Saturday, March 24, 2018

CIC tells MHA to publish criminal records against IPS officers

Free Press Journal: Lucknow: Saturday, March 24, 2018.
The Central Information Commission (CIC) has directed the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to publish data on criminal cases against Indian Police Service (IPS) officers, an RTI activist said on Friday.
The direction was given by Information Commissioner Yashovardhan Azad in an RTI appeal filed by Lucknow-based activist Nutan Thakur.
While the MHA had denied to provide this information, the Commission said as the cadre controlling authority, MHA’s role is to look after the conditions of service of IPS officers, including departmental enquiries and criminal cases. Hence, the MHA must draw such list and provide it to the petitioner, reports IANS.
Similarly, while the MHA denied information on cadre change of IPS officers calling it personal information, the Commission disagreed with it, saying that transfer of cadre affects public administration and must be placed in the public domain. The Commission also directed the MHA to furnish year-wise disciplinary action taken against IPS officers.

National Workshop on Promotion of RTI and Open Government Data Kicks Off

Kathmandu Tribune: Kathmandu: Saturday, March 24, 2018.
Freedom Forum and The Asia Foundation jointly brought together participants from government, civil society, media and development agencies for a one-day workshop on March 23 on the right to information (RTI) and open government data in federal Nepal.
The workshop aimed to increase participants’ understanding of the implications of Nepal’s federal structure on the right to information and open government data was inaugurated by Chief Information Commissioner Krishna Hari Baskota.
Another objective of the event was to increase awareness about the initiatives of various non-government actors working on the right to information and open government data at local, provincial and federal government tiers in order to help identify synergies and possible areas of collaboration.
The workshop was organized under the “Data for Development in Nepal” Program, a project implemented by The Asia Foundation in partnership with Development Initiatives with funding from the UK Government’s Department for International Development.
Following the adoption of the 2015 Constitution and the successful completion of the three-tier elections, Nepal has been undergoing a process of transition to a Federal State. The Constitution and the Right to Information Act adopted in 2007 guarantees the right of citizens to seek and receive information regarding themselves and on any matter of public importance.
In addition, the Act and Right to Information Rules adopted in 2009 require bodies to proactively disclose 20 different types of information, including essential information about government agencies, their functions, services, and decision-making processes and share information about its activities every three month in open data format through any medium. In the context of federal Nepal, access to reliable and timely information will be critical for citizens to participate effectively in local-level decision-making and to hold their locally elected leaders to account.
In addition to information, access to accurate data in open formats is crucial for citizens, media, and civil society organizations to track local development progress and to support provincial and local governments in making evidence-based decisions on planning and resource allocations. Once adopted and implemented, the Open Government Data Action Plan submitted last year by the National Information Commission to the Prime Minister’s Office will be an important instrument to make data more openly and easily available to the general public and key decision-makers across all spheres of Nepal.
Ms. Tirza Theunissen of The Asia Foundation said, “For federalism to provide the promised opportunity for citizens to engage more closely with government it is critical that the right to information and open government data are promoted and implemented at all tiers of government”.
Mr. Taranath Dahal, Executive Chief of Freedom Forum, said, “This workshop is an important opportunity to understand government commitments to transparency and co-develop ideas that can support in the delivery of this transparency”.
At the workshop, participants discussed the various challenges and opportunities that exist to promote the right to information and open government data. Following presentations by the National Information Commission, the Central Bureau of Statistics and the Prime Minister’s Office, a panel discussion was held during which participants could ask questions to the presenters, and representatives of various civil society organizations presented on their initiatives to make central and local-level information and data available.
In the afternoon, participants formed working groups to brainstorm ideas for promoting the right to information and open government data, addressing local-level information and data gaps and developing strategies to enhance information mechanism and data literacy and build capacity to use data.
Each group presented their group work and participants provided feedback. These ideas will be used to inform the efforts of the Data for Development Program and Freedom Forum to further promote the right to information and open government data at local, provincial and federal levels.

