Thursday, March 31, 2011

For Meira Kumar, Govt bungalows are on the house

The Pioneer; J Gopikrishnan March 31, 2011,
The CPWD has passed the buck on to Ministry of Urban Development in connection with the eviction of Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar from the bungalow allotted to her in 1986 as a Member of Parliament.
The bungalow at 6 Krishna Menon Marg came into the possession of Meira Kumar when she became a Member of Parliament in 1986. This Type-8 bungalow had been in the possession of her father Jagjivan Ram for nearly four decades. However, even though she shifted in June 2009 to 20 Akbar Road, when this second bungalow was allotted to her in her capacity as the Lok Sabha Speaker, she did not vacate the earlier premises.
Right To Information (RTI) activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal, who has pointed out this irregularity of Meira Kumar keeping the two bungalows, has been seeking information on this matter with all departments concerned, including the Central Public Works Department and the Ministry of Urban Develop-ment, for past 18 months.
The response to his RTI applications clearly shows that the CPWD, Ministry of Urban Development and Directorate of Estates have been shying away from taking on the powerful Speaker.
According to the information provided recently by CPWD to Agrawal, the department stated that it had forwarded the “self-explanatory” evidences submitted by the petitioner to the Ministry of Urban Development for “necessary action”.
In earlier letters to Agrawal, the CPWD had admitted its inability to issue an order for vacation of the bungalow allotted in 1986 to Meira Kumar.“No action in this regard can be taken by CPWD unless the bungalow is otherwise vacated by the honourable MP,” the department had stated.
According to details provided in response to the RTI application, the CPWD had alerted the Government departments concerned regarding the non-vacation of the 6 Krishna Menon Marg bungalow three times in February and December last year and in February this year.
According to sources, Meira Kumar formed a trust in 2006 in the name of her late father and turned the 6 Krishna Menon Marg bungalow into its office while staying at her personal residence in Maharani Bagh. However, this was objected to by the Government, which issued a circular prohibiting the conversion of official residences into offices for private trusts.
Recently, the Ministry of Urban Development had forcibly evicted several former MPs by throwing out their belongings on the road.

Don't reverse order, NBA's plea to Manmohan

THE HINDU; Gargi Parsai ; March 30, 2011
The Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) has urged Prime Minister Manmohan Singh not to reverse the stop-work order imposed by the Ministry of Environment and Forests on the construction of the Maheshwar dam for “non-compliance” of various norms. The dam is being built by S. Kumar's group in Madhya Pradesh.Addressing a joint press conference here on Wednesday, noted lawyer Prashant Bhushan, RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal and NBA activists Alok Agarwal and Chitaroopa Palit said that unless rehabilitation and resettlement of project-affected people was completed, the stay on the construction of the dam should remain. They also sought scrapping of the “power purchase agreement” with the State government that provided for ‘take or pay,' as it was “unviable.”Alleging that “financial irregularities of the project promoters and investment of public money belonging to public financial institutions and banks was a scam bigger than the 2G spectrum one,” Mr. Bhushan sought a CBI probe into it.
Digvijay Singh's letter
Referring to a letter written by the former Congress Chief Minister, Digvijay Singh, requesting the Prime Minister to remove the stay-order on the construction of the dam “as the first stage of reservoir filling would not involve submergence of any villages,” the NBA said that already land acquisition orders were served on 46 villages for taking over about 300 acres without giving ‘land for land' to protect livelihoods of affected people.
The Maheshwar dam is one of the largest projects on Narmada. The project was privatised by the Madhya Pradesh government in 1992 and handed over to S. Kumar's. About 70,000 peasants, fisher people, boat people and landless workers in 61 villages will be affected by the project.According to NBA, the rehabilitation and resettlement of the oustees is a statutory requirement under the environmental clearance of May, 2001 under which the affected families have to be provided a minimum of two hectares of land and irrigation facilities and the company had to provide complete rehabilitation and resettlement plan with details of farm land by December 2001.The implementation of the dam should have been simultaneous to the resettlement of affected people, but while the dam has been constructed up to 80 per cent, rehabilitation and resettlement had lagged at less than 10 per cent. “After a protracted agitation by the oustees and in the light of violations, the Ministry of Environment and Forests, after giving a show-cause notice on April 23, 2010, suspended construction work on the project,” the NBA said.

Central RTI law: some shine, still shackled

Central Chronicle; March 30, 2011,
The Right to Information Bill tabled in Parliament raises expectations to new levels by proposing a dedicated Information Commission for enforcement. Except, the commission is crippled at conception, with no direct penalizing powers. Prakash Kardaley comments.
The Central Right to Information Act as tabled before the Parliament is flawed. The penalty clause as proposed by the Sonia Gandhi chaired National Advisory Council (NAC) has been mercilessly diluted. The provision to keep the cost of information at a reasonable and affordable level has been removed. While the NAC recommended that the central law should apply to offices and public bodies of state governments, the union law department intends applying it only to the central government offices and public bodies. Last year, the NAC had to sent its draft of amendments to remedy the original central Freedom of Information Act, 2002.
Still, the bill is superior to most of the prevailing state laws in the country. It is, therefore, very essential for right to information activists all over the country to forge a common front and have the flaws in the new bill removed and to see that this bill when converted into an Act applies to the entire country including state governments.
For the first time in the country, we see the possibility of a high-level commission of the level of the Secretary to the Government of India dedicated to the implementation of the right to know law.
The most outstanding provision of the central RTI bill is the provision for the appointment of an Information Commission. For the first time in the country, we see the possibility of a high-level commission at the level of the Secretary to the Government of India dedicated to its implementation. The bill envisages an Information Commissioner and up to 10 deputy commissioners appointed by the President of India on the recommendation of a panel comprising the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha and the Chief Justice of India. The appointments would be made from among "persons of eminence in public life with wide knowledge and experience of administration and governance."
The decision of the proposed Commission will be binding; it will enjoy the powers of civil court while deciding a second appeal in (a) summoning and enforcing the attendance of persons and compelling them to give oral or written evidence on oath and to produce the documents or things, (b) requiring the discovery and inspection of documents, (c) receiving evidence on affidavit, (d) requisitioning any public record or copies thereof from any court or office and (e) issuing summons for examination of witnesses or documents.
All the Commission "may" do is authorise any officer of the Central Government to file a complaint against a Public Information Officer (PIO) before a Judicial Magistrate of First Class if the Commission is of the opinion that the PIO "has persistently failed to provide information without any reasonable cause within the period specified". If the prosecution leads to conviction, the defaulting PIO will be liable to pay a fine up to Rs 25,000 or undergo imprisonment for a term up to five years, or both.
The NAC wanted the Information Commission to have powers to directly impose a penalty on a defaulting officer at a rate of Rs 250 for each day's delay and award a fine of not less than Rs 2000 and imprisonment of up to five years, or both, by a summary conviction. This, if the Commission found the designated or deemed PIO to have i) refused to receive an application for information; (ii) mala fide denied a request for information; (iii) knowingly given incorrect or misleading information, (iv) knowingly given wrong or incomplete information, (v) destroyed information subject to a request, or (vi) obstructed the activities of another PIO, the Commission itself or the courts.
But bureaucrats in the union law department have in their wisdom removed the provision authorising direct penalties. Instead, for a PIO found to have been prima facie guilty of defying the Act, they preferred that the Information Commission merely authorize another government officer to initiate the PIO's trial in a criminal court. At best, this is deliberately roundabout. Further, in knocking off a vital penalty measure, the bureaucrats have shown their contempt for the wise advice of a council presided over by the president of the ruling Congress party and comprising as members "persons of eminence in public life with wide knowledge and experience of administration and governance" (to borrow words from the Bill itself).
Despite this major handicap manipulated into the Bill, the central Bill still has several features which distinguish it from the state RTI laws. (Over half a dozen states in India have passed their own RTI laws.)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

