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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

How citizens can interface with Municipal Corporation: Tips from a seasoned activist

Dear Friends,

My colleague G R Vora is a civic activist of long standing. He has been interacting with the Mumbai’s Municipal Corporation since the 1990s. He notes that although meetings with officials are an important method for a common man to get his civic grievances redressed and to demand proper governance, they are underused. If civic activists attend more meetings with various civic authorities, things will rapidly improve.

Here are some tips from Vora:

1. Attend the monthly Citizens Grievance Redressal (CGR) meeting at the ward office. In Mumbai, it is supposed to be held once every month at every ward office -- mostly on a Saturday 9 to 11 am. In such meetings, in addition to the Assistant Municipal Commissioner (also called Ward Officer), all the heads of Departments (such as Building & Factories, Storm Water Drains, Encroachment Removal, License, Water Supply, Solid Waste Dept, Health etc, ) or their second-in-command are in attendance. This is an effective forum to put forward your grievances and demand commitments from the concerned officers. What you are entitled to at these meetings:

a) Proper and patient hearing, as long as you do not get personal and rude, but stick to the facts of the grievance, supporting your contentions with documentary proofs such as letters written to proper authorities etc, agenda & minutes of meetings held, photographs of the problem.

b) Discussion of written submissions of your grievances with the responsible officials, followed by proper directions for redressal of grievances. So it’s always a good idea to carry a letter for written submission, instead of going empty-handed.

c) Acknowledged & stamped copy of written submissions. Always take at least three copies, plus original. One is copy for submission, one is your office copy on which you will receive stamped acknowdgement, and a couple of copies extra which will come in handy during the meeting.

d) The Complaints Officer (CO) is supposed to note down the minutes of the meeting for future reference.

e) At the next meeting, the officers are supposed to put forward an Action Taken Report(ATR) on the complaints and commitments given at the last CGR meeting. If they do not, you can insist on this, to avoid slippages from action commitments made at previous meetings.

2. Do the documentation, walk the extra mile: After getting valuable commitments at the meeting, many citizens don’t put it down on paper. This is a mistake, because it allows officials to evade those commitments. Please don’t depend on the CO’s minutes. Within one or two days after the meeting, take care to send a letter addressed to the Ward officer listing all the grievances which were put forward at this CGR meeting, and also the commitments that were made. This is the way to put on record the grievances expressed at the CGR meeting, and to prepare the ground for further follow-up.

3. Follow up with RTI Application: If you feel that the officers will not act on your complaint, then you can pressure them by filing an RTI application on the complaints already given (see ). The RTI will seek details of the action taken, reasons recorded for not acting on the complaint, officers responsible for taking action etc. etc.

4. If Ward officials negligently or deliberately fail to redress grievances, then you can approach the higher up, namely Deputy Municipal Commissioner (DMC) of that zone. The DMC is supposed to meet citizens once a month (e.g. for MCGM F/North ward, the DMC Zone 2 meets the citizens on third Monday of the month 3 - 5 pm). You must take along a letter seeking redressal of grievances, the copies of complaints already lodged at Ward Office etc, RTI applications filed, information received etc. At this meeting, you must urge him to take action not only on your grievances, but also against the officers who have not taken action on your grievances.

5. If action is not satisfactory, then escalate the complaint to the next level. Seek an appointment with the Additional Municipal Commissioner under whom the ward falls i.e. Addl. Mun. Commissioner (City) or Addl. Mun. Commissioner (Western Suburbs) or Addl. Mun. Commissioner (Eastern Suburbs). Get their phone numbers from the website. Go to the meeting with your complete file of papers to show that you have done a lot of groundwork before approaching him; this will earn you respect in his eyes, and put pressure on him to act promptly. It will also tell him that you are not easy to deter, and that if he does not satisfy you, you are willing and able to go to his higher-ups too!

