Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Survey finds too many holes in welfare scheme execution in Orissa.

Economic Times; Tuesday, April 12, 2011,
BHUBANESWAR: Bowing to pressures from civil society, NGOs , opposition parties, the Naveen Patnaik government finally gave its consent to a CBI probe into the alleged corruption in the utilization of central funds in the state for implementation of its rural job guarantee scheme under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS).
The Supreme Court was on Monday informed about this even as the allegation of misappropriation of hundreds of crores of rupees in food security and welfare schemes in the state by a recent survey report has brought fresh trouble for the Orissa Chief Minister.
Performance Audit of Food Security Schemes in Orissa conducted by New Delhi based research organization, Centre for Environment and Food Security exposes many chinks in the armour of Naveen Patnaik government. The report portrays a pathetic picture of the implementation of central schemes in seven districts where the former conducted sample survey.
In 2007, CEFS had alleged Rs 500 crore scam in the implementation of the MNREGS in Orissa and which has filed a petition on the issue urging for the CBI probe into the case. Even the reports from Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) and National Institute of Rural Development (NIRD) exposed misappropriation of funds to the tune of 88% in some districts of Orissa.
About 77% of the very poor in Orissa did not get even a single day's work under the rural employment scheme under The during the previous year. The average MGNREGS employment actually provided to the surveyed households in the state in last one year was only about 4 days per household, while only 2.2% of the sample households had got over 50 days job.
The MGNREGS, launched in 2006, guarantees 100 days of employment in a financial year to a rural household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work.
"It is shocking to note that out of 2000 very poor households surveyed in Orissa , only 5 households had received 100 days of job during the previous year", the report lamented. The sample districts of Orissa included Bolangir, Nuapada, Kalahandi, Ganjam, Gajapati, Sundergarh and Kendujhar. The total number of sample households covered under this survey is 3250. About 53.4% of the sample households are scheduled caste and 46.6% are schedule tribes.
Interestingly, the survey disputes official claims best practices in the implementation of the rural jobs scheme in the home district of the chief minister, Naveen Patnaik. The report reveals that the yearly average employment per household in the district was less than half a day.
"The average actual NREGS employment provided to per needy and eligible household in Ganjam district during previous 12 months was less than half day (0.26 day to be precise)........It is a tragic irony that Ganjam district was declared by Orissa Government as the best practice district in NREGS and it has received best performing /model district award by the Central Government too". The report cited the plight of Biripurm, a village in Ganjam district.
In fact, Ganjam district was included in the survey to study and learn the MGNREGS best practices of the district so that they can be replicated in other districts. "However , we have sadly ended up discovering only worst MGNREGS practices in this so-called best practice district of Orissa", the report said.
Still shocking is the revelation that 28.3% of the sample households in the state do not have any ration card. Except for a couple of welfare schemes, the state fared very badly in the implementation of central schemes. For instance, there has been no impact of the National Family Benefit Scheme (NFBS).
In case of death of the primary bread winner of a family, the NFBS provides a lump sum benefit of Rs 10,000 to the bereaved household. "This scheme is as good as non-existent. Hardly anyone knows about this scheme. It is shocking to note that only one household in Bolangir had received benefit under NMBS", the report said.
The report among others recommended launching of National Campaign to bring Transparency and Accountability in the delivery of all food security and social security schemes and implementation Section 4 of RTI to ensure pro-active disclosure of information related to all food security and social security schemes.

No promotion for babus without property returns.

Times of India; Tuesday, April 12, 2011,
NEW DELHI: After months of dilly-dallying, the government has finally decided to crack the whip on errant babus who have so far refused to submit a list of immovable property.
The personnel department has threatened that officers of All India Services such as IAS and IPS and Group A Central Service officers would not be given vigilance clearance and would not be considered for promotion at empanelment for senior-level posts at the Centre if they do not submit their property returns.
These officers had to file their annual Immovable Property Returns for 2010 by the end of January 2011 but several of them are yet to submit it. Though the department of personnel and training had written to state chief secretaries for sending the returns by February 15, and even reminded them in late March, the response has not been good.
This has prompted Establishment Officer I V Subba Rao to send a fresh reminder to states and other agencies setting April 20 as the new deadline. Rao, who sent the letter last week, also said the names of defaulting officers would be put up on the personnel department's website.
The reminders come as the Centre has been asked to place the annual property returns of central service and all-India service officers in public domain by January 1, 2011.
A vigilance clearance is mandatory for government officials for empanelment to a higher grade. In addition, for several posts, a subsequent vigilance nod is required.
The government is insisting on filing of annual property returns as Right to Information activists have demanded that these details be put out in public domain. After a prolonged battle with the government, especially the bureaucracy, RTI activists managed to get the Central Information Commission to agree to their demands.

Locals block mining trucks in Khotode.

Times of India; Rajendra P Kerkar; Tuesday, April 12, 2011,
KERI: The agitation against mining trucks picked up momentum in Khotode village in Sattari taluka. On Monday, Khotode locals blocked mining trucks going to a mine at Gavane, allegingthat the mine bearing T C No. 31/55 was functioning without the necessary permission. Officials from the directorate of mines and Valpoi police later intervened.
Sarpanch of Khotode village panchayat Rajesh Gaonkar said, "The mine, causing environmental degradation, is functioning illegally and is responsible for depleting the ground water resources of the village."
Valpoi police officials later reached the site and allowed about 70 trucks to proceed. Stating that the directorate of mines' officials said the mine is "legal", police inspector Shivram Vaigankar said, "Hence we allowed the trucks carrying iron ore to go."
Directorate of mines official Deepak Mayekar told the villagers that necessary action would be taken only after the necessary investigation.
Not giving up, later in the evening, the Khotode locals along with activists from Valpoi submitted a memorandum to Bicholim deputy collector Narayan Gad urging him to investigate into the matter and lodged a complaint at the Valpoi police station.
Information obtained under the RTI Act by deputy conservator of forests G T Kumar on February 4 said, "The forest clearance for the mining lease bearing T C No. 31/55 has been rejected by the ministry of environment and forests." Advocate Shivaji Desai concluded, "We will file a PIL in the high court over this matter."

Railways giving stepmotherly treatment to State.

Express Buzz; N R Madhusudhan; Tuesday, April 12, 2011,
BANGALORE: Although the Railways has sanctioned many new trains to Karnataka in the past three years, its stepmotherly approach in allocating funds to the projects continues.
The funds allocated for the projects in the state have drastically decreased in the past three years. According to the information obtained through an RTI application, the allocation of funds for the projects in the state has reduced by more than 35 per cent since 200809.
In 200809, the Railway Board had allocated Rs 466 crore for various projects in South-Western Railways (SWR) and in the subsequent year, the state received Rs 350 crore. In the past financial year, Rs 282 crore were received for all the projects including the cost-sharing ones undertaken in the SWR. As a result, the Railways has failed to utilise even the funds allocated by the state government for the cost-sharing projects.
According to the sources, the Railways could utilise only Rs 140 crore of the Rs 600 crore allocated by the state government in the past financial year. Therefore, the state government reduced its allocation for various cost sharing projects from Rs 600 crore in the last financial year to Rs 480 crore in this financial year.
West Bengal favoured
However, the allocation has increased drastically to West Bengal during the same period. In 200809, the Railways had allocated Rs 270 crore to the Central Railway Zone, which controls the railway operations of West Bengal, from where Union Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee hails. In the subsequent year, the Eastern Railways got Rs 416 crore.
In 201011, the Railways allocated Rs 788 crore to the Eastern Railways, nearly three times more than what was allocated to the zone in 200809. In fact, Kolkata Metro has got more funds in the last year than the entire SWR. The Railways allocated Rs 570 crore for the Kolkata Metro in 201011, which is Rs 288 crore more than that was allocated to the SWR.
FKCCI President N S Srinivas Murthy said: "According to the experts, at least `12,000 crore is needed to complete all the projects in the state and Rs 282 crore is just a pittance. If the present trend continues, it might take a few decades to complete all the projects in the state. The state has been discriminated from the past 40 years and now we are receiving less funds despite the fact that Union Minister of State for Railways K H Muniyappa is from our state."

