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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Centre pips state in RTI disposal race

Publication: Times Of India Mumbai; Date: Feb 7, 2009; Section: Times City; Page: 2

Viju B I TNN

Mumbai: An audit of the performance of the state’s six information commissioners reveals that they have been dealing with an average of just five Right to Information (RTI) appeals and complaints per day. The figures show that on an average, each of the six commissioners disposed a little less than 150 appeals and complaints every month, during 2008.

“All the commissioners have abysmal disposal rates. If they do not hear more cases on a daily basis, people will lose faith in the RTI Act. Already, people have to wait for over a year for their appeals to come up for hearing,’’ said RTI activist Bhaskar Prabhu, who filed an RTI query on this issue.

While the information commissioner of Nagpur, Vilas Patil, topped with 2,003 disposals, the state chief information commissioner, Suresh Joshi, came second with 1,983 disposals last year. At the bottom of the list were Navin Kumar, information commissioner of Navi Mumbai with 1,298 cases and V Kuvlekar, information commissioner of Pune, who dealt with 1,728 appeals. The total number of pending appeals till December 2008 was 15,026.

According to activists, ideally, an information commissioner can deal with about 250-300 cases per month. The Central Information Commissioner (CIC), Shailesh Gandhi, for instance, has heard 670 appeals in January 2009, and his colleague, Annapurna Dixit, disposed of 330 appeals in the same period. “We hope that the state information commissioners take a cue from this and increase their disposal rates,’’ Prabhu said.

Meanwhile, Joshi told TOI that the steep rise in pendency was due to the fact that for t h e initial period of one year and six months, the state had only one commissioner. “But now, we have improved our disposal rate and are slightly better than the CIC. We have disposed appeals and complaints that have been pending up to October last year. This year, we hope to reduce the gap even further,’’ Joshi said.

RTI activists said the state information commissions should not include appeals that have been returned (without hearing) in the total number of appeals that have been heard. “The CIC does not include the appeals returned along with appeals heard,’’ a senior CIC official confirmed.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Bihar RTI-on-phone project earns it top e-governance prize

Publication: Times Of India Delhi; Date: Feb 7, 2009; Section: Times Nation; Page: 7

Vishwa Mohan | TNN

New Delhi: Bihar’s unique attempt to accept Right to Information (RTI) applications through phone calls — Jaankari — has been selected by the Centre for the first prize (gold) for “outstanding performance in citizen centric service delivery” under its e-Governance project for the year 2008-09.

Incidentally, 11 of the total 18 National Awards for e-Governance under different categories this year have gone to NDA-ruled states with Gujarat taking the lead with five prizes, including one gold, one silver and three bronze.

Announcing the annual awards, minister of state for personnel Prithviraj Chavan said: “These awards are given to recognize and promote excellence in implementation of e-governance initiatives.”

Under the category of citizen-centric service delivery in which Bihar won the gold for Jaankari, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh were selected got the bronze for their ekrishi-kisan (Agricultural University, Anand) and HIMPOL (state police website), respectively.

Praising the Bihar government’s citizen-centric service delivery project “Jaankari - RTI facilitation on phone”, Chavan said: “In this, you can make a phone call and the call centre person will keep all the details. The cost of the RTI application will be deducted by adding it to the phone call charges.” He said the Delhi government had also shown an interest in implementing the project.

The awards to these states will be given away during the 12th National Conference on e-Governance in Goa on February 12-13. On excellence in government process re-engineering, Chhattisgarh’s department of food and civil supplies bagged the first prize while in the exemplary horizontal transfer of best practice the first prize went to Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation.

Nagpur Municipal Corporation, the national panchayat portal of the ministry of panchayati raj and the Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services, Hyderabad, won awards in the category of best government websites. Tripura, Karnataka and Haryana were the other states which won awards in different categories for their efforts towards promoting e-governmence for the benefit of citizens. Chavan said as part of Centre’s initiative to streamline the official websites, the government has issued guidelines for all official portals which will help people to get required information easily.

CIC members choose not to declare assets

Publication: Times Of India Chennai; Date: Jan 31, 2009; Section: Front Page; Page: 1
Himanshi Dhawan | TNN

New Delhi: Information commissioners have chosen not to disclose their own assets on the Central Information Commission’s website, in a development which may cause many to wonder whether the transparency watchdog has trouble following what it preaches to others.

In a candid admission, chief information commissioner Wajahat Habibullah said, “All information commissioners have declared their assets but they felt that this information should not be put on the commission’s website. They did not want it on the CIC website.”

Queried further why the transparency watchdog was not keen on disclosure of its assets, Habibullah said, “The commissioners felt that they could put up the information on their personal website.”