રાજયભરની સસ્તા અનાજની દુકાનો હવે આરટીઆઇ હેઠળ

ભાસ્કર ન્યૂઝ. અમદાવાદ;Published on 26 Mar-2011,
સસ્તા અનાજની દુકાનોમાં ચાલતી ગેરરીતિઓ કાંઇક અંશે દૂર થાય તેવો મહત્ત્વનો ઓર્ડર રાજય માહિતી કમિશનરે આપ્યો છે. એક આરટીઆઇને ઘ્યાનમાં રાખી માહિતી કમિશનરે રાજયના પુરવઠા વિભાગને ઓર્ડર કર્યોહતો કે પુરવઠામાં ગેરરીતિ અંગે અનેક ફરિયાદ આવે છે ત્યારે સસ્તા અનાજની દુકાનમાં માહિતી કંમ્પોનન્ટ છે કે નહીં ? આ ઓર્ડરના અનુસંધાનમાં ફૂડ એન્ડ સિવિલ સપ્લાય વિભાગે રાજયની ૧૪ હજાર સસ્તા અનાજની દુકાનોને જાહેર સત્તામંડળ હેઠળ આવરી લઇ ફરજિયાતપણે લોકો જોઇ શકે તે રીતે અનાજ અને બીજી વસ્તુની યાદી, તેનો સ્ટોક, તે કેટલા લોકોનો અને કેટલા કિંમતે ફાળવવામાં આવ્યા તે વગેરે વિગતો જાહેર કરવા આદેશ આપ્યો છે.
સસ્તા અનાજની દુકાનો પ્રાઇવેટવિભાગમાં આવે છે. સસ્તા અનાજની દુકાન જાહેર સત્તામંડળ હેઠળ આવતી ન હોય ના નિયમો લાગુ પડતા ન હતા. જો કે ગત જાન્યુઆરી મહિનામાં અમરેલી જિલ્લાના લીલિયા તાલુકાના સલડી ગામના વિધાર્થી ભદ્રેશ વાંજાએ કરેલી આરટીઆઇની અરજી બાદ ચાલુ મહિનામાં સરકયુલર બહાર પાડયો છે.
ભદ્રેશે સ્થાનિક પુરવઠા અધિકારી પાસે માહિતી માગી હતી કે સલડી ગામની સસ્તા અનાજની દુકાનમાં એપીએલ(ગરીબી રેખા ઉપર) લોકો માટે કેટલું અનાજ ફાળવાયું છે ? આ મામલે ભદ્રેશને ધાકધમકી મળતા માહિતી અધિકાર પહેલા ગુજરાત સંસ્થાની મદદથી મામલો રાજય માહિતી કમિશનર સુધી પહોંરયો હતો. સ્થિતિની ગંભીરતા સમજી માહિતી કમિશનર આર. એન. દાસે ફૂડ એન્ડ સિવિલ સપ્લાય સેક્રેટરીને આ ઓર્ડર કર્યો. કમિશનરના ઓર્ડર બાદ સસ્તા અનાજની દુકાનોની જવાબદારી ફિકસ કરતો જીઆર બહાર પાડયો હતો.

Supreme Court refuses to frame guideline for protection of whistleblowers.

PTI; Monday, March 28, 2011,
The Supreme Court today refused to frame guidelines for protection of whistle blowers in the country, saying that it cannot make law.
A three-judge bench headed by the Chief Justice SH Kapadia refused to entertain a PIL seeking framing of guidelines for giving statutory protection to whistle blowers in the wake of the gruesome killing of Maharashtra additional collector Yeshwant Sonanwane allegedly by an oil mafia.
The PIL by advocates-N Raja Raman and Ajay Mandyal-cited a number of recent incidents in which whistle blowers have been killed or intimidated by mafias and political leaders to silence their voice against growing corruption in the country.
But the court refused to pass any order, saying that it was not possible to keep monitoring cases across the country. It, however, allowed the petitioners to approach the high court for protection of whistle blowers in a specific case. It also said that the court cannot ask the government to pass legislation in this regard.
The petitioners had urged the apex court to direct the Centre to frame a law to ensure that complaints of corruption are dealt with promptly and whistle blowers like RTI activists, journalists and advocates are given necessary protection.

Tax returns can be made public: CIC

Indian Express: Mon Mar 28 2011,
New Delhi : The Income Tax returns of individuals do not enjoy "absolute ban" from disclosure, the Central Information Commission has held while directing the Income Tax department to provide details of the total income of a person to his son-in-law who is facing a dowry case.
"We direct the CPIO to provide information pertaining to the net taxable income of Munna Lal Saini, father-in-law of the appellant," Information Commissioner Deepak Sandhu said.
The case relates to RTI application filed by Manoj Kumar Saini, who sought to know net income of his father-in-law Munna Lal Saini from the I-T department as he needed it to buttress his arguments in a dowry case filed against him. It was denied to him citing clause of "personal information" under the RTI Act.
Manoj made an "impassioned" plea before the Commission stating "denial of information to him would result in a prolonged litigation of 10 years and more resulting in his losing the best years of his life and career."
Quoting relevant portions of Income Tax Act and rulings of the Supreme Court, Sandhu said, "I am inclined to say that the information sought is not granted immunity from disclosure as class of information.
"Protection of disclosure has to be ensured by balancing the two competing aspects of public interest, that is, when disclosure would cause injury or unwarranted invasion of privacy and on the other hand if non-disclosure would throttle the administration of justice."
Sandhu, while taking cognisance of criminal case pending against the RTI applicant said, "Dowry cases invariably have the component of 'criminal breach of trust' relating to misappropriation of property.
"In case, the state relies upon the fiction of misappropriation, then the other party should have a right to know the details of property reflected in I-T returns which is alleged to be misappropriated," she said.
The Information Commissioner further said the Court, in a sub-judice matter, could direct the Income Tax authorities on matters pertaining to returns of an assessee for inspection by the court.
"Thus, disclosure will be warranted if such line of action is followed. There is no absolute ban on disclosure of IT returns," she said.
She also distinguished the present case from earlier decisions of the Central Information Commission on the disclosure of Tax returns.
"The Milap Choraria case did not deal with the issue of information pertaining to net taxable income per se while the Gokul case was not centred around the issue of larger public interest for the purpose of disclosure of net taxable income, unlike the present case," Sandhu held.