Over Rs 125-cr rise in water arrears in Feb.

Indian Express; Mumbai; Tue Apr 12 2011,
Mumbai : Even as the BMC could collect the water arrears amounting to Rs 301 crore by launching the Abhay Yojna Scheme, it again witnessed a rise in pending arrears by over Rs 125 crore in February. In October 2010, the water arrears from consumers across the city had totalled up to Rs 826 crore, out of which Rs.301 crore was recovered by the civic body from October to January. A reply to a Right to Information (RTI) application filed to find out the existing water dues states that the total arrears as on February 28 are Rs 656.21 crore, up by Rs.126 crores from Rs.525 crore at January end.
The dues are pending from a few government agencies, private establishments and individual consumers; some of them have not paid the arrears from 2001. The civic body had launched the Abhay Yojna scheme on October 1, 2010. As per the scheme, if any consumer has not cleared his outstanding water bills, they can pay the entire amount and get a rebate of two per cent additional charge per year levied as penalty for the delayed payment.
While the collection during October, November and December was Rs.188 crores, the BMC could recover Rs.113 crore in January alone. Officials called it a significant step since the collection was Rs.26 crore during April, May and June and Rs.38 crore during July, August and September last year.
Deputy Hydraulic Engineer S Maheshwari said the department was busy focusing on preparing water bills that have to be produced by mid March and dispatched to consumers by the end of the fiscal year. “Owing to this, we could not focus on recovering existing dues. But now that the bills have been dispatched, we will again shift our focus on recovering dues.”
Asked if the scheme will be introduced once again, he said, “Though we recovered a sizeable amount as dues, we had expected much more. As of now, there is no plan to re-launch the scheme.”
The dues from private consumers have decreased by 9.71 per cent, from Rs.503 crore in August 2010 to Rs.453 crore in February 2011. The dues from the Central Railway have increased by 10.8 per cent during the same period from Rs.34 crore to Rs.38 crore. The MHADA recently cleared a large chunk of its water dues; its dues have come down by almost 90 per cent from 111.2 crore in August 2010 to Rs.11.3 crore in February 2011.

Sonia council hints at bill bowout.

The Telegraph; Tuesday , April 12 , 2011,
New Delhi, April 11: The Sonia Gandhi-headed National Advisory Council may relinquish its mandate to strengthen the Lok Pal Bill following Anna Hazare’s agitation and the joint drafting panel it has led to, a member of the panel said.
The National Advisory Council (NAC) had set up a working group with Aruna Roy as its convener to look at the possibility of adding teeth to the government’s version of the Lok Pal Bill.
The member said Sonia was now expected to take a call whether the panel should persist with its efforts on the bill, or leave it entirely to the joint drafting committee so that “duplication and clashes” can be avoided.
Apart from their reluctance to encroach on the joint committee’s turf, NAC members have reservations about the way Hazare and his advisers went about the issue.
When the NAC working group on the bill held its first official meeting on April 4, it had invited all the four Hazare associates who are now on the joint drafting committee as civil society representatives.
At that meeting, lawyers Shanti and Prashant Bhushan, Karnataka Lokayukta Santosh Hegde and RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal had held consultations with the NAC core group of A.K. Shiva Kumar, Mirai Chatterjee, Deep Joshi, Harsh Mander and N.C. Saxena.
The working group was to confer with them again on April 16 but that meeting now looks uncertain, a source said.
Sources said that when an NAC member had informally remarked at a previous discussion that civil society needn’t have resorted to the “spectacle of a dharna” to fight corruption, some pro-Hazare activists had protested and suggested they would not like to work with the panel again.
NAC members said they had a “problem” with the way Hazare’s agitation was carried out.
“It was certainly media-driven. More disturbing was the presence of pro-Hindutva elements and the support that Hazare himself (later) expressed for Narendra Modi,” a member said.
Hazare had yesterday admired Modi’s work to decentralise power in Gujarat but made it clear he wasn’t looking at the chief minister’s communal record.
An NAC member said the panel could not “pretend as though one (corruption) did not impinge on the other (communalism)”.
“If we are looking at corruption and transparency, we are also equally serious about combating communalism,” the member said.
Asked if the NAC saw the Hazare kind of agitation as a challenge to its relevance and authority, a member said: “The Lok Pal is one specific element in the campaign against corruption. It doesn’t cover the gamut of issues.
“We will take up administrative, electoral and police reforms, and stress the need for laws to check illegal accumulation of assets, and so on.”
As for the drafting of the Lok Pal Bill, one member said: “The processes of consultation must be genuine, widespread and inclusive and not override people’s concerns. We want a powerful Lok Pal but such an authority cannot just get after politicians. Corruption covers all aspects of society bureaucrats, doctors, and the like.”
Another member said: “The point is not about equal representation of civil society members with the ministers entrusted with drafting the bill. It is that the government must immediately announce its intention to bring a strong law based on wide public consultations.”

Rs.377.69 crore CWG dues to foreign firms: RTI reply.

New Delhi, April 11 (IANS)
A total of Rs.377.69 crore ($85 million) is yet to be paid to eight foreign companies who provided overlays for the Oct 3-14, 2010 Commonwealth Games here, a Right to Information (RTI) query has revealed.
In a reply to the RTI query filed by activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal, the ministry of external affairs said that of the total contracted amount of Rs.630.22 crore, the government has paid Rs.252.53 crore.
'Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is investigating the case and advice has been sought from the law ministry, whether pending investigations, payments can be made,' was the reason stated by the ministry for the delay in paying the dues.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Time to make e-governance RTI-friendly.

N Madhavan; Mon,11 Apr 2011,
The flavour of last week in India was decidedly the hunger strike by Gandhian Annasaheb Hazare seeking a big push to the Lokpal (ombudsman) Bill aimed at ushering in accountability of public servants in a bid to fight corruption and bribery. There is a technology angle to this, which I thought I should dwell on in line with the mood.
E-governance has been a fashionable term for a decade now and India has been pushing forward quite well in this space. But much of the focus has been on two aspects.
First, by making offices paperless, moving digital files and executing signatures electronically, e-governance has lowered costs and improve speed and convenience in governance.
Secondly, citizen services are getting better. You can now track a passport application, pay a utility bill or file income tax returns online.
But beyond these lies a third aspect that of public services that are not about individual convenience or government efficiency. This is about transparency.
There is growing push for transparency in governance and the Right To Information (RTI) law and activism surrounding it have helped unearth information aimed at holding officials accountable.
In this domain, IT service companies must work with civil society groups to set new benchmarks and improve what I call the Transparency Quotient (TQ) in governance. For example, when a road or a park is built or project is approved, from the stage of tendering to the final completion, there is a case to make the whole process transparent.
In the private sector, employees and partners have access to information on the progress of a project. In the government-administered public domain, a similar access to voluntary groups, opposition parties and citizens can put pressure on public servants to speed up projects, reduce red tape and offer opportunities to combat delays and secrecy that breed corruption.
In other words, we should make the information system within the government RTI friendly to make transparency the rule rather than an exception.

RTI: MNIT registrar fined Rs 50,000.

