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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Citizens, speak up! UPA govt is framing a national whistle-blower act

Mumbai, 25th August: The UPA government’s duplicity is out in the open, and the falsehood of its talk about protecting whistle-blowers stands exposed. Election Commission of India and Maharashtra police are hand-in-glove with UPA at the Centre and in the State to suppress research on hacking of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs). Whistle-blower Hari K Prasad, technical coordinator of VeTA (Citizens for Verifiability, Transparency and Accountability in Elections), was arrested by a Maharashtra police team early on Saturday, 21 August, from his residence in Hyderabad. The arrest was made on the flimsy charge of ‘theft of EVM’ used for vulnerability demonstration by this researcher and his colleagues Alex Halderman, professor of computer science, University of Michigan and Rop Gonggrijp, a researcher from Netherlands. [See their photo here: ]

Maharashtra police went to Hyderabad in first week August and recorded Mr Prasad’s statement about the EVM used for exposing the vulnerability of EVMs. They summoned him to Mumbai for further questioning. As he did not oblige, they swooped down and arrested him.

Unless whistle-blowers are murdered, their sufferings go unnoticed by all of us, often because their disclosures are specialized and difficult to understand. Whistle-blowers wage their lonely battles within the organizations where they are employed, where they are subjected to departmental enquiries, suspended or dismissed. Their submissions to Anti Corruption Bureau or to Central Vigilance Commission are usually stonewalled. Some continue to fight a lonely battle, and others give up, embittered by our general apathy. We suffer a great loss because corrupt wrongdoers go scot-free and continue looting public resources for personal gain.

But Mr Prasad’s case is hopefully different because he is fighting for our right to free and fair elections! This is a matter that all of us can easily understand. To understand how EVMs are being hacked:
· See this video:
· Read this technical paper:
· Broadcast quality high resolution videos of hacking of ECI-EVMs are available at this web page:
· Documentation of advocacy efforts of Hari Prasad & colleagues:

Contrast the above with:
· Unsubstantiated claims of Election Commission of India (ECI) about EVMs being “tamper-proof and error-free” (third item on this page):
· ECI’s press statement justifying arrest of Mr Prasad, distancing itself from the police action, but ironically also acknowledging that he is a genuine campaigner and activist:

It will be a national shame if we -- activists, civil society and media – fail to take a stand on this crucial issue. Hari Prasad and his colleagues have demonstrated that hacking of Electronic Voting Machines is not just a possibility, but a probability. In fact, the UPA government’s anxiety to ignore this research raises suspicions about the General Elections and Maharashtra assembly elections in 2009, when the Congress party emerged with surprise victories with a tiny percentage of swing votes. Were the EVMs tampered? Were these elections and maybe others also, rigged? The answer, as they say, is blowing in the wind.

If you are convinced of the rightness of Mr Prasad’s cause, don’t remain silent spectators. After all, this man is fighting for your right to have free and fair elections, not for his personal gain.

What We Must Do:
1. Fire an RTI application. See draft of application:
2. Send letter of protest to Prime Minister, UPA Chief and Chief Election Commissioner:
3. Dial 1585 from landline and send this phonogram:
4. Go to ECI’s “feedback” page and copy-paste phonogram message there. Or email a suitable message to
5. Read media reports about Hari Prasad’s arrest, and write suitable comments and letters-to-the-editor. Links to the top media reports on internet:
6. Phone the Chief Election Commissioner or send a suitable fax message. Tel: 011-23717391 Fax: 011-23713412.

Mr. Citizen, your voice counts. Please speak up loud and clear. Jai Hind!

Warm Regards,
98215 88114

Friday, August 20, 2010

RTI Applicants, Read this Govt Manual about Record-keeping & Disciplinary Actions

Dear fellow activists,

A good RTI application asks for copies of specific documents and records. For this, we need to understand what sorts of government documents exist, how various kinds of records are maintained and acted upon, what each of these things are named, and whose responsibility it is to maintain them.

So it is worth reading the Central Govt.’s Manual of Office Procedure, which is generally followed throughout the system. Download this:

The first 30-40 pages are very important. In addition, I have highlighted three sorts of useful points:

1) Blue highlights are for record-keeping: How different sorts of files and records are maintained, catalogued, referenced and destroyed.