6. Finally, there is the Municipal Commissioner’s Lokshahi Din, where he is available on for hearing members of the public seeking redressal of grievances. (In the case of MCGM, it’s the First Monday of the month between 9 - 11 am)

7. Regular letterbaazi is a must. At or after every meeting, dispatch a letter to the official stating the grievances expressed and commitments made by officers. These are the minutes of your interaction with the concerned officials. This will become necessary in case you need to go to court with a Writ Petition or Public Interest Litigation, or if you wish to press charges against officials for deliberate inaction. Neatly file the stamped acknowledgment copy.

8. G R Vora’s Words of Caution:

(a) Citizens should avoid calling these meetings at the Ward Office as ALM (Advanced Locality Management) meetings. If they do, they may be sidetracked by officials who start asking questions like, “ALM of which Societies? Which neighbourhood? Are you doing garbage segregation, vermi-composting, adoption of footpaths for beautification etc? Why not?” Officials may use such tactics to put the citizen on the backfoot, and make him/her feel inferior.

(b) CGR meetings are regularly happening wherever citizens are active, in wards such as H-West ward, F/North Ward, M East / West wards, and A ward. These should be happening in all the wards. Demand it, and try to gather at least 8-10 citizens who devote energy to attending these meetings.

(c) Ward officer may call the residents only on two days of the week (e.g. in F/North ward it is on Mondays and Fridays between 3 - 5 pm) to air their grievance. At this meeting only the Ward Officer is available, but not a single Head of Department (HoD) is present to answer questions and give commitment on grievance redressal. This is a Bad Practice. Bring pressure on Ward Officer to meet citizens when all HoDs are available.

(d) Municipal Commissioner, Addl. MC, DMC and Ward Officer sometimes allows citizens to enter their office only one-by-one, and not in a group. This puts the citizens at a disadvantage, as they are not able to support one another with relevant arguments, relevant information etc. The official gains a psychological advantage by virtue of his high office, and uses it to suppress and cow down the citizen. This is a bad practice, which must be opposed. We must keep in mind that CGR meetings are forums where citizens can apply collective pressure for good governance.

9. What to do if Officials persistently fail to resolve grievances? Three Weapons available in Maharashtra & Mumbai --

A) provisions of Maharashtra Delay Prevention Act:

B) For slow response to Representations, this circular

C) For inaction on unauthorized constructions, this circular:

Also read about Other Action Tools available to active citizens working for better governance and accountability:

Warm Regards,


098215 88114

Monday, March 28, 2011

Govt servants joining activists in War Against Corruption: a live example

Dear fellow activists,

Hindustan Construction Company evaded making Employees Provident Fund contributions of Rs 4.44 crore between April 2005 and March 2008. See paragraph marked in red on page 29 of this file:

These figures pertain to construction of Bandra Worli Sea Link (details on Page 8-12, and 28), it appears that the evasion is wider. “A huge evasion of membership has been unearthed at all the work areas/sites of the said establishment” i.e. in about 15 places around the country, including three places in Maharashtra, besides Mumbai. See blue-highlighted paragraph on page 12.

According to Section 6 of Employees Provident Fund and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952, “The contribution which shall be paid by the employer to the Fund shall eight and one-third per cent of the basic wages dearness allowances and retaining allowance (if any) for the time being payable to each of the employees (whether employed by him directly or by or through a contractor) and the employees' contribution shall be equal to the contribution payable by the employer in respect of him…” This document suggests that Hindustan Construction Company, headed by Ajit Gulabchand, deliberately did not keep its end of the bargain.

Now someone please ask, How did I get my hands on this internal government document, which pertains to a Vigilance enquiry against a Regional Provident Fund Commissioner? Did I file an RTI application for this?

The answer is, No, not RTI. A central government insider called me and gave it to me after he read my blog, titled “Maharashtra Govt lets Lavasa & Amby Valley piss into Pune’s water-supply He felt that the documents concerning Hindustan Construction Co’s evasion in paying its Provident Fund dues needed to be in the public domain. He wanted to blow the whistle, and he wanted my help in doing so. And so, as promised, here I am, putting these documents in the public domain.