TNN; Apr 10, 2011,
JAIPUR: Taking note of the delay in responding Right-To-Information Act applications within the mandated period, the chief information commissioner (CIC) recently imposed two penalties of Rs 25,000 each on the registrar of Malaviya National Institute of Technology (MNIT).
The applicant, Professor S D Bharti sought information on composition, power, functions and action taken report on grievance committee faculty on January 11, 2010. After he was denied information within the mandated time, Bharti filed a complained before the commission seeking their intervention in acquiring information after 30 days.
On January 5 this year, the CIC issued a notice to the respondents seeking explanation as to why the maximum penalty should not be imposed. Awritten submission was also t for the cause of delay. The CIC asked the respondent to appear before it on April 7 for hearing. Fearing strict action, the central public information officer (CPIO) gave some information to the applicant on January 28. During the hearing, the applicant challenged the information as incorrect and incomplete.
The CIC, after examining application and reply, observed that information provided is "incorrect and incomplete". "The delay and inaction on the part on CPIO in providing information amounts to wilful disobedience of the commissions' directions and also raises doubt that denial of information may be mala fide," the CIC said.
The worst doesn't end here for the registrar. In another hearing on same day, the CIC imposed penalty of Rs 25,000 for delay and denial of information on false grounds. The applicant Bharti, who is fighting a legal battle against MNIT, for his promotion due for past four years, sought information on complete process on pay fixation and promotions on March 8, 2010.
He was denied information by stating it was a "sub judice matter''. He again filed a complaint with CIC which issued notice to the respondent calling it an "illegal excuse to deny information" and asked to the registrar to appear before CIC on April 7. After the hearing, CIC passed an order directing director of MNIT to recover Rs 25,000 from the salary of registrar Dhaka. The total amount of Rs 25,000 will be remitted by September 10.
It doesn't stop here. On the same day, reacting to the complaint filed by former student of MNIT of delay in getting information, the CIC has issued a show cause notice to appear on May 10. Earlier, the MNIT registrar was penalised with a maximum of Rs 25,000 for not releasing information on time in March 2010.

असम में आरटीआई कार्यकर्ता गिरफ्तार.

Patrika; Mon, Apr 11, 2011,
गुवाहटी। आरटीआई कार्यकर्ता और कृषक मुक्ति संगठन समिति के अध्यक्ष अखिल गोगोई को गुवाहटी पुलिस ने रविवार को उनके साथियों समेत संहिता के उल्लंघन करने के आरोप में गिरफ्तार कर लिया।
पुलिस ने मौके पर पहुंचकर गोगोई की प्रेस कॉफ्रेंस बीच में ही रोक दी और उन्हें सीआरपीसी की धारा 144 के तहत गिरफ्तार कर लिया। एसएसपी दीपक चौधरी ने बताया कि दिगालीपुखरी क्षेत्र में गोगोई और उनके सहयोगियों को धारा 144 के उल्लंघन का दोषी पाया गया। वे लोग दूसरे चरण के मतदान के दौरान जुलूस निकालने की योजना बना रहे थे। इसी वक्त उन्हें हिरासत मे लिया गया। घटना के बाद पूरे जिले मे धारा 144 लागू कर दी गई है।
इससे पहले गुवाहटी मे गोगोई की प्रेस मीटिंग को भी बीच में ही रोक दिया गया था। गोगोई ने आरोप लगाया कि उनकी गिरफ्तारी एक राजनीतिक षढयंत्र है। गोगोई ने कहा कि मैं किसी राजनीतिक पार्टी का सदस्य नहीं हूं और इस तरह मैने प्रेस मीटिंग बुलाकर आचार संहिता का उल्लंघन नहीं किया है।

Right To Information & Nepali Press;

Nepal Republic Media; Kathmandu Nepal;APRIL 11,2011, 
Nepal issued its first separate law for Right to Information (RTI) in July 2007, which has been considered as the most powerful right of the people of the country. But, despite the necessity and expected speed, it has not been implemented properly. Social organizations, organizations related to people’s rights and empowerment, organizations against corruption and citizens should have been involved for the implementation of RTI Act. Nepali Press, which continuously fought for 18 years to get this Act, has not succeeded in utililizing this Act in its research and investigative reporting. It would be a great contribution for the country for establishing culture of information, if Nepali media could use this Act to compel our bureaucracy, which still hides unfavorable informations, to give out information.
Why has the RTI not been successful in Nepal? Why do the Nepali citizens and Press not use this law? The First Convention on Right to Information which was held in Kathmandu on March 28-29 tried to find the answers to these questions. Everyone who participated in this convention was mostly concerned about why this Act, which is considered as the most powerful tool in the world for transparency, good governance and people´s empowerment, was not implemented in Nepal even though it was introduced three years ago. The participants of South Asian countries shared their experiences in this convention and suggested the Nepali Press to create public awareness for the implementation of this law. They even shared the experiences how their mass media played a vital role in their countries after the law was introduced.
Sailesh Gandhi, central information commissioner of India said that the Indian media had played significant role in the implementation of this Act in his country. Chief Information Commissioner of Bangladesh, Mohammad Zamir emphasized on the role of Nepali community radios to reach the public as they have been the successful examples. RTI Act was introduced in India only towards the end of 2005 and since then it has made huge contributions in making the bureaucracy and political parties transparent and responsible. Within the period of 5 years, more than 4 millions of applications were drafted by people and organizations appealing for information.
For example, Parivartan, an NGO, in India demanded for detailed information concerning one of the government’s programs which provided food aid to people. As per the program those with Ration Card were eligible to get subsidy in the price of food provided by Government. But when they went to the subsidized rate shops, they were told that the subsidy was finished, compelling them to pay full amount of the goods. On realizing this, Parivartan asked the Delhi Government to provide details of this program which later revealed that eighty percent of subsidized food was being sold at the market price.
Though a number of such problems are still in existence in India, this Act has helped to reveal a lot of cases with regard to corruption in different sectors. Bihar Government has recently launched a program ‘Jankari’, which allows people to collect required information through the telephone. Likewise, in Bangladesh where Act was just enforced last year, there are 29 thousand complaints related to RTI registered already. According to Zamir, people have demanded the information regarding education, medicine, resource management and employment. But, unfortunately the condition of Nepal in this context is still deplorable. A paper presented by the Nepal Government in the Convention showed that only 3 percent of the total public agencies have appointed information officers.
As per the Act, all the concerned public agencies were mandatorily required to appoint information officer. Vinaya Kumar Kasajoo, Chief Information Commissioner, in his paper said that the National Information Commission has been facing the difficulties due to limited manpower and resources. The Commission is permitted by law to recruit clerks when needed and it can also appoint volunteers when there is a need of, outside Kathmandu Valley, so that the people can exercise their right by registering such complaint cases regarding lack of information. As per the Act, despite the absence of a demand for information each concerned authority should make the information available according to Proactive Disclosure Provision. But this has not been done in Nepal yet.
Keeping the current scenario in mind, Nepal needs a Nodal Agency under Nepal Government which can supervise these activities. Delhi Government has formed a Nodal Agency under Prime Minister Office which is monitored by a State Minister so that the government can supervise and observe the activities related to the RTI Act. Though we have realized the necessity of such an agency in Nepal, the government does not seem serious about it. We have to accept the bitter fact that we do not have records of any complaints and demands for information even though the Act has been active for the past three years and a half except 65 appellate cases filed in National Information Commission. No media in Nepal has demanded for information in the process of news collection except few exceptional cases, which too have not done enough to create awareness in people to exercise RTI.
NDTV, an Indian television channel, telecasts a special program related to RTI and information seeking. Similarly, The Indian Express, a daily newspaper has devised a separate column, whereas The Times of India publishes successful stories in this regard and encourages people for RTI. Many Indian television channels themselves demand for information relating to the public concerns using the RTI Act of India and regularly put them on air.
But, in Nepal the situation is completely different, almost non-existent so to say. In case, a reporter does not get information through an oral request, if s/he uses this Act s/he can definitely bring to light many cases concerning corruption publicly. On one hand this promotes investigative reporting and on the other, it encourages people to demand for information. Such reporting will compel public authorities who are freezing the public information to publish those informations once in every three months, as per the rules of the Act. If the Nepali media is able to do this, it will be a colossal achievement for the establishment of transparency among the public bodies of the country. However, it should be kept in mind that the RTI is not just for the Press to exercise. It is a fundamental right of every citizen of the country. It would be beneficial for the Press as well as the whole nation if the Nepali Press, which fought for more than a decade and half to pass this Act, showed more activeness and energy to practice it in their profession which has a direct impact on the mass.
Writer is a senior editor in RSS and an RTI researcher:

`RTI Act an effective tool to improve governance`

KanglaOnline; April 10, 2011,
IMPHAL April 10: A democratic state requires an informed citizenry to contain corruption, voter have the right to know what developments their elected representatives have carried out.
Ch Birendra, state information commissioner while speaking as the chief guest at a one day workshop on RTI Act stated that through the Right to Information Act, the public can monitor the government.
The workshop was organized by the All Manipur Working Journalists`™ Union under the sponsorship of State Academy of Training at Manipur Press Club today. The inaugural session was attended by AMWJU president Khogendra Khomdram and commissioner of Arts and Culture Department, RK Nimai as the president and guest of honor respectively.
Birendra further stated that the working of the media and the RTI Act has similar objectives as both seeks information aimed at informing and empowering the masses.
The public needs to understand why the act is instituted and what contribution can be made by them as the Act helps in making government policies transparent which assures that politicians will be made answerable for their corrupt practices.
In a business session of the workshop, executive director of Human Rights Law Network Rakesh Meihoubam, general secretary of Macha Leima T Demona and former editor of Ireipak ,veteran journalist Irengbam Arun spoke as resource persons.
Arun stressed on the need for scribes to take advantage of the RTI Act stating that it can be used as an effective tool to promote investigative journalism. He stated that the nation has observed a bureaucratic rule silently for the last 50 years and the public has taken into stride that the workings of the government has to be kept secret, the taboo has been broken since the inception of the RTI Act and the act adds new meaning to the term `democracy`™ for empowering the public. He stressed that scribes need to apply to the Special Public Information Officer`™s on a repetitive basis to obtain information of government policies thus finding flaws and further highlight it to the public.
Macha Leima representative T Demona recounted her experiences while seeking information through RTI. She said that the public are mostly ignorant about the Act and those seeking information about implementation of government policies are targeted from many quarters. She herself has borne the brunt, deemed as a busybody and a nuisance by politicians and other officials alike, including one`™s locality. But, despite setbacks, she maintained that getting information is only the beginning as corrupt practices need to be highlighted in order to check the widespread corruption and the media must play their part effectively. While questioning the doubtful implementation of various government policies like MGNREGS , Indira Awaj Yojna,PDS etc., the concerned official always highlight percentage deduction by insurgents as the reason behind ,how much of that is a fact still remains a question, she said.

Need to file an RTI, expert help is now at hand.

Times of India; Manthan K Mehta; Apr 11, 2011,
MUMBAI: A new breed of professionals is on the rise that owes its existence to the Right To Information (RTI) Act that has grown popular and powerful as it has proved to be effective in empowering citizens.
The professionals, though few, are experts on the RTI Act. They are well-versed with the act's finer points and can draft questionnaires for applicants. The consultants charge anything from a couple of hundreds to a few thousands. In some cases, they demand a share of the commission if there is monetary benefit to the client.
A Ramakrishnan, who retired as Maharashtra principal secretary, and became an RTI consultant, said, "We began to provide consultancy on RTI-related issues a few months ago as we realized people are eager to use the tool but are unaware of the modalities even though it is one of the least complicated acts."
Ramakrishnan works with a firm that provides consultancy services to small and medium firms that cannot afford former Indian Administrative Service ( IAS) officers. The firm set up an RTI cell, which consists of retired government employees who provides guidance to clients hoping to use the RTI Act.
Ramakrishnan said, "From experience, I realized that there are many who want to file an RTI application but are stuck due to lack of knowledge about the act or lack of time. We decided to offer our expertise in the field. Even though we charge fees, our aim is to create awareness about the RTI Act."
Explaining his RTI business model, he said, "After seeking an appointment on the telephone, the client, depending on the nature of the RTI, has to pay a few hundred rupees per session for a meeting with an expert. We listen to their grievances or try to understand the motive of filing the application. We then advise them on whether or not to file the application. "
The firm charges additional fees if the client wants the company's expert to file the application on his behalf. Ramakrishan said, "We generally ask the client to give us the power of authority in the form of an affidavit before drafting the application. We also depute experts before the information officer on behalf of our client."
Ramakrishnan said three types of clients usually approach them. "Some people come to us to make use of the RTI to solve personal problems. Others have a wider social agenda. Many businessmen also make use of the RTI to safeguard business interests."
Ketan Modi, a former journalist, who has become a full-time RTI activist-cum-consultant, said he offers services on a professional basis to people who will get monetary benefits on using the act.
For example, a client approached me after the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) failed to pay him for stationery he had supplied it till 2005. The amount was Rs 30,000 and the client offered me a 50% share if the RTI route helped him get it. As soon as I filed the application, the BSNL issued a cheque and the amount was split between me and my client. I have now filed a second appeal seeking compensation of an equivalent amount which will come to me. Even the cost of litigation will be paid to me."
Modi also charges applicants who want to get income details or refunds. Modi, though said, that he does not charge if the RTI is filed in larger public interest. "There are certain dos and don'ts I follow even though I use the RTI for professional purposes. For instance, I do not charge applicants who are poor, illiterate or semi-literate."
Navin Pandya, a social activist from Malad, decided to provide services as an RTI consultant, and has conducted workshops on its use.
Soon after the act's introduction. Being involved in social work, many people approach me for help to draft an RTI application. All these years I helped them for free. However, I have begun charging a fee as I need money for my daily expenses."
Pandya said he charges depending on the nature of the query. "I do not charge anything if the query is in larger public interest. However, I do not hesitate to ask for a fee if the query is filed for business purposes."

1 held for assault on RTI applicant.

Express News Service: Mon Apr 11 2011,
A day after an alleged attack on real estate professional Arvind Kaushal (40) who had filed an RTI application on a construction work in Kharadi, the Yerawada police arrested a person named by Kaushal in his police complaint. The police have also slapped attempt to murder charges against him.
Kaushal had alleged that he was attacked at the behest of Ganesh Chonde, who is allegedly linked to the group that was carrying out the commercial construction work in Ganga Constella Project in Kharadi, which was stopped by the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) after Kaushal file an RTI application seeking details of the project. The project is a venture of Goel-Raisoni Associates.
Sub inspector Suresh Gholap of the Yerawada police station said, “Our investigations revealed that Chonde had made calls to Kaushal on Friday evening just before the attack. He was arrested late on Saturday night. We have slapped an additional IPC section 307 of attempt to murder on him.” Senior inspector Deepak Sawant will investigate the case further. Meanwhile, the other members of the Ganga Constella Society held an emergency meeting on Sunday and condemned the attack on society member Arvind Kaushal.”

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Second battle for RTI warriors.