2) Yellow highlights are for disciplining and penalizing govt. employees: Matters concerning various kinds of disciplinary proceedings, suspension etc. of different classes of officers. Also, monitoring compliance with court judgments, orders of Central Administrative Tribunal, audit objections etc.

3) Green highlights are for follow-up of citizens complaints, representations, petitions etc: The methods used for the government departments to take cognizance of citizens’ concerns.

Please use this for filing precise RTI applications. You can use it to demand information on the status of your petitions, complaints etc. Also, if information is falsely denied or evasive replies are given, use it for strengthening your grounds of appeal.

Warm Regards,
98215 88114

Monday, August 16, 2010

“Reclaim Your Constitution, Reclaim Your Citizenship”

Dear Fellow Citizens,

The Constitution is the blueprint of India’s democracy, and the contractual document between the State and the Indian citizen. Although it is 60 years since it was painstakingly drafted and enacted, few of us have laid hands on it, much less read and understood it. Although the Constitution has been the proverbial night-watchman that has safeguarded our democracy in its darkest hours and despite the significant role that it plays in our daily lives, we remain unaware of its power and its significance.

Come, let us rediscover our ownership of this key document. Together, let us re-connect with the idea of India that was articulated in this blueprint.

For 60 years, we, the citizens, have failed to participate in the governance of this country, and left it to politicians and bureaucrats while we withdrew into our own private worlds. We wrongly believed that all that was expected of us was to vote, pay taxes and criticize the government. The results of our collective neglect as citizens are now all around us, too squalid to ignore.

But it is not too late. Come, let us discover our power and privilege. Let’s discuss and understand our true role as citizens of India. And then let us action that role.

Venue: S P Jain Institute, Inside Bhavan’s College campus, Andheri West, Mumbai 400058.

Date and time: Saturday, 21 August, 6 to 8 pm.

This meeting will launch a series of interactions in Mumbai and other cities that will be held every month until 26 January, 2011. The series will be anchored by Vinita Singh, Krishnaraj Rao and other activist colleagues. Vinita Singh has been working in the area of social development for 16 years, largely among the urban and rural poor. She has been enabling people to understand governance, their rights and responsibilities as citizens and their own leadership in making change possible. Krishnaraj Rao is a professional journalist, publisher and campaigner for proper implementation of Right to Information and other crucial rights & duties of citizens.

You are cordially invited to come and enjoy a chai-nashta discussion with friends.

RSVP and enquiries: Krish 098215 88114

Friday, August 6, 2010

Clean Information Commissioners’ Selection worth dying for

I have a dream, a song to sing
To help me cope with anything
If you see the wonder of a fairy tale
You can take the future even if you fail
I believe in angels
Something good in everything I see
I believe in angels
When I know the time is right for me
I’ll cross the stream - I have a dream

Lyrics of ABBA song ‘I have a dream’

Dear friends,

What you are about to read is a lengthily-reasoned and deeply personal piece. It is a piece that will definitely expose me to raised eyebrows and ridicule. Nonetheless, I am deeply convinced that carrying out the actions that I am about to detail here have the potential to change the ordinary course of events, and take us into a better future. Please believe me, they are not about a bright idea that I got last night, or even a couple of days back; this is a course of action that I have examined in my head over and over in the past few months. Before God and man, I humbly submit that I am not yielding to an urge to dominate or outshine my peers and colleagues through extreme behavior. So, bear with me; I ask from you only a few moments of willing suspension of disbelief.

The ABBA song above, particularly the lines, “If you see the wonder of a fairytale, you can take the future even if you fail,” reflects the way I feel. By restricting our thoughts to a fear-based ‘realistic’ projections of how things WILL PROBABLY play out, instead of a prayer-based ‘optimistic’ projection of how things CAN POSSIBLY play out, we do ourselves a grave injustice, because we fail to envision a future that is very different from our present. By failing to envision a future that is daringly different, we fail to do the very things that are necessary for creating that future. “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings." Julius Caesar (I, ii, 140-141).
The greatest battles were undertaken in the face of hopelessly great odds. For instance, in 1919, 28 years before Independence, the British Empire was at its greatest extent ever, and it was said, “The sun never sets on the British Empire”. So it must have seemed like an impossibly foolish thing to imagine that we could ever gain our national freedom. And yet, in the face of such odds and much ridicule from their countrymen, our nation’s founding fathers did many improbable things. The results are there for us to see.