RTI: PF commissioner faces disciplinary action

MANOJ MORE: Indian Express; Tue Mar 29 2011,
Pune : The Central Information Commissioner has issued a showcause notice to regional provident fund Commissioner S Padmanabhan, asking him why disciplinary action should not be recommended against him for failure to discharge his duty as the First Appellate Authority.
The order has been issued by CIC Shailesh Gandhi in response to the second appeal made by RTI applicant Rashad Shaikh (37) of Pune Camp. The appeal was heard by the CIC through a video-conferencing at National Informatics Centre. The CIC has asked Padmanabhan to give a written submission. Shaikh had contended that he had received all other information on his RTI application, but pointed out that the First Appellate Authority had not conducted a hearing and given any order on his appeal.
Under RTI, Shaikh had first sought inspection of documents, letters and records provided by Loyola Primary School. He had sought inspection of all correspondence, letters, notices, file notings and orders passed against the school, along with information regarding inspection of contribution cards and PF account opening forms of all the employees of the school since the applicable date of coverage.
However, Shaikh alleged that Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) was not present and hence inspection could not be done on the appointed date. However, after a few days he was allowed inspection but he was denied information and documents related to the personal savings of individual employees. He then made the second appeal to the CIC.
After hearing the appeal, the CIC said Shaikh was given all the information after due inspection except details of the contributions made by the employees in their PF Accounts. “This information has been denied by the PIO claiming exemption under Section 8 (1) (e) of the RTI Act. Details of the personal savings of individual employees certainly fall in the definition of information held in the fiduciary relationship and the PIO is right in refusing to part with this information,” the CIC said.
The CIC said there has been a delay in offering the inspection and PIO is warned that inspection must be offered within 30 days period specified under the RTI Act. Shaikh, the appellant, has accepted that he has received all the other information but has represented that the First Appellate Authority did not conduct hearing and give any order in the matter. Shaikh said he has received all information regarding the correspondence between the PF office and the school. “I am happy with the information which runs into 150 pages,” he told this paper on Monday.
When his reaction was sought, Padmanabhan said he would reply to the showcause notice. “Everything has been done as per the norms and there is no violation whatsoever. We would make our submission to the CIC,” he said. Regional PF Commissioner-II A M Bhosle said the PF office has been prompt in dealing with the RTI applications. “We reply to RTI applications within 30 days. In several cases, we have given reply within a few days,” Bhosle said.

SIC does volte-face on summons to governor

TNN; Mar 29, 2011,
PANAJI: The State Information Commission (SIC) which had earlier summoned governor S S Sidhu for denying information under the Right To Information (RTI) Act stating that the governor's office is not a public authority, has now passed an order stating that there is no need for Sidhu to appear personally before the commission.
"This present complaint is under the RTI Act. As far as this commission is concerned, the public information officer is the proper and necessary party. Under the RTI, the PIO is the interface between the public authority to which he belongs and a citizen seeking information from the public authority. In fact, he is the fulcrum around which the RTI Act operates. In view of this position, the governor need not appear personally," said state chief information commissioner MS Keny, in his order.
Though the commission has said that the governor need not appear in person before the SIC, the decision regarding the dismissal of the complaint against Sidhu will be considered while dealing with the main complaint, Keny added.
SIC had sent a notice directing the governor to personally appear before the commission, after Sidhu's office had refused to part with information sought by social activist Aires Rodrigues about action taken against advocate general Subodh Kantak. The action had been initiated based on a complaint filed by Rodrigues before the SIC, headed by retired Mumbai sessions judge Motilal Keny, stating that he was refused information under the RTI Act by the governor's office. While denying information, the governor's office had written to Rodrigues claiming that the governor is not a public authority and therefore does not come within the purview of the RTI Act.
In the RTI application filed by Rodrigues, he also sought copies of noting sheets and correspondence pertaining to the processing of his complaints against Kantak. The notice sent to the governor had said: "You are required to appear in person before this commission and not to depart without leave of the commission, and you are hereby warned that if you shall, without just excuse, neglect or refuse to appear on the aforesaid date and time, failing which the complaint will be decided in your absence."
The social activist in his complaint to the commission had said that the office of the governor is a constitutional post within the definition of "public authority" under Section 2 (h) (a) of the RTI Act. He had said that as the governor has been notified as a public authority, he is bound to furnish the information sought and that the refusal is contrary to the RTI Act and is also unreasonable, malafide and without reasonable cause.
However, appearing on behalf of the governor, advocate Carlos Alvares Ferreira contended that by virtue of Article 361, the Constitution of India, there is absolute protection, privilege and immunity to the governor of a state for the exercise and performance of the powers and duties of his office or for any act done or purporting to be done by him in the exercise and performance of those powers and duties, and hence the governor couldn't be arrayed as a party in the proceedings.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Govt funds non-existent schools in Assam;

Arunoday Mukharji; CNN-IBN; Mar 26, 2011,
Guwahati: The election campaign in Assam is gathering momentum with politicians battling more for votes and less for issues. But education seems far from their agenda.
Government schools in Assam are in shambles. And an RTI filed by a student has revealed shocking revelations.
The BR Ambedkar School in Guwahati, which has apparently received Rs 4,01,450 for its 217 students - actually does not exist.
There is money trickling in for schools which exist only on paper and not in reality. For example, one such school is the Dr BR Ambedkar school in Lachitpur. You can see the list of students and the money that has been procured in their name. But go around Lachitpur and you will find no trace of this school.
The Mangal Chandi Hindi LP School is another example. The headmaster says that funds for the dalits were instead going to a school - which had ceased to exist since 1991. In 2009-10, this non-existent school received Rs 2,94,150.
Headmaster NP Singh said, "This school does not exist, I don't know who these children are. This signature is also fake and this headmaster doesn't exist."
When we confronted the Department of Welfare for SCs and STs, which sanctions these funds, they blame it on shortage of manpower, but promise to investigate.
None of the senior officials we tried to contact were available for comment. All saying they were busy with election preparations. They may not speak to us, but they definitely owe an explanation to the people of Assam, especially the children, who's future is under threat.

National meet to discuss tribal welfare issues

New Delhi, March 27 (IANS)
Around 5,000 delegates from different tribal groups across the country will attend a three-day All India Adivasi Mahasabha at the Talkatora Stadium here from Monday.
The national meet is jointly organised by Indian Confederation of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples (ICITP), an umbrella organisation looking after over 310 issue-based tribal communities' organisations along with various other tribal forums.
The conference would focus on issues related to land laws and land alienation, development induced displacement, forest and encroachment and eviction, extremism in adivasi areas, poverty and migration, among others.
'The national meeting will discuss all the issues related to the tribal people and it will look into different laws enacted in the country for welfare of the tribals and decide how to take advantage of laws like Right to Information (RTI), Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act and Forest Rights Act,' a press release said.
The meeting will also take note on relevant international mechanisms of promotion and protection of the tribal people, including United Nations Declaration on the rights of the indigenous peoples.

5,000 people to fast in support of Lokpal Bill

Pooja Domadia; Hindustan Times; Mumbai, March 28, 2011,
At least 5,000 city residents will fast on April 5 to support the Jan Lokpal Bill. Social activist Anna Hazare will fast in New Delhi on the same day.
“Many individuals have already pledged their support. Sri Sri Ravishankar, Baba Ramdev and the Archbishop of Delhi are preaching their followers to fast for the Jan Lokpal Bill. Announcements are also being made in churches. A minimum of 5,000 people will be fasting on April 5,” said Mayank Gandhi, founder of Jagrut Nagrik Manch.
Volunteers of the nationwide movement, India against Corruption (IAC) are spreading the word through the distribution of pamphlets and badges at the railway stations and public places. “Our volunteers have already distributed more than 1.5 lakh badges and 3.5 lakh pamphlets, asking people to support the Bill by fasting. Volunteers are also approaching people on trains and are going door-to-door to speak about the Bill,” said Gandhi.
Volunteers are also trying to gather support through advertisements. Fifty buses have been booked, 600 banners and 40,000 car stickers have been printed and a media partner has been roped in for outdoor advertising. Volunteers will also be standing outside the Wankhede stadium during the World Cup final match on April 2 with pamphlets and banners. The Lokpal Bill has been drafted by activists and experts including former top cop Kiran Bedi, advocate Prashant Bhushan and RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal.

