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Saturday, September 8, 2007

Secrecy is dead, long live secrecy

Vidya Subrahmaniam, In the nine months since the enactment of the Right to Information Act, 2005, the Government's Ministries have done much to undermine the Central Information Commission and, by implication, the Act itself.

THE PROPOSED amendments to the Right to Information Act, 2005, including an amendment to keep file notings secret, have been called off — at least for now. So what are the chances that they will return in one form or another? Indeed, how strong is the official resistance to the RTI Act as it exists?

The RTI story on the ground is the story of small successes. It is about men and women who got their entitlements by filing or just threatening to file an application under the Act. It is about Bihar's Mazloom Nadaf, a rickshaw-puller, who got the usual run-around on his plea for a home under the Indira Awas Yojana, but who was treated like a king once he had filed an application under the RTI Act: Could he please come to the Block Development Office and collect his cheque? While at it, could he also be so kind as to drop his complaint? It is about Nannu, the East Delhi mazdoor, who having done the rounds for a duplicate ration card, filed a complaint under the RTI Act seeking the names of officers who drove him round the bend. Nannu might have waved a magic wand judging by the swift invite from the Food and Civil Supplies office, where officers fussed over him, gave him tea — and his ration card. As a beaming Nannu departed, his new friends called after him: Would he please drop his complaint?

The moral of all this: Don't ask us questions. Don't ask which officer did what. Just take your ration card, telephone connection, passport, and so forth. Indeed, the larger battle for file notings must be viewed against these smaller victories. Babudom would rather redress your complaint in double quick time than have you track the inside story. And file notings take you precisely where you are not meant to go — into the forbidding and shadowy world of governmental decision-making.

A visit to the website of the Central Information Commission — the final authority under the RTI Act on disclosure of official information — is revealing. The Commission first allowed access to file notings on January 31, 2006, in the Satyapal case. Its reasoning was impeccable. Firstly, that file notings were essential to understand why the Government came to a particular decision: "...[Governmental] decisions are mostly based on the recording in notesheets and even decisions are recorded on the notesheets. No file would be complete without notesheets having `file notings'..." And secondly, that the Act as it stood permitted access to file notings: "... a combined reading of Sections 2(f), (i) and (j) would indicate that a citizen has the right of access to a file of which file notings are an integral part..."

In the seven months since the Satyapal case, the CIC has ruled in favour of file notings in more than 40 cases. The appellants knocked on the Commission's doors because one or another Ministry or Department had refused to part with file notings. This raises the obvious question. Why was the Commission enjoined to decide again and again on file notings when it had already settled the issue in January 2006?

Consider the big guns that turned away applicants seeking file notings under the RTI Act: Ministry of Railways, Ministry of Urban Development, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Ministry of Company Affairs, Department of Consumer Affairs, Central Board of Excise and Customs, not to mention the Department of Personnel and Training — on paper the nodal agency for facilitating information under the RTI Act but in practice the most reluctant to parcel out information. The DoPT's response to the CIC's Satyapal ruling was to put up a website posting unilaterally declaring file notings out of bounds for RTI applicants, refusing to take it off to this day. It is this posting that the Ministries and Departments cited when they refused disclosure of file notings to RTI applicants.

The Commission's word on file notings ought to have been treated as final by the Government and its Departments. After all, the Commission's status as the final appellate body under the RTI Act would be sustainable only if it had the freedom to enforce the Act as it understood it. It can hardly have been the Act's intention that its provisions must be interpreted by the government of the day. If that were the case, then it could be left to the government to decide when, how much and to whom information could be given without the need for an appellate body — indeed without the need for a Right to Information Act.

Curiously, it is this situation that prevails today. On paper, the Government has withdrawn the proposed amendments to the RTI Act, including the amendment to disallow file notings. That it was considering an amendment to prohibit file notings is in itself admission that the Act permits them. It also means that the CIC's interpretation of the Act on file notings was correct. Yet the DoPT, whose Minister paradoxically announced that the amendments had been shelved, remains unyielding on the issue. Thus, the CIC might cry itself hoarse on the validity of file notings, the Government might say it has backed off on the amendment on file notings, but the Government's Ministries and Departments will behave as if the amendment was in place.

The CIC gave vent to its exasperation in its June 23, 2006, decision allowing file notings in a case filed by Mahendra Gaur against the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA). Mr. Gaur, who alleged malpractice in the sale of 2T oil in Rajasthan, took recourse to the RTI Act after he failed to get a hearing. The DCA's Chief Public Information Officer, C.S. Khurana, refused him access to file notings; so in his appeal to Rinchen Tempo, the designated Appellate Authority, Mr. Gaur appended the CIC's Satyapal decision on file notings. Ms. Tempo dismissed the appeal, citing the DoPT's website posting on file notings. Said the Commission: "The question whether file notings are exempt or not has been put to rest by this Commission in Satyapal versus TCIL ... and this decision is in the website of this Commission. In terms of Section 19 (7) of the said (RTI) Act, while the decision of this Commission is final and binding on the parties in that case, in the matter of interpretation of the provisions of the Act, the said interpretation is binding on all the public authorities. Curiously in her decision, she [the Appellate Authority] has ignored to refer to the decision of the Commission even though the appellant has referred to the same in his appeal."

Three days later, it was the Railway Ministry's turn to get an earful from the CIC. Noting that the PIO concerned had denied access to file notings to the applicant only because of the DoPT's website instructions, the Commission said: "... clarifications by the Department of Personnel and Training ... cannot override the statutory provisions of the RTI Act of 2005." Finally, in sheer helplessness and faced with mounting and completely unnecessary appeals against non-disclosure of file notings by various Ministries and Departments, the CIC ordered the DoPT to remove its website posting, which was creating "unnecessary and avoidable confusion in the minds of Public Authorities" who were denying access to file notings even though the RTI Act "does not exempt file notings from disclosure."

Clearly, information is power for the Government — RTI Act or no RTI Act. There can be two sides to the grand battle being fought on the sanctity or otherwise of file notings. It is possible that the Government genuinely fears that access to file notings will, to quote the Prime Minister's Office, "inhibit the expression of frank views by officers ... place him [an officer] under threat or danger." It is a disputable position but not a dishonest position. What is unacceptable is that the Government should repeatedly override the CIC and the RTI Act — in this and other matters. Forget file notings, Government Ministries and Departments have so far shown no inclination to file the mandatory annual reports on the implementation of the Act. The DoPT leads the pack of rebels: It has misinterpreted the Act, encouraged other Ministries to follow this misinterpretation, slighted the CIC over and over, refused to hand over papers to it even though the Act requires it do so and done everything to preserve the regime of secrecy that arms the Government but disarms the people.
© Copyright 2000 - 2006 The Hindu

Central Information Commission criticised

Staff Correspondent
"There have been delays in hearing applications"

First hearing of a case held only three to four months after application was filed
Under RTI Act cases must be decided within 30 days of receipt of appeal
CIC says its staff strength has been improved

NEW DELHI: Six months after the Central Information Commission was constituted, its record in dealing with complaints and appeals under the Right to Information (RTI) Act came in for severe criticism.

Addressing a meeting on the RTI Act, organised here by the All-India Management Association in collaboration with the IC-Centre for Governance here on Saturday, Arvind Kejriwal from Parivartan, an organisation that has been spearheading the RTI campaign in Delhi, said the Commission's performance had become a matter of serious concern. Pointing to delays in hearing applications, he said the first hearing of a case filed before the Commission was held only three to four months after the first application was filed. "This renders irrelevant the requirement in the RTI Act for cases to be decided within 30 days of the receipt of the appeal," said Mr. Kejriwal.

No penalties
Mr. Kejriwal said the Commission was yet to impose a single penalty on Public Information Officers (PIOs) who had refused to provide or given misleading information. Under Section 20 of the RTI Act, if the CIC was of the opinion that a PIO had, without reasonable cause, refused to entertain an application for information, or had given misleading information, it had to impose a penalty of Rs. 250 a day till the information was supplied.

Chief Central Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah said that he welcomed public criticism of the functioning of the Commission but an evaluation of the CIC had to be done over an extended period. He said the Commission had received over 600 appeals and it had taken decisions in 99.

On the implementation of the RTI Act's penalty clause, he said a show cause notice had to go out and an investigation conducted to determine if the PIO was in the wrong "without reasonable doubt."

"There are two to three cases where such investigations are being conducted," he said.

Mr. Habibullah said the CIC's staff had been strengthened, and included an officer of the secretary level and a judicial officer.

Speaking at the seminar, Convenor of the National Campaign for People's Right to Information (NCPRI) Shekhar Singh said the Government must ensure awareness about the contents and scope of the RTI Act. He said Section 2(f) of the Act effectively expanded the scope of the Act beyond public and Government bodies to include private bodies as well.

Section 2(f) defines information as relating to "any private body which can be accessed by a public authority under any law for the time being in force."
Date:16/04/2006 URL:

© Copyright 2000 - 2006 The Hindu

HC frames rules for smooth implementation of Act

TIMES NEWS NETWORK Chandigarh: People facing hurdles while seeking information under the RTI Act can hope for some relief. They can now approach the courts to seek information under RTI. Almost two years after the Act came into force in the country, the HC has framed rules for its smooth implementation in both the states. HC Registrar (rules) SK Garg said the rules have been notified this week by the court and that gazette was being published. The HC rules will determine the fee to be charged from the applicants for providing information and will lay down the procedure to be followed while disclosing information.