I believe that the greatest battles are yet to be fought. The most inspiring tales of our times are yet to be told. And it is entirely up to us to fight these brilliant battles and write these incredible tales.

A great opportunity presents itself currently as a great challenge with almost insurmountable odds: Can we stop the Union Government from arbitrarily selecting the next batch of Information Commissioners? Can we compel the Union Government to frame the necessary rules for selection of Central Information Commissioners, and thereby, set a clear example for States to follow? Most people reckon, quite realistically, that it is impossible as these appointments are set to happen in two months.

October 2010 will be a milestone that we will either rejoice or look back with regret. If we – civil society -- allow the Union government to select the next crop of CICs in their business-as-usual way, it will send signals to all the states to do the same for SICs, and then the flood will be unstoppable for the next five years. That must not happen. That must NEVER be allowed happen.

And therefore, it stands to reason that it is crucial for to go beyond our usual intellectual, realistic approach.

Look back. Prior to June 2009, there were several RTI applications to PMO and DOPT on the subject of the CIC selection process. In July 2009, detailed letters to all the members of Parliament and leaders of opposition, and phonograms were sent in good numbers. Starting 23 October 2009, the legitimate and well-reasoned demands of civil society were hammered repeatedly to Government of India through scores of Phonograms, pleas, petitions and legal notices to DoPT, PMO and UPA chief Sonia Gandhi. In November ’09, we put up this issue as a PIL before Delhi High Court. On 12 February 2010, a delegation of eight activists from around the country went and met with DoPT’s officials and made a detailed representation about the urgency of having a due process for selection of Information Commissioners. Press reports have appeared all over the country.

Most recently, on 4 August 2010, a national-level consultation was held at IIPA Delhi, where, along with RTI’s leading lights Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey and Arvind Kejriwal, a couple of dozen activists from around the country, besides half a dozen government officials, were present. After a day of rigorous debate, the vote was in favour of what we were insisting on all along: (i) Advertize widely to attract applications and nominations (ii) Declare clear selection criteria, guided by what is provided in Section 12(5) and the intent and spirit of the Act voiced in its preamble, and finally (iii) prepare a shortlist transparently, according to these criteria, which should then be presented to the Selection Committee mentioned in Section 12(3).

The point being made is: What we have been asking for all along is an extremely reasonable demand, which any decent government should be willing to concede.

But, over the past 12-13 months, the Union government has maintained a sphinx-like silence. As a result, appointments of State Information Commissioners have continued happening in the usual opaque and arbitrary manner, without any due processes. And now, a fresh lot of Central Information Commissioners, including Chief CIC, will be selected in October 2010. So far, we have every reason to believe that the government will do what it has been doing all along – arbitrarily select a bunch of bureaucratic cronies.

And therefore, the time has come to go way beyond our comfort zone, and exert our entire mortal force to break the government’s silence on this key issue. You heard that right: mortal force, nor just moral force.


Unless the Union Government advertises to attract advertisements for the post of Central Information Commissioners and Chief CICs with suitable eligibility criteria, I shall commence a fast-unto-death on October 2, or on the very day that a date for PM’s Selection Committee meeting is announced (whichever is sooner). This fast will then be broken only after a newspaper advertisement calling for applicatons, nothing less. No compromises, no talks, no in-between solutions, no face-saving formulae.


Lack of support from the enforcers of RTI – the Information Commissioners -- is causing large numbers of RTI activists across the country to live in constant danger of being attacked and murdered. Their prolonged struggle renders them both conspicuous and helpless, endangering their lives. So, proper selection of enforcers is actually a life-and-death matter, not to be taken lightly.