2/3rd parking fine amount goes to towing vans;

DNA; Alok Deshpande; Monday, March 28, 2011,
When a car parked in a ‘No Parking’ zone is towed away and its owner fined, it is believed that the money goes to the traffic department’s treasury.
However, data procured under the Right to Information (RTI) When a car parked in a ‘No Parking’ zone is towed away and its owner fined, it is believed that the money goes to the traffic department’s treasury.shown that only Rs100 out of the Rs300 penalty goes to the government treasury, while the remaining amount goes to owners of private towing vans that the department has hired.
Replying to an application filed by Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) activist Chetan Pedanekar, the traffic department gave figures for the past five years. These show that the department got Rs15,96,77,550 in fines from 2006 to 2010. At the same time, private van owners got Rs23,94,99,550.
“There are only 59 towing vans across the city. Won’t it be possible for the traffic authorities to have 59 vans of their own? Why do they need a private contractor for this? If the department has its own vehicles, the money which is going to private contractors could be diverted to the government,” said Pedanekar. He added that the present system only benefits private contractors.
According to another reply given by the traffic department, the private workers working on towing vans need to get written permission from the traffic police authority on duty to unlock the car while towing. At the same time, the traffic authority on duty and the workers on the towing van can be held responsible for any loss of goods from the vehicle. A complaint against them can be lodged in the police station concerned.
The department has also clarified that putting up and maintaining traffic signs is the responsibility of the BMC. As such, the traffic department cannot be held responsible for a lack of ‘No Parking’ signs.

RTI applicants number crossed 1L mark in 2010

TNN; Mar 28, 2011,
HYDERABAD: The Andhra Pradesh Information Commission (APIC) received more than one lakh Right to Information ( RTI) applications from the state in the year 2010, according to a release issued by the department recently.
Quoting figures from its fifth annual report (for 2010), tabled before the chief minister last week, officials of the commission said that the 1.01 lakh (approx) applications received by it in 2010 was a whopping 1,044 per cent more than the number of cases it had received in 2006, when it first started functioning. The annual figure then was just about 8,864.
"This increase has largely been due to the awareness created by the media and also the efforts made by various civil society organisations as well as the various awareness programmes taken up by the AP Information Commission and government agencies through inspections, reviews and tours of the commission," the release said.
Interestingly, the report shows that the number of appeals and complaints from the rural areas in 2010 shot to 43 per cent as against a mere 11 per cent in 2006. The figures from the urban areas, however, dropped to 57 per cent from as much as 89 per cent. The most number of applications were received from the Hyderabad district (1,171) followed by Nellore district (518).
Further, the release stated that the commission disposed of 90 per cent of the total number of applications received in 2010, with information being furnished in as many as 98,125 cases.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Dy director (education) faces cheating charge;

Times of India; Abhishek Choudhari; Mar 25, 2011,
NAGPUR: The deputy director for education (Nagpur division) Mahesh Karajgaonkar is in for serious trouble. On Thursday, city police registered an offence against Karajgaonkar along with another education officer under various IPC sections including Sec 420 (cheating) and 120 (b) (criminal conspiracy). Another employee of the education department Someshwar Netam has also been booked in the case.
The case pertains to irregularities in payments to an aided primary school Nitin Prathmik Shala (Nitin primary school). The school was derecognized by the education department in 2006 after it was found that it was not built at the location for which permission had been granted. The school records and its students were handed over to a new management appointed by the education department. As per rules, the salary grants should have stopped with immediate effect.
However with the aid of Right to Information (RTI) Gunwant Deshkar, a social worker, discovered that salary payments to the school continued till mid-2010. The Sitabuldi police have now registered a FIR on Deshkar's complaint.
Karajgaonkar spoke to TOI from Delhi over the phone and said he was not even aware of this matter and would be coming back to Nagpur only next week. "This is nothing big or special, it seems like some office related issue. I am not even aware of name of this school or the complainant. But I will look into it now that you have told me that a FIR has been registered," he added. His subordinate officer and co-accused Someshwar Netam's phone remained unreachable.
The Sitabuldi police said the FIR was registered on Thursday and further investigations will now commence.

STC pays compensation after court rap;

TNN; Mar 25, 2011,
COIMBATORE: Delay in paying compensation to a bus accident victim landed the state-owned Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation (STC) in trouble on Thursday. Following a city court order, a state-owned bus was confiscated in Coimbatore on Thursday for delaying compensation to a couple who had lost their son in an accident four years ago.
Hours after the bus was "seized" from Gandhipuram central bus stand, STC officials rushed in to hand over a cheque for Rs 1.60 lakh to the court. "The transport corporation had not responded to any of the earlier court orders. But they immediately paid the compensation when the bus was seized," said advocate N Jaganathan, who had appeared for the couple from Ernakulam.
On July 6, 2006, 21-year-old V Amal Augustine, a final year Catering science student of Bishop Appasamy college here, was riding pillion on a motor cycle on the Sathyamangalam road. When the motorcycle slowed down at a traffic signal, a bus overtook and threw Amal off the vehicle. He was rushed to a nearby private hospital, where he died. "We lost our only son," said M V Augustine, father of Amal. A tailor in Ernakulam, Augustine didn't get due compensation.
Frustrated, he filed a petition before the third additional sub judge court seeking a direction to the STC to pay a compensation of Rs 5 lakh. On April 2, 2007, the court ordered a compensation of Rs 1.36 lakh along with an interest of 7.5 per cent for the parents.
But STC sought more time to make the payment, prompting Augustine to file a petition seeking "attachment" of the properties of the corporation. On February 25, 2010, the third additional sub judge, ordered the attachment of the bus within March 29.
In a similar case last week, a city court ordered the confiscation of a government bus after STC failed to pay compensation to one of its employees who was maimed in a road mishap in 2006. The court rapped STC for the delay and ordered immediate seizure of the vehicle on Monday. STC is yet to make the payment.
Jagatheesan, a bus conductor, suffered multiple fractures when his bus collided with a lorry near Udumalai in December 2006. The district munsif court ordered STC to pay Rs 16 lakh as compensation but the corporation challenged the verdict in the High Court.
However the HC dismissed the petition following which it was ordered that Jagatheesan should be paid an amount of Rs 19.2 lakh along with interest at the earliest.
According to a response filed by the State Transport department to a RTI query, transport corporations in the state owe Rs 324 crore as compensation to accident victims in the state.

LTC scam in tehsil office to fore;

Times of India; Diwakar Phatak; Mar 25, 2011,
GONDIA: The joy of visiting tourist spots and places of pilgrimage with families that most government employees get is cut short by some corrupt officials in the district who refuse to clear the payment of leave travel concession (LTC) unless their palms are greased. There were repeated complaints of some government employees getting the LTC payment even without visiting places by 'managing' officials. The facility is available to the government and semi-government employees once in four years.
When some government employees, particularly from those in the tehsil office here, started complaining that they did not receive their dues despite visiting the areas because they did not give commission to the drawing and disbursing authorities, this correspondent filed an application with the tehsildar under RTI on November 17, 2010 and sought details. The scribe was asked to deposit Rs 260 in SBI. But the bank asked to deposit money in the treasury which was done, though with some hiccups. The tehsil office then supplied LTC documents of 14 employees, but the information was incomplete. Important documents like travelling receipts, proofs of stay and copies of sanction were missing.
Therefore, fresh details were sought on January 11. Sensing trouble, the employees of tehsil office involved in wrongdoings decided to adopt bullying tactics. The tehsildar issued summons to this scribe on February 2 under section 227 of Maharashtra Land Revenue Code. Directives were issued to him to appear before the court of tehsildar BB Wanjari (who was already relieved on January 31) for giving a statement. This was done ostensibly by some staffers of the tehsil office to cause harassment.
This scribe then questioned the propriety of issuing such summons and refused to appear before the said court. The matter was also reported to the district collector, urging him to direct the tehsildar to withdraw the letter. What transpired behind the scene was not known but this scribe received a letter from Gondia tehsildar SR Motghare on March 15, admitting to the mistake of issuing summons. Irregularities in the payment of LTC were confirmed when the employees who had availed of benefits after 'visiting' Ganpatipule, Sawantwadi and Mumbai had in fact signed the muster book during that period.
Reports said that there are at least 25 employees who claimed and took the payment illegally. Two employees alleged that although they had toured various places, their claims were rejected because they did not pay a cut to the then tehsildar. They have demanded scrutiny of all the LTC bills of the block between 2008 and 2010. Surprisingly, this flaw was not noticed in two audits conducted so far. How deep have the irregularities been rooted could therefore be anybody's guess.