How the Women of Delhi’s Savda Ghevra Used RTIs to Ring in Change

The Quint: Delhi: Saturday, March 24, 2018.
“We get very excited every time we get a reply to an RTI filed by us,” says Urmilla Devi, a resident of Savda Ghevra Slum Resettlement Colony, the largest slum rehabilitation project in Delhi. Residents of Savda Ghevra were relocated here in 2006 from slums near Pragati Maidan, where stadiums and other sporting facilities were constructed for the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
However, when the slum dwellers were first relocated to Savda Ghevra, the colony was devoid of almost all basic civic amenities such as access to clean water, sanitation facilities, public transport, public health centres etc.
Emboldened by RTIs
But when the women of Savda Ghevra colony were apprised on Right To Information (RTI) Act, by the NGO MARG, they started filing a series of RTIs to get their due. The women started seeing change on the ground as the first RTIs were filed, asking why only a handful of water tankers are sent to the colony that houses over 40,000 families.
Soon they received replies from the local administration informing them of the civic amenities extended to the colony. Thereafter, more RTIs were filed and in a matter of months the water tanker services were streamlined. Not only were the water tanker services streamlined, but the host of RTIs filed by the women of Savda Ghevra forced the Delhi Jal Board to install GPS devices on each tanker to ensure that water is not stolen.
Not An Easy Road
With renewed confidence the women of the colony filed more RTIs demanding amenities such as better sanitation, public toilets, higher frequency of buses, public health centres and many more.
With the filing of each RTI, the women watched their colony transform as more and more issues were addressed. In all, over 200 RTIs were filed by the women to different government departments demanding various services.
However, this journey has not been hunky-dory for the women as they have been repeatedly threatened and, on some occasions, even assaulted by tanker drivers for filing RTIs. Yet, they could not dissuade the women who finally understood that their strength lies in numbers. They even took some of the goons to court on charges of assault.
Today Urmilla Devi, who heads the team of women rooting for change in Savda Ghevra, insists on one thing, “All those women and men who live in slums and are not aware of what rights they are entitled to, should file an RTI. I don’t know whether the government is scared of RTIs, but it’s a very powerful instrument to effect change.”

‘3.9 lakh tablets use, not rats killed’: Red-faced Maharashtra counters BJP leader Eknath Khadse’s claim

The Indian Express: Mumbai: Saturday, March 24, 2018.
A day after BJP leader Eknath Khadse questioned how a company could have killed 3.19 lakh rats in the state secretariat in seven days, the Maharashtra government Friday said the contract given to the company had specified not the number of rats, but the number of tablets needed to kill the rats.
The government said a contract was given to a private company, Vinayak Mazoor Cooperative Society, to provide 3,19,400 tablets to kill rats for which it was paid Rs 4,79,100. The government, however, could not furnish details on the effectiveness of the tablets in killing the rats or provide numbers of how many rats had been killed in Mantralaya after the tablets were used.
After Khadse’s allegations, Public Works Department (PWD) Minister Chandrakant Patil Friday convened a meeting with senior officials to determine the alleged irregularities. The PWD had issued the pest control work order.
The work order, accessed by The Indian Express, stated, “The PWD had issued two tenders on May 3, 2016. The work order was given to Vinayak Mazoor Cooperative Society.” The work order mentioned that 3,19,400 tablets were to be procured to kill rats. The Vinayak Mazoor Cooperative Society is located in Mazgaon in Mumbai.
A senior bureaucrat said, “It appears there was a goof-up. The number 3,19,400 was for tablets to kill rats and not statistics of how many rats were killed.” The officer also said that there was no data to ascertain the impact of the tablets.
Explaining the confusion, PWD officials said, “There were various columns. The tablets to kill rats were read as rats killed.”
The work order for Mantralaya and its annexe building had specified 3,19,400 tablets based on an alleged study which determined the number of tablets required to kill rats across the building.
Similar details were provided under the Right to Information Act (RTI). In response to an RTI application, the government categorically said the contract was for 3,19,400 tablets to kill rats. The rate of tablets was Rs 1.50. Khadse, however, stood his ground and said, “Whatever I said in the state Assembly on Friday was based on the information furnished under RTI. The contract was being awarded or payment was made for 3,19,400 rats killed.”
He said that the government should have told him if incorrect information was given out. “The contract was given for six months which was reduced to two months and work completed within seven days,” he said.

