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Friday, October 11, 2013

On 8th Anniversary of RTI Act, we salute India’s defending champions

10th October, 2013: On the eve of the 8th anniversary of India’s Right to Information Act, it is worth remembering that this anniversary honours not just a popular legislation called RTI Act 2005, but also the legion of heroes of the RTI movement. Some heroes of this revolutionary movement are iconic. They earned recognition and love for their pioneering work, for kindling a vast grassroots movement by spreading awareness and detailed knowledge of the RTI Act and RTI rules. With zeal and foresight, they created the first generation of people who knew how to draft RTI applications and speak up at appeal hearings. These people in turn mentored thousands of others, and created a huge wave of RTI work for both administration and media. These thousands of nameless, faceless RTI applicants pursuing their lonely quest to hold the administration accountable in every city, town and village, are making government officials less arrogant. They are forcing the government to respect the might of the common man, more than they ever have since Independence.
However, it is worth remembering that the government, parliament and administration are not entirely villains – although sometimes, it may seem that way. Because, to cope with this flood of requests for information, this very government created, within a very short time after October 2005, a vast administrative machinery consisting of lakhs of Public Information Officers, First Appellate Authorities and Information Commissioners.
Remember, in the 55 preceding years of Independent India, most government organizations were represented before the public by one or two Public Relations Officer (PROs). The task of a PRO was largely to respond to the members of the public with a cup of tea and a friendly “no” to any request for information – or, at best, to grudgingly give some sketchy information.
Considering all this, the progress that has been made on both sides of the administrative table since 2005 is astonishing.
Paradoxically, our collective unhappiness with the implementation of Right to Information is largely because this legal right is being used by so many people! RTI Act is giving rise to literally tens of thousands of interactions with various organs of administration, which simply did not exist before 2005.
At first sight, it may seem as though the pent-up fury of 55 years of Independence has been released; there is a flood that is unstoppable. But wait, let us not get carried away by rhetoric. Consider these facts: 
·         GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES: Roughly half of these RTI interactions (applications and appeals) are of government employees (or former government employees) trying to get their service matters resolved – matters relating to transfers, promotions, selections, pensions etc.

·         AGGRIEVED CITIZENS: The other half of RTI interactions are primarily of private citizens seeking to resolve their own private grievances. Some of these RTI applications and appeals are oblique complaints – complaints ingeniously worded in the form of RTI applications. Other RTI applications are for follow-up of complaints or representations to various government departments, quasi-judicial or even judicial forums. RTI is enabling them to actively pursue their fundamental rights.

·         PUBLIC-INTEREST CAMPAIGNERS, ACADEMICS & WHISTLE-BLOWERS. A small but significant percentage of RTI interactions are concerning matters of public interest. Some people are using RTI systematically to focus on certain aspects of public policy, and they are putting out well-reasoned, thoroughly researched reports to the government. Simultaneously, knowledgeable citizens and political activists, angered by the bad quality of administration, are trying to enforce accountability and expose scams in order to make a point. They are filing complaints, public interest litigations (PILs), and potent media reports. This activity is both revolutionary and subversive. On the one hand, it is pushing the administration to self-correct. On the other hand, it is stoking anti-establishment sentiments by heaping shame on all government and administration authorities, by using its own laws, rules and mechanisms.

