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Friday, January 26, 2007

Pay taxes but don’t plead, raise voice

I live in Kaushambi, a middle class colony on Delhi-UP border. The state of roads, sewers, parks and sanitation is pathetic. We have been pleading with local authorities all these years. More than 300 letters have been written to them. We have just got assurances.
Recently, I was informed under the Right to Information Act that the roads in my area were repaired last year for Rs 25 lakh. Surprisingly, except for a few potholes being filled, nothing else was done. What do we do now? Should we go back to the same authorities and plead for action against the guilty? We would spend a life time, and no one would be punished.
This is the state of governance all over the country. The role of a citizen is limited to just pleading and pleading before the government which never listens. Is this democracy?
Our calculations show that Kaushambi pays roughly Rs 92 lakh of property tax every year to the Ghaziabad Municipal Corporation.
This money is supposed to be spent on roads, sanitation etc but is being siphoned off. Before spending, the government never bothers to ask us what we want. We find completely useless work being carried out which will not help the citizens in any way. But, whenever we go requesting them to carry out some work, the answer is ‘‘There is no money.’’
Some bureaucrat or politician sitting faraway decides what we need. Isn’t this a completely bizarre system? In the name of representative democracy, we have surrendered control over our own lives to a nameless bureaucracy and untrustworthy politicians.
Shouldn’t the people decide what they need? Shouldn’t the people be able to impose penalties on local officials who do not respond to their needs? Genuine local self-governance for our day-to-day needs is the solution. This way, we will have control over our own lives.
Some beginnings have been made in rural areas. Panchayats in West Bengal and Kerala collect and spend their own property tax. Those in Madhya Pradesh write annual confidential reports of local government functionaries. They even have the powers to stop the salaries of workers who do not perform. Though much bolder steps are required in urban areas, a genuine process is yet to start.
More than a hundred years ago, movements for democracy started in different parts of the world with the slogan ‘‘no taxation without representation.’’ The inadequacy of representative democracy compels us to demand ‘‘no taxation without controls’’. We have to have greater direct control over our own lives and destinies.
(The author is an RTI activist and a Magsaysay Award winner)
Arvind Kejriwal, Publication: Times Of India Delhi; Date:2007 Jan 26; Section:India Poised; Page Number 3

Info Act comes to HC judge’s rescue

SC Collegium Ignores Corruption Charges Against Justice Bhalla’s Wife, Recommends His Promotion

New Delhi: While the Right to Information Act is commonly regarded as a tool to expose corruption, it has been employed in the case of a controversial high court judge to deflect allegations of corruption against him and pave the way for his promotion.
The Supreme Court collegium has recommended Justice Jagdish Bhalla of Allahabad High Court to be promoted as chief justice of Kerala High Court despite an official finding against his wife in a Noida land scam.
In its meeting on December 14, the collegium headed by the then chief justice, Y K Sabharwal, disregarded this damaging finding on the basis of a clean chit given by the Uttar Pradesh revenue board in response to an RTI application filed by a third party.
The Centre is still processing the collegium’s proposal to promote Justice Bhalla despite the dissent recorded by Supreme Court judge, B N Agrawal.
The controversy began with the finding given by successive reports in 2005 by two revenue officials of Noida (sub divisional magistrate and additional district magistrate) stating that the judge’s wife, Renu Bhalla, had bought 7,200 sq metres of prime land on Noida/Greater Noida Expressway from a “land mafia” five years ago for Rs 5 lakhs when its official circle price was Rs 72 lakhs and market price was Rs 7.20 crores.
These reports could well have harmed Justice Bhalla’s career prospects since he was, by virtue of his seniority, due to be promoted to the rank of chief justice.
But what saved him was the RTI application filed in August by one Charan Singh, resident of a village near Noida, asking for information from the state revenue board on the land scam in which Justice Bhalla’s wife had figured. TOI has accessed the file notings that have been made on this judicially sensitive RTI application.
Rather than sticking by the damaging finding already given against the Bhallas by two of its officials, the revenue board chairperson, Neera Yadav, ordered a fresh probe in the matter on September 15 on the basis of the RTI application.
Incidentally, Yadav herself is implicated in another Noida land scam which erupted a decade ago. And only last week, the Supreme Court ordered the state government to resume departmental proceedings against her in that regard.
In pursuance of Yadav’s order in connection with Justice Bhalla’s case, an officer on special duty, Vishal Bharadwaj, gave a report on October 12 contradicting the earlier finding that the Rs 5 lakhs paid by Mrs Bhalla in 2002 for the land was far below the price it commanded then.
While admitting that the Noida collector had fixed a higher circle rate in 2002, Bharadwaj questioned the basis on which the earlier reports concluded that the 7,200 sq metre land bought by Mrs Bhalla should have been registered for Rs 72 lakhs instead of Rs 5 lakhs. He said that several other private persons sold their land that year for less than the circle rate of Rs 20 lakhs per hectare.
At time of his retirement on January 13, Justice Sabharwal publicly defended the collegium’s recommendation to promote Justice Bhalla in the face of corruption allegations.

Manoj Mitta | TNN, Publication: Times Of India Delhi; Date:2007 Jan 23; Section:Times Nation; Page Number 10

HC stays info panel order on discoms CIC Declared Power Firms Public Utilities

The Delhi High Court on Tuesday stayed an order of the Central Information Commission (CIC) which had declared discoms as ‘‘public authorities’’ while directing them to set up a separate department for the purpose of disseminating information under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, taking a prima facie view on the question whether discoms were public authorities or not under the relevant section of the RTI Act, granted an interim stay on the CIC order. The stay came on a petition filed by NDPL, BSES Yamuna and BSES Rajdhani. The court has fixed March 28 for the final hearing of the order and issued notice to the respondents to file their replies.

The petitioners had challenged the CIC order in which it had contended that the discoms fall within the definition of a public authority under Section 2(H) of the Right to Information Act, 2005.

The CIC had based its conclusion on the reasoning that the state government had a financial stake in equity of the discoms so the latter too were public authority.

The power firms, through their counsels, had argued that the CIC order failed to consider the fact that post privatisation they had ceased to be public authorities and when information under RTI is sought, the character of the organisation should be the deciding factor, which in this case was clearly not that of a public authority. The discoms further submitted that CIC had wrongly interpreted RTI Act to even cover private organisations under the ambit of ‘‘public authorities.’’

The CIC order had come on the complaint of one Sarabjit Roy who had sought information under the RTI Act two years ago from the Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission (DERC). Not satisfied with the response, Roy had approached the CIC for relief which had then declared discoms as public authorities under the RTI Act.