From all this, I am getting the feeling that large numbers of government servants are eager to ally with RTI activists and civil society members in exposing corruption and wrongdoings. We just need to reach out to these government insiders and whistleblowers, and encourage them to join hands with us. If we build a relationship of trust, I think hundreds of skeletons will start tumbling out of government cupboards. And when the government sees that its own employees have joined the war against corruption, things will change a lot more rapidly.

Mr Prime Minister Sir, are you listening? Are you reading the writing on the wall?

Warm Regards,


98215 88114

Saturday, March 5, 2011

SC’s Verdict on CVC gives RTI activists 10 Reasons to Cheer!


We should cheer now! Thursday’s Supreme Court verdict annulling P J Thomas’s appointment as CVC gives nepotism a kick in the pants! This order contains instructions for ensuring transparent selections of constitutional authorities such as State & Central Information Commissioners, members of Human Rights Commission, Minorities Commission, etc. We can use these ‘legal gems’ in our letter-baazi, complaints, RTI applications & writ petitions.

In this copy of the SC judgment, these 10 directives are shown in the right margin in Red Roman Numerals:

These are also listed below.

10 Directives for Transparent Selection:

I. High Courts must entertain when appointments are challenged. “We reiterate that Government is not accountable to the courts for the choice made but Government is accountable to the courts in respect of the lawfulness/legality of its decisions when impugned under the judicial review jurisdiction.”(Pg 52, Point 45)

II. Recommendation made without due procedure are null & void. “If a duty is cast under the proviso to Section 4(1) on the High Powered Committee (HPC) to recommend to the President the name of the selected candidate, the integrity of that decision making process is got to ensure that the powers are exercised for the purposes and in the manner envisaged by the said Act, otherwise such recommendation will have no existence in the eye of law.” (Page 2, point 2).

III. CVC is defined as an “Integrity Institution”. (The same definition may stretch to Information Commissions.) “In our opinion, CVC is an integrity institution. This is clear from the scope and ambit (including the functions of the Central Vigilance Commissioner) of the 2003 Act. It is an Institution which is statutorily created under the Act. It is to supervise vigilance administration. The 2003 Act provides for a mechanism by which the CVC retains control over CBI. That is the reason why it is given autonomy and insulation from external influences under the 2003 Act.” (Page 22, Point 26.)

IV. The key issue is Institutional Integrity, not Personal Integrity. “The constitution of CVC as a statutory body under Section 3 shows that CVC is an Institution. The key word is Institution. We are emphasizing the key word for the simple reason that in the present case the recommending authority (High Powered Committee) has gone by personal integrity of the officers empanelled and not by institutional integrity.” (Point 28, page 30)

V. Recommendation of Selection Committee must show a proper thought-process. “The word ‘recommendation’ in the proviso stands for an informed decision to be taken by the HPC on the basis of a consideration of relevant material keeping in mind the purpose, object and policy of the 2003 Act. As stated, the object and purpose of the 2003 Act is to have an integrity Institution like CVC which is in charge of vigilance administration and which constitutes an anti-corruption mechanism. In its functions, the CVC is similar to Election Commission, Comptroller and Auditor General, Parliamentary Committees etc. Thus, while making the recommendations, the service conditions of the candidate being a public servant or civil servant in the past is not the sole criteria.” (Point 28, page 31-32).