Info commission disappointed at poor response from NGOs;

Financial Express Bangladesh; Dhaka, Friday March 25 2011,
Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) Muhammad Zamir, former ambassador, said Thursday that non-government organisations (NGOs) have so far sent few designated officers' names to the Information Commission of Bangladesh (ICB) that created difficulties for the people in getting particular information.
"Only 310 NGOs out of about 23 thousand have sent their designated officers' names to the commission. The number of government departments' designated officers is now about 6,700 who will provide information to the people," he said at a workshop in the capital.
The CIC said the RTI Act- 2009, which was passed in Parliament on July 1, 2009, allows the designated officers to supply relevant information to the people.
"It took about 19 months to get the designated officers' names of a leading NGO of the country. Those who claim themselves to be members of the civil society should have to maintain transparency, while dealing with others'," he said at the workshop on 'Challenges pertaining to the effective implementation of the Right to Information (RTI)' as the chief guest at the conference room of the LGED Bhaban at Agargaon.
Bangladesh Enterprise Institute (BEI) organised the programme with Farooq Sobhan, president of the organisation, in the chair.
Consulting editor of the Financial Express and former chief editor of the Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS) Zaglul Ahmed Chowdhury presented the key-note paper, which was read out by Project Director (PD) of BEI Shahab Enam Khan as Mr Chowdhury could not attend the workshop.
Secretary of the Ministry of Science and Information and Communication Technology Abdur Rob Howlader and Information Commissioner Muhammad Abu Taher were present.
Underscoring the importance of the media's role in the successful implementation of the RTI, the CIC said, "There should be a column in the newspaper and a time should be allocated by the electronic media so that people could send their comments and suggestions on the RTI that could help us take necessary measures accordingly".
Abdur Rob Howlader said democracy could not function without proper sharing of information. RTI should be viewed as a basic right of the people, if we want to see real democracy.

No Venture Fund has approached IT department for tax exemption;; Madhav Chanchani; Thu, Mar 24, 2011,
The Income-Tax Department is initiating an investigation to check if venture capital funds (VCF), regulated by the market watchdog, Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), have complied with income-tax regulations mandatory under the law to be able to claim tax exemption as VCFs.
I-T department sources have confirmed to Moneylife that an investigation is underway to determine why VCFs have not registered with the IT department.
The IT department was alerted to this issue when a Right to Information (RTI) application was filed, seeking the number of VCFs which have been cleared by the IT department. Surprisingly, while replying to the RTI query, the department discovered that no VCF had sought its clearance so far.
Currently, for the purpose of tax exemption, VCFs have to comply with the income-tax rules under Section 10 (23FA) of the Income-Tax (I-T) Act. Section 10 (23FB) of the I-T Act provides tax exemption for "income from investment in venture capital undertaking."
But it is only after the RTI query that the I-T department woke up and started an investigation into why VCFs registered in India have not taken permission from the tax authorities.
As per the information available on SEBI's website, there are as many as 180 registered venture capital funds and 154 registered foreign venture capital funds in India. At present, venture capital activity in India comes under the purview of different sets of regulations.
The SEBI (Venture Capital Funds) Regulation, 1996, lays down the overall regulatory framework for registration and operations of venture capital funds in India. Overseas venture capital investments are subject to the Government of India Guidelines for Overseas Venture Capital Investment in India dated 20 September 1995.
For tax exemption purposes, venture capital funds also need to comply with Income-Tax Rules under Section 10(23FA) of the Income-Tax Act. However, no venture firm has approached the IT department, according to a senior IT official.

Warrant out against info official in RTI plea case;

TNN; Mar 23, 2011,
BHUBANESWAR: The Orissa Information Commission on Wednesday issued an arrest warrant against a public information officer for non-compliance of the provisions under the Right to Information Act. This is for the first time that the commission has issued such a warrant in the state.
State Information Commissioner Jagadananda pronounced the warrant against Asutosh Loknath Ghadei, former PIO of Bargaon panchayat samiti in Sundargarh district. The commission was hearing three cases against Ghadei, who is presently posted in Keonjhar as a welfare extension officer. All the three complaints were filed on August 28, 2009, and Wednesday was the fourth hearing in all the cases.
Complainant Narayan Majhi had accused the PIO of not giving information regarding vigilance committee report of the panchayat samiti, non-revelation of information regarding members of block-level advisory committee and supply of wrong information regarding plantation under the samiti. Confirming the "arrest warrant," current PIO at Bargaon panchayat samiti Anjan Kerketa, who was present during the hearing, said, "The commission issued the warrant because the ex-PIO never appeared before the commission."
In the last hearing on January 25, the information commission had stated that Ghadei should submit a written show-cause on why penalty should not be imposed on him and in case he fails to appear without reasonable cause, the commission reserves the right to issue an arrest warrant or attach property. Besides, the commission had ordered the current PIO to supply information to the complainant.
RTI activists have welcomed the commission's maiden move. "Such a step will act as a big deterrent to PIOs who are not taking the transparency law seriously. This is only the second such incident in the country where warrant has been issued against a PIO. The only other such incident being in Arunachal Pradesh in 2009," said Nisikant Mahapatra, convenor of Soochana Adhikar Manch, a voluntary organisation working to popularize the RTI Act.

Property details of Royals not exempt from disclosure: CIC

Economic Times; 24 Mar, 2011,
NEW DELHI: The property details of former princely states are not confidential documents and cannot be withheld, the Central Information Commission has held while ordering the disclosure of merger agreement of the then state of Bhopal with India.
A full Bench of the Commission said that such details are over 20 years old and in view of section 8(1)(3) of the RTI Act they cannot be withheld.
"The list of properties are not exempted in view of the Section 8(1)(3) of the RTI Act," the Bench said.
The section cited by the Bench allows making public the information, otherwise exempted from disclosure, if it is more than 20 year old.
The Bench also directed the Home Ministry to make public the merger agreement signed by the then Nawab of Bhopal with the Government of India in 1949.
The case relates to an RTI application filed by one Z U Alvi seeking copy of the letter dated August 15, 1955 from Nawab Hamidullah Khan of Bhopal to Govind Ballabh Pant, along with enclosures, merger agreement and another letter written in 1956 with enclosures like gift deed of "Riaz Manzil" by Nawab of Bhopal to his wife Aftab Jahan Begum.
"It leaves no doubt that the contents of Bhopal Merger Agreement and the enclosures thereto are public documents. Hence, in the spirit of the RTI Act, such documents should also be furnished to the Appellant," it held.
Under the merger agreement executed by the Nawab of Bhopal, the State of Bhopal was merged into the Dominion of India for a period of five years only.
It also said the income derived annually from the share of the Nawab in the original investment by Qudsia Begum in the Bhopal State Railway, which share was agreed to be Rupees five lakhs and fifty five thousand, shall be treated as the personal income of the Nawab and shall be paid by the Government of India to the Nawab, and his successors.
The Home Ministry was objecting to disclosure citing a reply given by the then Home Minister Y B Chavan on November 15, 1967 on the floor of Lok Sabha where he stated that details of the property recognized as the private property of the ruler should not be a matter for public disclosure.
The Bench comprising Chief Information Commissioner Satyananda Mishra and Information Commissioners Sushma Singh and Shailesh Gandhi rejected the contention by underlining a communication from Lok Sabha stating that the reply given by Chavan pertained to properties of princely rulers of Indore and Gwalior only.
"The Ministry of Home Affairs will procure the documents from the National Archives by giving them the proper reference number to identify the document numbered by them, if they do not have the custody of documents at present, and supply the same to the Applicant," the Commission said.