Abhinav Garg | TNN¸ Times Of India Delhi; Date: Jan 24, 2007; Section: Times City; Page: 8

For GenX, it is important to know

Youngsters have decided they want to improve the system, and their tool of choice is RTI
When you call them you hear songs like Hotel California and We will rock you playing on their cell phones. They indulge in luxuries, experience their bouts of ups and downs and like nothing better than hanging out. But nowadays, you will find them in NGO offices, learning how to file RTI applications. Yes, we are talking of the awakened generation that believes in “changing the lives of some people at least”.
History (H) student at St Stephens, Vanya Vaidehi Bhargava, is joining an NGO, Josh, to understand how the RTI Act can benefit students. “I feel pathetic when I come across the ‘I don’t care’ attitude of people. I’ll do my bit by learning how to file RTI applications. I don’t want to become a politician but this will help me find my voice. I will start after my exams.” Following her example is Hansraj College’s student, Akhil Jain, who says, “As a collective effort, we have filed more than 400 RTI applications in the Delhi University demanding that our answer sheets be shown to us post correction. Aruna Roy and Arvind Kejriwal have turned around the system and given results. They inspire me. I am also planning to file an RTI application in connection with Nithari killings.”
People often question this lot about whether they care about their social responsibility. Devahuti Choudhury from DU answers, “I don’t think I’ll enjoy anything under
the sun unless I know that I am a part of a clean and strong system. If I have to make that system for me, I will – by giving it some time. And RTI is just the tool. I associate a lot of optimism with youngsters of my age, as I know that we are not being cynical, we’re just trying to smoothen the rough edges.”
This motto is shared by all of them: “A system’s importance will be over if you don’t question it”. Student Kanika Tripathi says, “If I pay a fee for the maintenance of the garden, I need to know how many trees were planted. If a new gate was installed at my college, I want to know the cost incurred, because it’s important to know.” They know that they represent hardly 10 per cent of their generation but don’t get discouraged. Devahuti says, “Ten per cent is not bad for a start. I know when word goes around that filing an RTI is better than standing, staring and lamenting about things to happen, they’ll hop on to the bandwagon.”
JAYA DRONA, TOI, Jan 19, 2007, Delhi Times, Pg 39

RTI : Bihar shows way

Helpline From January 29 Will Empower People, Bring In More Accountability
New Delhi: Bihar’s black marks can take a back seat for now. It is now a shining example to other states as it becomes the first state to introduce a helpline service for RTI applicants.
Now, instead of writing an application for seeking information under the RTI Act and submitting it to concerned departments, all one has to do is dial a specific number where an attendant processes the request and sends an application to the concerned official. A duplicate copy is forwarded to the district magistrate through email followed by a fax message. A copy of the application will be delivered at the caller’s address within three days. Plus, the caller will be given a special number for follow-up action, says A Subhani, secretary, personnel, Bihar. A Rs 10 RTI application fee will be added to the telephone call charge. This helpline will be launched in coordination with an NGO, Parivartan.
Bihar CM Nitish Kumar says, ‘‘The RTI helpline will be launched to empower people and bring transparency as well as accountability in the administration. It will be operational from January 29 and all necessary arrangements are being completed. The phone number will be finalised in a day or two’’ The CM adds, ‘‘It was found that though many people wanted to file RTI applications, they weren’t able to do so due to the technicalities involved. While in some cases, officials were found unavailable, some offices were located in far away places. But the new call centre service will save the common man from the nitty-gritty problems of RTI application. It’s the responsibility of the call centre to redress the grievance.’’
Asked if launching this helpline would open a Pandora’s Box in a problematic state like Bihar, the CM says, ‘‘People have a right to know about the fate of ongoing projects, reasons for delay, amount spent, status of loan applications, etc. Besides, empowering the people, I hope the helpline acts as a deterrent against corruption.’’ The cost of this initiative, says Kumar, can’t be quantified as this is the first time it’s being done.
‘‘But whatever the cost, the government is ready to bear it.’’ The job has been outsourced to a call centre called Jankari which is provided with 12 parallel lines. ‘‘The decision to outsource the job was a conscious one.
This way, there’ll be no interference while receiving applications,’’ says Chanchal Kumar, special secretary to the CM. He is monitoring the helpline service. ‘‘As this is happening for the first time in the country, we are not taking any chances,’’ he says. ‘‘A massive training programme for all officials, including DMs, PIOs, APIOs, and senior officials is being carried out with the help of the NGO. Initially, the service will be available during office hours, but gradually we will increase the timing depending upon the response.’’
Arun Kumar Das | TNN, Publication: Times Of India Delhi; Date:2007 Jan 21; Section:Times Nation; Page Number 11

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Crucial meet on Gurgaon master plan today

(Dipak Kumar Dash | TNN, Times of India, Jan 16, 2007, pg 7, Gurgaon): To address the demand of environment impact assessment (EIA) and management plan, town and country planning (TCP) department is holding a special meeting in Chandigarh on Monday ahead of the notification of finalised Gurgaon-Manesar Urban Complex 2021 plan where this report prepared by a consultant will be presented.

When the TCP invited objections to the Draft Master Plan, citizens groups had strongly demanded the need of a detailed survey and analysis of all planned parameters, including an EIA by experts in various fields and by reputed urban planners. JAFRA, a body of RWAs in Gurgaon, had filed an RTI seeking the copy of the EIA and the answer that was received from the HUDA office was that ‘no such report is available with the district town and country planning department’.

‘This basic and most essential requirement seemed to have been ignored while preparing the Draft Master Plan 2021 for Gurgaon-Manesar Urban Complex. There was no mention of an expert analysis of planning parameters of development for Gurgaon as a world-class city in the plan,’’ said Bhawani Shankar Tripathy, spokesman of JAFRA.

The TCP had appointed a consultant to carry out this assessment in July, 2006, with the objective to forsee and project the environment impact of the present development and the impact it would have on the future development of Gurgaon. The carrying out of the EIA gained importance, considering the fact that sustainable development of Gurgaon came under scanner of residents and citizens groups since the infrastructure deficiency in the city has become a cause of concern for future development.

In fact, citizens groups have also cautioned that the carrying capacity of the city must not be breached at any cost. ‘‘As per the current estimates, city’s population has crossed 21 lakh and by 2021, it is estimated to touch 37 lakh,’’ said major general Satbir Singh, member of HUDA grievance committee.

Sources said that to put final stamp on the finalised plan after the presentation of the EIA, all officials concerned — including all financial commissioners, Gurgaon deputy commissioner and HUDA administrator — have been asked to be present during the presentation.

YOUR RIGHT TO KNOW: Calcutta univ will have to show answer scripts

(Times of India, Jhimli Mukherjee Pandey | TNN, Jan 17, 2007, Times Nation, pg 17) Kolkata: Calcutta University has finally crumbled under the weight of right to information, agreeing to show answer scripts to an examinee. It had tried everything to prevent this — from calling itself the guardian of the candidate, to saying the examiner’s life would be at stake — but nothing worked.

The West Bengal Information Commission has quashed all the appeals of the university. As the custodian of the RTI Act, 2005, in the state, the Commission — in an order dated January 15 — told CU that any candidate can demand to see his or her answer script. CU is unhappy because it fears this will open a floodgate of demands from dissatisfied students.

It all started with Utsab Dutta’s petition to the university that he be allowed to see papers VI and VIII of his part II BCom honours examination, 2006, as he was not happy with his marks. These were papers for Business Economics and Management Accountancy. He had applied simultaneously to the Commission on September 26, 2006.

After waiting for a month, Dutta complained to the panel that CU wasn’t responding. The panel sought a report from CU, but the latter stonewalled, saying the matter was to be discussed in the syndicate. The panel allowed this, but asked CU to locate the relevant answer scripts and keep them ready. But since CU kept buying time, the panel finally asked it to appear on January 3 for a final hearing.

University registrar Samir Bandopadhyay tried to assert that RTI Act has been misinterpreted by the candidate as it does not confer the right on candidates to demand to see their answer scripts. The panel, however, rejected the reasons.