Vacancies in information commissions increase across India

Times of India: Delhi: Saturday, March 24, 2018.
Twelve years after the RTI Act came into being, vacancies in the information commissions continues to hamper the functioning of the bodies. A study of vacancies shows that 25 percent of positions for information commissioners in the state information commissions remain empty.
According to a study of annual reports and websites of the state information commissions (SIC) by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), of the 146 posts, 109 are vacant. “In 2015, against 142 posts created 111 Information Commissioners (including Chief Information Commissioners) were working across the country,” says the report by CHRI.
As per sections 12(2) and 15(2) of the Central RTI Act, Information Commissions comprising of one Chief Information Commissioner and a maximum of ten Information Commissioners at the Central and State level, respectively is permitted.
By 2018, a total of 153 posts of Information Commissioners (including the Chief Information Commissioners) had been created across the country (including the JKSIC).
Adds the CHRI report, “At the time of writing this report there are 146 posts of Chief Information Commissioners and Information Commissioners created across the country of which more than 25 percent of the posts (Chief ICs and ICs) are lying vacant.”
In July 2015, the vacancy figure was much lower at 20 percent. “In March 2018, the total number of Information Commissioners serving across the country is 109 - down from 111 in 2015. In 2014 when we published the Rapid Study Report 2.0 there were 120 ICs serving across the country. Yet fewer ICs are serving across the country in 2018 despite the creation of more posts,” the report goes on to state.
Haryana has the full complement of ICs (1+10) followed by Karnataka, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh (9 each) with the Central Information Commission, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu (7 each) taking third place.
Together, these seven Information Commissions account for almost half the number (47 percent) of serving Information Commissioners across the country. Six of these Information Commissions are saddled with 72 percent of the total number, notes the CHRI report.
The SICs of Kerala, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Sikkim, Tripura have one member each.
Maharashtra has an acting State Chief Information Commissioner (SCIC) since mid-2017. A regular SCIC has not been appointed despite more than eight months having passed since the retirement of the previous incumbent. Gujarat SIC does not have an SCIC since mid-January, 2018.

RTI: 9 year long journey

Greater Kashmir: Srinagar: Saturday, March 24, 2018.
Time runs so quickly. I can’t believe the existing RTI law (J&K RTI Act 2009) has completed 9 years of its enactment. I remember when we had organized first discussion on RTI in an educational institution way back in 2006. Veteran activist and Magsaysay awardee Prof Sandeep Panday who teaches at IIT Gandhinagar had accompanied us to Government Degree College Bemina, now known as Abdul Ahad Azad Memorial Degree College. In 2006 we were asking for revocation of J&K RTI Act 2004 and enactment of a progressive law on the pattern of central RTI Act 2005 which was enacted in 2005. We in fact succeeded to get a robust RTI law after 3 years on March 20th 2009, but even after having a strong RTI legislation in force we face lots of challenges. After 12 long years we once again gathered together in the college campus to commemorate 9 years of J&K RTI Act 2009 recently. With the kind support of Principal Prof Mushtaq Ahmad Lone, Dr Mohammad Amin Malik, Dr Abdul Hamid, Dr Feroz and fellow activists of RTI Movement, we discussed various aspects of J&K RTI Act 2009 in the same campus after such a long time. The RTI awareness level is still less and this was authenticated by Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) Mr Khurshid Ahmad Ganai and ex Mr CIC G R Sufi who were present at the seminar to commemorate 9 years of J&K RTI Act 2009.
I wrote a piece on 1st anniversary of RTI in 2010, 2nd one in 2011 and so on. Major concerns that I had projected in my  2010 and  2011 articles was constitution of State Information Commission (SIC), designation of Public Information Officers (PIOs) and First Appellate Authorities (FAAs) in public authorities especially Government Departments. When SIC was constituted in February 2011 after appointment of Mr G R Sufi as SIC’s first Chief Information Commissioner and subsequent appointment of  two other Information Commissioners (ICs) Mr Nazir Ahmad and Prof S K Sharma, the  designation of PIOs and FAAs was again a major challenge until 2015. Mr G R Sufi ex CIC played a pivotal role in ensuring majority of public authorities designate PIOs and FAAs. In-spite of 9 years of RTI enactment in Jammu & Kashmir there are some major challenges before State Information Commission (SIC). The voluntary disclosure of Information under section 4 (1) of J&K RTI Act 2009 still remains a major challenge. Official websites of Government departments , semi Govt organisations , state owned public sector undertakings are still not updated on regular basis. Even the details of Public Information Officers (PIOs) and First Appellate Authorities (FAAs) is not available on most of the websites. Govt orders , circulars , beneficiary list of various Govt schemes , notifications issued under J&K Land Acquisition , subsequent awards and compensation paid on account of fruit and non-fruit bearing trees are not uploaded  on Government websites at regular intervals.
From last 9 years more than half a dozen circulars have been issued by State Information Commission (SIC) stressing upon Government to abide by voluntary disclosure of information. The incumbent Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) Mr Khurshid Ahmad Ganai who completed 1 year in office recently  has issued three notices to Government directing for making voluntary disclosure of information, but Government is reluctant to adhere to these circulars and notices.
Majority of the Government officers particularly the designated Public Information Officers (PIOs) & First Appellate Authorities (FAAs) even after 9 years of the enactment of J&K RTI Act 2009 are not aware about the provisions of this law. If we calculate total number of years since we got RTI law in J&K , it is 15th year as prior to present RTI Act of 2009 our state had enacted J&K RTI Act 2004 when there was PDP Congress coalition Government in J&K . Authorities have failed to conduct capacity building workshops for its designated officers. Govt is under legal obligation to train its officers under section 23 of J&K RTI Act 2009.  PIOs who got some basic training on RTI law in past are not designated PIOs as on date, as most of them either got promoted or have retired from the Government service. For instance a KAS officer who was posted as BDO few years back was a designated  PIO as well , but as on date he or she  is no more a PIO because most of the Tehsiladars , Under Secretaries or BDOs from KAS 2001 , 2004 batches are promoted to the grade of Additional Secretary or Deputy Secretary to Government . In addition to it Govt under section 23 of J&K RTI Act 2009 was supposed to create awareness among disadvantaged communities, but no such awareness programmes have been conducted from last 9 years. In spite of all these lapses ordinary citizen still feels empowered as he has a right to question Government, that was the prerogative of only legislators.