RTI activist told to shell out Rs 75k for info;

Mumbai Mirror; Atul Chaturvedi; Friday, March 25, 2011,
BBMP has asked for the amount in its official replies to two applications seeking details about road works carried out at Rajarajeshwari Nagar.
An RTI activist was left flummoxed when the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) asked him to cough up Rs 75,000 if he wanted answers to questions he had posed to the civic body’s major road department in two separate RTI applications. In contravention of RTI laws, B K Ramesh, a resident of Rajajinagar, was not told how many pages the information he was seeking would comprise. Moreover, Ramesh, who had filed his applications on January 31 this year, was not furnished with the details within 30 days of filing his application, another lapse on the part of the BBMP. He received a reply only on March 14.
“I was shocked when I received this letter,” Ramesh told Bangalore Mirror. “But I’m ready to pay the money because I believe irregularities have taken place. The quality of work too is below standard. It seems to me that the officer had asked me to pay this huge amount in order to avoid furnishing the information. I will approach the Lokayukta and ask for a thorough inquiry.”
Under RTI laws, an applicant can only be asked to pay a maximum of Rs 2 (the photocopying charge) for an A4 page of information. But the BBMP justified the huge amount by suggesting that the information also contained photographs and the cost of printing each photograph was Rs 5. Now, assuming that 100 projects were carried out in that time and assuming the BBMP would have to provide five photographs for each project, it means Ramesh can expect more than 36,000 pages of information!
In his first RTI application, Ramesh had asked for details of the works undertaken by the BBMP’s major road department in 2009 and 2010 in Rajarajeshwari Nagar Zone. He sought a copy of the computerised list of contractors who participated in tender processes, where the earnest money paid by the contractors was deposited, details of the contractors who had won bids as well and the number of advertisements that were published in newspapers calling for tenders. He wanted this information to be backed up by photocopies of the documents.
Of the four questions Ramesh had posed, M Lokesh, the executive engineer of Rajarajeshwari Nagar, provided answer to only one. Ramesh was asked to pay Rs 50,000 if he wanted the rest of the information.
On January 31, Ramesh had filed another RTI application asking the BBMP to provide details of major road works taken up by assistant engineer Swami, who is on deputation from the PWD department since 2008. Ramesh sought details of the works completed, the names of the contractors who had undertaken the work, payment details and copies of the receipts. Ramesh was asked to pay Rs 25,000 for this information.
In his reply to this application, Lokesh wrote: “To provide all the details, we have to re-check all the documents. We need time for this. You can visit this office during office hours and details for the specified work will be made available. If you need all the details of all the works, then you have to deposit Rs 25,000.”
Ramesh said: “I had visited the office twice to find out the status of my application. “The officials there put me off by asking me to come on another day. Finally, in their written reply, I was asked to deposit Rs 75,000 in the bank located on the premises of the BBMP head office.”
Lokesh admitted that he had asked the applicant to deposit the money.
“It is true that he has asked for information and I had replied to his application in two separate letters asking him to deposit Rs 25,000 and Rs 50,000 respectively,” Lokesh said. “The applicant had asked for photocopies of works done. It costs Rs 5 to print one page as some documents are accompanied by photographs. I asked him to deposit the money. I am ready to provide all the information that he wants and refund the excess money, if any, to him.” Asked why he had not mentioned the number of pages, Lokesh blamed it on a typing mistake. “I had specified the number of pages, based on which I had asked him to pay. If it’s not mentioned in the reply, it’s probably due to a mistake on the part of the typist. I’m quite sure I mentioned the number of pages.” But when BM asked him how many pages the information would comprise, Lokesh didn’t have an answer.
A K M Naik, state chief information commissioner, said: “The officer cannot ask an applicant to pay a sum without providing details of the number of pages. The applicant can approach the appellate authority and if he is still not satisfied, then he can approach the information commission.”
However, Shailesh Gandhi, central information commissioner, said Ramesh could approach the information commission directly. “The officer should have mentioned the number of pages. He could err on the side of caution by providing a higher estimate of the number of pages, but it has to be mentioned. The applicant can approach the state information commission directly without approaching the appellate authority. The information should have been provided within 30 days. If it’s not provided within that time, the information must be provided free of cost.”

Blast accused moves HC over RTI query.

TNN; Mar 25, 2011,
MUMBAI: Major (retd.) Ramesh Upadhyay, accused in the 2008 Malegaon blast case, moved the Bombay HC after his application regarding the basis of his implication in the case under MCOCA filed under the RTI Act was not answered.
Advocate Mubin Solkar argued that the information was denied to Upadhyay as it was gathered by the ATS which was exempted under the RTI.
Solkar also told the court that once the information was passed on to the Home Department by the ATS it was information in possession of the department which was not exempted under the RTI. The petition will be heard on March 31, when State's counsels will reply.

NAC to take up single-subject rule for RTI with govt.

TNN; Mar 25, 2011,
NEW DELHI: The National Advisory Council (NAC) will take up with the government the contentious issue of restriction of one subject in an RTI application. The council members accepted the Aruna Roy-led working group's demand that the restriction be dropped from the purview of the proposed amendments to the RTI rules.
The government had on NAC's insistence agreed to dilute its stand on the draft RTI rules on word limit restriction and abatement of the application on the death of an applicant. The word limit was increased from 250 to 500 words and a proviso added that the restrictions were advisory in nature and an application will not be rejected.
On the word limit, the council recommendation was the requests shall not exceed 500 words, excluding annexures, the address of the central PIO and the applicant. No application shall be rejected on the above ground.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

'Inefficient' data: No supplies to 1 lakh ration card holders;

Deccan Herald; New Delhi; Wednesday 23 March 2011,
Over one lakh ration card holders are not getting their due supplies because of faulty database entries in the computers of Delhi Government which the Central Information Commission described as ''scandalous''.
The figures given by the food and civil supplies department before the Commission show that 44,172 ration card holders have not been given any given rations because their details were not entered in the database of the Government.
"The respondent (Food and Civil Supplies department) states that this has happened because the computer systems are not working properly and connectivity is unreliable and extremely poor.
"...The respondents also informed the Commission that a large number of card holders (around 70,000) in the category of un-reviewed cards are also suffering because of inefficient operation of computer systems," Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi pointed out in his order.
Gandhi directed the Food Commissioner to look into the disenfranchisement of over one lakh families in Delhi because of improper functioning of the computer systems according to the respondents and provide action taken report before April 20, 2011.
The case relates to RTI applicant Amlesh Gupta who sought to know, through his application, action taken on the complaint about the ration card holders who were not given their due supplies despite having valid cards. But he was not provided details from all the circles after which he reached the Commission.
"It is scandalous that since computer systems and connectivity is not proper 44,172 families in Delhi which should get ration at a fixed price are unable to get them. Government policies appear to be victim of a completely inefficient computer system," Gandhi said.
The Commission also directed the system analyst to provide the complete information about restoration of food grain allocation to the 44,172 card holders to the appellant.