The internet makes it simple for any individual to convincingly engage in a hunger-strike from the comfort his or her home, or alternatively, travel all over India. All one needs to do is 24-HOURLY UPLOADS OF THE BELOW:

a) Fresh photos and videos of bare-bodied torso, front and side view: A male protester can get someone to photograph and/or take a video of him every 24 hours in shorts, bare-bodied, front and side-profile, standing or walking. It would be interesting for the public to watch the cheeks, double-chins, midriff and shoulders vanish in the first few days. After a week or so, as the cheekbones, eye-sockets and ribs start showing, and the protester becomes slowly unable to walk without help, the before-and-after contrast becomes very clear.

b) Bathroom-scale, measuring-tape and blood-pressure: Daily giving the latest statistics -- the exact numbers of kilos and inches melting away, and the falling blood-pressure, would be very interesting, and plenty of fodder for media discussion and updates.

c) Regular blood-checkup reports: Fasting blood-sugar levels, falling hemoglobin levels etc. help to make a persuasive point about the suffering and the seriousness of intent.

d) Daily travels and meeting people: The person on fast should ideally travel about as much as humanly possible, meeting and convincing people and media about the importance of this issue. Networked as we are, nationwide meetings are possible at short notice, as long as he is strong enough for economy-class air-travel and road travel. Travelling nationwide would help to make the seriousness of the issue felt by even indifferent people, while generating fresh video footage and media sound-bites.

e) Sympathy-fasts and protests: By travelling around, the protester may succeed in motivating others across the country to fast for a day or two in solidarity, or to organize relay-fasts. Possibly, some late starters will even join him in a fast-unto death, giving a local focus to this protest in different parts of the country. Such things have a way of happening spontaneously when we take issues to a certain emotional level.

f) Nationwide protests: People may not all be angered by undue selection of Central Information Commissioners. However, State Information Commissions are a different story; the tempers of appellants are flaring in many states, thanks to unfair rules, illogical orders, long pendencies, non-enforcement of orders etc. So widespread protests may start happening on many other RTI issues of RTI implementation, leave alone selection of SICs… all of which becomes news and events for upload.

g) Chain-reactions: The protesters themselves may not have an anti-government mindset. However, once things go beyond a certain point of no-return, things don’t stay neatly categorized. Agitations have a way of lending fuel and support to other issues as well. The overall increase in temperature brings to life pressure-groups that may have lain dormant for years. Corruption-related issues mix well with RTI-related issues in a heated environment.

h) More the merrier: There are quite a few people in our country who have the seriousness and stamina to take to fasting. Once the seeds of this idea have taken root in the public psyche, I am hopeful that a few RTI activists will undertake indefinite fasts of their own – whether inspired by me or otherwise. This will yield more material for the 24-hourly upload.

i) Medical intervention & force-feeding: Maybe after 20-30 days, a healthy protestor would enter into a state of medical emergency. (And maybe not; remember, every year, hundreds from the Jain community successfully fast for over a month without any medical intervention.) It is possible that the protester will be fed intravenously or through nose-tubes, against his own wishes. Still, how many days, weeks or months is it possible for such tactics to be employed against a person who is totally unwilling to start eating on his own? So, whether he dies or not, he will continue to be a messy public spectacle, waiting to stage a comeback after the force-feeding. However, pictures of all of this are very good as media-feed, and will keep the issue in the public eye.


I am hereby inviting you all to take a considered decision to join me in this fast. However, if you are not so willing, I am asking you to back me with moral, practical and logistical support. Photographing, uploading, updating, planning meetings and websites, organizing transport, media briefings – lots of important stuff like that need to be done. Can you help?

Of course I am expecting this idea to be met with skepticism and derisive smiles, besides various intellectual efforts at dissuasion. That, and then there will be opposition from my family.

But I have to prove by personal example that not only can all this be done, but that it can be a crystallizing point for media and public support for our cause.

Warm Regards,


98215 88114


A. For those of my friends who feel that I have taken leave of my senses, I have this to say: By common standards, I really am a nutcase. Beneath my intellectual veneer, I am literally a man possessed. God is to me not an abstraction, but a real person riding pillion in my life, a buddy pointing the way at all times. I look to God for signs and suchlike. Outcomes are always subject to my buddy’s complex and self-contradictory personality, compassion and sometimes morbid sense of humour. But my buddy is all I really have, and my only failure is failure to do as he guides. My buddy likes to see the dice roll, and therefore, I shall roll the dice.

B. For those of my friends who disbelieve me: Hey, who knows, you may know me better than I know myself! Events as they unfold may very easily prove you right and prove me wrong. Won’t be the first time that has happened, and so, a healthy dose of disbelief is in order. Thanks for helping me stay balanced.