The order, signed by state CIC Arun Kumar Bhattacharya clearly states that RTI Act has been instituted to help citizens secure access to information under control of public authorities so as to promote transparency and accountability in the way the public authorities function and CU is a public authority.

He appealed that since the answer scripts contain the signatures of examiner, the latter’s life would be at stake, but the panel said it was impossible for candidates to identify examiners from signatures. Speaking to TOI, state CIC Bhattacharya said, “I have just tried to uphold the tenets of the Act in my order."

Don’t Ask: SC and other institutions seek exemption from RTI

(Times of India, Jan 16, 2007, Pg 30, Editorial) Implementation of the Right to Information (RTI) Act is now regarded as one of the success stories of last year. It injected an element of transparency to governance in a way that would have been unimaginable earlier. RTI has become a weapon in the hands of citizens to badger and make government babus respond to their queries and problems. Unfortunately, this was too good to last. A host of government institutions have now sought exemption from RTI . These include the Supreme Court, UPSC, CBI and Delhi Metro. The reasons for immunity, according to the Central Information Commission which is the nodal body for RTI , are varied. CBI has argued that it wants to be treated on par with other intelligence and security agencies that are exempt from disclosing information. Delhi Metro has sought exemption on the grounds that compliance with RTI would throw its deadlines haywire. Perhaps the most damaging is the Supreme Court’s plea that the RTI might interfere with independence of the judiciary. Such exemptions must be resisted at all costs. Already some security and intelligence agencies are exempt from RTI , which means that certain human rights abuses can remain undisclosed and unpunished. There is no need to add more agencies to that list.

The Supreme Court’s application for exemption is at odds with its role. The courts are meant to be a sentinel of democracy, providing a check on the other organs of government. In that sense, it is supposed to stand up for citizen’s rights against encroachment by the state. Whatever goes on in court is, of course, recorded and available to the public. But the Supreme Court is chary of disclosing information about how judges are appointed as well as the status of complaints against particular judges. The apex court is already under the scanner for an application under RTI about a complaint against a high court chief justice. The SC’s logic that it must be exempt from RTI on the grounds that its authority would be undermined holds little water. The court must be the most accountable institution in any democracy because of its vital role as a watchdog. In fact, judges must be held to standards that are higher than other government officials. There is little known in the public domain about the appointment of judges as well as the status of complaints against them. This can change if RTI is made applicable to the Supreme Court. That will ensure that the court, like any other institution, is accountable to the people.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

RTI report card: One year of transparency at work

(Times of India, pg10, Jan 4, 2007Manoj Mitta | TNN) New Delhi: If information is power, nothing can perhaps empower you more than the sensitive economic information held by various public authorities under the finance ministry.
Not surprisingly, the finance ministry receives the most number of requests under the Right to Information Act.
But then, since you cannot use RTI to access information on matters pending before the Cabinet or under investigation, nor even on matters pertaining to commercial confidence or personal details, public authorities have ample scope to reject your applications.
Therefore, the finance ministry, again, has the dubious distinction of rejecting the most number of RTI requests.
The good news is, despite such limits on the information that can be sought, there are 17 central government authorities that received at least 50 RTI requests and, yet, did not reject a single request — at least in the first financial year of the new law.
TOI has obtained three tables figuring in the first ever annual report that the Central Information Commission, an independent regulator, is due to submit to the government, within a week, on the working of RTI .
Since RTI came into force in October 2005, the report compiled on the basis of inputs received from Central government authorities across the country covers only five months, October 2005 to March 2006. Under section 25 of the RTI Act, the government in turn will table the report in Parliament. Ironically, the list of 17 model authorities that did not reject a single RTI request during that period, despite getting at least 50 requests, is led by Delhi Development Authority, which was subsequently embroiled in the politico-legal controversy over the sealing drive in the Capital.
That was a no mean feat considering that DDA is said to have provided information without fail on as many as 1,988 requests. The next four public authorities in that list are Hindustan Shipyard (1,203 requests), ministry of social justice and empowerment (152), department of tourism (120) and National Highways Authority of India (118).
In another list, the CICs report reveals that the finance ministry received one fifth of the total number of requests made in the first five months of RTI . And, out of the 4,770 requests received by the finance ministry, 24.9% pertain to the Central Board of Excise and Customs and 17.7% to the Central Board of Direct Taxes.
Finance ministry, which received 19.5% of the total number of requests, is ahead of the next two, railways and urban development, by a wide margin. While the railways ministry got 10.9% of the requests, the urban development ministry got 10.2%.
The downside is that the finance ministry rejected 36.65% of the requests received by it. It leads even the list relating to rejected requests by a wide margin.
The home ministry, the next in the list, rejected 28.65% of the requests.

Keep us out of RTI: CBI, UPSC, Metro

(Times of India, pg1, Jan 10, 2007, Manoj Mitta | TNN ) New Delhi: For all the popular acclaim received by the right to information (RTI ) Act and the transparency it promises, some of the most high-profile public authorities — including the Supreme Court, UPSC, CBI and Delhi Metro — have sought exemption from its purview.
This came to light in the first annual report of the RTI regulator, Central Information Commission, due to be presented shortly to the government.
CIC’s report is based on the returns filed by 837 public authorities on the working of RTI in 2005-06.
The plea to be exempted wholly or substantially from the ambit of the RTI Act has been made by eight of those public authorities, ironically, while offering their ‘‘recommendations for reform’’. Each cites a different reason for wanting out.
Delhi Metro Rail Corporation has sought a ‘‘general exemption’’ on the ground that it has undertaken a ‘‘timebound exercise’’ of laying an extensive network in the Capital ahead of the 2010 Commonwealth Games.

CBI cites ‘parity’ excuse for exemption from RTI
New Delhi: Some of the most high profile public authorities have sought exemption from RTI ’s purview.
CBI’s pretext of seeking an amendment to the RTI Act is that it wants to be treated on a par with the 18 intelligence and security organisations which are statutorily exempted from disclosing any information other than information pertaining to allegations of corruption and human rights violations.
The exemption sought by UPSC is specifically about information relating to ‘‘examination and recruitment/appointment cases’’. The nodal authority for UPSC and CBI is the personnel ministry, which is responsible for the administration of RTI as well.
Four of the other public authorities which have requested to be kept out of RTI ’s ambit are public sector undertakings. While BHEL and Rashtriya Chemicals and Fertilisers Limited have apparently given no reason, National Building Construction Corporation has cited the need for a level playing field with the private sector. NBCC suggested that RTI be extended to cover the private sector as well or, alternatively, ‘‘exemption be considered for PSUs’’.
PEC Limited, a trading corporation under the commerce ministry, has sought a review of the ‘‘entitlement of a questioner seeking information on commercial deals or apparently irrelevant information, which will not help the public.’’ In a similar vein, BHEL and DMRC, too, suggested that in case their exemption pleas were not accepted, Parliament should consider introducing provisions to ‘‘check the bona fides of the requester and to refuse information to those who are not directly concerned with it, or might use it for promoting their own business interests or may misuse it.’’
The SC, as first reported by TOI, has sought exemption from the RTI Act for any information, which, in the opinion of the Chief Justice of India or his nominee, may ‘‘adversely affect or interfere or tend to interfere with the independence of the judiciary or administration of justice.’’
In its RTI return, SC suggested that a decision by the CJI should not be subjected to further appeal before CIC, presumably because it is appointed by the executive.