Courts to clear-up all applications

Chandigarh: The rules will also decide who will be designated as public information officers, assistant public information officers and appellate authority in various courts of Punjab and Haryana.
Under the provisions of the RTI Act, state government, Vidhan Sabha and the high court are to frame rules for the implementation of the Act. While Punjab government framed rules after the Act came into force, the high court delayed it. The delay in framing the rules resulted in a backlog of hundreds of applications filed under the Act in various courts. After much dilly-dallying, the HC finally set up a committee early this year for framing the rules which submitted its report recently.
A Punjab state information commission officer said the absence of these rules acted as an impediment in providing information to the public as the courts in both the states refused information on this ground. According to a court official, with the HC notifying these rules the courts will start clearing all applications filed under the Act. The court will also post all information, including that on PIOs and APIOs, on its website.
Publication: Times Of India Chandigarh; Date:2007 Aug 31; Section:Front Page; Page Number 1

RTI officer pulls up court

Rohit Mullick | TNN Chandigarh: In a big leap for RTI activism, the Punjab State Information Commission (PSIC) has in a landmark stricture pulled up a district court for not facilitating information sought by a retired bank officer.
In its order on August 13, the Commission came down heavily on the Amritsar district court and said there is no excuse for holding information sought by K S Kathuria, a retired AGM of Punjab and Sindh Bank. The Commission’s order came after Kathuria, an Amritsar resident, turned to the PSIC when the court denied him information on records that junior judicial officers had allegedly tampered with.
Dismissing the court’s plea that information was denied because there wasn’t any public information officer (PIO) appointed by the Punjab and Haryana High Court, chief information commissioner (CIC) Rajan Kashyap asked the court to reply to Kathuria’s queries.

‘Rules framed to aid execution of statute’

Chandigarh: Asking the court to reply to Kathuria’s queries after dismissing the court’s plea, CIC Rajan Kashyap said: ‘‘A judge is a public authority and in the absence of a PIO he has to act as an information officer.’’ The CIC further told the court that ‘‘the implementation of the RTI Act cannot be kept pending because of delay in formation of rules by the Punjab and Haryana High Court. The rules are framed to aid and not to obstruct the implementation of the statute.’’
The Commission also rejected another plea put forward by the court that the sought information was not provided as ‘‘it was of personal nature having no relation with any public activity.’’ To this the CIC shot back saying, ‘‘The sought information is not of personal nature but is in public interest and the proper maintenance of judicial record is of utmost importance. It would be naive to classify such information as personal information having no relationship to any public activity or interest.’’
Kathuria had demanded information on certain records which, according to him, were tampered by junior officials of the Amritsar court to frame him in a criminal case of foodgrain theft dating back to 1998. According to him, the court had directed the police to re-investigate the case against him but on both occasions he had been absolved.
Publication: Times Of India Chandigarh; Date:2007 Aug 31; Section:Front Page; Page Number 1

Functioning of SIC under scanner

Vaivasvat Venkat | TNN Ludhiana: The functioning of State Information Commission has come under scanner for its careless attitude towards discharging its duties.
The situation is such that irked by the attitude of the Commission, the information seekers are being forced to take certain steps out of sheer frustration and harassment. The startling fact came to light in a recent case in which an information seeker, Yogesh Dewan, finally requested the Commission to dismiss his case . “Being totally dissatisfied with the partial and lenient attitude of the SIC towards the Ludhiana municipal corporation, I here by request to dismiss my case,” reads out the submission of Dewan to the Commission.
The much disgruntled Dewan alleges that SIC has defeated the purpose of RTI Act 2005. Dewan says according to rules the information should be given to the seeker within 30 days, but in his case even after 300 days the information wasn’t provided. “SIC rarely imposes penalty on bureaucrats, following which bureaucrats indulge in persistent delays in supplying information to applicant, resulting in harassment,” rues Dewan.
Dewan informs it was on 06-03-07 that he had appealed to SIC under section 19 of RTI Act against public information officer (PIO) of LMC, but till now no information has been provided. He says information hasn’t been given even after 130 days of the appeal before SIC. The Commission kept warning PIO but he continued with the delay.
Publication: Times Of India Chandigarh; Date:2007 Sep 02; Section:Punjab Haryana; Page Number 3

Netas stay healthy, you paid for it

Rakesh Prakash | TNN Bangalore: For these MLAs, health is truly wealth. Unlike the poor in their constituencies, they get the best medical treatment without spending even a single rupee from their wallet.
Of the 225 members in the Karnataka assembly, a total of 108 MLAs have claimed medical allowances to the tune of Rs 82.88 lakh in just two years. Their principal sponsors: the taxpayers.
According to the documents procured by The Times of India under the RTI Act, some of those who have claimed medical reimbursements are ministers with a cash-rich background. While industries minister Katta Subramanya Naidu, whose monthly personal income is Rs 5.04 lakh, has claimed a medical reimbursement of Rs 1.35 lakh from the government, forest minister C Chennigappa has claimed Rs 2.9 lakh, despite his personal income being a whopping Rs 10 lakh per month. In the list are 11 other ministers. “These leaders are quite rich and can afford to undergo medical treatment at their own cost. That way, they will be saving public money which can be used to help the poor. Unfortunately, they are not that magnanimous,’’ an official rued.
According to the Karnataka Legislature (Members Medical Attendance) (Amended) Rules-1997, MLAs and members of their families are entitled to free medical treatment in all government hospitals and 53 private hospitals across the state. In Bangalore, they can get treatment in 31 private hospitals. They can also undergo treatment at five private super-speciality hospitals in Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chennai and Vellore.
A scrutiny of the medical reimbursement claims made so far throws up some interesting facts. First, the medical expenditure incurred by the MLAs has been on the rise — from Rs 20.15 lakh in 2004 to Rs 27.44 lakh in 2005 and Rs 35.28 lakh in 2006. Second, a majority of the claims have been made by young MLAs and not the veterans who are visibly weak. Third, while some MLAs have claimed reimbursements on an annual basis, those like R Ashok and Jagadish Shettar have stopped it after becoming ministers.
On the veracity of the claims, a secretariat official chose not to comment. “There is no ceiling on MLAs’ medical expenses. We just receive the bills and refund the amount, we don’t even get to know for what disease the amount has been spent,’’ he said. In case of claims for refund of expenses incurred on account of purchase of special medicines, the MLAs have to produce a essentiality certificate countersigned by a medical officer authorised by the directorate of health services. With the government recently extending the medical allowances to the family members of former MLAs too, there is a need to streamline the system of refunding claims, the official said.

MLAs are NOT entitled to ...

l Buy spectacles or get dentures fixed. They can only get treatment and prescription from dentists and opticians.

l Get dentures made of special material like gold or silver.

l Free treatment at any government hospital for venereal diseases or any disease brought about by their intemperance. In other words, they will not receive treatment for AIDS at government cost.

l Claim refund for food and articles, like tonics, toiletries and disinfectants that do not have therapeutic value.

Publication: Times Of India Bangalore; Date:2007 Sep 03; Section:Times City; Page Number 6

CIC: Don’t seek reason before giving info under RTI

New Delhi: For any “public authority” to ask for reasons before disclosing information under the Right to Information Act is against the spirit of the legislation, the Central Information Commission (CIC) has held.
The commission Bench headed by information commissioner O P Kejariwal has expressed surprise over a Railway Recruitment Board (RRB) circular prohibiting disclosure of its recruitment results to anyone except the candidates concerned.
“The commission stands surprised at the circular because it seems to be against the spirit of the RTI Act which in no way lays down that the respondents (public authorities) will ask the appellant (information seekers) for reasons for disclosure of any information or his locus standi in the case,” it observed in a recent order.
Amitava Choudhury, a resident of Howrah in West Bengal, had moved an RTI application with South-Eastern Railway seeking inspection of files and records relating to selection for the post of train ticket collector through an examination held on May 23, 2003.
The application was forwarded to RRB, Kolkata and it had denied inspection of the details on the ground that Choudhury did not have a locus standi in the matter.
The RRB during the hearing, supported its claim by producing before the commission a board circular of June 12 last year which prohibited disclosure of examination results to anyone except the candidates concerned.
Strongly disapproving with the Board’s circular, the CIC asked it to open up all the relevant records to Choudhury by September 15 and has further directed it to immediately withdraw the circular.
“Since the circular gives a totally distorted picture of the RTI Act, commission directs the appropriate authorities for immediate withdrawal of the circular,” it said. AGENCIES
Publication: Times Of India Bangalore; Date:2007 Sep 05; Section:Times Nation; Page Number 14

PIOs pay for not giving details of info costs

Viju B I TNN, Mumbai: Withholding information under the Right To Information Act on frivo l o u s g ro u n d s can cost public information officers dear. For the first time, a senior official (appellate authority) of an organisation has imposed a penalty on a couple of subordinate information officers for not providing information under the act.
The appellate authority of the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation, Dombivli, also penalised the PIO and APIO for charging an RTI applicant a fee of Rs 2,477 without giving him an estimate or explaining how the calculation was arrived at. Bhiwandi resident Kumar Dhotre, the applicant, had last year sought details of a building commencement certificate issued to three units in the MIDC area.
“I learnt that many units were functioning without the BCC being granted and that officials were turning a blind eye to this activity,’’ Dhotre said, adding that the PIO told him that he would have to pay a fee of Rs 2,477 for the information.
Dhotre then approached the appellate authority saying that as the PIO had failed to give him an estimate of the cost involved, he should not be charged for the information under Section 7(6) of the RTI Act, 2005. Dhotre also urged that the PIO be penalised for his actions under Section 20(2) of the act.
During the course of the hearing, the PIO and APIO admitted that they had failed to provide the details of the expenses to the complainant. The appellate authority ruled that under the provisions of Section 7(6) of the act, the information sought should have been given free of cost. “As the detailed estimate was not given to the applicant, the information should be provided free... and the fees of Rs 2,477 should be recovered from the PIO and APIO, respectively.’’
In another case last week, the State Information Commission penalised the PIO—assistant registrar—of University Institute of Chemical Technology for not providing information to a blind person.
The SIC had imposed a fine of Rs 24,750 on the PIO after Balwant Joshi, the applicant, was forced to make numerous trips to UICT to get information on the refund of his son’s fees. “These penalties will definitely act as a deterrent to erring bureaucrats who withhold information out of vested interests or due to sheer inefficiency’’ noted RTI activist Shailesh Gandhi.
Publication: Times Of India Mumbai; Date:2007 Sep 04; Section:Times City; Page Number 7