Ajit Ranade; Mumbai Mirror; Saturday, April 09, 2011,
Many faces in Azad Maidan and Jantar Mantar are battle-weary from the decade-old battle for RTI, which they won
They call this the second war of independence. This time it is not war for independence from colonial rulers, but from the cancer of corruption. Corruption has probably always existed, but was not so visible, blatant and widespread.
The reason it has become visible is thanks largely to a sunshine law that was passed during the tenure of UPA-1. That law called the Right to Information, passed in 2005, itself was the culmination of many years of struggle by RTI activists for more than a decade prior to 2005.
That battle for passage of an RTI Act, was fought in many states, with mini victories in states like Delhi, Goa, Rajasthan and even Maharashtra. But each state’s version of RTI had some inadequacy, and there was no all-India law.
Eventually all the various state laws were amalgamated into one, and a national RTI was passed and became operational in October 2005. It was historic, because for the first time it gave the same access to all files, to an ordinary citizen as to VIPs like Members of Parliament.
Anyone could summon a file from any government department, just like the privilege political bosses had always enjoyed. Of course, you couldn’t ask for it at a moment’s notice, nor could you ask a file at midnight, like politicians! But every citizen, nevertheless, had now this same right.
This right could no longer be denied behind the smokescreen of Official Secrets Act (an old British legacy). If there was a delay, then individual government officers were to be penalised, and the penalty would be cut from their salaries.
Most of the warriors who fought for RTI are the same ones hanging out at Azad Maidan or Jantar Mantar. Their General Hazare is 15 years older, but is still looking fit enough for another battle. His many lieutenants have now been joined by a generation which was mostly crawling babies, when the old RTI battle bugle was blown, in the early 1990s.
Thus this new younger brigade is summoned by tweets and facebooks, and probably has no background on the previous Panipat battle (for RTI).
The importance of RTI cannot be over-emphasised. In its seven-year existence, it has shone the light on many ugly worms of corruption. Many warriors have been killed for using RTI.
It is because of RTI that Adarsh scam came to light, and a Chief Minister lost his job. In fact the present CM of Maharashtra is on record of having said that he is quite optimistic about the impact of RTI and uncovering of so many scams.
What he meant was that when bureaucrats and politicians in the past made file notings, or took decisions, they never thought that their signature and comment trail would be made public. Hence many decisions were reckless, some were downright corrupt.
But thanks to RTI, each decision, each file noting would now be under thorough scrutiny, and hence less likely to be arbitrary or counter to public interest.
The present (second Panipat battle for Hazare and his troops), is the logical next step after RTI. If RTI exposes corrupt practices and people, how do we hold them accountable? Many people in government (politicians and bureaucrats) have a generalised immunity from prosecution.
To prosecute a government official, you need the permission of the government itself, even if there is ample evidence!
The Lokpal Bill that ex-RTI warriors are fighting for, may also sound as abstract and abstruse as the proposed RTI Bill sounded back in 1995, or 2005. It will have naysayers and skeptics. But the impact of a constitutionally empowered ombudsman or Lokpal would be tremendous. RTI exposes corruption, and now the institution of Lokpal with be the necessary chemotherapy.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Education dy director not yet arrested.

TNN; Apr 8, 2011,
NAGPUR: Though the Nagpur police would have you believe that they are on the top of their game all the time, their pace seems to have been bogged down in one particular case.
On March 24, Sitabuldi police registered an FIR against deputy director (education) Mahesh Karajgaonkar and three others. Case was registered under various sections including the non-bailable IPC 120b (criminal conspiracy). However, over two weeks later the police have not yet moved to arrest either of the accused.
The case pertained to allegations that Karajgaonkar's department was releasing salary payments to a school which had been de-recognized.
DCP (Zone 1) Kailash Kanse was evasive when TOI questioned him about the reasons for the delay. "This case was registered following directions from the court, but we cannot arrest him till we find evidence," said Kanse.
However, when questioned why the cops registered a non-bailable offence if the police were not going to arrest the accused, Kanse seemed to be at a loss for words.
Kanse first clearly said the court had said the accused should not be arrested till evidence is found, but later backtracked. Kanse then disconnected the phone abruptly saying he was busy in a meeting. Kanse did not reply to further calls and messages.
While Karajgaonkar spoke to TOI at length, he refused to part with any information. "You should ask the Sitabuldi police station the details of this case. I will not tell you anything, whether about my reply or what my next legal step would be. Also, whether or not I file for anticipatory bail is something I will not disclose to anyone," said Karajgaonkar.
The complainant in the case, Gunvant Deshkar, told TOI that he too was surprised that there had not been any headway in this case even after such a major scam has been reported in the media. "The information about the scam has come through Right To Information (RTI), and is not mere allegations," said Deshkar.
Noted criminal lawyer Shyam Dewani said the law has given enough powers to the police to take an independent call on arrests. "I am not connected with this case, but generally speaking in such situations I have seen that the police use their discretionary power when non-bailable sections are registered. If the police think that accused is not likely to abscond then they will not arrest the person," said Dewani.
Sources in Nagpur police said that this 'discretion' is generally used in favour of politically well-connected people.

Defaulting PIOs to be fined up to Rs 25,000 in J&K: CIC

Economic Times; Fri, Apr 08, 2011,
JAMMU: Public Information Officers found guilty of delaying or suppressing information under the RTI Act can be slapped with a fine of up to Rs 25,000, Jammu and Kahsmir Chief Information Commissioner G R Sofi today warned.
Addressing a conference of PIOs here Sofi underlined the need for proper and strict implementation of the RTI Act in the state and asked the officials to change their mindset and provide accurate information to seekers without any fear within the stipulated time.
"The defaulting PIOs can be penalized with a fine of up to the limit of Rs 25,000 which will be deducted from their salary, if he denies, delays or suppresses the information covered under the Act," he said.

RTI: Justice HL Gokhale was superseded seven times.

DNA; Rakesh Bhatnagar; Friday, April 8, 2011,
An RTI application has revealed that Supreme Court Justice HL Gokhale was superseded seven times in three years as Chief Justice of Allahabad high court till the time Chief Justice of India KG Balakrishnan, who heads the collegium to select judges to the apex court, retired last year.
Last December, Justice Gokhale accused the then CJI Balakrishnan of misrepresenting facts to conceal an attempt by sacked telecommunications minister A Raja to influence a Madras high court judge who was going to hear bail applications by the jailed minister’s relatives.
Justice Gokhale, who was superseded between 2007 and 2010, was elevated to the top court on April 30, 2010. CJI Balakrishnan demitted office on May 14. A few months ahead of Balakrishnan’s retirement, the incoming CJI SH Kapadia took charge of major decisions.
Earlier, the law ministry refused to share this information in reply to an RTI application, saying it did not maintain a list of chief justices of high courts who have been superseded. The list provided by the law ministry now reveals names of 20 Chief Justices of high courts who were superseded before being elevated to the Supreme Court since 2005.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Make spy agency's audit public: HC

Times of India; Abhinav Garg; TNN; Apr 7, 2011,
NEW DELHI: The country's top intelligence agency for providing technical inputs to thwart terror attacks will now have to place its internal audit before a parliamentary panel.
The Delhi high court on Wednesday asked the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) to act as per law and place a secret audit it did of the National Technical Research Organization (NTRO) before the Public Accounts Committee of the Parliament.
The NTRO functions under the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) and was dragged to HC by an ex-employee who alleged there was large-scale financial bungling in the agency.
On Wednesday, the PMO and NTRO placed their report before a division bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Reva Khetrapal, saying that the NTRO had taken action against the errant officials responsible. The government said departmental proceedings have been initiated against the erring officers who committed alleged administrative and financial irregularities causing loss to the public exchequer in the functioning of the NTRO.
Appearing before the HC, additional solicitor general (ASG) Amarjit Singh Chandhiok filed a report in a sealed cover. The bench, after perusing the report, decided to dispose of the matter and returned it to the ASG on his request that it was confidential.
Earlier, the HC had taken serious note of the PIL filed by V K Mittal, a scientist, and demanded an action taken report from the government against the delinquent officers of NTRO, the agency which monitors external communication, imagery and cyber traffic.
The bench also asked the ASG to place on record all the files pertaining to the internal inquiry report of a one-member committee and also the report of the CAG.
Mittal, who voluntarily retired as officer on special duty from the NTRO, sought a direction to the government to submit the internal inquiry report with regard to the functioning of the organization and the alleged financial irregularities committed by its senior officials.
Referring to a media report, the petitioner said the CAG had found several financial, technical and administrative irregularities in the purchase of sensitive equipment worth Rs 750 crore.
Amit Kumar, counsel for the petitioner, claimed the CAG also found security lapses in laying down specifications for procurement. The audit has also noticed possible misuse of secret funds but these funds are out of its purview, he added.
The lawyer said his client sought information from the NTRO under the RTI Act but he was refused on the ground that the NTRO was exempt from providing any information under the law.