Important RTI Related Addresses

The Chief Information Commissioner (UP)
6th Floor,
Indira Bhawan,
Ashoka Marg,
LUCKNOW-226 001
Fax: 0522-2288600

Monday, January 8, 2007

About RTI Group (

The RTI Group ( is a voluntary organisation of committed citizens of India working, towards making our Central Universities corruption free, efficient, accountable and transparent. Over the years the Central Universities have in practice abandoned democratic institutions and corollary the rule of law breeding corruption and inefficiency under the cloak of unaccountability implied by the absence of rules enforcing transparency. Over the years non-academic interferences in the Universities across the Country have hardened feudalistic attitudes, demolished democratic institutions and functioning and have bred inefficiency and unaccountability, which most of the time end up as harassment for the individual. The Group seeks to empower University campuses, deepen democracy by developing participation and secularism and eradicate social apathy by promoting, encouraging and motivating the effective use of Right to Information Act, 2005, on campuses, which while bringing about efficiency, accountability and transparency will enhance academic life and output and make Universities and their agencies more humane.

The RTI Group disseminates information about people’s right to know, encourages and supports the development of materials related to transparency and governance, raises awareness of the fundamental value of information and furthers the cause of transparency by filing applications for information at various Universities. The Group constantly engages and interacts with the offices and encourages the use of the right to information to address individual and social problems. It also intends to evolve the use of this right to information as a tool for academic research.

The RTI Group seeks to actively engage and combine with other progressive campaigns and movements and work in solidarity with progressive elements of the society.

Please do use “Messaging” facility on our website i.e. to help bring efficiency, accountability and transparency (EAT) in Central Universities. The messaging feature on our website does not require the sender to disclose his identity. However, the website Administrator reserves the right to decide which message to display.

The RTI Group would be happy to receive RTI applications filed in any Central University and its subsequent correspondence from persons who would like it to be uploaded on our website. A message may be sent through our “Messaging” facility for uploading on any of the e-mail addresses provided in “Contact Us” section. The RTI application and related documents can be sent in scanned form in MS Word 2003 or PDF format. However, the Group Administrator reserves the right to decide on the uploading.

Contact Email IDs:

Dr Tariq Islam

Dr Mohammed Naved Khan

Er. Faisal Zia Siddiqui

Sunday, January 7, 2007

‘Frivolous’ RTI plea angers CIC

Times Of India Delhi; Date:2007 Jan 06; Section:Times Nation; Page Number 10, Manoj Mitta TNN, New Delhi: In the first order of its kind under the RTI Act, Central Information Commission has come down heavily on a request for information that was found to be “frivolous and even bordering on the absurd.”
CIC held that “diverse and lengthy information” sought by one S K Lal of Faridabad in his five applications to railways ministry “seemed to be designed only to put authorities under uncalled for pressure.” But since the RTI Act allows citizens to seek any information other than the 10 categories exempted by it, a CIC Bench headed by O P Kejariwal went beyond the letter of the law in sparing public authorities from catering to frivolous applications.
Laying down a controversial proposition, Kejariwal said that disclosure of information would be determined not just by the provisions of the RTI Act but also by the “objectives” spelt out in its preamble: namely, “to introduce the elements of transparency and accountability in the functioning of public authorities and to contain corruption.”
In the given case, though railways ministry was “duty bound” to supply information to him, Lal was also “required to keep in mind the objectives of the RTI Act as outlined in the preamble to the Act.”
This is because it was not at all clear, Kejariwal said in his order delivered on December 29, “how these objectives would be met with if the appellant asked for such diverse and lengthy information which seemed to put the public authorities under undue and uncalled for pressure.”
What was the provocation for CIC to use such language against an information seeker? Rather than seeking any pointed information, Lal had in his five applications asked for “all the records” regarding various services and categories of staff in the railways. Such applications, Kejariwal held, “only amount to making a mockery of the Act.”
While dismissing the case, CIC recorded its appreciation of the efforts made by railways.

Some resigned, others vow to fight it out : RTI plea..

Times Of India Delhi; Date:2007 Jan 06; Section:Times City; Page Number 2, Tanushree Roy Chowdhury | TNN: Nithari: The toughest task for a mother is to accept that her child is no more. No amount of assurance or monetary compensation can ever fill the vacuum in the lives of the victims’ families.
Jatin Sarkar, who found his missing daughter Pinki’s clothes from D-5, is thinking of returning to his native place in West Bengal. He would use the compensation amount for funding the education of Pinki’s two-year-old son Amit. ‘‘Pinki wanted Amit to go to a school so that he can lead a respectable life. My wife hasn’t yet come to terms with the fact that our daughter is no more,’’ said Sarkar.
But some will stay back to fight for justice. Aloki and Gopal Haldar’s twoyear search for their 13-year-old daughter Bina Haldar came to an end when accused Surendra confessed to have killed her, and her partially burnt clothes were found from the rags. Demanding severe punishment for the accused, Aloki said: ‘‘I have stayed here for the past 10 years. I have my daughter’s memories everywhere in the house. I would not leave this place, at least not unless I get justice for her. There is no point in making a temple in their name now.’’
Similar were the demands of Sonia Bibi, mother of Raja, who was given the compensation amount. ‘‘Can this money get back my murdered son? I seek justice for him. I have spent sleepless nights searching and waiting for my son since the past two years. I have been through the pain of identifying his clothes. I want a permanent residence here where my son was born and later murdered,’’ she demanded.
Pappu Lal, who lost her daughter, wants the authorities to build a temple built at the spot where D-5 stands. ‘‘Surendra recognised Rachna and told the exact date and day that he killed her. I had practically become insane searching for her after her disappearance. I want that house to be broken so that my daughter’s soul is freed and a temple be built so that all those who suffered like her can rest in peace,’’ said Pappu Lal.

RTI plea seeks info on NCW follow-up
Noida: Social activist retired Commodore Lokesh Batra has filed an application, under the Right to Information Act, seeking details from the National Commission for Women (NCW) on its follow-up after it started receiving complaints about the missing Nithari children last year.
Batra has also sought details of documents and file notings from the NCW principal information officer.
As earlier reported in this paper, the NCW had, on August 30, summoned the then Noida police chief, Piyush Mordia, asking him to explain what action had been taken on missing children in Nithari. TNN

CIC asks applicants not to misuse RTI Act

(Himanshi Dhawan, 26 Dec, 2006 0244hrs ISTTIMES NEWS NETWORK, NEW DELHI): Public authorities are usually at the receiving end of the Central Information Commission. But the tables were turned recently, when in two cases under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, CIC reprimanded information seekers for 'harassing' public authorities.

In both the cases, the information seekers or applicants were disgruntled former employees. In the first case, Hyderabad's K Gopinath had applied to All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), University Grants Commission (UGC) and the Jawaharlal Nehru Technology University for diverse information.

When the case reached CIC, the Commission found that most of the information has been given to the applicant. CIC noted that in a period of 3-4 months, Gopinath had put in as many as 67 applications to JNTU, where he had worked and from where he was subsequently dismissed.

"In the present case, the applicant who had been dismissed by the organisation on disciplinary grounds four months back, has since then flooded different organisations with RTI applications asking for diverse pieces of information," the Commission said.