Appeals to be heard even if RTI applicants are absent: info chief

Viju B | TNN , Mumbai: This will come as a relief to applicants who invoked the right to information (RTI) act but found their appeals rejected on the grounds that they were not present at the time of the hearing. The State Information Commission (SIC), in a landmark order, has ruled that an appellate authority cannot dispose of an appeal on the grounds that an applicant did not turn up for the hearing.
“If the applicant is not present for the hearing, the memo and papers provided along with the appeal should be taken into consideration. The hearing should be carried out and a decision arrived upon,’’ state chief information commissioner Suresh Joshi said while issuing the order.
An appeal under the RTI act is usually filed when the applicant is not satisfied with information provided by the Public Information Officer (PIO) of a government department. The applicant has to file the first appeal against the PIO’s reply within 30 days of receiving the response.
The issue of an applicant’s presence during the hearing of an appeal came up after activist Shailesh
Gandhi filed an RTI query asking the Maharashtra home department for instances when files remained with a government servant for over seven days, violating section 10(1) of the Maharashtra Government Act 21, 2006 (MGA). The MGA transfer and delays act has been been effective since July 1, 2006. “Section 10(1) states that files should be cleared in seven working days by all government servants or else disciplinary action could be taken against erring officials,’’ Gandhi said.
Responding to Gandhi’s query, the PIO replied that the information which
the applicant had sought could not be categorised as ‘information’ under the purview of the act. Aggrieved by the reply, Gandhi filed an appeal with the appellate officer of the home department. The appellate officer, however, disposed of his appeal because Gandhi was not present on two dates for thehearings.
Gandhi then went in for a second appeal before the SIC challenging this order. In the course of the hearing, the SIC clarified that the PIO had a mistaken notion of what construed ‘information.’ “The legislature passed Act 21 in 2006 which prescribed a timetable for disposal of files. The chief secretary had also given instruction to implement this act. Monitoring would have been done by the department in the form of documents and this falls within the definition of information,’’ the commission said.
Joshi also pointed out that the appellate authority had disposed of the case without looking into the merits of the appeal and even if the appellant was absent, memos and papers presented by him could be taken into consideration and a decision taken by the appellate authority.
Publication: Times Of India Mumbai; Date:2007 Sep 04; Section:Times City; Page Number 4

PAC custodial killers get good conduct certificate: RTI reveals

By staff reporter
Lucknow: More than 40 Muslims were massacred by UP state paramilitary force PAC in Hashimpura. The survivors and relatives of victims are fighting a long battle for justice for 20 years. Recently on the 20th anniversary of this massacre, 615 Right To Information (RTI) applications were filed in Lucknow to find out what if any action was taken by the state against these PAC men.

613 applications filed by the survivors and families of the victims asked the State "why the accused PAC men charged by a Delhi Sessions Court for the murder of 42 Muslim men, continue to be in active service of the PAC? Was any departmental inquiry initiated against them? Was any disciplinary action taken against them? Or were they rewarded with promotions in rank and emoluments? Were the 19 accused PAC men ever suspended from service? What were the grounds on which they were reinstated?" They also asked for copies of the Annual Confidential Report (ACR) of each of the accused persons to be made available.
The reply by Public Information Officer of UP reveals that custodial massacre of Muslims gets no mention on the ACRs of the accused PAC men. Instead of negative comment these accused get positive report. Of the 14 ACR that have been made available to the public, the year 1987 entry is "Kaam aur Aacharan Achha Hai. Satyanishtha Pramnit hai. Shreni Achha." (Work and conduct is good. Proven Honesty. Category Good). CID inquiry did not in any way hamper the career prospects of those accused of cold blooded murders of over 40 innocents.

A serious charge of custodial killing did not invite any Departmental Enquiry. None of the 19 accused PAC men faced and disciplinary action either.

In 1995 when Crime Branch of CID submitted charge sheets against the accused that they were suspended briefly the documents obtained through RTI reveals. But within a year most of the accused were reinstated on flimsy and untenable grounds. Reasons for their reinstatement were that PAC required their services or that these men were facing financial hardships. Advocate Vrinda Grover, who have been representing survivors and victims family in courts for their fight for justice asked "so are we to conclude that PAC requires the services of those men who have been charged with and are currently being prosecuted for the murder of over 42 innocent Muslim men." Similarly, no thought was spared for the families of Hashimpura victims and their hardships. .................

I-T dept puts RTI tasks in juniors’ hands

Manju Menon | TNN , Mumbai: The Right to Information (RTI) Act—perhaps one of the best tools in the hands of the common man—has become a pain to senior officers in the government. If they fail to respond to requests for information under the Act, they are compelled to pay a fine of Rs 25,000.
To get around the problem, the income-tax (I-T) department has started re-designating junior officers to perform the role. Until now, only the chief public information officer (CPIO) could respond to any request for information. In a recent circular, however, the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT), has said that junior officers at the level of assessing officers be assigned additional responsibilities as CPIOs. In the earlier dispensation, CPIOs had to be at least at the level of a commissioner, if not a chief commissioner.
‘It’s clearly a retrograde move. Senior officials should stay in-charge of passing information under an important Act like the RTI,’’ said Narayan Varma, a leading chartered accountant and an active member of the RTI cell run by the Bombay Chartered Accountants Society. Shailesh Gandhi, an RTI activist, agrees. ‘‘By redesignating juniors as CPIOs, the tax department is just passing the buck which in the long run will prove very expensive.’’
RTI experts say senior officials should continue to play a key role especially in departments like I-T that deal with sensitive information
Publication: Times Of India Delhi; Date:2007 Sep 01; Section:Times Business; Page Number 26

CIC notice to cops on child labour issue

The Central Information Commission has issued a showcause notice to Delhi Police for its alleged failure to provide information on the extent of child labour and its sensitisation programme, if any, to deal with the problem in the Capital. Raaj Mangal Prasad has filed an RTI application with the police, seeking details on whether identification of child labour had been undertaken by the Delhi Police. PTI
Publication: Times Of India Delhi; Date:2007 Sep 06; Section:Times City; Page Number 3

Complaints against cops: No data

New Delhi: The Delhi Police does not maintain data about complaints received against its own personnel — this surprising piece of information was provided by the public information officer of the vigilance branch in response to an application under RTI Act by Dev Ashish Bhattacharya. The rights activist had sought information from the Union home ministry about petitions filed against police personnel and the action taken on them. The ministry’s director and chief public information officer Labh Singh Chane said no data was maintained by the ministry about such petitions.PTI
Publication: Times Of India Delhi; Date:2007 Sep 05; Section:Times City; Page Number 6

CIC pulls up finmin, Sebi for aiding IFCI bid to beat RTI Act

UTI Claim Of Not Being Public Authority Also Draws Flak From Commission
Girish Kuber MUMBAI

THE Central Information Commission (CIC) has slammed the government and two public sector units, the Industrial Finance Corporation of India (IFCI) and the Unit Trust of India (UTI), for refusing to part information under the RTI Act. The CIC has not only rejected IFCI’s claim that it’s not a ‘public authority’ but has also slammed the Union finance ministry and the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) for shielding it.
In an order on August 9, a copy of which is with ET, CIC has criticised the finance ministry for certifying that IFCI doesn’t come under the RTI Act. It also has criticised the market regulator Sebi for buying the finance ministry’s argument without examining it.
“It’s incorrect for the ministry to issue such certificates,” the CIC has said and asked the ministries and government departments to “refrain from such actions as they are not competent to do so”.
The issue pertains to bonds issued by the IFCI in the form of promissory notes worth Rs 800 crore way back in 1996. The IFCI decided to exercise the call option in 2003 and had asked bondholders to surrender their papers on or before November 6, 2003. The IFCI promised to issue cheques by the first week of December 2003.
But the payment did not reach to all investors promptly. VT Gokhale from Dombivli, just outside Mumbai, received the cheque after more than a few years and they were only paid after a prolonged battle with the concerned authorities.
Incensed by the treatment meted out to him, Mr Gokhale felt that many other bondholders would have also received similar treatment from IFCI. He decided to take up the issue with Sebi. “The bond issue yielded Rs 1,237.06 crore for IFCI. There must be a large number of investors with a substantial cumulative interest involved. I decided to fight for their cause,” Mr Gokhale said.
He sought information about the total number of bondholders, the total outgo on interest and datewise payment details. The market watchdog upheld the IFCI’s contention that it’s not a public authority and as such doesn’t come under the purview of the Right to Information Act 2005. To substantiate its claim, the IFCI also submitted a certificate from the ministry of finance.
“It was unfortunate that the market regulator didn’t stand by for the common investor and helped IFCI avoid giving information,” Mr Gokhale said and challenged the Sebi decision and the finance ministry’s act before the CIC. He pointed out to CIC that the IFCI is a listed body and comes under the Sebi jurisdiction. “The Sebi as a market regulator can access the information sought,” notes the petition.
The CIC in its order categorically stated that the IFCI is a public authority and as such comes under the purview of the RTI Act. The order notes that “the certificates given by government ministries and departments about an organisation being or not being a public authority have no validity”. The CIC also castigated Sebi for accepting the finance ministry’s version on IFCI’s status. Sebi was required to examine the IFCI’s claim thoroughly and should not have uncritically accepted its argument, the CIC opined.
The CIC also assailed a similar stance taken by UTI. The UTI claimed that UTI Mutual Fund, UTI Trustee Company and UTI Asset Management Company are not “public authority” and are not bound to give information under the RTI Act.