Crucially, none of the eight information commissioners have their own website. Info commissioners contest public display of their assets

New Delhi: In a development which may come as a surprise to many whether the transparency watchdog, the Central Information Commission, has trouble following what it preaches to others, the information commissioners, save a couple of exceptions, vigorously contested the idea of full public disclosure of their assets in a recent CIC meeting.

They felt that giving income details on the commission’s website would force state commissioners to follow suit, giving opportunity to those who wish to “embarrass them”. S o u rc e s said that since it was not “legally binding”, the commissioners decided to reject the idea.

Though the law does not require the commissioners to make their assets public, information rights activists including Shailesh Gandhi, a commissioner himself, feel that the CIC should not take shelter behind technicalities. In fact, commissioners have often frowned upon and ruled against those who have cited procedures and conventions to resist demands that their assets be put in the public domain.

The dec i s i o n c o m e s days after a CIC order in which it ruled that the Chief Justice of India is a public authority and information held by the CJI’s office — including the number and names of judges who have filed their assets — should be made public.

The decision has been challenged by the SC in the Delhi high court.

The issue of declaration of assets by information commissioners was first raised by activist-turned-CIC member Shailesh Gandhi, who has made his property statement public.

In November 2008, a Pune-based applicant sent an e-mail to Habibullah asking information commissioners to reveal their personal income. In his reply, Gandhi gave details of his personal income and family wealth amounting to Rs 5.38 crore.

He also wrote to Habibullah suggesting that other commissioners should, in public interest, follow suit.

While making public details about his income, Gandhi said in response to an RTI appeal, “I believe that my decision to transparently declare my income and assets is right.”


The CIC owes its very existence to the principle of transparency in public life. It must therefore go beyond just what the law mandates in furthering the cause of transparency. While passing orders on others it will be restricted by what the law says, in its own case it would do well to set a moral example for others to follow. This could be done by pro-active disclosures that may not, strictly speaking, be legally required. Hopefully, this will also shame other public bodies into following suit.

BMC moves to punish officer for RTI delay

Publication: Times Of India Mumbai; Date: Feb 4, 2009; Section: Front Page; Page: 1

Mumbai: The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s city engineer has issued a show cause notice to a public information officer—in this case, the deputy chief engineer (planning and development)—asking why his increment for next year should not be withheld.

The order comes after state information commissioner Suresh Joshi levied a fine Rs 25,000 on the officer for not despatching a Right To Information (RTI) application to the department concerned in time. The state information commissioner had also said in his order that the municipal commissioner should investigate the delay and take action as necessary.

Probe against errant info officers welcome

Mumbai: Besides the Rs 25,000 fine on the public information officer (PIO) of the BMC city engineer’s office, state information commissioner Suresh Joshi has ordered an inquiry into his counterpart in the industries department for violating the norms of the Right To Information (RTI) Act. RTI activists have welcomed both orders. “We hope that the babus will now be more careful about denying information to RTI applicants,’’ said RTI activist Bhaskar Prabhu.

The case against the PIO of the city engineer’s office came up for hearing at the state information commission after RTI applicant S K Nangia complained that both the urban development department and the BMC denied him a copy of the report on a state committee’s investigation into the collapse of Laxmi Chhaya building in Borivli.

“I had wanted details of this report as it was of immense public interest. Thirty people lost their lives, and there was extensive damage to

the property due to the building collapse,’’ Nangia said.

The PIO of the city engineer’s office told Nangia his application had been forwarded to the urban development department, since the latter had the report. The urban development department in turn told him that the files had been forwarded to the municipal commissioner’s office, which in turn had forwarded them to the city engineer’s office.

“The shuttling of files went on for quite some time. So, I had to file a complaint with the state information commission,’’ Nangia said. Six months went by before he received the information he had sought. The state information commission has noted that this was in violation of the norms of the RTI Act.

“The manner in which the urban development department dealt with the application was appalling. Since the department had received the report, its PIO should clearly have provided the information. Also, even if the PIO of the city engineer’s office didn’t have the information, he should have sent the application to the department concerned within five days. The PIO of the city engineer’s office has therefore failed to discharge his responsibility and is liable for action,’’ Joshi said.

Students get right to see answersheets

Publication: Times of India Mumbai; Date: Feb 6, 2009; Section: Front Page; Page: 1

Kolkata: Allowing transparency in the evaluation system, the Calcutta high court on Thursday ruled that students had the right to see their answersheets and educational institutions should allow it.

The verdict came on an appeal by Calcutta University against a single bench’s order directing it to show a maths answersheet to Presidency College student Pritam Rooj after he had sought a re-evaluation. Under the current system, students who doubt the marking can seek a revaluation of their answersheets. But that is done by the examiner and students have to take the examiner’s word for it.