It also observed that the three organisations had done their best to satisfy Gopinath.

"The applicant as a citizen of India has every right to resort to the RTI Act and ask for any and every information subject to the limitation prescribed by the Act...The Commission would like to appeal to such applicants to desist from using the RTI Act in a manner that would amount to harassment of public authorities without fulfiling the basic objectives of the Act," the Commission observed.

In a similar case, a Rajasthan resident Faqir Chand had filed two applications with North Western Railway (NWR), Jaipur, and despite receiving the information approached CIC.

On questioning, Chand admitted that he had been 'harassed' by NWR while in service. Chand, who has since
retired, decided to harass NWR by asking extensive information under the RTI Act.

The application was disposed off after the Commission made it known that the Act was not an instrument to "settle scores".

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Talking ’bout a revolution

HT Correspondent, July, 14, 2006: The Hindustan Times Drive Against Bribe has achieved its end. Undertaken in various cities across the country with the help of trained volunteers and self-help groups, the drive was fuelled by enthusiastic public participation. The success showed in the happy faces of the people who benefitted from the use of their Right To Information (RTI). Here are a few instances.
When doctors at GB Pant Hospital told Manav Mehra about his mother’s bypass surgery, he deposited Rs 27,000. But she was still not admitted in the hospital. An RTI application under life and liberty, under section 7(1), was drafted and filed on July 2. When Mehra approached the hospital armed with his RTI application, his mother got a bed as well as a date for surgery.
Prashant Gupta, finally got his passport to enable his journey to Australia for higher studies.
An individual was charged Rs 20 per page for photocopy. He complained to the State Information Commission. He was reimbursed the excess charges taken from him.
Elsewhere in UP
Varanasi, with 10 volunteers supervising the camp, topped the list in UP, receiving 2,000 applications till Thursday. Of these, 225 applications were processed.
Brijesh Kumar helped residents of the entire Rasoolpur village under the Jaunpur district get their ration cards by moving the appropriate authority.
In Chitrakoot, the Gram Pradhan of Unnai Bana, Vikas Khand Pahari, Chitrakoot, lodged several complaints against a ration shop owner for siphoning off ration. On July 5 he filed an RTI seeking information on the status of the complaints. An inquiry was conducted on July 8 and the shop owner was suspended.
In Sitapur, Anil Kumar Singh sought information regarding the inquiry report of the committee that was set up to investigate complaints of corruption in development funds used by the Gram Panchayat of Kesri Ganj village. He filed the RTI requisition. Within a few hours, it was revealed that the panchayat had misused the development funds over Rs 1 lakh.
Right to information has given hope to the victims of the Gujarat 2002 riots. Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayi had announced a relief package of Rs 1,500 crore for the victims. To date these victims haven’t seen even a paisa.
The volunteers at the RTI help centre in Kocharb Ashram are assisting victims to seek information regarding compensation for loss of life and property. A majority of the applicants are women.
A taxi driver lost his license about six months back. But the police refused to lodge an FIR. When he came to the RTI assistance centre, the organisers drafted his complaint and called the police station. The police officers were ready to lodge his complaint and discouraged organisers from filing the RTI.

Officials work on a Sunday, thanks to HT’s RTI campaign

HT, Avishek G Dastidar New Delhi, July 2, 2006: The following is an apt instance of how Right to Information can work wonders for you.
Owing to the Hindustan Times-supported Drive Against Bribe campaign that started only a couple of days ago, the Mehra family of Ghaziabad will not have to run from pillar to post and grease the palms of officials at the government-owned Govind Ballav Pant hospital.
This multi-specialty hospital had denied admission to a critically-ill Santosh Mehra, 62, citing a supposed unavailability of beds just a week back.
But merely two days after the Mehras filed an RTI requisition through the Drive Against Bribe camp, the doctor concerned promised the patient a bed on Tuesday. “And this is even before the hospital issued a reply to the requisition,” said a jubilant Manav, the 28-year-old son.
He should be jubilant because on June 12, the cardiology department of GB Pant had diagnosed his mother, Santosh Mehra with a fatal 99 per cent blockage in the heart, fit for an immediate bypass surgery. "The doctor had even hand-written on the report that the case needed 'urgent admission'," Manav said.
After the accounts department assured them a bed, this middle-class family borrowed from every source and deposited a draft of around Rs 60,000 to the hospital in seven days. But to their shock, the officials now claimed that a bed would be available only after months. "We did hectic running around, pleading officials and doctors for several days," Manav said. He also said that he and his 74-year-old father even went to every ward and found that several beds were lying vacant. "We got hints from some officials that bribing the right amount to the right persons would promptly end our agony," he added.
But they did not need to, because by then the Drive Against Bribe camp kicked off and helped them make use the power of RTI.
"Cases like this show that through RTI, an aggrieved citizen actually wants his job done quickly. He is not merely interested in information per se. That's the whole idea behind the campaign," said activist Manish Sisodia.
Even the authorities now agree that there was no dearth of space in this 400-seater hospital. Speaking to Hindustan Times, Director Dr Veena Chowdhry said, "I don't know which officials the Mehras dealt with, but there were enough beds vacant here for critical patients." She also said that this incident is unusual because the hospital reviews its operation schedule every week and critical cases are dealt with within 48 hours.
A relieved Mehra family will take Santosh to the hospital for admission on Tuesday. They now know that RTI really works if you say no to bribe and give your right to information a try.

RTI: Trick lies in framing question

HT, Avishek G. Dastidar New Delhi, July 1,2006: If you wanted to know how to get the best out of the Right to Information Act, here's your chance. The Drive Against Bribe campaign, which took off in earnest across the country on Saturday, will tip you on how to file an RTI application in a way that yields the maximum information and gets your work done.“An RTI application is nothing but a list of questions one asks a government agency. It is very important to frame these questions tactfully so that the government department concerned can't get away providing inadequate answers," said Manish Sishodia of Kabir, an NGO.He explained, forming the question is the key because section 8 of the Act has about ten clauses that specify the various provisions (read excuses) a government agency could use to deny information. "If your questions are not formed well, an errant department might try and impose Article 8 on it," he added.At the Nehru Yuva Kendra near ITO, volunteers of 14 NGOs and citizens' groups are ready from 11 AM to 7 PM for the next two weeks to offer all the help you need. Along with the volunteers, there is a counter with three Delhi government officials, where an aggrieved citizen can register his RTI requisition. "Our job is to collect the requisitions here and send them to departments concerned for action," said Harsuman Bisht, an official.Activists explained that in the garb of seeking information about a certain long-pending job, say, the issuance of a passport, the RTI requisition actually means to get the passport issued promptly. "At the camp's model RTI requisition, we have formulated several queries like 'Please give the names and designations of officers who have been dealing with my passport application'. Answers to questions like these force an admission of guilt. So, the department would get the job done in order to evade uncomfortable answers and in the process, you won't have to grease any palms to your passport," Manish explained. The Drive Against Bribe camp has people from all walks of life walking in with their respective problems and getting their requisitions registered.Complaints were to do with the issuance of passport, pension, licence, income-tax refund and the likes. A volunteer informed that most cases received so far are regarding water- and power-related woes. "Interestingly, there are quite a few government officials who filed requisitions about their overdue promotions and transfers," said Arvind Kejariwal from NGO Parivartan.In all, more than 60 RTI requisitions were filed at the camp on Saturday. "The campaign is picking up pace. The help-line, active from 8 AM to 8 PM daily, received 1051 calls today," Manish said.The camp is on till July 15. So, instead of bribing that corrupt official to work on your application for a duplicate voter-ID card, HT suggests you walk into the Drive Against Bribe camp and get armed with the power of RTI.

