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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