Complaint against hawkers lands 70-year-old in ICU.

Mumbai Mirror; Deeptiman Tiwary; Wednesday, March 23, 2011,
Chetandas Khushlani had filed a complaint against illegal stalls on the footpath near his Vakola house; On day of scheduled demolition, he was thrashed by two masked men
When 70-year-old Chetandas Khushlani complained to the BMC about illegal hawkers who had encroached upon the pavements around his Vakola house, all he wanted was swift action. What he got instead was 10 fractures, two operations and a prolonged stay in Hinduja Hospital’s ICU.
Khushlani was mercilessly beaten up by a group of unidentified people when he was on his morning walk last week, allegedly after certain officials in the BMC told the hawkers about the complaint he had filed. Meanwhile, it’s business as usual for the hawkers and shop owners.
According to the police complaint filed at the Vakola Police Station, infuriated by the presence of hawkers on the footpaths Khushlani had filed an RTI application in the local ward office asking whether they had permission to operate there. Their presence, he said in the complaint, forced senior citizens to negotiate traffic on the main road while on their morning walks.
The BMC replied saying the hawkers were illegal. Following this, Khushlani lodged a complaint with the BMC which, after a lot of following up by the 70-year-old, finally issued demolition orders for March 18.
In the first week of March, however, Khushlani was allegedly threatened by a person he did not know.
Khushlani’s son Lakshmichand told Mumbai Mirror, “My father told me that a certain Surinder Mane had threatened him saying there would be consequences if he didn’t take back his complaint. My father did not budge.
“However, what I fail to understand is how Mane came to know that my father had lodged a complaint. This information could only have been leaked by BMC officials,” he added.
On March 18, ironically the day of the scheduled demolition, Khushlani was out on his regular morning walk when he was accosted by two masked men riding a bike.
The men thrashed him with iron rods leaving him with 10 fractures on his arms and legs and a deep cut on his left ear. They also tried to stop a cab and whisk him away when Lakshmichand intervned.
“My maid, who had been passing by, saw my father being beaten up. As soon as she told me, I rushed down and seeing me, the two ran away,” said Lakshmichand. “Had I not reached in time, God knows what they would have done.
In fact, he was lucky to have survived as the assailants wanted to smash his head. He was lucky to get away with a cut on his ear.”
Even as Khushlani was being rushed to Hinduja, the BMC diligently demolished the illegal stalls. The stalls were back the next day, but Khushlani is still in the Intensive Care Unit. He has undergone two surgeries, his limbs are covered in plaster and, according to the doctors treating him, faces a recuperation period that could stretch up to six months.
“There are fractures on his left ankle, right shin, both hands and hip bone. His fingers have been crushed. Even then, the police have only registered a case of assault and criminal intimidation and not attempt to murder,” asks an agitated Lakshmichand. “The BMC must explain how the hawkers returned within 24 hours of their stalls being demolished and how information that my father had complained got leaked.”
Additional Municipal Commissioner Mohan Adtani said, “I will conduct a thorough enquiry as this is a serious matter.
At times, even hawkers have an inkling of people who complain against them, but if this information has been leaked by the BMC, we will take strict action.”
When contacted, Senior Inspector of Vakola Police Station, Rajendra Pardesi, refused to say why attempt to murder charges were not pressed against the accused, but said they would nab the accused soon. “We have identified Surinder Mane. He has been absconding since the incident, but we will get him soon.”

Keeping govt on its toes;

Reetika Subramanian; Hindustan Times; Mumbai, March 23, 2011,
The incomplete retaining wall lining long stretches of the Mithi river is a stark reminder of a skewed ‘restoration and beautification’ plan. After the July 2005 flood, the planning authority’s knee-jerk reaction was to build the wall as an embankment to prevent river water from flooding the city.
Environmentalist Jagdish Gandhi filed a public interest litigation in the Bombay High Court challenging the construction of the 300-metre wall. He argued that the wall was hindering the ecosystem as it was built between the river and the adjoining mangroves.
“A three-member committee was set up to study the indignities that the river was subjected to,” said Gandhi, who is hoping for a demolition order in the next hearing. “The Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority also built bunds, diverting the river flow at a 90-degree angle, which could prove dangerous during the monsoon,” he added.
From moving court to filing applications under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, citizens have kept the authorities undertaking restoration of the city’s water bodies on their toes.
For Walkeshwar-based software engineer Ashish Tiwari, RTI became a powerful tool to seek information on the cost incurred by the state’s Directorate of Archaeology and Museums on the first phase of the restoration and conservation work at the Banganga tank. “The work that started in 2007 did not adhere to the norms of conservation,” said Tiwari, adding that even after more than Rs 2 crore were spent, the well-preserved temple stones bearing age-old carvings were damaged and abandoned. “When I demanded information related to the cost of materials and stones, the Archaeological Survey of India responded that ‘since the entire expenditure of the material purchasing was done by the contractor, we are unable to know the specific actual cost or expense for purchasing the stone and do not have copies of the bills’.”
It was a similar experience for Pamela Cheema, coordinator, IIT-Powai region, of the non-profit body AGNI. She wrote to the civic body seeking justification for the depletion of the green cover at Powai Lake as well as the need for a musical fountain. “Not once did I get a convincing response. I was only told they ‘have noted my objections’,” she said.
Even as the authorities undertake restoration work at wetlands, activists and residents claim that the work is not commensurate with the budget. “Concrete structures are no answer to ecological concerns,” said Namrata Kaur Mahal, conservation architect, The Energy and Resources Institute.

Other communities occupy 4,744 acres.

Express Buzz; C Shivakumar; Wednesday, March 23, 2011,
CHENNAI: A total of 4,744 acres of panchami lands (depressed classed assigned lands) have been occupied by other communities over the last year, according to information available through Right to Information Act.
According to RTI information available with Express, in 2009, the government stated that about 12,415 acres of land has been occupied by other communities while in a separate RTI in 2010, it stated that about 17,159 acres of land was occupied by them. As per law, the panchami land, which came into being after Madras government passed the Government Orders 1010 and 1010A dated 30 September 1892, could not be sold, or mortgaged to anyone. Dalit activists claim that despite the Act, panchami lands meant for Dalits have vanished. Moreover, there has been a fall in the Dalit owners of such lands. As per RTI figures in 2009, there were about 74,893 depressed class owners which later fell by about 3,771 in 2010. The RTI figures in 2010 state that there are 71,122 Dalits owning such land.
Dalit activists also question the RTI information. While figures in 2009 state that total available panchami land is 104,494.38 acres, information available through a separate RTI in 2010 states that 109,301.96 acre is available with the depressed classes. "This shows a difference of 4,807 acres. The government is never giving the correct details. As per 1901 census more than 12 lakh acres were allotted to Dalits," claimed Y Aruldoss, state youth coordinator of National Alliance of Peoples Movements.
What is more, Sivaganga is added in the list of districts which don't have panchami land, as per a 2010 RTI. In 2009, the government stated that only seven districts don't have panchami land. These are Chennai, Kanyakumari, Nagapattinam, Pudukottai, Ramanathapuram, Thoothkudi and Virudhnagar. The government had set up a panel to probe various problems regarding panchami land.

RTI used to blackmail govt officials.