CIC has criticised the ministry for certifying that IFCI doesn't come under the RTI Act

It has pulled up Sebi for buying the ministry's argument without examining it

UTI claimed that UTI Mutual Fund, UTI Trustee Company and UTI Asset Management Company are not public authority

CIC has said that certificates given by ministries and government departments about an organisation being or not being a public authority have no validity.
Publication: Economic Times Delhi; Date:2007 Sep 03; Section:Economy; Page Number 18

Monday, June 25, 2007

Call for separate RTI authority for Delhi

New Delhi: Right to information (RTI) activists, including Aruna Roy and Arvind Kejriwal, have called for a separate appellate authority for Delhi on the lines of the Central Information Commission (CIC). For all appeals against decisions of public authorities of the Delhi government under the Delhi RTI Act 2001 and the Central RTI Act 2005 go before Public Grievance Commission, which as the name suggests, is not meant to deal exclusively with Right to Information related cases. The demand for a separate RTI commission for Delhi was made at a meeting on transparent governance organised on June 16 and 17 by South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR).
The dept dealing with RTI at the Centre should not be department of personnel and training. Transparency in the method of appointing CIC commissioners. RTI Act be extended to J&K RTI training of personnel in public authorities be done with the help of RTI campaigners A process of public consultation of all laws and policies before being adopted
Publication: Times Of India Delhi; Date:2007 Jun 20; Section:Times City; Page Number 6

‘Corrective mechanism to deal with RTI info needed’

Regional information commissioner (Pune) Vijay Vishwanath Kuvalekar feels bureaucrats are not sensitive to the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005. Kuvalekar spoke to Abhay Vaidya:

You have been a writerjournalist all your life. Now as information commissioner for Pune region, what is your perspective on the RTI Act, 2005? This is a new Act and it has not reached the rural areas to the extent that it should. In the government, the mindset is to find ways not to give information. Essentially, it is now about changing mindsets. In nearly 50 per cent of cases, the first appellate authority in public institutions has not heard appeals. As a result, people wait for 30-45 days to file a second appeal and appeals are pending with regional information commissioners. In Pune region alone, nearly 2,000 appeals are pending with me.

How has the bureaucracy taken to RTI?
I have been in this post for barely 3-4 months and what i see is the misuse of power by government officials on a large scale. There are cases where one person’s land has been transferred to someone else without the consent or knowledge of the owner. Such people are struggling for 12-14 years to get an explanation. The government machinery replies that the transfer was at the owner’s request and the papers are missing! What’s the use of getting this information after 10 years? The law needs to be given a human face because it is all about empowering the common man. The bureaucracy is not sensitive to human suffering.
The RTI Act was created to empower the common man and force public institutions to be transparent and accountable. Has that happened?
These objectives are being met to some extent, but it is too early to comment as only two years have passed since it came into force. In terms of modifications, i feel that the Act must insist that people give reasons for seeking information. In some cases you find that people have ulterior motives in demanding information. There must be compulsion or penalty provision on the first appellate authority if he does not act on an appeal. The government must compulsorily involve senior officials in RTI work and not allow heads of public institutions to shirk responsibility. There is no corrective mechanism to deal with information received through RTI. A number of public causes would be served better if we can ensure corrective action in a specific time frame.

Will the information officers, appellate authorities and commissioners become another paper-pushing bureaucracy?
This will not happen if the heads of public institutions become more sensitive and if the information commissioners are firm. Activists using RTI are quite vigilant today. The more public awareness is created, the more will the people ensure that the Act is not tampered with or diluted.
Times Of India Delhi; Date:2007 Jun 18; Section:Editorial; Page Number 20 Q& A

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Co-ops now under RTI : Gujarat

Paul John | TNN , Ahmedabad: Co-operative societies and Agriculture Produce Market Committees (APMC) across Gujarat will now be considered as public authorities under the Right to Information Act (RTI), according to a recent state circular.
Any citizen can directly apply under the RTI Act for any information on these bodies by making a simple application to the respective public information officers (PIO) of these societies.
The state circular came as a blessing for borrowers, depositors and members who have been demanding accountability from co-operative banks, APMCs, societies or even milk and housing co-operatives for a long time. This concern grew after a string of scams were unearthed in some of these co-operatives across Gujarat a few years ago.
For simplifying the process, the department of co-operation circular has already asked all co-operative societies, including those functioning as banks, housing societies and APMCs to appoint public information officers and appellate authorities as mandated in the Act.
The circular states that officers holding the post of either secretary, institution secretary, manager or managing director should be appointed as PIOs while those holding the post of chairman or the president should be appointed as appellate authorities under the Act.
The circular was issued on March 30 following an order passed by the Gujarat information commission (GIC) in the case of Dilipsinh Jhala versus APMC Unjha, which said that co-operatives and APMCs are public authorities.
However, nearly 50 co-operative banks have argued that they should not be ruled as public authorities. An APMC of Unjha has challenged the decision of the GIC ruling it as a public authority in the High Court.
“Most co-operative societies have been providing information under the RTI Act directly to applicants lately and wherever the applicant feels the requirement for an intervention, the registrar of co-operatives has been called in to demand information on his behalf.
Our earlier circular which restricted this process has been scrapped following the RTI Act and under the new circular, we have mandated that PIOs and APIOs be appointed in the co-operatives,” says a senior official of the department of co-operation.
Publication: Times Of India Ahmedabad; Date:2007 Apr 09; Section:Ahmedabad; Page Number 3


RAHUL MANGAONKAR , After ACRs (Annual Confidential Reports), were ordered to be disclosed by the Gujarat Information Commission (GIC), under RTI, instead of the expected jubilation amongst ranks, most officers’ preferred to wait, speculating on the government’s reaction. The reaction was quite unexpected.The Centre’s Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), notified the ‘All India Services (Performance Appraisal Report) Rules, 2007’. Thereby, ACRs are now APARs (Annual Performance Appraisal Report), and IAS, IPS, IFS officers, across the country would have full access to them. DoPT was earlier against disclosing ACRs. Their stand was supported by the Central Information Commission (CIC). DoPT’s hand was forced by GIC’s order.Government officers are after all nothing but public servants. Therefore those officers who write these appraisals, review and accept them too are public servants and their actions too are within the ambit of accountability. So far, these appraisals were kept out of reach.How can a public servant work for the public after compromising on career growth and job satisfaction?
Now in the RTI age, when citizens are seeking to redress their grievances, can a disgruntled officer be expected to perform to his full potential? In the GICs decision, RN Das says “Can he be expected to ensure citizens, access to information under his control and promote transparency? How difficult it is to lift a fractured hand upwards to offload other’s burden?” While as citizens first, Babus find the door open to their right to know how they have been assessed, however it has its flip side too. Now the citizen too can learn how efficient these public servants are and who assessed them. Maybe Babus seeking their ACRs at GIC did not foresee this, but this possibility cannot be ignored. The wall of secrecy has now been brought down. Babus in Gujarat have unwittingly done a favour to their brethren across the country.
Publication: Times Of India Ahmedabad; Date:2007 Apr 12; Section:Gujarat; Page Number 5

Gujarat: 7,702 criminals living amidst us!

Paul John | TNN , Ahmedabad: Here’s a shocker. Gujarat has 7,702 criminals roaming free — most of them wanted in serious offences and financial scams. Many of them have never been nabbed by the police before. As many as 2,169 absconding criminals are wanted for murder, robbery, loot, rape and kidnapping while 2,010 are wanted for financial scams and cheating in the state. Of the total criminals who are wanted by Gujarat police, 2,556 criminals have escaped the state boundaries.
And of late, if you have been coming across a string of incidents of housebreaks in some of the major cities then don’t be surprised as there are 1,828 criminals wanted for housebreaks in the state. Out of the lot, Ahmedabad, Rajkot, Surat and Vadodara cities have 947 absconding burglars.
A cursory glance at the absconders’ list prepared by the CID (crime) branch for TOI under the Right to Information (RTI) reveals that Surat city has the longest list of absconders with 956 absconders. Surat city police also has the highest number of absconders belonging to outside state with 629 absconders. Ahmedabad city on the other hand is looking for 776 absconders, Vadodara with 749 immediately followed by Mehsana with 504 absconders. Other districts like Bharuch, Anand, Godhra and Sabarkantha are also among the first 10 with an impressive list of absconders in the state. Surat city for instance has the highest number of absconding murderers with 133 of them still at large. The city also has the highest number of absconding kidnappers with 80 of them still to be traced. One the other hand, Ahmedabad city has the highest number of absconding white collar criminals with 294 of them still to be traced.
“One of the major hurdles in tracking absconders is that we don’t have specific information on these absconders. Their addresses are vague, both within the state and outside Gujarat. Most of these absconders are migrants belonging to outside state. Though we have a squad, it is difficult to track these criminals unless we have specific inputs,” says Surat city police commissioner RMS Brar. Besides, there are also around 125 criminals that have escaped from police custody and are yet to be traced. Of these, 20 such criminals escaped from Ahmedabad city police custody followed by 76 from Kutch-Bhuj police custody.
Publication: Times Of India Ahmedabad; Date:2007 Apr 10; Section:Ahmedabad; Page Number 2

No more passing the info buck

Jehangir B Gai
RTI—how to stop PIOs from passing the buck
Most public authorities and government undertakings have appointed not just one Public Information Officer but several PIOs. Each PIO is entrusted with a specific jurisdiction to deal with a particular type of information sought. So what happens when an applicant wants information which falls within the jurisdiction of different PIOs? Does the applicant have to make separate applications to each thereby being required to make multiple applications and pay separate application fees? Or will one application to any PIO suffice?
This interesting issue has recently been decided by the Central Information Commission in a landmark ruling in the case of Er. Sarbajit Roy v/s Delhi Development Authority, in appeal number 10/1/2005-CIC decided on 25-2-2006 by Padma Balasubramanian, Information Commissioner and Wajahat Habibullah, Chief Information Commissioner.

