadhaar download and colour print on A4 size paper.
Even for updating address or other demographic details like spelling correction, sequence change, short form to full form and name changes after marriage on UIDAI's self-service update portal (SSUP), the user needs to pay Rs50 per update. However, these changes can be carried out only two times in the life time of the Aadhaar holder and it needs to be authenticated through one-time passcode (OTP) sent on the registered mobile number of the user. Gender and date of birth can be changed once in the life time, while there are no restrictions on change in language on the SSUP.
An office memorandum issued by UIDAI on 12 October 2020, says, "Update of more than one field on single instance will be considered as one update and the fee to be paid through online mode, at the time of submitting the request."
While speaking at a seminar organised by Moneylife Foundation some years ago, Dr Usha Ramanathan, an independent law researcher had predicted that Aadhaar had become an attempt by technocrats (and politician and bureaucrats) to turn everyone into a customer for financial technology-related products that are based on the UID data of over 1.21 billion Indian residents.
UIDAI has proved her right by fully becoming a for-profit business entity and garnering money in every possible way after forcefully collecting user data for free.