DNA; Partha Sarathi Biswas; Tuesday, March 22, 2011,
A rising number of cases of blackmail of government officers by using the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005, are being reported in RTI circles. Some of these cases came out in the open during the hearing of second appeals by the state information commissioner (SIC) Pune, Vijay Kuvelekar, recently.
After a particularly gruelling hearing, a gram sevak from Satara broke down before the SIC and revealed that in her village a group had repeatedly used the RTI to blackmail government officials.
According to her, members of this group file an RTI application with the village panchayat samiti. The information asked is normally voluminous and, after the application, the group demands money from the official to stop from going for first and second appeal.
If the officer fails to succumb to the blackmail or refuses to comply, the same information is asked by other people at the same time to act as a pressure tactic. This results in the clogging of the appeal systems, with some people filing more than seven or eight appeals for the same case.
Prahlad Kachre, head of the centre for public policy at Yashwantrao Chavan Academy of Development Administration (Yashada), said he was aware of this trend over the past few years. “The problem is acute in Sangli and Solapur districts in Pune division,” he said.
Officers have been complaining about blatant blackmail by certain RTI users. Usually departments dealing with procurement and distribution of grants such as agriculture and public distribution systems are susceptible to blackmail. “I might almost say that this is socialisation of corruption,” he said.
Veteran activist Vijay Kumbhar has noticed this disturbing trend in the past few months. He suggested suo motu declaration of information to prevent blackmail by unscrupulous RTI users.
“Section 4 of RTI talks about suo motu declaration of 17 types of information held in the office. If this is done and put in the public domain, the number of applications received under RTI will go down drastically,” he said.
Suo motu declaration will also save officers from blackmailers, Kumbhar said.
Kachre’s advice to the officers facing blackmail is to file criminal complaints. “But in many cases, the officers themselves have certain things to hide and thus refrain from lodging a complaint,” he noted.
In order to deal with the nuisance of multiple RTI applications for the same information, RTI drafting committee member, Nikhil Dey, suggested creating a pool of applications received and answers to them. This would put in public domain the people who are habitual RTI applicants, he said.
“A simple website can be hosted for all the government offices in the state. Once the applications are in the public domain, it would automatically act as a deterrent for people with ulterior motives to apply. However, this suggestion has found very few takers,” he admitted.

RTI usage sees 10-fold rise.

Mathang Seshagiri & Anil Kumar M, TNN; Mar 23, 2011,
BANGALORE: Have right, will ask. That's the spirit of the growing number of information seekers in the state who are increasingly using the Right to Information (RTI) Act to know who's spending taxpayers' money and how.
Enacted in the summer of 2005, the RTI Act has seen a dramatic rise in its users with Karnataka registering a 10-fold increase in just four years. Latest figures by the Karnataka Information Commission, the state RTI watchdog, shows that from 10,692 petitions (including appeals) in 2005-06, the numbers catapulted to 1,06,363 petitions in 2008-09. A whopping 56% of the requests for information were related to just 2 out of the 33 departments urban development and revenue. Figures for 2009-10 are yet to be tabled in the state legislature.
"In just four years, more than 2.2 lakh petitions have been received by public offices in the state. Today, more than seeking information, the RTI Act has become a form of grievance redressal for the common man, and to fight corruption. In Karnataka, the act is being used not just by the urban educated class, but also the poor in rural areas," information commissioner H N Krishna told TOI.
The analysis of users in the state offers interesting insights into the departments which are the receiving end of civic activism. Though education (57,590 petitions) and rural development (6,066) have the highest number of public information officers, it is the urban development (27,679) and revenue department (23,587) which received the maximum number of petitions. Public enterprises department and the crucial infrastructure department received just three and five petitions respectively in 2008-09, exposing the skewed usage.
"Information on land and land records is what people ask the most. Most of the requests pertain to khata conversion, allotment of sites, land encroachment. In view of the large number of applications for seeking information, the high-level committee on effective implementation of the RTI Act has recommended lamination of revenue records and also digitise/microfilm important records in consultation with the e-governance department," a member of the committee said.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Information on corruption can't be withheld under RTI Act: CIC

The Hindu; J. Venkatesan; New Delhi, March 22, 2011,
Information on allegations of corruption is not excluded from disclosure under the Right to Information Act, the Central Information Commission (CIC) has held.
The information could be furnished by applying the severability clause under Section 10, Information Commissioner Sushma Singh said in an order passed on an appeal filed by Vishwanath Swami, a social activist of Chennai. Seeking information on every purchase made by the Narcotic Control Bureau for office modernisation from 1999 to 2006, he alleged that all purchases were made from a single company, D3D Technologies, without calling for open tenders.
Initially, on Mr. Swamy's application under the RTI Act, the NCB Zonal Director, Chennai, said the company was selected on the basis of competency and it quoted the rate directly and through the Kendriya Bhandar as per rules and regulations. Not satisfied with the reply, Mr. Swamy filed an appeal but the First Appellate Authority (FAA) denied copies of the documents stating they were exempt under the RTI Act.
The FAA said: “Access for any person to these documents such as quotations will expose the secrecy involved in such sensitive investigations and also the apprehension and prosecution of offenders by the NCB.” The present appeal before the CIC is directed against this order.
The Commission said: “The appellant alleges that a huge amount of government money has been illegally siphoned off. In order to expose this rampant corruption and pursue this matter to its logical end, he needs the documents which he has already requested and peruse the file related only to the purchases made by the then Director.”
Under Section 24, “the information pertaining to allegations of corruption is not excluded from disclosure from an exempted organisation under the RTI Act.”
Names to be given:
While rejecting the appellant's request for inspecting the documents, the Commission asked the authorities to provide within 20 days the names of companies and addresses from which quotations were called; to provide comparative statement/quotations from various suppliers of hardware and software equipment/system and other requisite information sought.

Monday, March 21, 2011

20,775 tonnes of smuggled public distribution system rice seized in 3 years.

Jeeva, TNN; Mar 21, 2011,
CHENNAI: At a time when rice smuggling has become a political issue in Tamil Nadu, the civil supplies department's reply to an application under the Right To Information (RTI) Act reveals that as many as 20,775 tonnes of rice worth Rs 11.73 crore were seized in anti-smuggling operations in the state in last three years.
The department also said that 5,152 persons were arrested in three years for smuggling rice meant to be supplied to ration card holders. The seizures and arrests reveal the scope of attempted diversion from the public distribution system (PDS).
V Santhanam, president of People's Awareness Association in Chrompet, filed an RTI application on February 5, 2011 seeking details of action taken by the civil supplies department to curb the smuggling of rice and issuing of bogus ration cards. The public information officer of the department replied to his query recently saying the enforcement wing seized 9,174 tonnes of rice in 2008, 5,271 tonnes in 2009 and 6,330 tonnes last year while being smuggled. As many as 1,171 persons were arrested in 2008, 1,644 in 2009 and 2,337 in 2010, the reply said.
The department also disclosed that it had cancelled about 14.30 lakh bogus ration cards in the state in 2009 and 2010. The highest number of bogus cards – 1.46 lakh – were cancelled in Madurai while it was 1.09 lakh in Ariyalur district. Coimbatore, Trichy, Vellore, Salem, Cuddalore, Tirunelveli, Villupuram and Erode had over 50,000 bogus cards each. In Chennai, 21,000 bogus ration cards were cancelled in last two years.
On the fate of the vehicles that were involved in the rice smuggling, the information officer said such vehicles were normally detained and released either on paying fine or through court orders. Unclaimed vehicles would be sold through public auctions.
Food secretary Swaran Singh told The Times of India that the government has taken the issue of rice smuggling seriously and intensified efforts to prevent the offence. "So far, we have booked 105 people under the prevention of black-marketing and maintenance of supplies of essential commodities Act. We have given instructions to all the senior officials in the department and flying squads to be on high alert to curb the menace,'' Singh said.