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Saturday, April 25, 2009

RS to disclose MPs’ assets under RTI

Publication: Times of India Mumbai; Date: Apr 22, 2009; Section: Dance Of Democracy; Page: 15
New Delhi: The Rajya Sabha has agreed to provide asset details of the Union ministers, who are members of the House, to an RTI applicant.

The Rajya Sabha secretariat while replying to an RTI query from Subhash Chandra Agrawal, said details about assets and liabilities of 16 out of 18 ministers belonging to the Rajya Sabha were available with it. Agrawal wanted information on assets, wealth and income of all the ministers in the UPA government and their spouse. But the matter kept scuttling between the PMO and cabinet secretariat.

In December last year, the PMO informed Agrawal that details could not be given as the information was exempted from disclosure.

During the hearing of the plea, the CIC referred the matter to the speakers of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha saying “such information is not disclosable except with the permission of the speaker.’’

After the decision, Agrawal filed fresh RTI applications to both the Houses in the same matter.

Panels formed by SC under RTI ambit, rules CIC

Publication: Times Of India Delhi; Date: Apr 23, 2009; Section: Times Nation; Page: 17
Nitin Sethi | TNN
New Delhi: In a far-reaching order, the Central Information Commission has ruled that any specialised committee formed by the Supreme Court is also a public authority and therefore falls under the purview of the Right To Information Act.

The order came in the specific case before the CIC about the Central Empowered Committee (CEC) created under the orders of the apex court. The CEC, initially a five-member body and later enlarged after a long-running controversy about its original members, was set up by the court to handle all the forest-related matters before it.

The CEC had contended that it was not a ‘public’ authority under the RTI Act as it was not created or funded by the government but formed by the court. But the commission disagreed with the contention pointing out that any body created under the Constitution is an agency that is answerable under the information Act.

The order has come as a reaction to a controversial case that TOI had first reported. A forest official was persecuted by the Haryana government for booking culprits pointing out violations of the Wildlife Protection Act and the Forest Conservation Act in a wildlife sanctuary in the state. While he was shunted out and discriminated against, the case was taken up in the apex court.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Students can access old question papers of NET

Chetan Chauhan, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, April 15, 2009

In a landmark order, Central Information Commission (CIC) brushed aside reservations of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) on making available NET question papers of previous years. The CSIR had said such a move would affect its plan to hold the NET examination online. The CIC directed the CSIR to provide copies of question papers to RTI applicant Mony Singla of Jind, Haryana, before April 25.

As of now, old question papers are not available and students can only access model question papers. The NET in India is mandatory for appointments in higher education and to get Junior Research Fellowship.

According to CISR, a question bank has been prepared with suitably edited questions from previous years’ papers for the online test. “This way the online question bank may be exposed and it would bring the online examination system to a standstill,” the CSIR told the CIC in a written submission.

The CIC, however, did not agree with this. Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi said in that case those setting the question papers need to challenge and improve their skills.

Gandhi quoted practices in several institutions worldwide where question papers are put in public domain.

An example cited in the order was of the GATE examination, where students are allowed to take away question paper after the exam.

Monday, April 6, 2009

NBRI demand for ID proof from applicant unjustified

Times of India, 06 April 2009: 6 Apr 2009, 0321 hrs IST, Neha Shukla, TNN

LUCKNOW: An RTI applicant may or may not possess a ration card. The Act has no provision requiring an information seeker to submit any proof of identity. This restricts a public authority from asking an applicant to submit such details unless it has `very strong' reasons to do so.

However, National Botanical Research Institute (NBRI) seems to make it a common rule now. It will provide information to the applicants only when they submit a copy of voter card, PAN card or ration card. The response issued by NBRI on March 31 to a query regarding the number of PhD degrees awarded under the guidance of few of its scientists clearly asks an applicant to submit the proof of identity in support of being a citizen of India.

The response does not mention the reason behind asking for such a proof. It is also not clear if it was a case-specific response or will it be a common rule. Though the public information officer (PIO) of the institute could not be contacted and the reason behind the move could not be ascertained, sources claimed that this might help the institute to check the number of applications coming from fictitious sources.

The response shot off by the PIO informed the applicant that information requested by her was ready. But, it can be provided only after she would submit documents in support of her identity proof of being a citizen of India which could be a copy of PAN card/ration card/voter card. On the receipt of the above, the information will be sent to her.

The information commissioners and activists might differ in opinion but they agree unanimously that RTI Act does not mention any such thing. "There is no such provision mentioned in the law but as an exception it might be done and the public authority will have to have a very strong reason behind asking for an identity proof,'' said Shailesh Gandhi, information commissioner, Central Information Commission, New Delhi. The reasons have to be mentioned in the response issued to the applicant which NBRI has not done.

In the cases heard by information commissions in other states there have been instances where PIOs have challenged the integrity of the applicants. In such cases a step like this might be taken but it can never be a routine exercise on the part of the public authorities.

"It cannot be allowed to become a general practice as public authorities can use it as a tactic to delay information,'' said Gyanendra Sharma, chief information commissioner, UPSIC. Such response could only come with very strong reasons, he added.

Credit societies too under RTI purview: TOI

06 April 2009

Credit societies too under RTI purview

6 Apr 2009, 0305 hrs IST, TNN
CHANDIGARH: In a major development bringing transparency in the affairs of various credit and thrift cooperative societies registered under the Act and operative in the city, the Central Information Commission has asked registrar, cooperative societies, UT, to provide information related to one such society, thus bringing it under the purview of RTI.

With this order, anybody having doubt and smelling foul play in the functioning of these societies can now seek the entire records under the RTI Act.