Friday, March 23, 2018

‘How were 3 lakh rats killed in a week?’ Ex-Maharashtra minister Khadse raises a stink

Hindustan Times: Mumbai: Friday, March 23, 2018.
Smelling a rat in the system, former revenue minister and senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Eknath Khadse on Thursday alleged a “large-scale scam” over the claim that the agency appointed to kill rats at Mantralaya killed 3.19 lakh rats at the state’s administrative headquarters in just a week. Khadse questioned the government over its speed of killing the rats, the competence of the agency appointed for killing the rats and demanded an inquiry.
The former minister also alleged that the poisonous chemical drunk by 84-year-old farmer Dharma Patil, who died after attempting the suicide at the Mantralaya in January this year, was part of the poison procured to eliminate the rats at the Mantralaya.
Speaking during the debate on budgetary demands, Khadse said in the lower house on Thursday that the state government-appointed agency killed 3,19,400 rats in a week between May 3 and 10, 2016. The rate of killing rats was 45,628 rats a day and 1,901 rats per hour, he said. Khadse raised questions about the disposal of the killed rats and sought information about the system that was followed for the disposal of rats, which weighed about a truck load or 9,125 tonnes. He also alleged that the agency appointed for killing rats had not taken any permission from the home department or the general administration department, which looks after the administration of the Mantralaya building. Both the departments are headed by chief minister Devendra Fadnavis.
Khadse alleged that the agency appointed for the job had illegally stocked the poisonous chemical in Mantralaya. “Dharma Patil died of drinking the poisonous chemical after Mantralaya administration failed to address his grievances. One wonders where he got the poison if any suspicious chemicals are not allowed inside the building. He got hold of the chemical from the stock procured to kill the rats,” he said in the house.
Khadse was quoting information obtained under the Right To Information Act (RTI) by another BJP MLA, Charan Waghmare. Khadse said the work order was issued to eliminate the rats in two months, but the agency had completed the work in just seven days. “The performance of the agency is very impressive as it killed 3.19 lakh rats in seven days when the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation could kill [only] 6 lakh rats in two years. There is a large-scale scam is involved in it. It may defame the government and a thorough probe needs to be conducted in the entire episode,” he said.
In response to Khadse’ allegations, minister of state for general administration department Madan Yarawar said, “The information related to the tender allotted to kill the rats in 2016 will be obtained and tabled in the house in seven days.”