The government responds by studiously ignoring these modern-day revolutionaries, and reserving the Padma awards and state benefits for cricketers, bollywood actors and other celebrities. RTI activists are daily doing the thankless job of cleaning up the administration in their villages, talukas, district-headquarters and small towns. Unrecognized, unrewarded but struggling every day, these people are chipping away at bad governance. But we, as a nation, continue to ignore them and waste our admiration on trivial celebrities. Even the common man pays only token respect to RTI activists, often only after they have been assaulted or murdered.
On this anniversary, let us remember the heroic persons whom we may have the privilege of knowing. But more so, let us dedicate it to the nameless and faceless RTI Activist – that man or woman who walks or rides a scooter in sun and rain, and insistently goes to the offices of various public authorities, filing RTI applications, appeals, attending hearings, seeking justice from an unjust and insensitive system.
Every so often, someone raises the question of who is an “RTI activist”, as opposed to a mere “RTI applicant” or “aggrieved person” or “information seeker”. On this anniversary, let us remember that this is largely an imaginary distinction. Right to Information Act 2005 has empowered the common man to question government servants and hold them accountable by corresponding with lakhs of Public Information Officers (PIOs), thousands of First Appellate Authorities, and over a hundred Information Commissioners in various States. The term “RTI activist” generally encompasses the entire civil society movement consisting of lakhs of independent citizens, plus a few hundred NGOs, who are questioning the administration on various issues, public or private.
No two RTI activists are the same. Some are habituated to filing hundreds of RTI applications to a wide range of government authorities on a variety of issues. They unearth hundreds of documents and get them published by the media, throwing light on a wide variety of issues. Other activists drill deep into one or two issues for years. Some activists frequently file first and second appeals, doggedly attend hearings, try to get the PIO penalized, and even try to get thousands of pages of information free-of-charge if the PIO missed his deadlines. Others try to get their individual or collective grievances redressed by using RTI applications as a pressure tactic. Some are neighbourhood watchdogs, supervising the municipality’s garbage-disposal, encroachment-clearance, hawkers, roads etc. Others are RTI trainers, helpers, mentors, webmasters, journalists etc., who find fulfillment by helping other people file RTI applications and appeals.
A defining characteristic of RTI activists is that they are usually leaderless and cannot be tamed. They are fiercely independent and notoriously difficult to organize into hierarchical groups. Generally, they spend money from their own pockets. Unlike NGOs, RTI activists get no government funding or corporate sponsors. They are usually unable to conform to organizational norms of behavior, and hence, cannot form associations or political parties.
Possibly the only common factor that characterizes all RTI activists is that they seek RULE OF LAW – which clearly has been eroded by decades of party politics, influence-yielding, favour-seeking and quid-quo-pro deals. As a rule, RTI activists are trying to get various rules and laws implemented. The constant basis of their actions is to compare laws, rules, norms, manuals, guidelines, circulars and terms & conditions with the administration’s failure to perform on various fronts, especially service delivery, due diligence, vigilance and law & order enforcement.
The RTI movement is an ongoing revolution. It is a statement of the common man’s faith in the democratic system that, though corroded and crooked, still somehow works. It is an authentic grassroots-level Satyagraha movement, that consists of persistently doing the rounds of government offices, seeking information and justice. Despite suffering many defeats and insults from the administration and even the judiciary, RTI activists refuse to quit, refuse to yield to cynicism and pessimism. They refuse to accept the all-pervasive belief that this nation of ours cannot be fixed!
On 12th October, 2013, we will not only salute eight years of RTI Act 2005, but also bow our heads to this massive body of men and women in cities, towns and villages, whose faith in the system just keeps them marching, stumbling along year after year in the direction of good governance. They are the keepers of the sacred flame of India.
Warm Regards,
            98215 88114      

Thursday, July 11, 2013

RTI Activists & Letter-writers, Get Useful Tips from Govt’s Manual of Office Procedures

Dear friends,
Please study the government’s Manual of Office Procedures to understand how documentation is done in various government offices:   Then you can refer to documents by their proper names given in this document e.g. “Diary Number, Index Slip, Messenger Book” etc.  Because the biggest challenge for filing an RTI application is how to correctly word it; a properly-worded application means half the battle is won before it begins!

·         Definitions (Chapter 2)
·         Forms & Procedures of Communication (Chapter 8)
·         Dak-Receipt, Registration & Distribution (Chapter 4) to understand how faxes, emails and letters marked “Immediate” or “Confidential” are dealt with in the government.
·         File Numbering System (Chapter 11), including the system for Reconstruction of File (point no. 99) and Tracking File Movements (point no. 100)
·         Present location of the file in Departmental Record Room, National Archives of India, Record Retention Schedule etc., whether computerized or not, etc. (Appendix 56 and 66)

·         The way you word an RTI application will determine the way the Public Information Officer (PIO) responds to it. An RTI application that is excessively detailed, appears full of anger, or seems like a personal challenge thrown at him, may not only trigger negative feelings in him, but also cause him to postpone replying to your application. Afterwards, as the 30-day deadline for giving information approaches, he may wish to stonewall you by citing irrelevant or partially relevant rules simply because he wants to dispose off your application with minimum time and energy. So, keep it simple!
·         If you do not get proper information at first, you may be forced to enter into a lengthy appeal procedure. The final outcome of your appeal (whether first appeal, second appeal, or further appeals in High Court and Supreme Court) may to depend heavily on the exact words you have used in your RTI application. So, frame your questions with care!

·         Tips on wording an RTI application, read:
·         Pitfalls to avoid:
·         Specimen of good RTI Application:   

Warm Regards,

GRATEFUL ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: Thank you activist Ameet Israni for emailing the Manual of Procedures to me today. Of course it is nothing new, and of course, everybody knows it is available on the internet, but sometimes, drawing someone’s attention helps a lot!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Video Accessible to Accused denied under RTI to Information Seeker

Please find below details of an interesting case heard on 23.01.2013 by Information Commissioner Mr Rajiv Mathur.

I (Dr Mohammed Naved Khan) had sought certain information including a video recording of a Fact Finding Inquiry (in which information seeker was himself present) conducted against former Vice Chancellor of AMU Dr P K Abdul Azis on the orders of the  President of India on allegations of corruption.