Fee case: CBSE school shuts door on 3 students.

Nalini Ravichandran; Express Buzz; Thursday, April 07, 2011,
CHENNAI: Three students of a leading CBSE school here have been struck off the rolls and were not allowed to attend classes on Wednesday. The reason: their parents decided to remit the school fee that has been fixed by the Justice Govindaraj Committee for all private unaided schools and not the fee demanded by the school, which is several times more.
Atther Ahmed is the parent waging this lone battle. He alleged that the authorities of Asan Memorial Senior Secondary School, Egmore, were not sticking to the fee structure prescribed by the government. According to a reply received from the CBSE headquarters in New Delhi following an RTI query filed by Ahmed, the CBSE schools across the country would have to follow the fee structure prescribed by the respective government. The CBSE, the reply said, was only a body that conducted exams and provided affiliation to the schools. Even last month, Vineeth Joshi, the CBSE chairman, had sent a circular stating the same.
Far from following the fee structure laid down by the Justice Govindaraj panel last year, the school was charging fees at least three times more than prescribed rate, Atther said. The annual fee fixed by the government for Class II was `3,500, for Class V `4,500 and for Class VI `5,000. However, the amount charged by the school was `9,740 for Class II, `10,140 for Class V and `11,780 for Class VI - each.
In the past few months, Atther has reportedly filed numerous complaints with various authorities but to no avail. The CBSE schools in the state refused to follow, or even acknowledge that they should follow, the fee structure prescribed by the state government.
Last month, the school had reportedly sent a notice to Atther stating that the names of his three children have been struck off the roles, and he should collect the TC. On Wednesday, the children were not even allowed to attend the classes and were asked to remain in the library, Atther said.
“I have been paying the fees prescribed by the state government. Also, as per the High Court order, the extra amount has to be deposited for the next year’s fees. I will not pay the fees they are demanding, which is at least 40 percent higher than the government prescribed rate,” he said.
Denying that the children were being penalised, the principal of the school, V Suma Padmanaban, said, “Yes, the CBSE schools have to follow the rules laid down by the state government, but we need not follow all the rules. None of the schools in the city are following the government prescribed fee structure. We will not victimise the students because of such parents.”
She added that the Justice Govindarajan Committee had stated that schools should charge fees as per the facilities they provided.
“Our parents, except Atther, are quite satisfied with the facilities we provide. We cannot follow the fee structure prescribed by the government, which is too low. The students will have to pay the fees the school demands,” she pointed out.

Sarpanches pocket money of the dead.

Prabhjit Singh, Hindustan Times; Chandigarh, April 06, 2011,
Malkiat Kaur, sarpanch of Bir Sikhawala village in Faridkot district, was found guilty of appropriating the old-age pension of two villagers for three months after their death in October 2008.
The case came to light in reply to an application filed under the Right To Information (RTI) Act in December 2010.
Though the money has been recovered, the district administration has not yet registered any case against the sarpanch. This is not an isolated case. Sarpanches have been pocketing the pension of hundreds of dead elders across the state.
In Moga district, there are about 800 cases in which the beneficiaries are dead, ineligible or non-existent, sources said.
Last year, a survey conducted by the state government had found that at least 5% of the pension beneficiaries under the old age, widow, handicap and destitute children categories, either did not exist or were dead. More than 6,500 beneficiaries were found dead and over 33,000 ineligible in the state, the survey had revealed.
Despite these revelations, no drive has been initiated to book the culprits, mainly sarpanches and councillors, who 'confirm' the existence of beneficiaries. “The nodal persons (sarpanches and councillors) enjoy political patronage. That's why they go scot-free even after the detection of fraud,” an official in the social welfare department said.
In the recent Vidhan Sabha session, the state government had acknowledged in a written reply that only five sarpanches had so far been booked under Sections 419 and 420 of the IPC for the malpractice.
In a glaring case, the sarpanch of the chief minister's own village, Badal, in Muktsar district, appropriated the pension of 21 dead beneficiaries for a few months.
Though Rs 31,850 was recovered, the case against the sarpanch is pending with the Muktsar deputy commissioner. In another case, Rs 90,300 was recovered from the sarpanch of Subhana village in Jalandhar district, but he was not penalised for grabbing the pension of 12 dead beneficiaries.
Punjab chief secretary SC Aggarwal has issued instructions to deputy commissioners to review all such cases by May 20, 2011, after the Punjab and Haryana high court recently sought a detailed record from the state government after hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in this regard.
The PIL had challenged the state cabinet decision of September 7, 2010, in which the department of social welfare was asked to re-investigate detected cases of fake pensions, instead of cancelling disbursement.
No record;
The task of disbursing old age/widow/destitute children pensions of Rs 250 per month was transferred from banks to panchayats in July 2008. Since then, beneficiaries do not have any record available with them, in contrast to the mandatory passbooks issued by banks.

YouTube removes ‘disgusting’ video of Rapar self-immolation.

Indian Express; Hiral Dave: Thu Apr 07 2011,
Rajkot : NGO says clipping was uploaded to make evidence public;
Two hours after a group from Rajkot uploaded a video on YouTube website showing self-immolation by Jobardan Gadhvi following denial of information under the RTI Act at Rapar mamlatdar office, the clipping was removed by the portal calling it “shocking and disgusting”.
Balendra Vaghela, a member of NGO Public Unity for Civil Liberty, who had uploaded the video on Tuesday, maintained that the motive behind putting the video online was to make the evidence public.
“I uploaded the video around 9 am. I received an e-mail from YouTube around 11 pm informing that it has been removed as content was found to be shocking and disgusting,” said Vaghela.
This 25MB clip opens with Gadhvi engulfed in flames and ends after he dies.
Vaghela claimed he had obtained the video from one of the persons present at the mamlatdar office on February 21.
“This person recorded the sad event on his cellphone. The PUCL wants to be a co-complainant in the case. For the same, it held a meeting with locals during which came to know about this video.”
As an investigation against a suspended mamlatdar, a police sub-inspector and a talati is being conducted by the local police, Vaghela said the police should have this video as evidence.
Gadhvi (45), a resident of Davri village in Rapar taluka of Kutch district who wanted details of a piece of land that he claimed was owned by his family, had set self ablaze at the Rapar mamlatdar office on February 21.
Gadhvi had reportedly informed the district panchayat office, local police and district collector in advance about his decision of self-immolation, as a result of which, two policemen were deployed at the spot. But they could not stop Gadhvi from taking the extreme step.
Following the incident, Kutch District Collector N Thennarsan suspended Davri talti Pravina Jadav, mamlatdar A Zala and Rapar sub-inspector R Parmar.

Threatening case lodged against whistleblower.

