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Monday, October 26, 2009

A question under RTI can be worth Rs 7 lakh

TNN 26 October 2009, 04:40am IST

LUCKNOW: Government departments have evolved numerous ways to refuse information under the RTI Act. One of them being asking hefty fee for providing
the information
It happened with an applicant Saleem Baig, who had sought information about the homeguards in the state. All he received in response from the homeguards headquarters was the demand of Rs 7,68,284 for providing the information.

The applicant received two letters within ten days, asking him that he needed to deposit the quoted amount of money first and then only information could be provided to him. The first letter dated September 15 had asked a sum of Rs 40,000 for providing the information.

The second one, dated September 25, had asked for Rs 7,68,284 for the same information. The content of the two letters is same but the amount of money differs. "The information sought by you is of wider nature and in order to obtain it a big amount of money will have to be deposited," read the letters.

The information was sought on six points ranging from district-wise postings of homeguards, number of days that they have been put on duty in different districts and if the homeguards have been paid as per the duty chart etc.

"I have not been told why such a huge amount is being charged and how many annexures will the information comprise of," said Baig.

The letter informed the applicant that he can deposit the money on any working day. The day he does so he will be provided the information sought by him.

But the letter has violated the provisions of the RTI Act. The Act has clarified that in case of annexures, an applicant will have to provide Rs 2 per copy. Besides, if the PIO is asking for the extra fee, he will have to inform the applicant that why is he is doing so and how many annexures will be provided to the applicant. It was not done in Baig's case.

Secondly, the public information officer can not ask for extra money if he is responding to the RTI application after the 30 days deadline. In this case, the application was made on July 22 but it was transferred from one department to another. The 30-day deadline had already crossed when the applicant got the response.

RTI activist attacked
Source: The Sangai Express

Imphal, October 25 2009: Residence of an individual who invoked the Right to Information (RTI) Act seeking certain information about NREGS implementation in Top Naoriya Gram Panchayat under Kshetrigao Assembly constituency was attacked by a group of men led by the Member of the particular Gram Panchayat.

Following certain misunderstanding over implementation of NREGS in Top Naoriya GP, NREGS job-card holder Moirangthem Maipakpi of Kongpal Mutum Leikai on behalf of other job-card holders filed a complaint to the relevant authority through RTI.

Because of the complaint, a group of men led by Top Naoriya GP Member Ch Chorjit of Kongpal Mutum Leikai attacked the residence of the complainant at about 3.30 pm today.

Although the local police station was informed about the attack, no police personnel came to the rescue.

Talking to media persons this evening, Moirangthem Maipakpi and local womenfolk have decried such irresponsibility of police.

Yet, a written complaint has been filed at the local police station this evening, they said.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Shailesh Gandhi Highlights Unnecessary & Dangerous Amendements to RTI Act

Mumbai: A meeting was organized by leading activists Narayan Varma (BCAS Foundation & PCGT) & Bhaskar Prabhu (Mahiti Adhikar Manch). It was well attended by over 50 activists and mediapersons.
Shailesh Gandhi began his talk with a brief report of his own performance. He said that he had cleared 5,381 cases over the 13 months that he had been Information Commissioner. This was a new benchmark, considering that the best that any other Information Commissioner had been able to do over a 12-month period was about 3000 cases (CIC Annapurna Dixit). “We need to show with our actions that judicial delays are no longer acceptable,” he said.
He had also imposed 41 penalties, amounting to Rs 8-9 lakh, Shaileshbhai added. “But more importantly, I have started issuing orders to the public authorities in my jurisdiction to comply with Section 4,” he said. “For instance, I have asked for new ration-card applications, as well as their acceptance or rejection, to be put up on a website within a week or two. I have also asked for all disbursals to municipal school students to be displayed on school notice boards, so that they can be verified by the beneficiaries – the pupils and their parents. And to ensure compliance, I have requested NGOs working in the areas to act as volunteers and check these notice boards periodically.
“I request Indians throughout the world to spend a couple of hours every month applying their minds to the websites of a few public authorities,” Shaileshbhai said. “Please revert with comments and suggestions for making these websites more compliant with Section 4 requirements.
Five unnecessary amendments
Speaking on the topic of proposed amendments to the RTI Act, Shaileshbhai said, “The first signal was in the President’s speech on June 4, where she mentioned that the RTI Act would be ‘strengthened through suitable amendments’. This was strange because there is no demand for change from any quarter – even from public authorities.
“Last week, DoPT had a meeting with Information Commissioners, where they unveiled the proposed amendments, which were as follows:
1) Constitute 2-member benches. DoPT held that the present constitution of benches, where cases are heard by a single Information Commissioner, is not legal. We argued that even if this is true, there was no need to amend the Act. At best, a change of rules was required.