Case Study:
Sarbajit Roy had applied to a PIO of Delhi Development Authority (DDA) for certain information. However, the PIO transferred his application to another PIO of DDA according to jurisdiction. This resulted in delays and harassment for the applicant. Also, the application proforma required the applicant to disclose the reason for seeking information. Roy ultimately appealed to the Central Information Commission regarding the procedure adopted by DDA.
The authority defended its action by claiming that when an application is made requesting information which is held by or is more closely connected to the functions of another public authority, then Section 6 (3) of the RTI Act provides that such an application shall be transferred to the appropriate public authority within five days.
DDA’s argument was rejected by the commission holding that Section 6(3) of the RTI Act was applicable only when different public authorities were involved, and not when internal adjustments were required within a single public authority such as DDA. It further observed that while PIOs as well as the APIOs were empowered to receive and deal
with information requests as also render reasonable assistance to applicants, it was only a PIO who was required to provide information.
When an application is received by an APIO, he is required only to forward the same forthwith to a PIO of the public authority. Division of responsibilities among PIOs is not prescribed for a public authority to ease faster access and dissemination of information. Thus the law is clear that a request for information may be received at every office or administrative unit or every sub-level also. It is not required that only a PIO appointed u/s 5 (1) may accept requests for information pertaining to his administrative unit or ‘jurisdiction’ as this will impede access to information.
Regarding the application proforma asking the applicant to disclose the reason for seeking information, the commission observed that it had already held in another matter that such a question was contrary to the provisions of Section 6 (2) of the RTI Act. Accordingly, it directed DDA to modify the form. During the hearing, a grievance was made about the failure of the contesting parties to exchange copies of the documents filed by them. The commission held that once it had taken cognizance of a matter, copies of subsequent pleadings must be served on the contesting parties to encourage a suitable and timely response.
The interpretation of the RTI Act through this landmark ruling has given a shot in the arm to citizens by making it cheaper, easier and more convenient to access information. An applicant can approach any PIO of a public authority for information. It is for the PIO to internally sort out the matter regardless of his jurisdiction, obtain the information and furnish it to the applicant.
Now a citizen will no longer be required to shuttle between different PIOs within the same public authority, and a PIO will not be able to pass the buck by claiming that the subject matter of the information sought is not within his jurisdiction.
(The author has won the Govt of India’s National Youth Award for Consumer Protection. His e-mail is
Publication: Times of India Mumbai; Date:2007 Apr 09; Section:Times City; Page Number 4

CIC notice on Menon appointment

New Delhi: Acting on an RTI application of a senior IFS officer seeking access to file notings on the appointment of foreign secretary, the Central Information Commission has issued notices to PMO, external affairs ministry, DoPT and the Cabinet secretariat.
The CIC in its notices has sought explanation from the four offices over appointment of foreign secretary Shiv Shanker Menon, after the RTI application was filed by senior bureaucrat Veena Sikri.
A division Bench comprising chief information commissioner Wajahat Habibullah and information commissioner O P Kejariwal is likely to hear Sikri’s application on April 24.
Sikri, a 1971 batch IFS officer had approached the CIC on March 9, seeking disclosure of file notings pertaining to Menon’s appointment as foreign secretary.
She in her application alleged that Menon, a 1972 batch officer was appointed for the post ignoring officers senior to him.
Sikri also sought information on rules followed by the government in selection of foreign secretary and the process which led to Menon’s appointment superseding certain officers. Sikri had returned in November last year to Delhi from Dhaka where she was posted as India’s high commissioner in protest against Menon’s appointment. PTI
Publication: Times Of India Delhi; Date:2007 Apr 15; Section:Times Nation; Page Number 6

RTI: Medical officer fined

New Delhi: The Central Information Commission (CIC) has fined deputy medical superintendent and public information officer (PIO) of Deen Dayal Upadhyay hospital, holding him guilty of delaying response to an RTI application.
CIC had noted that the information provided by PIO to Sharma on August 8, last year, was ‘‘incomplete, summary and dismissive’’. PTI
Publication: Times Of India Delhi; Date:2007 Apr 12; Section:Times City; Page Number 5

CIC orders govt to divulge toxicity of GM foods

Manoj Mitta | TNN , New Delhi: If a genetically modified (GM) food causes allergies or contains toxins, can the government refuse to disclose such biosafety information on the grounds that it involves ‘‘commercial confidence’’ or ‘‘trade secrets’’ and that it will compromise the ‘‘competitive position’’ of the bio-tech company concerned?
Central Information Commission (CIC) said no on Thursday and ordered the department of biotechnology to disclose toxicity and allergenicity data on transgenic food crops that are being field-tested across the country.
In a far-reaching interface between RTI and environmental protection, the head of CIC, Wajahat Habibullah, directed the government to make public within 10 working days all the relevant data on genetically engineered brinjal, okra, mustard and rice which have been approved for multi-location trials.
The order came on an appeal filed by a Greenpeace activist, Divya Raghunandan, against government’s refusal to disclose the data saying it was covered by Section 8 (1)(d) of RTI Act which exempts from disclosure ‘‘information, including commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property, the disclosure of which would harm the competitive position of a third party’’.
While arguing for the disclosure of the toxicity and allergenicity data, Raghunandan cited a recent rat-feeding study in Europe by three French scientists who, despite the efforts of bio-tech major Monsanto to keep the matter under wraps, established that a genetically modified maize brought out by that company was not a safe food.
Raghunandan also drew attention to an alarming admission made by the government in response to her RTI application.
Although it has approved their multi-location field trials, the government said that the data on rice, okra and mustard was ‘‘under development’’ and ‘‘yet to be evaluated’’ by it. Such laxity in regulation, she said, could lead to genetic contamination in the areas where field trials were being held even before the toxicity and allergenicity data had been analysed.
Given the obvious public interest in the health risk assessment of genetically modified foods, CIC observed that the government should be, under Section 4 of the RTI Act, proactively putting out all the relevant data without waiting for applications for their disclosure.
But CIC declined Raghunandan’s plea for making public the minutes of the meetings of the Review Committee on Genetic Modification (RCGM), which approved the various proposals of multi-location field trials of genetically modified food crops.
Since RCGM’s minutes mention details of the proposals made by each of the bio-tech companies, Habibullah chose to leave it to the government to take a call on whether those confidential documents could be made public.
Publication: Times Of India Delhi; Date:2007 Apr 14; Section:Times Nation; Page Number 11

Officer fined for threat to RTI mover: Hindustan Times

Officer fined for threat to RTI mover: Hindustan Times, 22 March 2007

Thursday, March 22, 2007

IIT scholar uses RTI to crack stipend delay (TOI’S RTI CAMPAIGN )

Viju B I TNN , Mumbai: The Right to Information Act has come to the rescue of hundreds of IIT research scholars who were unable to get their research grants on time due to an accounting problem.
The application software cell of IIT Powai has now developed an accounting software to streamline the system after a research scholar used the RTI Act to find out the reason behind the delay in getting his stipend on time.
Amit Jariwala, an MTech mechanical engineering student at IIT Powai, almost never got his monthly research stipend on time.
“At times it was delayed by almost a month. When we inquired with the accounts department, we were told that they did not get the attendance sheets on time. They also said that since many did not submit the attendance sheet on a particular day, the calculation became a time-consuming exercise,’’ Jariwala said.
There are around 1,200 research scholars affiliated to the institution who avail of stipends ranging from Rs 5,000-6,000. Many students who come from middle-class families subsist on this monthly stipend and if it gets delayed they find the going tough for the rest of the month.
Jariwala, under the guidance of his head of the department, Professor S K Maiti, eventually decided to file an RTI query. In his RTI query, he asked the procedure laid down by the institute for the payment of the stipend.
“We got a reply which gave administrative details, but it did not have a time limit set for disbursing the grant,’’ Jariwala said.
This, he says, was a systemic lacuna. “We then approached the dean and the registrar to find a solution to the problem.’’
In the meantime, research students also checked accounting methods used by other institutions. “We found that while IIT Kanpur used to give an advance stipend, the Industrial Research and Consultancy Center (IRCC) had computerised their accounting system. We submitted both the models to the institute,’’ Jariwala said.
After this, the deputy registrar sent a circular to the accounting department to look into the matter. A proposal was then sent to the application software cell to design a ‘time bound software’. “The ASC is now giving finishing touches to the software and it will be implemented in the coming months,’’ Jariwala said.
RTI activist Shailesh Gandhi, an IIT alumnus, said that the premier institution acted proactively to the RTI query. “The department should be commended for taking the query in the positive spirit and acting on the systemic loophole,’’ Gandhi said.
Publication: Times Of India Mumbai; Date:2007 Mar 20; Section:Times City; Page Number 5