It interesting to point out that even during the hearing on 23.01.2013, I pointed out  to the learned Information Commissioner that the video which had been sought under RTI was in the custody of/accessible to the accused (i.e. Dr P K Abdul Azis) while it was being denied under Section 8(1)(h) of RTI to the information seeker. Further, events that happened much after the disposal of the matter by the Appellate Authority i.e. registering of a regular case by Case No RC9(A)/2012, ACU-IV, New Delhi, on 19.11.2012 by Anti Corruption Wing of CBI have been relied upon to deliver judgement in a matter dating back to 06.06.2011 (RTI was filed on this date!). 
Most shockingly, neither the CPIO and nor the Appellate Authority did ever mention CBI in any of the disposals but now inquiry by CBI has been made the basis for denying the information.

Complete details of the case, including CIC judgement are given below:

Club Building (Near Post Office)
Old JNU Campus
New Delhi-110067
Tel: +91-11-26105682

File No.CIC/DS/A/2011/003901/RM

Appellant: Dr Mohammad Naved Khan, Aligarh

Public Authority: Aligarh Muslim University

Date of Hearing: 23.01.2013

Date of decision: 23.01.2013

Heard today, dated 23.01.2013 through video conferencing.

Appellant is present.

The Public Authority is represented by Md Afzal Ali, CPIO along with Dr S. Karamat Ali, AA, Council Section.


Vide RTI dt 6.6.11, appellant had sought information on five points relating to video recording of the meetings of the 2nd Fact Finding Inquiry Committee.

2. CPIO/SO Council, vide letter dt 4.7.11, provided a point wise response.

3. An appeal was filed on 7.7.11 pointing out that the information provided was incomplete.

4. AA vide order dt 2.8.11, provided some additional information and disposed of the appeal.

5. Submissions made by the appellant and public authority were heard. The appellant submitted that the denial of copies of CD by the CPIO was not correct and wanted that copies be provided to him. The CPIO submitted that though the enquiry has been completed by the MHRD, the CBI is now investigating the matter.

6. The Commission finds that the process of investigation is not yet over as the CBI is now investigating the matter. The Hon’ble Delhi High Court in WP(C)16712/2006 (Surinderpal Singh Vs Union of India) has held that “Exemption from disclosure of information can be claimed for any information which may impede the process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of offenders.” Following the ratio of above said judgement, the Commission upholds the decision of the AA in not providing copies of the video recording.

The appeal is disposed of.

(Rajiv Mathur)
Central Information Commissioner
Authenticated true copy forwarded to:

The CPIO & Section Officer (RTI Cell)
O/o the Registrar
Aligarh Muslim University

The Deputy Registrar (Council) & FAA
O/o the Councils Section & AA
Aligarh Muslim University

Dr. Mohammad Naved Khan
Former Member, AMU Court,
D/o Business Administration
Faculty of Management Studies & Research
Aligarh Muslim University,

(Raghubir Singh)
Deputy Registrar
Text of Second Appeal, RTI and replies of CPIO and Appellate Authority  are available at URL below in PDF format:

CAPIO/DR (Legal)
AMU, Aligarh

Subject: Application for information under Section 6(1) read with Section 7(1) of RTI Act 2005

Please refer to the Second Fact Finding Inquiry Committee (FFIC) ordered by the President of India in her capacity as the Visitor of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) under Section 13(2) of the AMU Act 1920 with Mr Justice B A Khan as its Chairman and Mr Justice A N Divecha as its Member.

Please also refer to the fact that several of the meetings/hearings of the Second FFIC were Video recorded.

With reference to the above, under the section 6(1) and 7(1) of RTI, I may be provided with/informed on the following:
1)      Breakup of the amount spent in Video recording of the said meetings/hearings including the dates on which such meetings/hearings were held. Also provide duration of each such meeting/hearing.
2)      Details of procedure adopted in assigning contract for Video recording of the said meetings/hearings.
3)      Name of the entity and its complete address including name of the proprietor to whom work of Video recording of the said meetings/hearings was awarded/assigned.
4)      Provide digital copy of the Video recording of the said meetings/hearings.
5)      Name and designation of the officer/functionary who ordered the Video recording of the said meetings/hearings together with facts and reasons. Also provide all relevant file notings.
A fee of Rs 10/- is deposited in the University vide Book No. 2 and R.No.185 dated 22.1.11. The original receipt is attached herewith.
[Dr Mohammed Naved Khan]
Department of Business Administration
Faculty of Management Studies & Research
Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh-202002
Complete RTI file can be downloaded from the following URL in PDF format:
July, 7, 2011
Dr S Karamat Ali
Deputy Registrar (Councils)
AMU, Aligarh-202002

Subject: Wilful/deliberate denial and providing of misleading/incomplete information by the CPIO (Councils) liable to be proceeded against under Sections 18(1), 19(1) and 20(1) of RTI Act 2005.
1) RTI application filed with CAPIO/DR (Legal) dated 06-06-2011.
2) Reply by CPIO/Section Officer (Councils), AMU, Aligarh, vide ( C)/ 765 dated 4.07.2011.