Gitesh Shelke; Pune Mirror; Thursday, April 07, 2011,
Retired policeman accused of creating ruckus in the police department in which he had exposed spare parts scam
Aretired police inspector and Right to Information activist who exposed many cases of graft in the state police department, especially those involving the State Police Motor Transport (MT) Department, was on Tuesday afternoon booked by the Chatuhshrungi police.
He has been accused of creating a ruckus in the MT department’s headquarters located at Aundh and threatening the police officers stationed there. According to the first information report, retired inspector A J Inamdar had gone to the MT headquarters to ask for information that he had sought under RTI. But at the MT office, he was told that the information was not ready.
Annoyed with the delays, Inamdar allegedly started threatening the concerned officers.
Superintendent of police (MT department) Atul Patil lodged the complaint at Chatuhshrungi police station stating that Inamdar allegedly issued threats to him and hit him with a bag containing files.
Patil, in his complaint, said that Inamdar hurled abuses at the officers after he was told that the information he sought was not ready. “Inamdar said that he now resides in Pune and threatened the officers with dire consequences,” the complaint states.
Inamdar, who retired a couple of years ago, has unearthed many corrupt practices by using RTI. On the basis of information acquired under RTI, he had filed several writ petitions, including a spare parts scam in the MT department, in the Bombay High Court.
The State Criminal Investigation Department (CID) had investigated the spare parts scam. CID had maintained that the state MT had purchased substandard parts for police vehicles.
Police inspector and investigating officer B S Tele of Chatuhshrungi police station, said that Inamdar had filed many RTI applications with the MT department. “We have demanded details of all the RTI applications filed by him and especially the one which became the bone of contention between the two parties. We have even asked for information from Inamdar,” he said.

अन्ना हजारे के समर्थन में जुटने लगे लोग.

दैनिक भास्कर ; 7, April, 2011,
लुधियाना। भ्रष्टाचार के खिलाफ बिगुल बजाने वाले अन्ना हजारे के समर्थन में महानगर भी एकजुट होने लगा है। जन लोकपाल बिल लागू करवाने की मांग को लेकर हिंदू सिख जागृति सेना के सदस्यों ने जगराओं पुल चौक में लगी शहीदों की प्रतिमाओं के पास अनशन करके अपना विरोध जताया।
सेना अध्यक्ष प्रवीण डंग ने कहा कि राजनीतिक दल देश को भ्रष्टाचार के रसातल में ले जाने में लगे है। अन्ना हजारे व किरण बेदी जैसी शख्सियतें ही आशा की किरण के रूप में नजर आ रहीं है। इस लिए हिंदू सिख जागृति सेना ने अन्ना हजारे के समर्थन का फैसला किया है।
उन्होंने कहा कि जब तक अन्ना हजारे अनशन पर बैठेंगे तब तक प्रतिदिन सेना के सदस्य इसी जगह 11 से 1 बजे तक मौन पर बैठकर अपना विरोध जताएंगे। इस मौके पर अश्विनी कत्याल, रमन खोसला, जगदीश कुमार, दिनेश जैन, गौरव शर्मा, जगजीत मानक, जतिन शर्मा, गुरमेल संधू व अतुल कौशिक उपस्थित रहे।
दूसरे दिन भी दिया धरना:
आर्ट ऑफ लिविंग के सदस्यों ने दूसरे दिन भी मिनी सचिवालय में अनशन पर बैठकर अन्ना हजारे का समर्थन किया। संस्था की गायत्री चोपड़ा की अगुवाई में कार्यकर्ताओं ने धरना दिया। उन्होंने कहा कि संस्था की ओर से विधेयक को लागू करवाने का समर्थन जारी रहेगा।

Lokpal Bill: United in opposition, civil society a divided lot.

Manoj Mitta, TNN; Apr 7, 2011,
NEW DELHI: Though civil society has rejected the official Lokpal Bill with almost one voice, the confabulations in the run-up to Anna Hazare's hunger strike have brought out differences within activists on the alternative Jan Lokpal Bill.
The differences had come to light at the two meetings held on April 3 and 4 to examine the provisions of the Jan Lokpal Bill espoused by Hazare, who began his fast unto death on April 5. Both meetings were attended by members of the " India Against Corruption" group, which is spearheading the campaign to replace Lokpal with Jan Lokpal.
The April 4 consultation was held by a sub-committee of the National Advisory Council (NAC), while the April 3 meeting, which took place in Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, was organized by the National Campaign for People's Right to Information (NCPRI), which had participated in the drafting of the RTI Act 2005.
The confabulations evidently showed that some of the key provisions of the draft Jan Lokpal Bill had not been thought through, despite all the improvements made on the basis of inputs from across the country. It was felt that the powers envisaged for the corruption watchdog were overbroad without adequate safeguards.
Similarly, there are differences within civil society on whether Hazare should have gone ahead with his hunger strike programme without waiting for the NAC to complete its review of the two drafts and give its recommendations to the government. This is apparent from a statement issued on Wednesday by Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghatan (MKSS), which pioneered the RTI movement in the country.
Even as it appreciated Hazare's efforts in creating a groundswell of support for a strong Jan Lokpal Bill, the MKSS statement, co-signed by NAC member Aruna Roy, made no secret of its disagreement over Hazare's demand for a joint committee consisting of government and civil society representatives to finalize the provisions.
Cautioning that "bypassing democratic processes for political expediency, however desirable the outcome, may be detrimental to democracy itself", MKSS said that its focus was not on ensuring that there was 50% representation for civil society in the drafting committee but "to demand that the government immediately announce its intention to pass a strong lokpal legislation based on wide public consultations".
This note of discord came close on the heels of a press note issued by Roy and another NAC member Harsh Mander stating that "two of the major issues of contention" over the Jan Lokpal Bill at the April 4 meeting were "the inclusion of grievances within the ambit of the bill" and "the issue of provisions for transparency under this bill".
On the first issue, the NAC note said cryptically that "there is a concern whether the lokpal can adequately meet the requirements of a grievance redressal system". On the issue of transparency, it expressed doubts over the efficacy of the proposal that the lokpal be empowered to put all its evidence in the public domain irrespective of the limitations prescribed by Section 8 of the RTI Act.
Hazare's supporters also suffered a setback on account of the reservations expressed to the media by Karnataka lokayukta, Justice Santosh Hegde, who is touted by them as one of the authors of the Jan Lokpal Bill. After attending the meetings of April 3 and 4, Hegde said that Hazare should have withheld his fast till the NAC gave its report and the government took a call on it. He also confirmed that he had misgivings about some of the provisions of the Jan Lokpal Bill, although it was otherwise far better than the government draft.
The NCPRI too came out in the open saying that "there is need for further consultation before the principles as well as the mechanisms for an effective lokpal can be finalized".

Non-compliance with disclosure norms on patents may bring trouble for pharma companies.