RTI reveals mess in state civil service exam results

Nidhi Sharma | TNN, New Delhi: What civil services aspirants had suspected all along has finally been proven right. Information provided under Right to Information Act by Chhattisgarh State Public Service Commission on scores of preliminary examinations reveals faulty number crunching.
An RTI application was filed by Ravinder Singh, a resident of Rajanandgaon, in which he sought information on marks of qualifying candidates who had appeared for the State Public Service examination 2003. The reply of the commission shows startling results. A candidate, Rajesh Kumar, has actually got more marks than the total number of marks he was evaluated for. Out of 300, he got 303.91 marks.
A civil services aspirant has to go through a longdrawn out process for selection. First, he has to take preliminary examination, which consists of objective-type questions. For this, candidates are given subject options like political science, military science, sociology and public administration. Since candidates opt for different subjects, the marks need to be ‘‘scaled’’ to bring them at par and then evaluate their performance. All commissions have to follow a certain ‘‘scaling formula’’ for this purpose.
It is this scaling process that is now under the scanner. Sample this, Gerjesh Pratap Singh got 166 out of 300 in his first optional subject statistics and 233 in the second option of military science. However, after scaling, his marks in military science was ‘‘zero’’. His grand total of 399 was reduced to 135.94 after scaling. He was obviously not selected. Rajiv Singh Chauhan, who had Hindi literature as first option and military science as second optional subject, was luckier. He had got comparable marks before scaling — 179 and 182, which became 180.17 and 188.01 after the scaling process. Gerjesh Pratap isn’t the only victim of this arbitrary scaling process.
Yagwendra Singh’s marks were scaled from 193 and 135 in the two options to zero in both the options. The entire process of selection of Chhattisgarh State Public Service Commission is already under scanner of the state’s anti-corruption bureau. The commission had outsourced its scaling process to Methodox — a private agency. Zonal manager of the agency, Anandi Srivastava, said: ‘‘The process is under investigation so I do not want to comment.’’
Publication: Times Of India Delhi; Date:2007 Mar 19; Section:Times Nation; Page Number 12

RTI frees babus from ACR grip

Paul John & Rahul Mangaonkar | TNN , Gandhinagar: The Gujarat Information Commission (GIC) removed the cloak of secrecy surrounding the annual confidential reports (ACR) of bureaucrats, thanks to the RTI Act. With this, the Gujarat government may find it difficult to arm-twist IAS, IPS and Gujarat Administrative Services (GAS) officers into toeing its line. These officers can now demand a copy of their ACRs under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
Bureaucrats have been allowed access to ACRs after Gujarat industries commissioner and secretary of the IAS a s s o c i at i o n Arvind Agarwal and two other bureaucrats K H Das and L M Lahori complained that they were not given access to ACRs despite demanding it under the RTI Act.
The General Administration Department (GAD) had been denying officers access to their ACRs through a November 14, 2005, circular. State chief information commissioner R N Das struck it down reasoning that such state circulars are not binding when Right to Information Act (RTI) is in force.
Das observed in his order, “No appraiser can present the truest picture of the performance of the appraisee if there is absolutely no sharing of information between the two.” Das added that officers would not know their faults if they are not allowed to see their grades.
Till now, the government could withhold an officer’s promotion by giving him low grades in his evaluation. Without having the access to their grades, many officers did not know why were their juniors being promoted ahead of them.
If officers were allowed to see their ACRs, it was only when they carried adverse remarks. Officers getting average grades could not see their ACRs for years together. However, they will now be able to know their grades at each stage of assessment. This includes observations recorded by their immediate seniors, the reviewing authority and final remarks made by the chief minister or the chief secretary.
Agarwal, on March 13, cited one such example before the GIC where a principal secretary and a secretarylevel officer were denied promotions as they did not have sufficiently high grades. To be promoted, an officer must have at least two ‘outstanding’ grades and a couple of ‘good’ and ‘very good’ remarks during a particular period.
Publication: Times Of India Ahmedabad; Date:2007 Mar 19; Section:Front Page; Page Number 1

PIO fined for denying info

TIMES NEWS NETWORK , Ahmedabad: In the first incident of its kind, a public information officer (PIO) in the Sachivalaya has been asked to cough up a penalty of Rs 25,000 for failing to provide information under the Right to Information Act (RTI).
State chief information commissioner R N Das imposed the penalty on the PIO of food, civil supplies and consumer affairs department in the state government for not providing information on policies framed by the state to curb the menace of banks using strongarm tactics to recover credit card dues from consumers.
In his RTI application, appellant Rahul Mangaonkar had questioned the department over policies framed and action taken.
The appellant was denied information within the stipulated 30 days, following which he filed a complaint with the commission on October 31, 2006.
A hearing in the matter was scheduled for February 1, 2007. However, when the respondent, in this case the PIO, did not turn up at the hearing, .the complainant demanded penalty proceedings against the respondent.
Again, the respondent failed to remain present in the final hearing on March 9. The commission termed the respondent’s conduct “highly condemnable” and ordered him to pay a penalty of Rs 25,000 under section 20(1) of RTI.
The penalty is to be either paid by him from his personal resources or be deducted from his salary.
Publication: Times Of India Ahmedabad; Date:2007 Mar 19; Section:Ahmedabad; Page Number 3

Slum-dwellers get pointers on RTI Act

TIMES NEWS NETWORK , Mumbai: If people cannot come to the law, take the law to the people. This seemed to be the mission of a programme organised to spread awareness on the Right to Information Act at Meghwadi on Saturday evening.
“Laws are made for the people and it is of no use if they are not aware of their rights,’’ said Justice S Radhakrishnan, senior judge of the Bombay high court, who presided over the programme organised by the HC Legal Services Committee and students of Bandra-based Gopaldas Advani Law College. “Transparency is essential in a democracy and the RTI Act is the ideal way to create this.’’
The programme struck a chord, if the strength of crowd of slum dwellers and residents of nearby housing societies was any indication. “In every area we are trying to disseminate information on laws relevant to that specific locality. So if the area has predominantly slum dwellers, then the laws they need are about SRA and basic rights,’’ said Justice Radhakrishnan.
The fact that the area is close to the Radhabhai chawl and was the site of some of the worst riots during the 1992-93 communal violence was not lost on the gathering. ACP Bipin Bihari mentioned as much and pointed to the relative easing of tensions in the locality over the years.
The programmes, conducted by law colleges in the city, also give students an opportunity to interact with people, according to Mahesh Vaswani, secretary of the students council of the Gopaldas law college. “Earlier we used to conduct the sessions in rural and tribal areas. But we realised that people in the city, especially those living in slums, are as ignorant of their rights,’’ said Vaswani.
The many questions about slum lords and the slum rehabilitation programme highlighted the concerns of the local population. The college has scheduled similar sessions on the domestic violence bill and the slum rehab laws in the coming weeks.
Publication: Times Of India Mumbai; Date:2007 Mar 18; Section:Times City; Page Number 4

Green cover for campus landgrab

Asked To Remove Encroachments, ITI Pusa Security Chief Alleges Threats By Officials
Nidhi Sharma | TNN , New Delhi: ‘‘I am scared. I don’t know what to do. I am in no mental state to carry out any demolitions,’’ says Kiran Kushwaha, with tears welling up in her eyes. She is the chief security officer of ITI Pusa campus and has been entrusted with the job of preventing encroachments and illegal constructions on the campus.
Kushwaha had to clear encroachments and illegal constructions on government land in the residential area of the campus on March 12. She alleges that some of the government officials whose houses she had to target came to her the next day and threatened her. She says she was already rattled by the mysterious burning of her car the previous night though the police are yet to establish any foul play in the matter.
Eventually, the demolitions did not happen. A single parent living with her 12-year-old daughter, Kushwaha couldn’t summon enough courage to go ahead though security and funds had been sanctioned.
The move to remove encroachments and constructions from government land started with an application filed under Right to Information Act 2005 by another resident of the colony, Renu Bahati. She had pointed out that former Delhi chief secretary Shailaja Chandra had passed orders to conduct videography of government land to keep it free of illegal constructions and encroachments. Bahati asked principal of Pusa polytechnic R L Yadav, the public information officer (PIO), for videotapes of land in the institute.
Cornered by this application, Yadav asked Kushwaha to file a reply since she was the ‘‘custodian’’. Yadav says: ‘‘I am aware of these illegal constructions and encroachments. I have also forwarded my report to Delhi government. These had to be removed by Monday.’’ When asked about Kushwaha being threatened, Yadav refused to comment.
The encroachments and constructions on government land are evident right from the first house, E-1, which is occupied by R K Mishra who is OSD to the DDA vice-chairman. Mishra has covered the common space to create an ornamental garden. Also, there are extra rooms at the rear. PWD had submitted a report on these illegal constructions and had asked the campus authorities to remove them.
There are certain government plots that are lying vacant in the colony. Vimal Dimri, ITI principal posted in Arab ki Sarai, lives in E-11 and has created a garden on vacant plots meant for flat numbers E-13 and E-14. Similarly, DJB’s director (finance) R N Sharma, resident of E-17, has created a personal garden, servant quarter and a small garage on the plot meant for flats E-15 and E-16.
When this correspondent visited the families, they defended the encroachments by saying that they had only ‘‘beautified’’ the area. Sharma said: ‘‘These people (Kushwaha) are just jealous of what a beautiful garden we have created. We have beautified the common space.’’ When pointed out that the boundary wall had been extended and servant quarters constructed in the common space, Sharma said: ‘‘We are so fed up of this that we have decided to shift out. In a few days, you will not find any servant quarter or the boundary wall.’’
The Dimri family had the same explanation. ‘‘Everyone is jealous if the neighbour gets just a few inches of more space. These plots were lying vacant, so we made a garden,’’ Dimri’s wife said. The garden is a part of Dimri’s house. However, his wife defended it, saying: ‘‘But we do not stop anyone from using it. This is almost a common park.’’
There was no response at Mishra’s house. When Dimri’s wife asked the family to come out and speak to this reporter, they refused. Mishra couldn’t be reached at his office either.
Shaken by the developments, RTI applicant Bahati says ‘‘the deadline for my application is April 5 but now when an individual is being threatened, I don’t feel like pursuing this case.’’
Publication: Times Of India Delhi; Date:2007 Mar 15; Section:Times City; Page Number 2