C. And for those of my friends who believe me: Thanks for the support, guys… but hey, relax, no need to get all serious! Don’t forget to laugh. Because, all said and done, this is just me being myself and having fun.

I Have A Dream (ABBA) - from "The Late, Late Breakfast Show" - STEREO

Sunday, August 1, 2010

How Information Commissioners & Police endanger RTI Activists

There has been a spate of 20 attacks on activists in the last 7 months, including 9 killings. [Latest killing “TOI: Home guard killed for seeking info under RTI”: ]

Digging into individual cases may explain why a particular activist was attacked, but fails to explain the larger mystery: Why this sudden rash of attacks nationwide? What is going on here? Is there a pattern?

To understand this nationwide murder-mystery, we need to take a bird’s-eye-view of several relevant facts (including some background facts), and then join the dots to see a pattern.

· Fact no. 1: RTI HAS CAUSED A GROUNDSHIFT, AN IRREVERSIBLE CULTURAL PHENOMENON. The passing of the Right To Information Act in 2005 gave citizens a new locus standi vis-à-vis the government and administration, enabling ordinary people to demand access to documents that were hitherto “official secrets”. By ending the stranglehold of the pre-colonial Official Secrets Act 1923, the RTI Act changed the balance of power between citizens and bureaucracy. Early pioneers (like late Prakash Kardaley, Late Kewal Semlani and Shailesh Gandhi and Anna Hazare in Maharashtra, Aruna Roy in Rajasthan and Arvind Kejriwal in Delhi region) systematically taught people the logic of RTI, creating a well-informed swarm of citizens to question the government on non-performance, arbitrariness and corruption.

Email groups, blogs and mobile technology acted as hubs in the further education of citizens and media by a second generation of RTI activists and experts. With hundreds of aggressive activists scooping out skeletons, there is now a mass movement that is no longer dependent on the initiatives of a few enlightened persons. Indeed, RTI and administrative-reform today provokes popular emotions that were earlier seen only in the case of river-water-sharing issues.

Lakhs of educated information-seekers and activists spend hours daily exchanging legal notes on the internet. The hits and updates on dedicated RTI websites like, or email forums like, probably excel the hits by lawyers on law websites like (In fact, a growing proportion of hits on law websites come from RTI activists looking for Court judgments to cite in their appeals before Information Commissioners.)

Even where internet has not reached, there are, on any given day of the week, a score of activists and NGO workers sitting with villagers and slum-dwellers, patiently explaining the rules of the game and helping to draft requests for information, and appeals against unjustified delay and denial. Through RTI, legal awareness has entered India’s DNA.

· Fact no. 2: RTI ACTIVISTS ARE PRESENT-DAY CRIME FIGHTERS. It is no exaggeration to say that RTI “activists” (as opposed to RTI “Users”) are modern-day detectives and crime-fighters. Unlike Phantom, Spiderman and other imaginary super-heroes, they don’t use fists and guns; like Sherlock Holmes and Perry Mason, they use their brains to get expose crime and sleaze. Forced by the often-deliberate failure of authorities to stop ongoing criminal activities, they set out to expose the crimes and the complicity of officials. Quite often, crime-fighting activity either originates from personal vendetta, or results in personal vendetta, or both. It can be a vicious death-cycle. [As an example, read this Indian Express report on Amit Jethwa here: ]

· Fact no. 3: THE NUMBERS AND NETWORKS OF ANGRY ACTIVISTS IS SWELLING EVERY MONTH. Agonizingly slow case disposal by Information Commissioners discourages many information seekers. But it also turns substantial numbers of information seekers into experts and hard-boiled activists. During the 6-18 months of waiting for hearings at State and Central Information Commissioners (SICs/CICs), frustrated RTI applicants get lots of free advice from senior colleagues, network together and establish groups. Together, they evolve ingenious ways of challenging the system with a combination of RTI applications to various public authorities, complaints, letter-baazi, sting operations, media exposes etc. They develop various legal, administrative and arm-twisting methods for seeking remedy. The slow-moving system thus helping to create an army of its own enemies. This process appears to have reached a saturation point in 2010… hence the killings.

· Fact no. 4: CIC/SIC’s RELUCTANCE FORCES ACTIVISTS TO ENDANGER THEIR LIVES FOR MONTHS & YEARS. The wait for information is made prolonged by SICs/CICs reluctant to enforce the time-limit for giving information – 30 days in a bulk of the cases, 45 days in complicated cases. Information commissioners routinely refuse to penalize public information officers (PIOs), order compensation for distressed appellants, and monitor the smooth flow of quality information. Such routine condonement makes PIOs and public authorities fearless and unmindful of the requirements of the RTI Act. The prolonged struggle of the helpless activists to get information increases their visibility and vulnerability. The activist becomes a sitting duck for the criminals and the corrupt whom he is seeking to expose.

· Fact no. 5: GOVERNMENT POLICY OF ROUTINELY SELECTING POLITICAL APPOINTEES AND RETIRED BABUS FOR THE POST OF CICs/SICs INCREASES THE CHANCES OF ATTACKS ON RTI ACTIVISTS. Does anybody believe that after decades in the administration, a retired IAS officer will force his former colleagues to give out embarrassing information? Is it likely that bureaucrats or political party workers will compel disclosure of documents that may be used as evidence in court? Appointment of such people as SICs/CICs violates the basic tenet of natural justice, vz. “No one should be judge in his own cause.” While minimizing the chances of timely information disclosure and justice, such appointments maximise the chances of the activist’s strategies being leaked the Information Commissioner or his staff to land and mining mafias etc, leading to threats, attacks and killings. For thousands of activists countrywide, this is not a hypothetical scenario, but a regular occurrence.

CIC Selection Issue explained in a nutshell:

· Fact no. 6: UNWILLINGNESS OF POLICE TO REGISTER FIRS AND INVESTIGATE COMPLAINTS OF ACTIVISTS FORCES THEM TO DO DANGEROUS DETECTIVE WORK FOR GATHERING EVIDENCE. Over recent decades, the power to get an FIR registered with the police or Anti-Corruption Bureau with basic evidence of wrongdoing has slipped out of the common citizen’s hands, and accumulated in the hands of the powerful, influential and rich. CrPC sections 154 and 156 say that for FIR to be registered, cognizable offence must be “made out” by the citizen’s complaint; it is the job of the police investigation to gather enough evidence to later frame a charge-sheet and place it before the court.

[Issue on registering FIR explained in a nutshell:

Anti Corruption Bureau explained in a nutshell: ]

Due to police officials’ unwillingness to perform their legal duties – no doubt under political and bureaucratic pressures – RTI activists endanger their lives trying to gather more and more documentary evidence to nail the culprits in court -- a dangerous activity, especially when powerful MLAs, MPs, ministers and history-sheeters are involved.

Amit Jethwa, Dattatreya Patil and Satish Shetty took it on themselves to uncover ongoing criminal activities. In 2009, like all of us, they were part of the struggle for good governance. In 2010, they have been laid to rest. Aren’t we all “dead men walking,” waiting for a bullet to release us from our struggle? Don’t our families live in the fear of being orphaned?

Sumaira Abdulali has been fighting to save the environment from rapacious sand-mining mafias. She was assaulted – not once but twice – and narrowly escaped with her life in january. Nayana Kathpalia has been fighting in courts for decades to prevent theft of precious public spaces in cities by crooks. She was shot at; and luckily, she escaped. How many more chances do we want to give the crooked and the corrupt to eliminate them?

How much longer shall we tolerate and ignore procedures of governments, information commissions and police officials that actively makes living targets out of the best people in our midst?


At the very least, please write petition letters to Chief Minister, Prime Minister, UPA Chairman Sonia Gandhi and Chief Justice of India asking for these systemic changes:

a) Information Commissioners must be selected by a process of open selection, after issuing circulars and advertisements to invite applications from “eminent citizens” from different walks of life, as mandated by RTI Act sections 12(5) and 15(5). Selection cannot be a hush-hush affair that is closed to the public and open only to stooges of Chief Ministers and the Prime Minister.

b) Speaking order formats and other formats recommended by Price WaterHouse Coopers must be implemented. [PWC recommendations: ]

c) Supreme Court should proactively initiate contempt proceedings in response to police officers shirking their lawful duty to register FIRs. The duty to enforce compliance of Supreme Court orders should not be cast on hapless citizens!

Warm Regards,


98215 88114