Khomba Singh, Economic Times;7 Apr, 2011,
NEW DELHI: Several global drugmakers, including Pfizer, Roche and Bayer, have not met full mandatory disclosures of their patented medicines in India, making them vulnerable to penalties and potentially allowing local firms to make and sell low-cost version of their drugs, local patent lawyers said.
To ensure that the patents granted in India are being utilised for the benefit of patients, companies must share details such as if the patent is working in India, how much products are sold, whether it is manufactured locally or licensed and if the firm is able to adequately meet the requirements of the local market.
The patent-holders have prevented generic drugmakers from launching their cheaper versions by getting court injunctions even when their patent was not utilised in the country which is a violation of the local laws, according to Shamnad Basheer, Kolkata-based professor in intellectual property (IP) law. Basheer led a group of local IP lawyers who collated information on disclosures made by foreign drugmakers to patent authorities under a Right to Information query.
These lawyers gathered details about seven important drugs granted patent since 2007. These include Bayer's kidney cancer drug Nexavar, Roche's lung cancer drug Tarceva, Pfizer's kidney ailment drug Stutent and BMS' hepatitis B drug Entecavir. (See table). All these drugs are subjected to several legal cases, including patent challenges in local courts and patent offices.
A Bayer spokeswoman said she cannot comment on the development since the company is fighting a patent case related to its drug Nexavar and the matter is sub judice but the firm complies with all the requirements of the Indian Patent law. The spokeswoman of Pfizer and MSD - the local arm of Merck & Co which owns Schering Plough - also separately said the companies follow all local laws for all their drugs. BMS spokesman did not respond to an email query.
Suja Subramaniam, the patent attorney in charge of all cases for Swiss drugmaker Roche in India, said the firm has filed Form 27, under which all mandatory information related to a drug patents are disclosed at end of each financial year 2007, 2008 and 2010. "The information obtained under the RTI is totally incorrect," she said.
But Basheer said the government has not shared any information that suggests that the disclosure has been made by Roche for this period. He said since all these seven drugs are imported they can attract compulsory licensing.
The government can grant compulsory licence to a local pharma company based on under certain conditions such as whether the patented medicine has been launched with sufficient quantity and at an affordable price to meet requirements of patients in the country, said a Delhi-based patent lawyer said.
Hyderabad-based Natco has already initiated the process of seeking a compulsory licence to make and sell generic version of Bayer's Nexavar saying that the drug is too expensive for local patients.
In addition, the local patent authority can also penalise the patent holders with a fine of 10 lakh for non compliance with disclosure norms.
Since India adopted a new patent regime in 2005, patent-holders receive 20 years of exclusive marketing rights for their product in the country. In return, companies have to ensure patents are used to benefit local patients.
Local drugmakers, health activists and patent holders are sharply divided over the local IP laws, its implementation and usage.

Do private organisations come under the purview of RTI ?

Moneylife Personal Finance site and magazine; Vinita Deshmukh; April 06, 2011,
While the RTI Act states that only those private organisations which have “substantial” funding from the government come under the purview of the RTI Act, in cases where these entities are in partnership with the government, it is possible to get necessary information. The Pune-Mumbai Expressway toll matter is a sterling example
With municipal corporations, state and central governments increasingly opting for Public Private Partnerships (PPP), transparency could take a beating, as private organisations have been given an opportunity to duck under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. The Act says that only if private organisations are "substantially" funded then they come under the purview of public domain. Who's to decide what is "substantial funding"? And here's where private bodies take cover and refuse to give information.
A sterling case is that of the Ideal Road Builders (IRB), a private agency which collects toll fees from most of the highways in Maharashtra, including the Pune-Mumbai Expressway. It is impossible to procure information regarding the data of toll collection. However, in such cases, since their partnership is with a government body, the citizen can get access to such information from the government organisation.
Strangely, the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC), the government body in this case which is mandated to monitor whether IRB is collecting toll honestly or is cheating people, itself has not monitored the revenues of the IRB, despite appointing an independent engineering consultant, STUP Consultants Pvt Ltd, headed by RY Deshpande. However, thanks to citizens demanding this information under RTI, the MSRDC was compelled to request the IRB to send the data of toll collection, year-wise. When this writer conducted inspection of files under Section 4, one of the officials confessed that they had only recently asked the IRB to supply information due to pressure of RTI queries, otherwise they had nothing to do with the information. The fact is that it is binding on the MSRDC to do proper auditing of the toll revenue collected by IRB and gauge whether it is usurping more profits than what it is supposed to get.
Similarly, Metros that are being "forced" upon citizens in several towns and cities across the country, without proper planning, are mostly constructed by the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC). Here too, the DMRC is a private body and any query under RTI is denied. In the case of the Pune Metro, the DMRC has disastrously planned the metro and submitted a shoddy and superficial Detailed Project Report (DPR). Despite the project report not satisfying the Pune Municipal Corporation's (PMC) terms of reference and it not abiding by the central government guidelines while making the DPR, the PMC's general body and the administration has blindly passed the project. It now lies with the state government, which failed to allot finance for it in the current budget. The scandal of this Rs10,000-odd crore infrastructure that is going to add to the chaos of the already congested roads in Pune and become a heavy tax burden for citizens for many years, came to light due to the RTI invoked at the PMC. Thus, in private-public partnerships one can get access to public documents by putting a query to the 'public partner'.
However, as per a high court judgment, co-operative banks do not come under the RTI. A few years back, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) declared that co-operative banks do not come under the purview of the RTI Act. At that time, the Gujarat State Cooperative Bank Ltd, which is an apex institute of co-operative banks, had sought the opinion of the RBI. The RBI stated that since co-operative banks come under the Co-operative Act of the respective states and not under any parliamentary statute, they are not public authorities as defined by the Act.
According to Shailesh Gandhi, central information commissioner, the Company Law gives significant rights to those who own 26% of the shares in a company. Perhaps this could be taken to define the criterion of "substantial finance".
"Subclause d(i) and (ii) together mean any non-government organisations which are substantially owned, controlled or financed directly or indirectly by the government would be covered. Thus aided schools and colleges are public authorities, as also any trusts or NGOs which have significant government nominees; or companies where the government either owns substantial stake, or has given substantial finance, are directly covered under the RTI Act. The substantial finance can take into account tax incentives, subsidies and other concessions as well.
Elaborating further, Mr Gandhi states, "There is some confusion about the words owned and substantial finance. This confusion is evident in the various decisions of the information commissions. Let us look at the words carefully. "Public authority" means any authority or body or institution of self-government established or constituted, … and includes any
(i) body owned, controlled or substantially financed;
(ii) non-government organisation substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate government."
The finance could be either as investment, or towards expenses, or both. The way in which the words have been placed, indicates that perhaps (i) relates to investments and (ii) relates to the running expenses.
"Thus every institution which is owned by the government is clearly covered. By any norms, whenever over 50% of the investment in a body lies with any entity, it is said to be owned by that entity. Since bodies owned by government have been mentioned separately, the words 'controlled' and 'substantially financed' will have to be assigned some meaning not covered by ownership. Thus it is evident that the intention of Parliament is to extend the scope of the right to other organisations, which are not owned by it. No words in an Act can be considered to be superfluous, unless the contradiction is so much as to render a significant part meaningless, or it violates the preamble. Therefore, it becomes necessary to consider a situation where an entity may be controlled by the government without ownership or substantial finance. Such a situation exists when a charity commissioner or registrar of societies appoints an administrator to run the affairs of a trust or society, or a court liquidator takes over administration of some body.
Thus concludes Mr Gandhi: "It is therefore obvious that as per Section 2 (h) (i) 'a body …substantially financed' would be a body where the ownership may not lie with the government, nor the control. Hence, clearly the wording 'substantially financed' would have to be given meaning at less than 50% holding. Company law gives significant rights to those who own 26% of the shares in a company. Perhaps, this could be taken to define the criterion of 'substantially financed'. The finance could be as equity, or subsidies in land or concessions in taxation.
"Similarly some definition is required where the State provides money for the running expenses of an institution as covered under (ii). Presently, aided schools and colleges have all clearly been accepted as 'public authorities', though there appears to be no clarity in the matter of NGOs and other organisations which are receiving significant amounts of finance.
"The key approach and philosophy of the RTI Act appears to be that since the State acts on behalf of the citizens, wherever the State gives money, the citizen has a right to know. In my opinion, if the money given for the running expenses is over either 20% of the running expenses, or Rs1 crore, the body should be considered as receiving 'substantial finance' and is covered in the definition of a 'public authority'."
Putting up information in the public domain, especially where infrastructure is concerned, is very important in the case of roads. The Economic Survey of India estimates that over the next five years (the survey was of February 2008) the investment needs in physical infrastructure will be $500 billion, out of which the share of the private sector will be $150 billion-odd, which comes to over 30%.
It is time to know the truth, as the truth involves us all!