VI. The logic of decision-making process must be self-evident.Appointment to the post of the Central Vigilance Commissioner must satisfy not only the eligibility criteria of the candidate but also the decision making process of the recommendation. The decision to recommend has got to be an informed decision keeping in mind the fact that CVC as an institution has to perform an important function of vigilance administration. (Point 33, page 36)

VII. The touchstone is Public Interest. “When institutional integrity is in question, the touchstone should be ‘public interest’ which has got to be taken into consideration by the HPC and in such cases the HPC may not insist upon proof ” (i.e. conclusive proof of the candidate being corrupt or ineligible.) “The point to be noted is that in the present case the entire emphasis has been placed by the CVC, the DoPT and the HPC only on the bio-data of the empanelled candidates. None of these authorities have looked at the matter from the larger perspective of institutional integrity including institutional competence and functioning of CVC. It is the independence and impartiality of the institution like CVC which has to be maintained and preserved in larger interest of the rule of law. While making recommendations, the HPC performs a statutory duty. Its duty is to recommend. While making recommendations, the criteria of the candidate being a public servant or a civil servant in the past is not the sole consideration. The HPC has to look at the record and take into consideration whether the candidate would or would not be able to function as a Central Vigilance Commissioner.” (Point 33, page 37)

VIII. Don’t consider only civil servants. “No reason has been given as to why in the present case the zone of consideration stood restricted only to the civil service.” (Point 55, page 68).

IX. Step-by-step instructions for selection procedure, incl. how list of candidates will be prepared (Point 55, pg 68 onwards):

(a) Record reasons, especially if there’s dissent. “As in the present case, if one Member of the Committee dissents that Member should give reasons for the dissent and if the majority disagrees with the dissent, the majority shall give reasons for overruling the dissent. This will bring about fairness-in-action. Since we have held that legality of the choice or selection is open to judicial review we are of the view that if the above methodology is followed transparency would emerge which would also maintain the integrity of the decisionmaking process.”

(b) Don’t restrict selection to civil servants. “In future, the zone of consideration should be in terms of Section 3(3) of the 2003 Act. It shall not be restricted to civil servants.”

(c) Impeccable integrity. “All the civil servants and other persons empanelled shall be outstanding civil servants or persons of impeccable integrity.”

(d) Rational criteria, recording of reasons. “The empanelment shall be carried out on the basis of rational criteria, which is to be reflected by recording of reasons and/or noting akin to reasons by the empanelling authority.”

(e) Fixing accountability for empanelment. “The empanelment shall be carried out by a person not below the rank of Secretary to the Government of India in the concerned Ministry.”

(f) Don’t withhold information. “The empanelling authority, while forwarding the names of the empanelled officers/persons, shall enclose complete information, material and data of the concerned officer/person, whether favourable or adverse. Nothing relevant or material should be withheld from the Selection Committee. It will not only be useful but would also serve larger public interest and enhance public confidence if the contemporaneous service record and acts of outstanding performance of the officer under consideration, even with adverse remarks is specifically brought to the notice of the Selection Committee. ”

(g) Transparent screening procedure. “The Selection Committee may adopt a fair and transparent process of consideration of the empanelled officers.”

X. A precedent is set for quashing of Commissioner’s appointment by court. No need for roundabout methods to remove CIC/SIC! “The impugned appointment of Shri P.J. Thomas as Central Vigilance Commissioner is quashed.” (Point 56, page 71)

Benefits from this Judgment:

A. HALF THE BATTLE IS WON FOR ARVIND KEJRIWAL’S SLP, WHICH WAS RECENTLY ADMITTED BY SUPREME COURT. The Special Leave Petition challenges non-transparent selection of Information Commissioners. Gist of Kejriwal’s petition:

B. Details of many unfair appointments:

C. In 2010, Andhra Pradesh High Court and Tamil Nadu High Court admitted writ petitions filed by Madhav Vishnubhatta challenging the arbitrary selection of Chief State Information Commissioners. In Tamil Nadu, the Chief SIC was appointed by the CM’s selection committee, disregarding dissent expressed by opposition leader Jayalalitha.

D. THE CLEAN-UP WILL OPEN UP HUNDREDS OF POSTS AT CENTRAL AND STATE LEVELS. The government will have to consider ‘eminent citizens’ like you all for all such posts, as opposed to political chamchas:

Warm Regards,


98215 88114