2) Remove about 10 exempted public authorities from the list in Schedule 2. But there is no need for an amendment, as they have already included a couple of public authorities to the list simply through a notification.

3) Include Citizens Charter in Section 4 declarations of each public authority. Here again, there is no need to amend, as it can be included under Sec 4(1)(b)(xvii), which says, ‘Such other information as may be prescribed’.

4) Define what is meant by ‘substantially financed’ under 2(h)(d)(ii). But why change the Act for this? Already, it is being judicially defined by Information Commissioners. At the most, it can be done through a change in the RTI Rules.

5) Facilitate Indians abroad to use RTI Act through embassies. Again, this at best calls for a change in the rules, not an amendment in the Act.

“Information Commissioners at the meeting with DoPT said in one voice that to carry out the above five proposed changes, it was not necessary to amend the Act. These changes could easily be carried out by other means, such as a suitable change in RTI rules. However, it seemed that the next two proposals were what the government was really aiming for,” said Shaileshbhai.
Two dangerous amendments
6) Adding ‘frivolous & vexatious requests’ to the list of Section 8 exemptions. Who is to decide what exactly is ‘vexatious’ or ‘frivolous’? The PIOs? This is a flawed definition that completely ignores the fact that the citizens are the natural owners of all the information in the country. (Admittedly, 10-12% of the RTI applications filed do fit into the ‘vexatious’ category. It is true that some people seem to file RTI applications only to cause an obstruction in governmental functioning. However, we must bear in mind that some people will find ways to misuse every law, eg. The Dowry Prohibition Act, or the CrPC provisions dealing with assault. Moreover, Information Commissioners themselves have devised ways to deal with this problem, and therefore, there is no need of a legislative fix.

7) Excluding discussions / consultations that take place before arriving at governmental decisions. In other words, exclusion of file-notings, which would render the workings of the government completely opaque to citizens. If this amendment is carried out, it will be effectively like telling citizens to cast their votes and then stand aside, leaving all decisions to the powers-that-be.
“Most of us strongly opposed all the amendments. However, there was a minority opinion among the gathered Information Commissioners in favour of the last two.
“I am sometimes asked how I, being a government servant, can speak against the government,” Shaileshbhai said. “But I point out that I am a public servant, and not a government servant. So, rather than entering into a debate on the merits or otherwise of the proposed amendments, I would urge you to oppose and resist any attempt to change the Act at this juncture. If they amend, we will have no way of controlling the exact wordings that they introduce. Moreover, even if such amendments are justified, they will continue to cause confusion over the next few years, as it will take time for applicants, PIOs etc to fully understand these changes and act accordingly.
“We got our freedom from the British in 1947. But if we fail to defend the RTI Act at this juncture, I don’t think we deserve our freedom and independence,” Shaileshbhai concluded.
During the question-answer session, Shaileshbhai elaborated what he meant by resistance. “If the government does not rethink in 10-15 days, please organize some form of protests. Please mobilize, hold meetings in every neighbourhood and forum, and also speak to elected representatives and political parties to make your opposition known.
“In 2006, a number of us had held a demonstration outside August Kranti Maidan where we all wore black capes,” he reminisced. “The police arrived on the scene, and just it seemed that we would be detained, Julio Ribeiro joined us, making it difficult for them to take any action.
“Also, Anna Hazare had gone on a fast-unto-death. However, I personally feel that it is not correct to undertake fasts against our own elected government, and therefore, I recommend that we should look at other varied forms of protests. There is no single way that will work. We will have to try out a wide variety of things to have the necessary catalytic effect,” he advised.

Courtesy: Krishnaraj Rao , Cell: 98215 88114

Friday, October 16, 2009

Govt. again attempts to remove “file notings” from RTI ambit

Dr. Mohammed Naved Khan
The Union Govt. is making yet another attempt to exempt file notings from the Right to Information (RTI) Act. “File notings,” are now being referred to as “discussions/consultations that take place before arriving at a decision.”

DoPT which has for long been attempting to torpedo the RTI Act “discussions and consultations that go into the decision-making process are of no relevance to the general public and should be exempted from disclosure under RTI.”

The Information Commissioners, after their day long meeting over the issue with the DoPT mandarins, immediately turned it down. They found no merit in the Department’s contention that disclosure of such discussions/ consultations hampered free flow of thought within the government.

According to one Information Commissioner, “Knowing full well that any attempt to exempt file notings would meet with stout resistance from civil society, the government is packaging it differently to push through an agenda that is as old as the Act itself,” .

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Suspension of RTI Activist Dr Tariq Islam: An Update

There is deep resentment in the teachers of Aligarh Muslim University over the issue of suspension of Dr Tariq Islam on cooked up charges of unspecified 'gross misconduct' by AMU administration. The teachers have already observed a token strike on the issue and the teaching in AMU campus came to a standstill. The issue has been getting wide coverage in the media and the action of AMU administration has been condemned by one and all. It is becoming increasingly evident that AMU administration appears to be in a mood to settle scores with Dr Islam as he has been spearheading an RTI movement in AMU. It is being said that the administration is miffed over the issue of appearance of documents obtained by Dr Ialam, General Secretary, RTI Group, and his fellow activists in the representation sent to Hon'ble Shrimati Pratibha Patil, Visitor, Aligarh Muslim University.

Dr Islam was summarily suspended on August 26, 2009 without following principles of natural justice. Even till date i.e. October 14, 2009 he has not been issued even a show cause notice!

There are whispers that the damning evidence obtained by the RTI Group ( the exercise of RTI from AMU itself, formed the basis of notice issued to AMU and subsequent setting up of Fact Finding Inquiry Committee (FFIC)on the affairs at AMU.

It is to be remembered that the short tenure of Prof P K Abdul Azis, Vice Chancellor, AMU, has been marred with allegations of administrative and financial irregularities. The AMU Teachers' Association (AMUTA)too has appealed to the Hon'ble Shrimati Pratibha Patil, President of India, in her capacity as Visitor of AMU to ask Prof Azis and other top functionaries to proceed on leave during the period of the FFIC. The contention of AMUTA is that there can be no free and fair inquiry till the time these top officers are allowed to continue in their positions.
But it appears that, as usual, the mandarins at the Ministry of Human Resource Management are sleeping over the countless resolutions and representations against the current AMU administration. There are even rumours that the Shri Kapil Sibal, Minister of HRD, is being kept in the dark about the fast deteriorating situation at AMU by vested interests in the MHRD.

The issue has further been complicated by the filing FIR by the Mr Mohd Muqim, Chairman, Department of Philosophy, AMU, against Dr Tariq Islam, as part of a concerted move to pin Dr Islam down. Though the Prof Azis, Vice Chancellor, AMU, has till date not spelt out the 'gross misconduct' yet, Mr Muqim, in his over-enthusiasm filed an FIR claiming that Dr Islam had 'forged' his marksheet of BA (Hons) from Polytechnic of North London (now, London Metropolitan University). Things took an ugly turn when the Aligarh Civil Lines police, without verifying facts, perhaps on account of 'extraneous' pressure turned up at the residence of Dr Islam in the night of 23rd September 2009 to arrest him. It was only due to praiseworthy intervention of Shri K Ram Mohan Rao, District Magistrate, Shri Aseem Arun, SSP, Aligarh, and Kunwar Ranvijay Singh, the sharp and energetic Circle Officer of Civil Lines, Aligarh, that the situation did not take a turn for the worst. Had these officer not acted promptly, the way they did, the situation in AMU must have indeed taken a very ugly turn.

Monday, October 12, 2009

RTI Act to be mended

Nidhi Sharma | New Delhi: NRIs to have easy access; more agencies to come into ambit

As the Right to Information (RTI) Act completes four years of enactment on Tuesday (October 13), here is some good news. The Government is planning to introduce amendments to make it easier for NRIs to seek information, reduce the number of organisations exempt from the Act and make it mandatory for Government departments to voluntarily disclose certain types of information.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has directed Minister of State in PMO Prithviraj Chavan to get feedback from the Central Information Commission (CIC), the final appellate authority for RTI Act, on the proposed amendments. Chavan would hold this interaction with all Information Commissioners on Wednesday after the conclusion of a two-day convention on RTI in the national Capital.

Speaking exclusively to The Pioneer on the eve of fourth anniversary of the RTI Act, Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah said, “I met the Prime Minister over the proposed amendments. I discussed with him in detail the need for consulting Information Commissioners over this move. Now, the Minister of State will have an interaction with the Central Information Commissioners on Wednesday after we are done with the two-day convention.”

Habibullah clarified that there was no attempt to increase fee or exempt file notings through the proposed amendments. “There was a lot of fear about this and that is why I met the Prime Minister. I have seen the proposed amendments to the Act and there is nothing of this sort. There is absolutely no move to exempt file notings.”

One of the main suggestions of the commission, which has been included in the list of proposed amendments, is that the Act should be made more NRI-friendly. “The NRIs, being Indian nationals, can apply for information under the RTI Act, but the means for access for them are very unsatisfactory. Where do they pay the fee of Rs 10, and how? When they approach Indian embassies, they are seldom helped.”

The proposed amendment would ensure that NRIs are able to pay through the embassies or through electronic transfer.

For complete news pl visit the link below:

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Agitate for RTI implementation, urges Aruna Roy

MUMBAI, 6th OCTOBER ’09: Leading activist Aruna Roy expressed disgust at the way bureaucrats were being appointed as State and Central Information Commissioners (SICs and CICs) through non-transparent procedures. “It violates the principles of checks-and-balances – a bit like staffing the Human Rights Commission with former CBI officers,” she said. “We must firstly agitate to ensure that no more than one-fifth of the Information Commissioners are former civil servants. Also, selection procedures must be made transparent. Secondly, we must ensure stringent Section 4 implementation by every public authority. And thirdly, we must fight for substantial budget allocations for training PIOs. The time is ripe to start organizing a mass agitation now,” she said.

At an afternoon round-table meeting organized by Narayan Varma of BCAS Foundation and Bhaskar Prabhu of Mahiti Adhikar Manch, Aruna Roy interacted with prominent Right-to-Information (RTI) activists of Mumbai on various issues.

“I meet RTI activists in every city and town that I visit. There are over 10 lakh RTI users and activists around the country… but they are all feeling fractured and disenchanted with Right to Information. They are not feeling united and empowered,” remarked Aruna Roy, who was in Mumbai yesterday to receive the Nani Palkhiwala Award for her work towards preserving civil liberties.

“The original forces behind the RTI Act are no longer acting in concert. RTI is truly a People’s Act – the hard-earned fruit of many agitations from 1994 to 1997, and intellectual inputs from diverse kinds of professionals, including journalists, former judges, legal brains and bureaucrats. But, after the Act was passed, we all have drifted apart and followed our own individual agendas,” she lamented. It was urgent to re-ignite the passion in RTI activists nationwide, including stalwarts and founding-fathers of RTI. For this, a convention lasting many days was being organized in Hyderabad towards the end of November, she said.

“Every political party is doing things that the common people are opposed to, such as establishing SEZs. It is necessary to oppose those things by various means, including agitating on the streets. To make this a truly participatory democracy, we have to widen the scope of politics. We need people’s politics, and not just parliamentary politics. To build up public opinion on various issues, we need various levels of networking, from organizing street-corner meetings to setting up websites and email-forums,” she said. She urged activists to initiate and propagate such a national-level movement.

She suggested that activists could urge citizens to send postcards in large numbers for protesting on various public issues, such as the Supreme Court judges’ refusal to disclose their assets. “The postcards could ask: ‘In the land of Gandhi, how can you do this?’” she suggested.

Discussing the indiscriminate granting of court orders indefinitely staying SIC/CIC orders against various public authorities, Aruna Roy said, “We must move the Information Commissions to appoint lawyers to have such Stay Orders vacated. For this, we may request retired judges and advocates to lend their services in the public interest.”

Friday, October 2, 2009

Kerala judges 1st to declare assets

Publication: Times Of India Delhi; Date: Oct 2, 2009; Section: Times Nation; Page: 11

Kerala judges 1st to declare assets
A Subramani | TNN

Chennai: In a trail-blazing move, the high court of Kerala has become the first court in the country to post the details of the assets and liabilities of all its judges in the public domain.

Titled ‘Assets & Liabilities (At a Glance)’, the disclosure was uploaded on the court’s official website on September 30, as promised by the registrar-general D Sivalabhan on August 28.

Kerala HC’s disclosure has come after sustained pressure from pro-transparency activists as well as sections of the judiciary who insisted that judges of the SC and
high courts should reveal details of their assets.

The simple and uncluttered disclosure format on the Kerala high court’s website has two broad categories — ‘Immovable Properties’ and ‘Movable Properties’ against the name of the judge concerned.

For complete news pl visit:

Willing to give info on assets under RTI: SC

Willing to give info on assets under RTI: SC
Dhananjay Mahapatra | TNN

New Delhi: The Supreme Court, which missed the Delhi high court’s September 30 deadline for supplying information about declaration of assets of judges to an applicant under the RTI Act, on Thursday said it was willing to do so.

Except for this concession, the apex court was unwilling to accept the single judge’s judgment and has readied an appeal to be filed before a division Bench of the HC on Monday.

For complete news pl visit:
Publication: Times Of India Delhi; Date: Oct 2, 2009; Section: Times Nation; Page: 11

Thursday, October 1, 2009

CIC allows disclosure of phone details in a special case

PTI 1 October 2009, 05:43pm IST
NEW DELHI: The CIC has directed Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited to disclose mobile phone details of a particular number from which an RTI applicant
had alleged that he was getting threatening calls and vulgar SMS's.

Though RTI Act mentions that phone records are personal details and hence cannot be accessed by a second person, the decision directing the BSNL to part with information to the applicant was taken given the special nature of the case.

Surender Singh Kachhwaha, a resident of Kanpur had filed an RTI application with the Chief Public Information Officer of BSNL, Unnav, seeking information related to a particular mobile bearing number 9454059213.

Information Commissioner, CIC, Annapurna Dixit said, "The appellant stated that he had written to various officials including District Magistrate, Kanpur and Inspector General of Police about SMSs threatening him and about vulgar SMS's sent by the subscriber between December 29, 2008 and January 15, 2009."

"No one bothered to help him. He also tried to file an FIR at Pheel police station but the police too refused to lodge the FIR," she said. "The Commission after hearing both sides and in the light of the fact that no authority responsible for maintaining law and order came forward to help the appellant, directs the CPIO to provide the information to him," Dixit said.

Kachhwaha had filed an RTI application asking the BSNL to provide him information related to the ID of the subscriber, date of sale of the SIM Card, the IMEI number of the set from where the SIM was activated, the call details and the SMS details relating to the said number.

The CPIO and the first appellate authority had rejected the RTI application on the ground that the mobile connection was not in the name of the appellant. Being repeatedly denied information by the respondent authority a second appeal was filed before the CIC by the applicant.