The colour of speed money

HT, Aasheesh Sharma New Delhi, June 30,2006: A bank manager who refuses to accept a ration card as residential proof; a policeman who hints at a bribe to expedite an investigation or a passport officer who keeps your application in deep freeze. These are only a few faces of the red tape and corruption one encounters every day. Instead of succumbing to the corrupt, exercising your right to information can help you deliver them a body blow.
For the uninitiated, the right to information (RTI) is a part of fundamental rights under Article 19 (1) of the Constitution. The Right to Information Act 2005 empowers citizens to ask any questions from the Government or seek any information; take copies of any Government documents; inspect Government documents; Inspect Government work and even take samples of materials of Government work. All one needs is the resolve to take the corrupt on.
Take the case of former State Bank of India official Prem Sharma. Sharma, 73, wanted to meet his pregnant daughter based in Germany. When his passport did not arrive even 75 days after his application, Sharma filed an RTI application. He got it 10 days after filing an RTI application. “This is the last resort for anybody who is dismayed by the rot in bureaucracy. The application worked like a magic wand.”
Similarly, Dilshad Garden resident Mohammed Arif applied to the MTNL for an STD connection on his Garud phone. Beyond the 48 hours stipulated for the connection, the work was delayed for over two weeks. Then Aarif was told he wouldn’t get the connection as the verification report said the phone was not in his name. After using RTI, the job was done in a day.
Spearheaded by the Hindustan Times, a number of media organisations have joined hands with NGOs such as Parivartan for a national campaign against bribes. The campaign focuses on using the Right to Information to get legitimate, pending work with the Government such as issue of passport, any type of licence, certification like marriage, death, birth, inclusion of name in voters’ list etc – without having to pay ‘speed money’.
On the ground, volunteers from hundreds of NGOs will assist citizens in filing RTI applications. The 45 cities, where assistance centres have been set up, besides Delhi are Bhilai, Chhindwara, Mumbai, Pune, Ahmedabad, Shahdol, Satna, Lucknow, Hyderabad, Vishakhapatnam, Vijaywada, Faizabad, Sangli, Satara, Indore, Guwahati, Patna, Ranchi, Raipur, Jamshedpur, Devgarh, Dhanbad, Gorakhpur, Jaipur, Ajmer, Karauli, Chittorgarh, Bhim, Abu Road, Bhadesar, Bikaner, Nokha, Bhilwara, Akola, Nagpur, Shillong, Jabalpur, Bhuvaneshwar, Chitrakoot, Dumka, Lumding, Jhanjharpur, Katni, Rajnandgaon, Ludhiana.
Over 2,000 volunteers have been trained to man assistance counters in these cities. This includes 200 volunteers in Delhi and another 250 in Mumbai.
In Delhi, volunteers will assist people in drafting RTI applications and guide them on how to deposit the fee and application with the Government at the Nehru Yuva Kendra in Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium. Two national helplines (09250492504) at (01243000000) have been set up to answer basic queries. “The bureaucracy succeeds by tiring you, hoping that you will give up. Often we do. It is time people stood up for their rights,” sums up Manish Sisodia of Parivartan.

Don’t grease their palms — use RTI

HT, Aasheesh Sharma New Delhi, June 28, 2006: When A sewer line in Hauz Khas got choked, resident Madhuri Bhaskar complained to the Delhi Jal Board — but to little avail. After waiting for a month, she finally filed an application under the Right to Information (RTI) Act to know the status of her complaint. In two days, the sewer problem vanished.
The RTI Act can work wonders when there is a delay in getting work done — be it the issue of pass port, driving licence or a telephone connection, or getting a faulty water meter changed. Bribery can be confined to the dustbin in the corridors of power and dingy offices.
Starting July 1, a nation wide campaign against bribery — “Drive Against Bribery with Right to Information” — is being launched by the Hindustan Times along with other media houses and NGOs.
People will be asked not to pay bribes. Instead, help centres will be opened in 42 cities across the country where volunteers will help people file RTI applications.
In Delhi, the help centres will be open at the Nehru Yuva Kendra and the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium.
If you have filed documents and completed formalities and are still facing problems in getting a passport, voter ID card, licences and certificates, or in rectifying errors in electricity and telephone bills, or in filing an FIR, you can visit these centres, draft the RTI application and deposit the fee.
A helpline (09250492504) will also be open to answer basic queries.
The Delhi government, meanwhile, has directed all ministries and departments to make arrangements to deal with the large number of applications that are expected to be filed during the campaign.
HT will bring you news you can use at various stages of the campaign.

Striking the right chord

HT, Rathin Das, Ahmedabad, June 30, 2006: The hand has right to know why it is without work; the leg has right to know why it has to walk long; the hungry has right to know whyfood-grains rot in the godowns; the child has right toknow why he toils day and night; the river has right to know why its waters are being poisoned by the factory effluents.
These are just few lines of a song composed by activist couple Vinay Mahajan and Charul Bharwada to enthuse the volunteers working for the fortnight-long campaign for assisting citizens in the use of the Right to Information Act (RTI Act).
Nearly 70 civil society organisations in Gujarat have teamed up to coordinate the campaign under the banner of Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel (Gujarat Initiative for Right to Information). Though the campaign is being officially launched from July 1, a telephone helpline started by the apex body has received more than 900 calls in the 45 days of its operation. To the surprise of the campaign organizers,it was found that 67 per cent of the calls were from common people like street vendors, labourers, farmers and poor villagers.
They all enquired about the reasons for lack of school, or PHCs not having medicines, or non-issue of ration cards — much the same as some lines of the song composed for the occasion. But what the emotive song composed by the singer duo could not anticipate was that in some cases poor people have indeed faced harassment for having asked embarrassing questions under the RTI Act.
Upon asking the municipal authorities whether his house was due for demolition under the new Town Planning rule, a house owner in Ahmedabad was threatened by an Estate Office staff. In Mehsana, people living in shanties have genuine fears that they might attract municipal bulldozers if they dare to seek information about delays in ration cards distribution, said environment activist Rahul Mangaonkar.
Prof Jagdeep Chokar of IIM-A, the campaign coordinator, said that misuse of the Act cannot be ruled out but hastened to add that the main purpose is to bring in transparency in administration.