748 schools in Uttarakhand have no students — 581 in 10 hill districts

Hindustan Times: Dehradun: Friday, March 23, 2018.
Uttarakhand has 748 schools that have no students. More than 200 of these schools are in Almora and Pauri, the two hill districts that have recorded maximum forced migration since the state’s formation in 2000, the government informed the assembly Thursday.
Replying to a query by BJP legislator S S Jeena, state school education minister Arvind Pandey said of the total 748 empty schools, maximum 581 are located in the 10 hill districts. A process was on to hand over the empty schools to gram panchayats for their upkeep and maintenance. Pandey was replying to Jeena’s query about agencies, if any, hired by the government for maintenance of the school buildings lying vacant.
Figures provided by the minister suggested that of the three plains districts, Dehradun had highest number (49) of schools without students. The two other plain districts of Udham Singh Nagar and Haridwar have four such schools each.
To another query by BJP MLA Ganesh Joshi about teachers appointed on fake degrees, Pandey said investigations were on in the case. “Educational certificates of 6,247 teachers, who had been appointed in five years beginning 2012 are being screened by different educational institution,” he said.
Screening of 867 teachers has already been completed. “Of these, an inquiry is being conducted by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) against 79 teachers. Twenty seven teachers have already been terminated,” he informed the House.
Pandey was, however, caught unawares when BJP legislator K S Rawat raised a query on backlog of vacant posts of teachers in primary schools reserved for the Other Backward Caste (OBC) candidates. Pandey replied that there was no such backlog. Rawat, however, citing information procured under the Right to Information (RTI) Act claimed that there was a backlog of over 1000 such vacancies. The minister relented when the MLA said that a hearing on the issue was pending in the high court. “The issue can’t be discussed in the House because it is sub-judice,” the minister said.
Replying to another query by Congress MLA Karan Mehra, Pandey said district magistrates have been directed not to engage school teachers in duties other than those relating to census operations and elections. “The step has been taken so that teachers could concentrate on teaching, their primary duty”, Pandey said.

Realtors jeopardize city’s dream to have int’l airport

Times of India: Surat: Friday, March 23, 2018.
Failure on the part of Surat Municipal Corporation (SMC) authorities to act against illegal construction by realtors has not only jeopardized the prospects of enhanced domestic air connectivity in the city but almost robbed it of an international airport.
Information sought from the Airport Authority of India (AAI) under the Right to Information (RTI) Act regarding the height of buildings obstructing the flight path at Surat airport points to a needle of suspicion towards the civic authorities.
In the case of a residential apartment, as per the RTI data, the NOC data record with AAI suggests the building’s longitude and latitude as 21.83745N and 72.460237E with elevation of 51.70 metres. However, in the survey it was revealed that the building was located at 21.82718N and 72.455014877E with top elevation of 54.40 metres. This means that the building plan was approved in the ‘X’ plot and construction done in ‘Y’ plot with increased height of 8.53 metres.
The AAI had issued notices to 18 residential apartments asking them to remove obstacles that obstructed the flight path of aircraft on January 31, 2018 (the copies of which are with TOI) but majority of them managed to get NOC from the former on the site location plan approved by the SMC.
A resurvey at the Surat airport was carried out on July 27 and July 28, 2017 in respect to the obstacles on runway 22 end-Vesu side. In the survey, jointly undertaken by Surat airport officials, the AAI’s central and regional headquarters and the SMC, it was found that the 18 buildings’ height obstructions ranged from 0.56 metres to 12.38 metres. This was because the realtors had altered the location coordinates and constructed buildings on the plots, not mentioned in the original plan and also increased the height of the structures.
The AAI wrote to the concerned secretaries of the building societies and made them aware about the violation of the terms and condition of the NOCs issued and sought initiation of action for the removal of the obstacles.
C R Paatil, BJP MP from Navsari, told TOI, “The civic authorities are directly responsible for overlooking illegal construction. The realtors managed to get NOCs for particular plots but carried out constructions at other sites. I have demanded that the buildings constructed in plots other than the approved plans should be demolished, licences of architects cancelled and criminal cases filed against realtors and the civic officials.” SMC additional city engineer Ketan Patel said, “The NOCs were issued by the AAI many years ago when the land coordinates were measured in distance and not in latitude and longitude. Then AAI did not even have enough staff to carry out the field survey. The civic body has no direct say in the issue.”

Haryana info panel issues show cause to PWD officers for asking resource charges

Times of India: Chandigarh: Friday, March 23, 2018.
The Haryana State Information Commission (SIC) has issued show cause notice to the officials of state PWD department for asking an applicant to pay disproportionate resources charges to get information under the RTI Act. The applicant was asked to pay Rs 5,000 as disproportionate resources charges for the services of one clerical person and one peon for two days in lieu of providing information.
“The commission is shocked to observe that the SPIO has sought disproportionate resources charges  Rs 3,000 for one clerical person for two days and Rs 2,000 for one peon for two days besides postal and other charges. When asked, the representative of respondent SPIO had no clue as to how this fiasco of disproportionate charges of Rs 5000 was created. The commission is pained to observe that the respondent SPIO seems to be not only careless and arrogant, but has no knowledge of the RTI Act even after more than 12 years of its inception,” observed state information commissioner Hemant Atri in his orders.
Atri further ordered Bhim Sain, SPIO-cum-executive engineer (electrical division) to explain as to why Rs 250 each day, subject to maximum of Rs 25,000 for wrongly seeking the fee which is not mandated in the RTI Act, 2005 which amounts to denial of information, be not imposed upon him.
SIC has also directed Sain and R S Seharawat, first appellate authority-cum-superintending engineer (Electrical Circle) of the department to appear in person before the commission on May 1 with all documents.
The commission has passed the orders while hearing an appeal filed by Sudama Aggarwal of Hisar. The appellant had sought certain information from the department on August 29, 2017 under the RTI Act. On August 29, 2017, SPIO directed him to deposit Rs 5300 on account of documents fee, postal charges and disproportionate resources charges.
An appeal was filed on September 21, 2017, before the First Appellate Authority, which also failed to provide him any information. Aggrieved from the officials’ attitude, the applicant had approached the SIC with the prayer to provide requisite information to him and initiate penal action against the respondent SPIO. He has also prayed for compensation.