JAAGO GUJARAT : Cell phone companies in RTI loop

RAHUL MANGAONKAR , Thanks to Right to Information (RTI) Act, one can now demand accountability from the mobile service providers (MSPs), which is what AL Aggarwal did recently.
He sought to know from TRAI whether his MSP was competent to charge any amount own its whims without written consent from the customers. He asked how many customers were being charged.
Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) Act was passed in 1997 to regulate the telecom industry. TRAI’s status as a public authority is unquestionable while MSPs it regulates may claim immunity as non-public authorities under RTI.
Under RTI, if any public authority can access information from any private body, under any other law for the time being in force, then access to this information is also your right as defined under section 2.(f).
The TRAI Act also states that TRAI can “call upon any service provider at any time to furnish in writing such information or explanation relating to its affairs as they may require; or appoint one or more persons to make an inquiry in relation to the affairs of any service provider.”
Therefore to make MSPs accountable, ask TRAI.
Responding to Aggarwal’s query, the TRAI CPIO replied; “As per TRAI direction of May 3, 2006 to Cellular Mobile Access Providers; no chargeable value added service shall be provided to a customer without his explicit consent. Also that any value added service which was earlier being provided free of charge shall not be made chargeable without the explicit consent of the customer.”
The CPIO assured that the MSP has to carry out their directions. Also since TRAI carries out a quasi judicial function, in case if it is proved that the MSP has violated their directions, they have to take the matter in court. However, TRAI has assured that they would definitely take up the matter on the complaint and will inform Aggarwal accordingly.
Publication: Times Of India Ahmedabad; Date:2007 Mar 15; Section:Gujarat; Page Number 5

ACR row: IAS lobby dents iron curtain

Paul John | TNN , Gandhinagar: Babus from Gujarat’s power corridors locked horns with the General Administration Department (GAD) at the state information commission and demanded copies of their annual confidential reports (ACR) under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
For years, the ACR used to be the leash in the hands of politicians to ensure that bureaucrats tow their line. One adverse remark in the ACR could ruin their careers. Worse still, the ACRs were never revealed to IAS officers.
On Wednesday, industries’ commissioner Arvind Agarwal, who was refused a copy of his own ACR, appeared on behalf of the IAS fraternity and argued before state chief information commissioner R N Das that there was no fiduciary (holding something in trust for another) relationship between senior assessing officers and the GAD. He added that every officer had the right to know how he was assessed by his senior in a particular tenure. Agarwal then demanded a copy of his ACR. The GAD, while citing its fiduciary relationship with the assessing officer, had long been refusing IAS officers a peek into their ACRs. Besides, GAD’s November 14, 2005 circular had prohibited giving ACRs and related records under section 8(e) of the RTI Act. This circular, Agarwal argued, was void as the RTI Act superceded the circular.
About the issue whether members of the public can access a copy of any officer’s ACR, RTI activist Rahul Mangaonkar argued before SIC that IAS officers perform their duty in public interest and that every citizen had the right to know how an officer was assessed by his seniors. When Das asked GAD public information officer (PIO) Harsh Brahmbhatt as to which part in the ACR was actually confidential, Brahmbhatt said, “the overall assessment column”. After hearing the arguments of both sides, the SIC reserved its decision on the ACR for a later date.
Publication: Times Of India Ahmedabad; Date:2007 Mar 14; Section:Ahmedabad; Page Number 3

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Disabled B’lore girl’s RTI plea bares CAT ‘secret’

IIM-B Forced To Spell Out Selection Parameters
TIMES NEWS NETWORK : Bangalore: A single application under the Right to Information Act by a visually-challenged girl could change the face of one of India’s toughest Bschool entrance test. Vaishanavi Kasturi, a visually-impaired B.Com student who sought information on the selection procedure at the Indian Institute of Management-Bangalore, has helped remove the veil of secrecy in selection of candidates through the Common Admission Test (CAT). Appearing before the Karnataka Information Commission (KIC), A R Ramesh, public information officer at IIM-B, for the first time, spelt out five parameters that go into shortlisting CAT candidates for group discussion and interview. This information was so far held as a trade secret by the IIMs. Ramesh said candidates are shortlisted on the basis of their performance in Classes X and XII, degree and postgraduate exams, apart from work experience. In addition, the institute also fixes sectional cut-offs in the CAT paper. But IIM-B has refused to declare the quantum of weightage given to each of these parameters and also the weightage accorded to group discussion and personal interview in the final selection. Ramesh said, “Under the policy of the institute, we don’t have any provision to put this information in public domain. We are willing to share information with the candidate but cannot put it in public domain.’’ The KIC bench comprising K K Misra and K A Thippeswamy has asked the institute to discuss the matter with the higher authorities, so that the institute has a fresh policy whereby details of marks, ranks, selection procedure would be made public. Bright aspirant to miss IIM-B bus Despite confusion over the jurisdiction of the Central Information Commission or the Karnataka Information Commission over IIM-B, the institute shared the admission information with Vaishanavi Kasturi and her parents. The disclosure almost dismisses her chances of admission at IIM-B this year. Though Vaishanavi was among the 68 candidates shortlisted initially in the persons with disability category for group discussion and interview, she did not make it to the next round where 28 candidates were shortlisted. Vaishanavi stood 47th among the 68 candidates. “Vaishanavi lost out because she is yet to complete her degree and doesn’t have any relevant work experience,’’ IIM-B officials said. B-school under fire Bangalore: Hitting out at IIM-B for denying admission information to visually-challenged Vaishanavi Kasturi, the Karnataka Information Commission said the premier institute has a mind block on sharing information. The KIC asked the institute to be more forthcoming in putting information on admission, selection, merit list and ranking in public domain. “This will bring transparency in admission and earn goodwill to the institute.’’ TNN Publication: Times Of India Mumbai; Date:2007 Feb 27; Section:Times Nation; Page Number 13


The Times of India wants to highlight instances where readers have used the Right to Information Act to expose corruption or government apathy to get justice and to force the administration into action or simply to ensure greater transparency in governance. The best cases will be published every week with a photograph of the contributor. Please e-mail case details (including your contact numbers) to or post it to Right to Information Campaign, Editorial Department, The Times of India, Dr D N Road, Mumbai — 400001

RTI comes to the rescue of harried film units

Viju B I TNN : Mumbai: Film units in the city can now look forward to shooting in public places without being harassed by the police and civic agencies which demand a bribe every time a shoot occurs in their jurisdiction. An online film portal filed a query under the Right to InformationAct, asking for details of the procedures involved in acquiring permission for shooting in public places in Mumbai. The Mumbai police commissionerate gave a detailed reply to the query, stating that a production unit can ask for the services of the police force on paying a fixed fee. “The services of an additional commissioner of police can be called upon by paying Rs 1,071 for a period of 12 hours. If the unit wants to use the service of a police inspector they need to pay Rs 900, and if they want to utilise the services of a constable they need to pay just Rs 371,’’ the RTI response said. Film producers and unit officials say that till date, they were not aware of their rights. “Instead we ended up paying lakhs of rupees to various government agencies, including the RTO, police department, and civic officials though we already had the permission for the shoot,’’ Dilip Bhanushali, director of film, who filed the RTI query said. The portal, which is into production of films and commercials, also assists film-makers in selecting locales and studios. Bhanushali knows many cases where film shoots came to a complete standstill after production managers had heated arguments with the local cops. In some cases, the cops even arrested the production manager. “We then have to pay massive bribes to get the shoot re-started,’’ Bhanushali said. Recently, a production company had to pay around Rs 2.5 lakh, while producing a commercial, to various government agencies even though they had taken prior permission for shooting the film. “Even the road transport officials extorted money from them and they had to pay up as they had an urgent deadline to meet,’’ Bhanushali said. Armed with the information, the film portal is now planning to approach the anti-corruption bureau if the officials still harass them for money. “The portal has used the RTI Act to good effect. More and more people should come forward to use the act to resolve their problems,’’ RTI activist Shailesh Gandhi said.
Publication: Times Of India Mumbai; Date:2007 Feb 27; Section:Times City; Page Number 7

Shortage of rabies vaccine: RTI zeroes in on state, Centre

Shibu Thomas I TNN : Mumbai: The Union and state governments are to be blamed for shortage of anti-rabies vaccine (ARV). Though public and private pharmaceutical firms in India are producing the vaccine in sufficient numbers, the government has failed to supply them to state-run hospitals, revealed the Central Director General of Health Services in reply to a Right to Information (RTI) application by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta). Six of the institutions, including the government-run Pasteur Institute of India at Coonoor, have an installed capacity to produce 197 lakh doses of ARV. In 2005-2006, while they produced 134 lakh doses, the demand was for 112 lakh. The actual supply was, however, only 110 lakh doses. The following year the figures were worse. As against the production of 169 lakh doses (till August 2006), the demand was for 27.5 lakh and the supply was far less at 0.7 lakh doses. “The figures clearly show that the production of ARVs is quite high. The real hitch is in the supply chain,’’ said N G Jayasimha of PETA. The cost of the TCV varies between Rs 250 to Rs 300 per dose. On February 17, 2007, TOI reported that the Bombay high court had ordered the Maharashtra government to explain why it directed Haffkine Institute to stop producing ARV’s. The report added that the government had to detail the steps being taken to make the vaccines available at a cheap price. As per a World Health Organisation survey, one person is bitten every two seconds by a dog in India, while one person dies every 30 minutes from rabies.
Publication: Times Of India Mumbai; Date:2007 Feb 26; Section:Times City; Page Number 7

‘Stick to deadline in replying to queries’