Central information commissioner (CIC) ML Sharma passed these orders while hearing an appeal filed by Sector-27 resident Satish Chander Ummat. The appellant was a member of Chandigarh SBI MMBE Thrift And Credit Society Limited and had sought some information pertaining to the affairs of the society under the RTI Act from the office of cooperative department, Chandigarh. But when the appellant failed to get the sought information for more than one year, he moved an appeal before the CIC, New Delhi.

While passing the order, central information commissioner ML Sharma directed the registrar, cooperative department, UT, through its superintendent SK Bansal, to provide all information related to the society sought by the appellant in six weeks.

In UT alone, around 100 cooperative thrift and credit societies registered under the Society Registration Act are in operation.

Such societies are incorporated by various bank employees, government employees and other employees and usually majority of these organization remain in news for allegations of non-transparency in their affairs.

Even the office-bearers of the said Chandigarh SBI MMBE Thrift and Credit Society were booked under various sections of IPC for forging documents and criminal conspiracy.

The appellant in the present case had sought information about discrepancies brought out in the audit reports of the society and number of disputes in which the society was involved with its members, etc.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Deemed varsities can’t skip RTI: CIC

The Tribune
04 April 2009
Deemed varsities can’t skip RTI: CIC
Girja Shankar Kaura
Tribune News Service
New Delhi, April 3
The Central Information Commission (CIC) has ruled that all deemed universities in the country are public authority and cannot escape divulging information under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
This interesting ruling was made by Information Commissioner Sailesh Gandhi on an application moved by Mahavir Chopda of Mumbai against NMIMS University, Mumbai, when the latter refused to divulge information on the fee collected by it from students who had cancelled their admissions.
While giving the judgement, Gandhi also directed the university to present all information sought by the applicant by April 20. In his application moved before the CIC, Chopda sought to know how many students cancelled their admission after paying fee to the university’s FT-MBA course. He also wanted to know what amount of fee was retained by the NMIMS.
The university refused to divulge the information on the grounds that it was not a public authority. It was relying on an order of the Rajasthan SIC where it was ruled that a deemed university was not a public authority.
On the arguments presented by the counsel for the university that it was not a public authority, the CIC, in its initial hearing on January 14 last, sought to know whether NMIMS was public authority by virtue of being a deemed university. It also sought to know whether the NMIMS had been ‘substantially financed’ by the government or had received land concessions and subsidies and whether it was exempted from paying income tax.
To this, the NMIMS filed an affidavit stating that it had not obtained land at concessional rates nor were the donations received exempted from income tax and again sought to clarify that it was not a public authority.
In response to the affidavit filed by the university, the CIC said “public authority” meant authority or body or institution of self government established or constituted by or under the Constitution, by any law made by Parliament, by any other law made by State Legislature, by notification issued or order made by the appropriate government. Therefore, any authority or body established or constituted by notification issued by the appropriate government was a “public authority” under the RTI Act.
As NMIMS agreed that it was conferred the status of deemed university by a notification issued by the Central government, the CIC, on March 27 last, ruled that since the university had been conferred the status of a deemed university by virtue of notification No. F.9-37/2001-U-3 dated January 13, 2003, of the Government of India, it clearly met the criterion of Section 2 (d) of the RTI Act since it got its status as ‘deemed university’ by virtue of a notification by the Central government.
It ruled, “All deemed universities are public authority as defined under the RTI Act. Since NMIMS University is also a deemed university by virtue of a notification by the Central Government, it is a public authority and must furnish information as mandated by the RTI Act.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

TOI : Govt probing assets owned by ex-CJI Sabharwal's family

1 Apr 2009, 0000 hrs IST, Himanshi Dhawan, TNN
NEW DELHI: Months after eminent citizens levelled allegations of misuse of public office against former Chief Justice of India Y K Sabharwal, the government has admitted that it is investigating the judge's family.

In reply to an RTI application, the Centre said the CBI was investigating the Noida plot allotted in the name of Sabharwal's daughter-in-law Sheeba while the income tax department was inquiring into a south Delhi property purchased by sons Nitin and Chetan.

The investigations have been undertaken in response to a complaint sent to the CBI in November 2007 by the Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Judicial Reforms which includes as its patrons Justice V R Krishna Iyer, Justice H Suresh and former law minister Shanti Bhushan.

The organisation had, on the basis of documents gathered from various government departments, alleged that even as Sabharwal presided over the controversial orders of sealing of commercial properties in Delhi's residential areas, his sons were involved in the business of establishing malls and commercial complexes. In effect, it meant that Sabharwal's family benefited from the former CJI's orders on sealing.

In response to an RTI application seeking details of the CBI's probe, CPIO G Verma said the information sought relates to the "plot allotted by Noida to Sheeba Sabharwal, daughter-in-law of Y K Sabharwal, former CJI, which is being looked into by CBI's anti-corruption unit..." while the matter relating to "purchase of B-9, Maharani Bagh property by Chetan and Nitin Sabharwal, sons of Y K Sabharwal, and investments made by them in M/s Pawan Impex (P) Ltd" was being looked into by the income tax department.

It was alleged by the Campaign that purchase of the Maharani Bagh property for a consideration of Rs 15.43 crore could not be explained prima facie by Sabharwal or his sons' legitimate sources of income.

CPIO Verma, however, refused to disclose file notings of the investigation on the plea that under section 8 of the RTI Act, information that had no relationship to any public activity or interest, or which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual should not be disclosed. Such "personal information" can only be given if the appellate authority is satisfied that the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information.