RTI cell closed, BBMP sends activists on a wild-goose chase

Times of India: Bengaluru: Friday, March 23, 2018.
Four months since the RTI cell at the BBMP headquarters has been closed, activists say the move has undermined their right to seek information as approaching designated public information officers (PIOs) to submit applications has become an ordeal.
While closing the cell in the last week of November 2017, the Palike said RTIs pertaining to different wards were landing at the head office, and transferring them to the PIOs concerned was taking a lot of time. The civic agency has now put up the list of its 502 PIOs on the website along with their contact numbers and addresses for RTI applicants.
Ravindra Nath Guru, managing trustee of the Karnataka Right to Information Activists Forum, said the assistant commissioner (administration), who is PIO for the commissioner’s office, recently refused to accept an application and relented only after her superior intervened.
“When the cell opened in 2006, there were only 100 wards under BBMP, yet contacting the PIOs was difficult. Now, the number of wards has almost doubled. Most PIOs, who include engineers and medical officers, are usually on the field and available only at certain hours every day,” said Guru.
Prior to its closing, the cell was receiving up to 150 applications every day, officials said. But they now have no clue about the number. “We have been getting dozens of calls from citizens, who are finding it difficult to hand over applications to officers. Their email addresses haven’t been provided, so we have no choice but to go to the office, only to be told that the officer is not present,” rued RTI activist B Veeresh.
When applications were being routed by the cell located in the head office to the officer concerned, the latter had no choice but to take them up. Now that this mechanism is no longer functioning, Veeresh said, officers may no longer accept applications.
“We’ve met officials from the department of personnel and administrative reforms, who had written to the BBMP in February requesting that the cell be reopened. But since their letter was ignored, we will ask them to issue a government order,” Guru said.
For the record, BBMP commissioner N Manjunatha Prasad said there is ‘no chance’ of the cell being reopened.
Activists know how to submit applications, but a citizen may not be aware of the process. I have found PIOs absent from their workplace several times. Many officers do not have any knowledge or information on who is supposed to accept the application. If they do, they ask us to wait in the office till the PIO gets back. They have broken a system that was designed to help citizens
B T Britto, activist
People travel all the way to the office, only to be told that the PIO is not in. Since nobody else will accept the application, they have no choice but to come back another time, and how many times can they do that? The officers are spread across the city, and if I want some information on Bommanahalli, I will have to travel several kilometres to the office. On getting there, there’s no guarantee that we’ll find the officer and manage to submit the application
Kathyayini Chamaraj, executive trustee, CIVIC, an NGO
Times View
The RTI Act has been a game-changer in many ways. A powerful tool in the hands of a vigilant public, it’s a law officials and politicians love to hate. There have been efforts by vested interests to dilute the Act as it has exposed glitches in administration. The present scenario in Bengaluru where citizens are struggling to file applications with no proper system in place is yet another way of suppressing information that citizens are entitled to. The government must act quickly to cut through this bureaucratic tangle and ensure people get access to information they need.