Paul John TNN : Ahmedabad: Cracking the whip on state authorities, state chief information commissioner RN Das ordered that whenever an applicant sought information within 48 hours from any public authority under the Right to Information Act (RTI) which concerned his or her ‘life and liberty’, the authorities should consider the time limit as 48 hours from the time the application was accepted. Das ruled that by invoking the clause of ‘life and liberty’ of the tention was that loud noise from crackers can cause serious health problems in old people, patients with cardiac problems and even infants or children. In case of cardiac patients, loud blasts may even result in deaths. Invoking the ‘life and liberty’ clause of the RTI Act, the applicant had demanded details pertaining to issuance of licences to cracker sellers and whether the police kept a tab on public safety issues in areas where there are cracker stalls. He had also asked for the zonewise list of police officers and their respective mobile and land line numbers for lodging complaints. RTI Act, an applicant may need the information to protect his life or liberty or may be demanding information on behalf of any other person, in public interest. The commission reiterated that it is an obligatory function of the authorities to respond to them in a time-bound manner as specified under section 7 (1) of the RTI Act.The issue came up for hearing before the state information commission recently when an applicant, Rahul Mangaonkar, demanded from the police, measures taken to regulate noise pollution in areas. The applicant’s main con-The order further states that no public holiday or weekend may be considered as an excuse by authorities in delaying information to the applicant under the ‘life and liberty’ clause of the RTI Act. On the issue of responding within 30 days, Das stated in the order that it may be considered as 30 calendar days, which also includes weekends or any public holiday in between. The order further states that no grace period will be allowed to the public authorities under the RTI Act.
Publication: Times Of India Ahmedabad; Date:2007 Feb 26; Section:Ahmedabad; Page Number 3

Housing societies too come under info Act

Paul John TNN : Ahmedabad: Co-operative societies and agriculture produce market committees (APMC) in Gujarat, in whichever form they exist, are public authorities under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. This recent decision of the state information commission has caused a flutter in the co-operative sector as it would have wider implications. For instance, if you want to know how your co-operative housing society has been spending your maintenance money or managing the society’s funds, you can ask this under the RTI. The decision also pertains to the cooperative banks, milk co-operatives, APMCs or any organisation formed under existing co-operative laws of Gujarat. For a long time, co-operative societies in the state had been claiming immunity from the RTI Act, quoting a circular issued by registrar of co-operative societies on March 23, 2006, which stated, “co-operative societies and agriculture produce market committees are not included in the definition of public authorities.” This circular was struck down by the state chief information commissioner RN Das recently, after deeming it to be “void” under section 22 of the RTI Act. Das further ordered the registrar of co-operatives to review rule 36 of Gujarat Agricultural Produce Market (GAPM) Rules 1965, which states that “proceedings of market committee shall not be treated as public documents and copies thereof shall not be supplied unless there is a court order.” In respect to rule 36 of GAPM Rules, Das said that since it was a “subordinate legislation” it had no meaning after the RTI Act came into force. The state information commissioner RN Das ordered the registrar of co-operatives and the principal secretary of department of co-operation to bring in amendments in the GAPM Rules to make them consistent with the RTI Act. The amendments, according to Das, should be reported to the commission within three months. The issue came to light after an applicant Dilipsinh Zala demanded information on the recruitment procedures of Class ‘D’ employees and the proceedings of the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) of Unjha in Mehsana district. The information was denied to Zala after quoting GAPM rule 36 and the registrar of co-operative’s circular. The information commission has ordered that since the APMC would be maintaining account records and vouchers of salaries paid to the class ‘D’ employees, the same information be provided to Zala within 15 days of the order.
Publication: Times Of India Ahmedabad; Date:2007 Feb 26; Section:Ahmedabad; Page Number 3

‘Odd rebel’ gets a potent weapon in RTI

Paul John TNN : Ahmedabad: Her brush with the establishment is enviable, and her purpose sincere. She is 61, single and the pen-name ‘Odd Rebel’ — short for Audrey Rebello — couldn’t have summed her up better. A former IIM-A fellow, she just can’t sit back and watch in wry resignation the endless indignities heaped on common citizens. She fights for consumer rights, takes up cudgels against policemen on basic safety issues, battles against encroachments and for sanitation requirements in the city. Today, she has taken on the mobile and the WLL service providers as toll free emergency numbers like 100, 101,102 are rarely accessible to a common citizen from public phone booths and sometimes even from mobiles. Rebello, who otherwise bombards authorities with letters, now relies on the Right to Information Act to make the authorities confess on paper that they did wrong. “In Gujarat, writing letters to government officials is like tickling a dinosaur’s tail. It will take ages before the dinosaur realises it was tickled. With RTI in force, I know exactly what went wrong when, be it a law and order problem in a neighbourhood or inefficiency of the municipality in collecting strewn garbage,” says Rebello. An IIM-A fellow, former lecturer of English and former social worker, Audrey Rebello kicked her fat-salaried corporate job 20 years ago after she found fighting boardroom battles boring. She found that fighting for the basic rights of citizens required far more spine than what is needed to survive in the corporate world. And today, she is using the Right to Information Act as her weapon to fight the babus. “RTI alone cannot redress problems of individuals. You have to use a combination of tools and laws along with it to make any authority do its job properly. Babus generally take advantage of our ignorance of laws and procedures. In fact, with the RTI, I make them confess on paper that they are not doing their work, which is embarrassing for them,” says Rebello. She further says, “For instance, no one has bothered to appoint an executive magistrate at Gheekantha court-1 since October last year. So many cases have piled up since then. The lone officer handling the job has other responsibilities and is therefore not being able to do justice to the task at hand. I filed a petition under the RTI recently to know why the government was not filling up those posts.”
Publication: Times Of India Ahmedabad; Date:2007 Feb 25; Section:Front Page; Page Number 1

Punjab Info commissioners to hold courts in districts

Rohit Mullick TNN : Chandigarh: In order to facilitate the complainants, who are denied information sought under the Right to Information Act and for the speedy disposal of cases, the State Information Commission of Punjab (SICP) has decided to hold its courts in the districts as well. The state information commissioners besides hearing the cases in Chandigarh will start holding courts in the district headquarters from next month.Chief information commissioner Rajan Kashyap said, “It will help complainants in the districts who otherwise have to travel to Chandigarh for court hearings.” Kashyap said the disposal rate of cases would also pick up if courts were also held in the district headquarters. The SICP move has also come in the wake of the appointment of four new state information commissioners with which the total number has gone to eight. The information commissioners who were appointed last month are PK Grover, Ravi Singh, Kulbir Singh and PPS Gill. According to SICP officials, the recruitment of these officials had made it easier for the commission to decide on holding courts in the districts also. Officials said the move would not only help the petitioners but also result in speedy disposal of cases because number of times complainants and even government officers fail to appear before the benches and thereby cause pendancy. In the last about over one year, the commission has received 1,500 cases including 254 appeals under Section 19 of the RTI Act and 1,245 complaints under Section 18 of the Act for denial of information and no response respectively. The Commission has disposed of 610 cases and the rest 889 are still pending with it.
Commission imposes Rs 50,000 penalty
The State Information Commission has imposed a fine of Rs 50,000 on the public information officer of Ludhiana-based Punjab State Federation of Cooperative House Building Society for delaying supply of information to a petitioner. According to officials, the PIO delayed the supply of information for 173 days and also did not appear before the commission despite several notices and reminders. In its order, the Commission has also directed the registrar of Cooperative Societies, Punjab, to ensure the recovery of penalty from the concerned PIO in case he does not deposit the fine in the state treasury. Publication: Times Of India Chandigarh; Date:2007 Feb 23; Section:Times Nation; Page Number 6

United in tragedy, divided in compensation

Paul John TNN : January 9, 2002: A state transport bus collides head-on with a truck on Surat-Vyara highway killing 29 bona fide passengers on the spot. The government awards an initial package of Rs 5,000 from the Chief Minister and revenue relief fund to relatives of only 23 victims. September 10, 2003: An overloaded jeep turns turtle on the highway near Palanpur claiming 18 lives. The government awards Rs 50,000 from the CM and revenue relief fund to the kin of all the victims. Is the value of life of a person killed while travelling in an overloaded private jeep more than that of a bona fide passenger killed while travelling in a state transport bus? It seems the Gujarat government has put a higher price tag on road accident victims killed in illegally overloaded taxis. The government has no standard policy for compensating accident victims. There have been a string of instances where compensation given to victims for similar incidents varies dramatically. To mention a few, on November 24, 2004, when six children drowned in the Asarva lake in Ahmedabad, parents of the five children were given Rs 15,000 each while parents of one of the victims were given Rs 25,000. In a similar incident, the relatives of six youths, who drowned in Narmada river in Kevadia, were not compensated at all. “Relatives of victims of such tragedies have never demanded compensation from the government. It is always the government which comes forward to offer relief. Why then did the government not compensate relatives of Kevadia victims? Why are victims killed in similar disasters at different times compensated differently in Gujarat?” asks Girdhar Patel, who recently analysed voluminous data obtained under the Right to Information Act (RTI) on compensations awarded by the government from the CM and revenue relief funds. “If relatives of each of the 18 victims of the Palanpur jeep accident were paid Rs 50,000 as compensation, why were 10 victims who died on the Deesa-Dhanera highway in a similar overloaded jeep tragedy on October 26, 2005 and relatives of the 10 victims, who died in a similar road accident in Khambadia, ignored by the government? On what basis does the government award compensations to the kin of victims, I don’t understand,” adds Patel. The commissioner for relief Rajesh Kishore said the process of giving compensation has to do more with a “human angle” in a particular accident than going purely by the law. “We have certain guidelines but the severity of the incident and the effect that certain tragedies have on human lives is what gets analysed in a broader perspective while awarding compensation. “Besides, the decisions pertaining to compensations are taken on the file and tend to get subjective sometimes. The families of victims can always move the courts or special tribunals if they want a higher amount as compensation,” adds Kishore.
Publication: Times Of India Ahmedabad; Date:2007 Feb 22; Section:Ahmedabad; Page Number 3