Dear Sir,
I filed above referred RTI application with CAPIO, AMU, and have received an incomplete/misleading reply which tantamounts to wilful denial of information by CPIO, SO (Councils).

At the outset I wish to point out that the note sheet related to the matter (as clearly evident from document annexed with the RTI reply by CPIO) has been prepared as an after thought after the filing of RTI application on 06.06.2011.

The following may be noted with regard to the said reply by CPIO/SO (Councils):
Point 1: The following may be noted:
a)    Dates on which the hearings that were video recorded have not been provided.
b)    Duration of each of the meetings/hearings have not been provided.
Point 2: The reply is blatantly misleading as the information provided has been generated on 11.06.2011 after the receiving of the RTI application on 06.06.2011. It is amply clear that the appended note has been prepared in the light of the points raised in the instant RTI application.
Point 3: The name of the proprietor and address of the entity assigned the said videography work have not been provided.
Point 4: The information has deliberately/wilfully been denied by the CPIO. Further, the following may be noted in this regard:
(i).  No cogent reasons/evidence have been provided by the CPIO for denying the information and for invoking Section 8(1)(h) of RTI which is wholly inapplicable in the instant case.
(ii). The copies of the CDs of the Video recordings have been handed over to AMU by M/s Indian Television Co. (ITV), a Delhi based commercial organization.
(iii).                No details have been provided as to how it would hamper the prosecution of offenders and how they are likely to get away by the providing of said video recordings of hearings which are in all probability accessible to them already.
(iv).                It is to be noted that Justice Ravindra Bhat has held in Bhagatsingh vs. CIC WP (c ) no. 3114/2007- "13. Access to information, under Section 3 of the Act, is the rule and exemptions under Section 8, the exception. Section 8 being a restriction on this fundamental right, must therefore is to be strictly construed. It should not be interpreted in manner as to shadow the very right itself. Under Section 8, exemption from releasing information is granted if it would impede the process of investigation or the prosecution of the offenders. It is apparent that the mere existence of an investigation process cannot be a ground for refusal of the information; the authority withholding information must show satisfactory reasons as to why the release of such information would hamper the investigation process. Such reasons should be germane, and the opinion of the process being hampered should be reasonable and based on some material. Sans this consideration, Section 8(1)(h) and other such provisions would become the haven for dodging demands for information.
(v). Further, Right to Information is a fundamental right of citizens and the denial of information has to be backed by the strong reasons. Sufficient reasons have not been advanced to show that the denial of information is justified. 
(vi).                A rights based enactment is akin to a welfare measure, like the Act, should receive a liberal interpretation. The contextual background and history of the Act is such that the exemptions, outlined in Section 8, relieving the authorities from the obligation to provide information, constitute restrictions on the exercise of the rights provided by it. Therefore, such exemption provisions have to be construed in their terms; there is some authority supporting this view (See Nathi Devi v. Radha Devi Gupta 2005 (2) SCC 201; B. R. Kapoor v. State of Tamil Nadu 2001 (7) SCC 231 and V. Tulasamma v. Sesha Reddy 1977 (3) SCC 99). Adopting a different approach would result in narrowing the rights and approving a judicially mandated class of restriction on the rights under the Act, which is unwarranted.”
(vii).              The preambular goal of RTI Act to ensure transparency & accountability has been de facto liquidated by CPIO’s above decision.
(viii).             Denial of a citizen’s fundamental right must be justified and the mere act of continuing an investigation cannot be used to deny citizens’ rights.

Point 5: The following may be noted:
(i).  The CPIO has not provided the names and designation of the officer/functionary who ordered the Video recording.
(ii). Facts and reasons for videography have not been provided.
(iii).          File notings have not been provided.

The matter is of utmost public interest and importance as it relates to allegations of corruption and other irregularities in AMU, an academic institution of repute, taking note of which, the Hon’ble President of India, in her capacity as the Visitor of AMU, ordered the said Fact Finding Inquiry to submit its report within three (3) months. Further, in excess of Rs 80 Lakhs (Rupees Eighty Lakhs) have already been spent by AMU, a publicly funded institution, in the conduct of the Inquiry which lingered on for more than a year before any report could be submitted.

In the light of the above, I request that my application may be disposed of in consonance with provisions of RTI Act to provide me required information without any delay otherwise I will be free to proceed to the CIC, New Delhi, with a complaint under relevant sections of the RTI Act 2005.
With regards,
(Dr Mohammed Naved Khan)
Former Member, AMU Court
Department of Business Administration
Faculty of Management Studies & Research
Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh-202002

Complete RTI file can be downloaded from the following URL in PDF format: