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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

CIC takes on IAS lobby over appointment criteria

RIGHT TO KNOW, Manoj Mitta | TNN, Publication: Times Of India Delhi; Date:2008 Jun 25; Section:Times Nation; Page Number 13

New Delhi: Thanks to judicial intervention, the Central Information Commission (CIC) has mustered the will to take on the powerful IAS lobby on an appeal filed by Magsaysay awardee Arvind Kejriwal.
The disclosures ordered by CIC on June 12 have opened up the possibility of finding out how many of the senior officers appointed to the levels of secretary and additional secretary in various ministries fulfiled the prescribed criterion of ‘‘specific suitability.’’
A three-member bench of CIC directed the government that it could not claim to have complied with its orders although it had disclosed details of the appointments made only up to the level of joint secretary. Since most of the posts above the level of joint secretary are held by IAS officers, Kejriwal had sought information on all senior bureaucratic appointees to ascertain whether they met the central staffing scheme’s stipulation of ‘‘specific suitability’’ despite being drawn mainly from the generalist stream.
The three-member bench’s decision overturns an April 2007 order in which CIC member M M Ansari had rejected Kejriwal’s complaint that, by denying him access to the files, the government had failed to comply with a July 2006 direction for transparency.
Curiously, Ansari was allowed to be part of the three-member bench constituted to reconsider his April 2007 order in the wake of a Delhi high court direction obtained by Kejriwal in September 2007. In the event, the fresh hearing held this year did bring about
a change in his view as Ansari went along with the other two members on the bench in acknowledging that the government could hardly claim to have complied with CIC’s order without showing Kejriwal a scrap of paper related to the appointments of secretaries and additional secretaries.
In its unanimous order of June 12, the bench comprising Ansari, O P Kejariwal and Padma Balasubramanian directed the department of personnel and training and cabinet secretariat to allow inspection of — and make copies of — the files related to the appointments to the levels of secretary and additional secretary to the government of India. CIC also got around RTI restrictions on disclosure of third party information. This is because Kejriwal conceded that he would not seek copies of the annual confidential report of each of the officers. CIC agreed with his suggestion that he could be shown the chart displaying the grading of the officers. ‘‘Since the charts as such would not contain any personal information, the commission saw no objection in providing these to the appellant,’’ it said.
Kejriwal, a former revenue service officer, has been seeking to uncover the nature of bureaucratic postings since November 2005. His RTI application raised the hackles of the IAS lobby which saw it as an attempt to expose their near-monopoly over top posts regardless of their suitability for the increasingly technical demands of those jobs. The information asked for may lay bare the manipulations that allow an officer to be posted as telecom secretary, for instance, without having any qualification or experience in that specialized field.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

RTI Act effective against graft: U.N. report

The Hindu (National), Special Correspondent
“India has implemented key options”
NEW DELHI: The Right to Information Act 2005 was “one of the most progressive legislations” in the developing world for tackling corruption, according to a United Nations report released on Thursday.

India was one of the eight countries in Asia and the Pacific to enact such a legislation, the United Nations Development Report on “Tackling Corruption, Transforming Lives – Accelerating Human Development in Asia and the Pacific” said, adding it was perhaps too soon to judge whether the legislation had worked throughout the region.

The process through which the Act was drafted and came into force in India illustrated the power of sustained pressure: when the government proposed to amend the law to exclude some administrative files and Cabinet papers from it, intense pressure from civil society organisations forced it to drop the plan, the report said.

India’s law was particularly effective, the report said, because it specified information that must be disclosed on a proactive basis, including some that would help expose corruption.
Precise information

The Act also allowed individuals and organisations investigating corruption to ask for precise information.

For example, while generally excluding information from the intelligence agencies, it specifically allowed for the disclosure of information “pertaining to allegations of corruption or human rights violations.”

According to the report, India had implemented a number of key options to combat corruption.

They included the progressive Right to Information Act, using Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and e-governance to make the administration more transparent, encouraging media and citizen initiatives and becoming a signatory to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption.

The report found that where democracy was most effective at checking corruption, it did not necessarily do so through the system-level “hardware” such as elections, but through the deeper ability to voice demands that were taken seriously by the government – that of the civil society organisation.

At the same time, there were many other ways individuals could act to combat corruption: asking questions, resisting demands for bribes, reporting the activities of corrupt officials and refusing to deal with corrupt businesses.
Role of media hailed

The report also appreciated the role of the media and investigative journalists against high-profile offenders leading to their resignations and prosecutions.

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Sunday, June 15, 2008

UP Govt GO for making RTI effective

Lucknow: The Right to Information Act may yet catch a road to effective implementation. Chief secretary Atul Kumar Gupta has, in government order dated June 6, laid down guidelines to be mandatorily followed by public authority vis-a-vis RTI Act.
Addressed to all principal secretaries, heads of departments, divisional commissioners and district magistrates, the order has asked authorities to get PAs follow RTI norms. Compiled information from PAs is to be submitted to administrative reforms department by June 30. The order has defined PAs as bodies owned, controlled and funded by Central and state governments. PAs also include nongovernment bodies, directly or indirectly funded by government. The most important requirement is maintaining of records, indexing and sequencing of documents.
The order has pointed out that computerised records could make the job of providing timely information all the more easy, as these records would have better accessibility. The section 4(1)(B) of the Act entails 16 categories of information all PAs are expected to upload on their website. PAs will have to provide information like names and designations of public information officers (PIOs), their PAs specialities, work, powers and duties of officers and staff, documents held by them and directions issued to them.
Publication of all categories of information is a must. PAs can also list information other than categories defined under the section. PAs will have to update information every year and publicise information through newspapers, announcements, information boards and internet. PAs will have to suo moto disclose information to public through various media so that lesser number of people resort to RTI Act.
Publication: Times Of India Lucknow; Date:2008 Jun 15; Section:Times City; Page Number 3