Giving its ruling, a division bench comprising Chief Justice S S Nijjar and Justice Dipankar Datta directed those concerned to act on all such pending applications and show the answersheets to aggrieved students within a month. The bench, however, also set a time limit for students to see their answersheets. ‘Statute gives pupils right to see scripts’

Kolkata: The Calcutta HC has ruled in favour of Presidency College student Pritam Rooj in his battle against the university to see his maths Paper V answersheet.

In the earlier single bench order, Justice Sanjib Banerjee had held that a student had the right to see his answer paper under Article 19 of the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression. The row began after Rooj, a second-year honours student, applied to Calcutta University seeking a review of his answersheet for Paper V. Rooj was upset with the poor marks (28) which he had got. The varsity undertook a review and gave him pass marks of 32.

Not satisfied, he approached the varsity again, urging it to point out his mistakes and allow him to see his answers under the RTI Act. The university had rejected his plea saying its rules did not permit it. University counsel Sambuddha Chakrabarty had argued that Rooj was not asking for any new information as he was aware of what he had written.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

CIC makes it easier to access court records

Publication: Times Of India Delhi; Date: Feb 1, 2009; Section: Times City; Page: 2

New Delhi: In a ruling that promises to make it easier for litigants to access judicial files/records from courts, the Central Information Commission has made it clear that courts can’t rebuff RTI pleas on the ground that the information asked should be asked for via Evidence Act. The Act requires a person to apply for ‘‘file inspection’’ and leaves it to the discretion of courts to approve the plea. If allowed, a litigant is granted certified copies of a case document, having legal sanctity.

The Central Information Commission’s ruling takes out this discretion of courts and says under RTI Act, court administration will have to provide the information demanded, unless it is exempted from disclosure under RTI itself.

With a section of Evidence Act overlapping with provisions of RTI — the newer act — Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi decided in favour of the information seeker, holding that the RTI Act will have an overriding effect on any other law, in this case the Evidence Act, for instance, when there is an obligation on a public agency to disclose information. ‘‘If a public authority has a process of disclosing certain information which can also be accessed by a citizen using RTI, it is the citizen’s right to decide which route he wishes to

use. The existence of another method for accessing information can’t be used to deny a citizen the right to information... it is a citizen’s right to use the most convenient and efficacious means available to him,’’ Gandhi observed in a recent order, asking the PIO of Tis Hazari Courts in the Capital to supply information to one Vinay Kumar in 15 days time.

Kumar had moved CIC in appeal after his plea under RTI for judicial files from a particular court in Tis Hazari complex was shot down by court administration.

A lawyer by profession, he had asked for copies of ‘‘suit files and suit disposal records’’ of a judge from the period 26.2.93 to 31.3.93. The PIO declined Kumar’s request saying he should apply under Evidence Act and ask for a certified copy from the copying agency, a reasoning upheld by the first appellate authority, forcing Kumar to approach CIC.

The PIO claimed before CIC that no information was ‘‘held’’ by court yet maintained a copy of old record could be furnished only after court’s permission, otherwise his disclosing would invite contempt action. But CIC countered, pointing out ‘‘there is no specific order of a court expressly forbidding the information from being published. PIO’s plea it would constitute contempt of court is without any basis.’’

CIC Raps AMU Over Delay in Providing Class XI Admission Test Information

Delivering a significant decision (Decision No. CIC/SG/A/2008/00217/1489 dt. 4th Feb 2009) bound to open up the examination system at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) veiled in artificial secrecy, Information Commissioner, Shri Shailesh Gandhi, directed the Public Information Officer (PIO) to provide the information on points under contention before 15th Feb 2009.
It is worth mentioning that the information seeker Mr Nishit Sharma, resident of Gurdwara Road, Aligarh, had asked for information relating Class XI admission test conducted by AMU for the session 2008-09. The applicant had requested for main and waiting list for Class XI together with the names, roll numbers, marks obtained, rank of the candidates in the said list, cut off merit, criteria for selection, copy of question booklet of the series attempted by him, copy of both sides of the OMR sheet, test centres at which the selected candidates had appeared etc.
The RTI application was filed on 6/10/2008 under Life and Liberty clause and the PIO Mr Wajid Ali in his reply dt. 10/10/2008 had denied most of the information sought. The First Appellate Authority Mr Rizwan ur Rehman had not even replied.
Appearing the CIC, PIO claimed that now the information has been supplied to the applicant on 29/1/2009 . The PIO claimed that all the desired information had been supplied to the applicant while on two points related to providing of main and waiting list, he had avoided provising information by stating that it was "very voluminous".
The PIO was able to give no reason for delay and the CIC warned him that his actions invite penal provisions of Section 20(1). Pronouncing his decision, CIC Shri Shailesh Gandhi, found the First Appellate Authority Mr Rizwan ur Rehman guilty of gross dereliction of duty, since he had not bothered to take cognizance of the First Appeal. He was also warned by the Commission to do his duty diligently.