It’s a revolution

HT, Avishek G Dastidar, New Delhi, July 4, 2006: Responding to public demand, the Delhi part of the nationwide Drive Against Bribe campaign spread its tentacles outside the official camp at Indira Gandhi Stadium on Tuesday.
The organising members of the campaign have now set up two small camps specially dedicated to passport-related queries right outside the passport offices in R.K. Puram and in Sakarpur in East Delhi. The main camp will go on alongside as it is.
"From the very first day, we had been noticing that most of the queries regarding RTI requisition were related to the issuance of passports. Most had the problem that their passport applications were gathering government dust for ages. There were even those who wanted duplicate passports issued," said activist Arvind Kejriwal.
That is why on Tuesday, a team of volunteers were deployed at the two passport offices to sort help hundreds troubled citizens file their RTI requisitions.
And these, shall we say, sub-camps, will be running along with the main camp till July 15.
But things were not that easy for the proponents of RTI.
"Upon several complaints, we went to one passport office to see how RTI-friendly the place was. We were utterly shocked to find that even some key officials there did not have a clue of how to process an RTI requisition," said activist Manish Sisodia.
Campaign members said that the main problem people were facing was that their requisitions were not being registered. "That's why we decided to hold special, dedicated camps for passport-related matters," said Vaibhav, a member. Each sub-camp will have 10 volunteers, eager to help you file your requisition and get it registered at the passport office, from 11 am to 7 pm. In fact, on the very first day, the camps helped file more than 40 requisitions. "On Monday, the passport office at R.K. Puram was not receiving RTI requisitions. So we took people to the GPO and filed the same," Arvind said.
Meanwhile, at the main camp, the number of requisitions filed touched 140, almost double of Monday's figures.
However, Tuesday's success at the passport offices was not without hurdles.
"At one place, the cops arrived and started fighting with the volunteers saying that such camps could not be set up. Arguments went for long and almost turned to manhandling. But then, we were able to convince them that it was not illegal to set up such a camp outside a government office," Manish said.
Alongside Delhi's growing success, the so-far successful Mumbai camp received few visitors on Tuesday, thanks to heavy rain. "But elsewhere, the numbers of both visitors and requisitions filed at the camps are mounting," said an activist.

Magic of RTI: Mention word, get job done

HT Correspondent, New Delhi, July 11, 2006: Apart from getting thousands of pending jobs done through RTI applications, Drive Against Bribe campaign can also claimed to have succeeded in creating awareness about the magic of mere mention of right to information.
For example, on Tuesday, the camp at Indira Gandhi Indoor stadium received two happy visitors who had just come to inform volunteers that the very mention of the Right to Information Act had got their jobs done.
A relative of 27-seven-year-old Atiq Hussain, a businessman from Dilshad Garden, was not getting ration for six months despite having a valid card. "The PDS shop kept saying that there were some problems with the card and we needed to go to higher officials and get it sorted out," he said.
After days of fighting with the men at the ration shop, Hussain decided to pull the RTI trick. "I told them that I was going to file an RTI application," he said. The next day, a man came to Hussain's relative and informed her that she would be getting her ration from now on and that there was no need to bring RTI in the picture. "Actually, I was never going to file an application. But I knew the threat would do the trick," Ranjan laughed.
He came to the camp to inform that he had got the clever idea after reading about the success of the ongoing drive in this newspaper.
In another instance, Smitha Hegde of Janakpuri approached camp members to tell a similar story.
"My husband had lost his passport and applied for a duplicate one three months back. We learnt that the job does not take even three months," she said. Smitha went to the local passport office and told an official that she would be filing an RTI application. "When I asked him how to file an RTI application the officer promised that he would have my passport ready in two days. And he kept his promise," Smitha said.
On Day 11 of the camp, 282 applications were registered at four different camps. Nearly 500 people visited throughout the day. The national help-line of the drive assisted around 1,132 callers from across the country.

Other Stories & Their Links:

Visitors brave heavy rains, troop into camp venue

Words of praise from Dikshit

Commission clamps down on erring authorities

Campaign gathers pace

On Day 13, numbers speak of campaign’s popularity

Hindustan Times Correspondent, New Delhi, July 13, 2006: The HT-supported Drive Against Bribe Campaign proved that when it comes to fighting for the commoner's right to information, the supposed curse around number 13 is not a deterrent.
On day-13, the campaign thrived with more turnout across the country with 481 RTI applications filed. The number of queries through phone calls and visitors at RTI camps touched 5,000. That is the highest so far.
The Delhi camp at IG stadium defied the law of average and continued clocking large figures of both visitors and RTI applications.
With 221 RTI applications filed in Delhi on Thursday, the camp saw a sizeable number of visitors who just came over to witness the revolution of people's power that has been unfurling at the camp.
News of the camp's impact kept pouring in. Volunteers found that at the office of the Deputy Commissioner, the need to get work done through RTI was diminishing. "The DC himself attended to 15 cases of caste certificates and election I cards on the spot. This is the same office which had been generating a lot of grievances till sometime back," said a volunteer.
The DC assured that all pending cases will be taken care of and the caste and income certificates that had been prepared would be dispatched to applicants via post.
The sub-camps at the passport offices, too, had their share of success. Syed Abu Haider Zaidi from South Delhi, who had applied for his passport 2 years ago, had taken recourse to RTI through the camp on July 7. He came to the sub-camp at Bikaji Cama Place to inform that he received his passport on Thursday.
Mumbai, where people are fighting the aftermath of a mammoth terror-attack, saw more than 100 RTI applications filed on Day-13.
In the 13 days that the camps have been helping people, there have been success stories all over. Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit visited the camp las week and showered words of praise on both the effort and the spirit of the volunteers. She also instructed officials to do all they could to help with RTI applications.
With 2 more days before it officially ends, the campaign looks to be approaching a memorable climax.

Delhi wakes up to RTI drive

Hindustan Times, Avishek G Dastidar, New Delhi, July 14, 2006: The 15-day Drive Against Bribe campaign ends today, as more and more bureaucrats realise that dilly-dallying over work could cost them their jobs, thanks to the RTI Act, 2005.
“The campaign has proved that, as an antidote to bribery and red tape, nothing works better,” says Manav Mehra from Ghaziabad.
He should know — he owes his mother’s wellbeing to the HT-supported drive. His critically ill mother was refused prompt admission at a super-specialty government hospital even after he paid the fees. He filed an RTI application to the hospital authorities. Within two days, the hospital offered his mother a bed and a vital surgery was done.
In fact, the very mention of RTI has the babus working. “I just told a passport official that I’d file an RTI application. The next day, my husband’s application for a duplicate passport — pending for three months — was processed and the passport delivered,” says Janakpuri’s Smitha Hegde.
The Delhi government pitched in, deputing three officials for help. Said Chief Minister Shiela Dixit: “This seems a perfect way of citizens taking stock of their government.”
Owing to public demand, besides the IG Stadium camp, sub-camps were set up in other parts of the city. “People kept requesting for help. We had to set up sub-camps at two regional passport offices and seven ADM offices,” says Manish Sisodia, a member of one of the 14 NGOs that operated. In all, over 200 volunteers participated at the Delhi camps.

Friday, January 5, 2007

Info boss 'homeless', invokes RTI

Hindustan Times, Aloke Tikku, New Delhi, August 3, 2006: He sits in judgement on the merits of RTI applications but has no home to go back to. Tired of living out of a suitcase for eight months, information commissioner O.P. Kejariwal on Wednesday took refuge under the RTI law. He filed an application under the information law to ask the government why he was still homeless.
The urban development ministry had identified a Lodhi Estate bungalow for him two months ago but never got around to allotting him the bungalow. In his RTI request filed before the urban development ministry’s PIO, Kejariwal asked what was keeping the ministry from issuing the orders.
The file had been pending in the office of Union urban development minister Jaipal Reddy.
Kejariwal’s set of six questions indicated that he suspected the ministry might have discriminated against him. Besides inquiring how long the file had been pending with the minister and the “reasons for not clearing the file till now”, he also sought details of all allottees in Type VII and VIII houses from November, the laid-down criteria for allotment, whether anyone junior to him had been allotted a house after November 2005 and, if so, “the reasons for such discrimination”.
In the absence of a “proper residential accommodation”, the former director of the Nehru Memorial Museum has been staying at the India International Centre since his appointment last year.
Kejariwal said he had to invoke RTI since his written communications to the minister remained unanswered.
UD ministry officials attributed the delay in allotment of official accommodation to bungalow shortage but refused to say why the file got stuck in the minister’s office. “We will have to check,” an official said.
But if the reaction of government departments to similar RTI applications is any indicator, the information commissioner could get the allotment letter before he receives an answer to his queries.,0008.htm

Govt officials seek RTI help

HT Correspondent, New Delhi, July 6: The HT-supported Drive Against Bribe campaign has been approached by a lot of government officials who want to use the power of RTI to know the status on pending transfers and due promotions.
The camp at IG stadium, being right next to the Delhi Secretariat, has also been witnessing a lot of curious babus walking in just to check out the activities there. "The campaign has generated a certain amount of interest among certain sections of government servants. It is in a way ironical, since the movement seeks to curb corruption in these very circles," said an official. However, the Delhi government has been an ally of the campaign throughout. Two days ago, it even sent a circular to all its offices asking them to cooperate with the volunteers manning the drive.
On the same lines, on Thursday, the camp welcomed the Secretary General of Rajya Sabha, Yogendra Narain, who interacted with the volunteers and watched the proceedings for a while.
Meanwhile, volunteers at the sub-camps, set up on Wednesday outside the seven SDM offices, seemed to be getting busier by the day. "At Mehrauli the SDM asked us to shift the camp to the ADM's office since the RTI requisitions would be going there. But we held on to our ground. So he sent an official to get the RTI receipt book and start registering them," said one of the volunteers. But apart from that, volunteers at other SDM offices have reported full cooperative effort from government officials while filing the requisitions. The Mehrauli camp registered five requisitions and the camp in Daryaganj filed five. Within an hour of opening, the Nandnagri helpdesk filed 46 requisitions.
Nerve center of the Delhi campaign, the camp at IG stadium received a total of 145 visitors on Thursday. "In all, about 130 applications were filed on issues ranging from ration cards, Delhi police complaints, passport, PF, matters related to the DDA, Income Tax and others," said a volunteer.
Even nationwide, the campaign's success seems to be multiplying by the day. On Thursday alone, over 1300 requisitions were filed from across the country while the number of visitors was around the 2,200 mark.

Information technology

Hindustan Times, Ajit Bhattacharjea, January 3, 2006: The year 2006 will go down in history as the year when democracy became an actuality in India, when the equation between governor and the governed altered. It was the year that the innermost defences set up by an entrenched bureaucracy to protect their ultimate source of power — secrecy — were breached. The flag was lowered, surreptitiously and unannounced, towards the end of the year when their remaining missile, an amendment to the Right to Information Act, designed to be fired in the winter session of Parliament, misfired.
The last defence line was thrown round the most precious bureaucratic privilege, anonymity. The Official Secrets Act, imposed before Independence, had enabled officials to recommend or endorse any decision or action, secure in the knowledge that their role would not be exposed to public gaze. With increasing criminalisation of politics and administration, pressures to twist the rules were mounting. This could be done safely as long as the notes they initialled on the relevant files were treated as sacrosanct.
So, moves to enter this privileged ground under the protection of the Right to Information Act had to be resisted, leading to the great ‘Battle of the File Notings’ of 2006. Defence strategy was devised by the highest bureaucratic command, disguised as the Department of Planning and Training (DoPT). The defences were manned by the cream of the Indian Administrative Service, but their ranks had been undermined from within by renegade bureaucrats who took their pledge to serve the public seriously. The battle was joined early in the year when retired officials, placed in the crucial Central Information Commission, let down their side. They ruled that the right to seek information contained in file notings could not be denied under the existing provisions of the Act.
The DoPT took up the challenge the way it knew best, by trying to change the rules of the game, the existing provisions. A comprehensive amendment to the Act was drafted. Two of its provisions were designed to protect file notings; two others catered to other administrative anxieties. Disclosure of file notings, except in social and developmental issues; and disclosure of the identity of individuals who put down file notings, were specifically barred. So were disclosure of information pertaining to any examination conducted by any public authority and disclosure of ministerial decisions ‘till the matter is complete or over’.
Details of the counter-offensive leaked out after they were circulated to secure key allies. Among those roped in was the Prime Minister. He was persuaded to endorse the proposed changes as designed to “promote even greater transparency and accountability in the decision-making process”. But the ammunition DoPT procured had a built-in defect; it exploded on the defenders. It was based on the strange argument that honest officers might suffer unless shielded by the amendment. The public saw it as a means to protect the dishonest.
Originally planned for the monsoon session of Parliament, then for the winter session, the amendment disappeared without trace. No reference to file notings was made by the President or Prime Minister when they addressed the National Convention to celebrate one year of the implementation of the Right to Information Act in October. It was mentioned by the keynote speaker, PC Alexander; a seasoned bureaucrat, but only to ridicule the suggestion that honest officers could be deterred by transparency.
Unwittingly, the DoPT had done a great service to right to information (RTI). The chain of angry statements and demonstrations it sparked demonstrated that the movement was unstoppable. The print and electronic media entered the fray. It also helped to publicise the campaign to expand the ranks of the movement with intensive two-week training sessions in cities and towns throughout the country to educate the public on how to deploy the RTI Act to check bribery.
The Battle of the File Notings was the most notable, but it was not an isolated victory. Successful skirmishes were reported throughout 2006. One of the most heartening came from Naraini block of Banda, one of the most backward districts in Uttar Pradesh. No electricity, no roads, no bridge over flooded rivers, the villages were cut off. Conditions had not changed since Independence. But an application filed under the RTI Act demanding information about the District Magistrate’s visit and the orders he had passed, and details of how the money allocated to the area had been spent, initiated action for the first time.The application was filed on July 1. Within a month, work began on an approach road, a bridge and on electric connections. A group of NGO volunteers had educated the local villagers on the procedure of utilising the RTI Act.
The Act came too late to help poor tribals of the backward areas of Orissa. But details of their plight in previous years, extracted by the RTI Act and reported in the press, revealed a high level of official persecution. Some tribals were fined for pilfering fruits and forest produce valued as little as Rs 2 Bullock carts and bicycles were seized for theft of produce valued at Rs 10. Such disclosures led to the framing of laws to protect forest dwellers.
The poorest of the poor are getting some protection under the RTI Act. Applications for detailed disclosure of expenditure under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act are discouraging the practice of expanding the number employed and reducing the wages paid.
Elements in the bureaucracy are fighting a rearguard action to counter the transparency offensive. Applicants are being deterred by levying exorbitant fees for processing information. Penalties for delay are being overlooked. The biggest hurdle is for state governments to ignore their obligations under the RTI Act.
In this, ministers are involved. They, too, fear transparency. Information Commissioners are not appointed, or filled with retired bureaucrats known for lack of independence. Public Information Officers, the key officials who receive applications, are not designated. Adequate office space with secretarial assistance is not provided.
A crucial battle was won in 2006 but the war is not over.
Ajit Bhattacharjea is former Director, Press Institute of India,00120001.htm