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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