Rs 30,000 as fee for RTI reply leaves local activist confused

The Tribune: Amritsar: Friday, March 23, 2018.
The Government Medical College here has demanded Rs 30000 for providing information regarding post-mortem of patients suffering from mental illness, alleges Rajinder Sharma, a local RTI activist.
Sharma had filed an RTI application seeking information about the number of autopsies conducted on patients sent by Dr Vidya Sagar Institute of Mental health here during the last seven years. He had also asked for information regarding the causes of death of all these patients.
The medical college forwarded the RTI application to its forensic department and directed it to furnish the information to the applicant. However, the department in its response to Public Information Officer (PIO) of the college wrote, “The information which the applicant has sought will be found after the scrutiny of voluminous record for which many days by the department staff will be taken. So, it would disproportionately divert the resources of the department thereby attracting Section 7(9) of RTI Act, 2005. So, to provide the asked information the applicant is required to deposit Rs 30,000 provisionally, which will be adjusted after calculating the final charges when the information is completed.”
The letter further reads, “To seek the information in the minimal possible time and with minimum charges it will be appropriate if the information is supplied to applicant by Director Dr Vidya Sagar Institute of Mental Health.”
“I have complained that hefty charges have been demanded just to discourage citizens from seeking information,” he said. The fee for information could be charged on the basis of number of pages in the reply. The department has invoked a clause which is not relevant to his application in any form, he added. He said he would file an appeal with State Information Commission as already there has been a delay of two months in supplying the information.
Section 7 (9) of the RTI Act reads, “An information shall ordinarily be provided in the form in which it is sought unless it would disproportionately divert the resources of the public authority or would be detrimental to the safety or preservation of the record in question”.
 RTI activist PC Bali said, “As per the law, the PIO cannot calculate cost on assumptions. The cost could be demanded within 10 days of receipt of application and after that the PIO has to supply the information free of cost.”

Thursday, March 22, 2018

E-governance still a distant dream in Kashmir

Brighter Kashmir: Srinagar: Thursday, March 22, 2018.
Electronic governance or e-governance is the application of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for delivering government services, exchange of information, communication transactions, integration of various stand-alone systems and services between government-to-citizen (G2C), government-to-business (G2B), government-to-government (G2G) , government-to-employees (G2E) as well as back office processes and interactions within the entire government framework.
As we live in the world of internet e-governance is now the thrust area. In Jammu and Kashmir state some ten years back the bugle was sounded that e-governance is going to be ushered all around , but despite much talk nothing is seen on ground. Majority of the websites of the government departments are hardly updated regularly and do not contain much fruitful information for the masses. .
 E-governance is right initiative to ensure prompt service delivery. It is also needed to bring transparency and responsiveness in the administration to attend the needs of people on development count.
Pertinently, through e-governance, government services will be made available to citizens in a convenient, efficient and transparent manner. The three main target groups that can be distinguished in governance concepts are government, citizens and businesses/interest groups. In e-governance there are no distinct boundaries.
On the other hand, experts have time and again stated that e-governance will remove red-tapism and bring a “revolutionary turnaround” in the system.
But the implementation part of e-governance in the state is still laggard.  JK Tourism website is quite slow and lagging impressive character, the all important R&B Website looks quite stale,  Most of the university websites are quite slow for students liking and contain limited information . The Handicrafts sector all important for Kashmir but the website of Handicrafts is not updated regularly.
While talking to the Kashmir News Bureau,  DrSheikh Ghulam Rasool, Chairman J&K RTI Movement stated – “e-governance claims of the government are nowhere visible on ground, as we are still lagging far behind. Just last year we conducted a study with Commonwealth group and found that out of 280 government websites a majority of them are unimpressive  and not updated regularly. We have called in letter and spirit the implementation of RTI Act section 4 (1 ) (a) which calls for digitalization of all records of public authority and would have reduced the RTI Flow by 85 percent . Despite the clear orders by high court and our pleas before Chief Information Commission we are yet to see much headway in this regard and thus overall e-governance still remains  a distant dream for all of us in the state.” (KNB)

After seating arrangement, lawyers raise cleanliness issue

Times of India: Vadodara: Thursday, March 22, 2018.
Lack of seating arrangement at the new court complex has triggered an intense agitation by the lawyers over last three days. But on Wednesday, the lawyers raised another issue of cleanliness in the annexe building.
Several areas in the annexe building in the court campus which was to be used by the lawyers were not cleaned before they were handed over to them, the lawyers alleged. Photos and videos which were taken on the first working day, when the vandalism took place, were widely circulated.
The photos and videos suggest that the toilets in the annexe building were completely soiled and were not in a state to be used before the building was given to lawyers. Besides circulating the photos and videos, the lawyers have also turned to social media to put forth their view before the public.
“The picture that was portrayed on the first day showed us as villains. We were criticized and abused on social media websites, but we want the public to know the reality. The seating arrangement is not according to our satisfaction, but at least look at the condition of the building. People should come and see so that they understand that our demands are not wrong,” said a lawyer.
Meanwhile, on second day of the indefinite hunger strike a female advocate – Hema Jaiswal, who was also on hunger strike – collapsed and had to be hospitalised. On Tuesday, Edwin Dabhi had collapsed due to sunstroke due to which he had to be taken to a private hospital on Old Padra Road.
The agitating lawyers have decided to form a human chain at the gates of the new court complex on Thursday .
Lawyers file RTI plea
An application under Right to Information (RTI) Act was filed by 35 lawyers on Tuesday. The application addressed to information officer of district court seeks information about the tenders and other details including the purchase orders of the chairs and tables bought for the lawyers. The lawyers have also sought information about the communication between the Baroda Bar Association and the court, besides the copies of letters exchanged between the district judge, state government and the high court in last three years about the new court complex. The lawyers in their application have stated that they need the papers and copies to file a petition in the Supreme Court.
Delegation to meet CJ
A delegation of five lawyers from Vadodara will meet the chief justice of Gujarat high court R Subhash Reddy on Thursday over the issue of seating arrangement. “The chief justice has given us an appointment therefore five lawyers including me, and senior advocates Kaushik Bhatt, Shailesh Patel, P R Thakkar and Atul Mehta will meet the chief justice on Thursday evening,” said Nalin Patel, president of Baroda Bar Association. He added that the lawyers will get a positive news after the meeting.

The challenges to transparency : Shailesh Gandhi

Telegraph India: Ahmedabad: Thursday, March 22, 2018.
The Right to Information Act raised the promise of a true participatory democracy with empowered citizens. It also raised the hope of citizens being treated with respect and dignity by the public servants. A unique provision for penalizing public officials who did not provide information to the citizens within 30 days gave the law its teeth. It exempted only specific categories of information and recognized the sovereignty of the individual citizen and his/her ownership of government by mandating that a citizen needed to give no reasons for seeking information. It is one of the best transparency laws in the world which can bring accountability in governance and reduce corruption. Citizens started using the law with great enthusiasm and also teaching and facilitating others.
However, of late, there are some signs that the law is stagnating and regressing in its impact. We must be aware of these. The main cause for this is that the law challenges the arbitrary actions of those in power.
Public servants are blocking RTI requests by flouting the letter and spirit of the law. Public information officers use various means to delay and frustrate the citizen seeking information. Most of these actions are not sustainable in the law, but most Information Commissions do not use the powers provided in the law to curb this. The penalty provision is used very rarely. Besides, in many Information Commissions, the waiting period is from six months to six years. This emboldens public servants to deny citizens their fundamental right to information which is enshrined in Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution. This is largely owing to the fact that the selection of information commissioners is a completely arbitrary and non-transparent exercise. The commissioners should be selected by a transparent process and made accountable to ensure disposals of all cases within 90 days.
The law is allegedly being grossly misinterpreted to dilute the effect of its provisions. A further threat is from the fact that all actions and information of public servants are now sought to be exempted from disclosure by claiming that these would be tantamount to invasion of their privacy.
Another major cause of worry is the branding of regular RTI users and activists as 'blackmailers and extortionists'. A corrupt and undemocratic campaign is being sustained to brainwash the nation into believing that most RTI users are rogues and undesirables. In this atmosphere, violence and murder of RTI users are being justified. Those who verbally disparage RTI users are responsible for the violent attacks. A myth is being created and irresponsible statements are being made, claiming that RTI is being misused to obstruct national development and integration or to destroy the peace, tranquillity and harmony among citizens, and is being converted into a tool of oppression or intimidation of honest officials striving to do their duty. Most citizens are intimidated and humiliated by arrogant officials. As a part of this illegal, unconstitutional attempt, official proclamations are now being made declaring some persons as persona non-grata and denying their fundamental right to information.
It is recognized that there is widespread, debilitating corruption in the nation and all the institutions of the State are unable or are unwilling to curb it. The right to information has provided citizens a chance to curb the arbitrariness and corruption of those in power. There is now a conscious, systematic and orchestrated attempt to emasculate this power that citizens have got. If citizens are allowed to properly access information available with the government, they will be able to monitor its actions and hold public servants accountable.
The situation can easily be corrected by appointing information commissioners through a transparent and accountable process and by citizens monitoring their decisions and performance. Displaying all RTI queries and responses by PIOs on the website would do away with the possibility of any blackmailing. This has actually been mandated in an office memorandum of the DoPT (no. 1/6/2011-IR of April 15, 2013). If all the guidelines of this office memorandum were followed, RTI applications would be cut by half.
RTI is at a critical juncture in our nation. We have one of the best laws in the world, but there are serious threats to it from many in power. If citizens and the media are vigilant, we can defend this and see better governance, reduction in corruption and respect for the individual citizen.