Sunday, June 29, 2008

Dangers of Exercising the RTI Act

Dangers of Exercising the Right to Information

June 29, 2008


The RTI Act was supposed to provide an inexpensive way for people to get more empowered, and to be able to exercise their right to get more openness into the Government machinery. This would be a sword in the fight to expose corruption and mis-governance; and the RTI Act has brought about some changes in this regard.

There have been many cases where people have used RTI to either get more information about cases where they have fighting with babudom; or there have been cases where people (and many organizations fighting for more openness) have used the power of the RTI Act to expose corruption or other such problems that used to remain hidden earlier.

However, this is not to say that the Government bureaucracy is not fighting back. There have been all sorts of attempts made to stone-wall queries, or to question as to why people need the information that they have requested.

In some cases, these attempts to prevent disclosure of such information has lead to fines on the concerned officials. However, the method used below was something that I had not read of earlier, and seems to use normal Government channels to punish a Government employee trying to expose corruption:

DEWAS (MP): Information comes at a price, and who can know this better than a Kendriya Vidyalaya teacher who has been transferred to Kargil in Jammu and Kashmir for seeking information about alleged corruption.

"I was transferred to Kargil and was also relieved by the school administration here the day they received an order in this regard as I have exposed corruption in purchase of books, construction of playground and illegal felling of trees among others and sought information about it under RTI," Manjulal Kajodia said after beginning his protest against his transfer.

Such measures to victimize a RTI applicant need to be condemned across the board. Exposing corruption within your own department is even more risky since you can get targeted more easily (there are specific whistle-blower laws that try to protect people exposing wrong-doing within their own area.)

Ashish is a blogger who got bit by the blogging charm a few months back, and it has hit him good. He is able to express himself through his blogs. Currently working with a software manufacturing company in NCR, India.

Did a BE and then an MBA and has been working for around 9 years now. Is pretty passionate about current affairs, but did not have a vehicle to express his opinions till now.


Legal literacy is to be aware of rights

'Legal literacy is to be aware of rights'

11 Feb 2006, 0000 hrs IST, Amrith Lal

Niyama Sameeksha is a rare attempt to take legal literacy to the grass roots. Established as a trust in 1997, it publishes a magazine in Malayalam on legal issues as varied as POTA and Head Load Workers' Act and organises camps on rights of the people. K Sukumaran, a retired judge of Bombay high court and chairman of Niyama Sameeksha trust, speaks to Amrith Lal about the ways to achieve legal literacy:

Q What is legal literacy?

A citizen should be aware of his rights. He may know that he has a right to a ration card. But he doesn't know how to get it in a reasonable time if he loses it. Similarly, the question of personal liberty. He doesn't know what to do if a constable comes calling. There are so many procedural things courts have laid down. It is in these matters — regarding life and liberties — that legal literacy is not realised. A legislation like the Right to Information Act will be blocked by bureaucrats if people don't know its provisions and procedures. If there is an enlightened citizenry such things will not happen.

Q You have been working on this aspect for over a decade now. What has been the experience?

We once held a day-long camp in a village in Kerala. At 6 p.m., we announced the end of the camp as the last bus for the day was about to leave. Then an old lady got up and said, "We'll walk if necessary but let us not leave before our doubts are cleared". Her problem was right of way...

... What can a citizen do if a financially powerful person blocks access to her plot of land? How to petition the panchayat? We had to explain all these, including how to write a petition and her right to get redressal from the panchayat. This is effective legal literacy.

Q Is it a question of people not knowing their rights or the absence of mechanisms to effect them?

The issue here is people lack knowledge about their rights and ways to exercise it. They don't know where to seek advice and how to seek it. The other is institutional. Some lawyers trap their clients and force them to make endless trips to their chambers. Instead, we could have an agency which can offer legal advice and fix their problems, if they are administrative, by speaking to the concerned officer on the phone. Once during a camp in a fishing village in Kerala, a woman complained about the quality of PDS rice. We got her to file a petition taking care of all the procedures, spoke to the concerned officials and got the ration shop raided.


Govt agency contracts not confidential: CIC

Govt agency contracts not confidential: CIC

19 Jun 2006, 0057 hrs IST, Himanshi Dhawan,TNN

NEW DELHI: In an order that could have far-reaching consequences, the Central Information Commission (CIC) has ruled that a contract with a public authority cannot be categorised as confidential.

Government agencies are loath to give information regarding contracts. Government transactions are often kept away from public view under the garb of confidentiality, especially in cases related to defence and national security.

While it is early days yet on whether the order will impact such contracts, the CIC's decision appears to be a step in that direction.

The order issued by chief information commissioner Wajahat Habibullah substantiates this by elaborating that in case of "quotations, bid or tender or any other information prior to conclusion of a contract, it could be categorised as trade secret, but once concluded the confidentiality of such transactions cannot be claimed".

The commission has directed the National Institute of Science Communication and Information (NISCAIR) to furnish information sought by an applicant under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

The appellant, Ramesh Chand Sai, had sought from NISCAIR details of a contract with a firm, Deep Security Services, and the employees deployed by the firm.


CIC pulls up passport office

CIC pulls up passport office

9 Nov 2006, 0016 hrs IST, Himanshi Dhawan,TNN

NEW DELHI: The Central Information Commission (CIC) on Wednesday pulled up the regional passport office for delaying information on extension of passport and asked the ministry of external affairs to take strict action against the public information officer (PIO).

In a strongly worded order, the CIC also asked MEA to intervene and give the appellant the required information within 15 days.

Seeking an explanation from the passport office, the commission issued a showcause notice asking why a penalty of Rs 250 per day should not be slapped.

The order comes as a respite for 90-year-old widow Krishna Devi Jhalani, who had filed an application for extension of her passport in March. With no response from the passport office for three months, Jhalani requested for information regarding her application under the Right to Information Act (RTI).

Despite a reminder issued a month later, Jhalani was unable to get a response to her query. Incidentally, the regional passport officer is also the PIO in this case.

Jhalani approached the commission who asked for the PIO's comments but they drew a blank. Matters reached a head on November 6 when no one from the passport office attended the hearing fixed by the CIC for the case.

In his order, information commissioner O P Kejariwal said,"Could there be a more callous and apathetic attitude of a government servant towards not just a member of the public but also a statutory body like the information commissioner?

It is such officers who bring a bad name to the bureaucracy and tarnish its image."

The commission has directed MEA to intervene in the matter and ensure that action is taken within 15 days. A showcause notice has also been issued to the PIO to explain why a penalty of Rs 250 per day should not be imposed.


Family uses RTI to get fee refund

Family uses RTI to get fee refund

21 Dec 2006, 0043 hrs IST,TNN

MUMBAI: Imagine saving a small sum every month for your kids' education and then losing a huge chunk of that amount to a private college management which refuses to refund the fee when you opt out for a better course.

That's what happened to Rajesh Talreja, a clerical employee of a nationalised bank, who had to fight tooth and nail to get his money back so that he could get his daughter admitted to a course of her choice.

Rajesh and his wife, a receptionist-cum-telephone operator with a private firm, always told their daughters that nothing but knowledge will stay with them forever.

Despite financial constraints, the couple from Mira Road in north Mumbai had saved up money so that both their daughters could pursue higher education. Never had Rajesh imagined that a huge part of these savings would vanish into thin air because a callous private college would just not refund the fees despite cancelling admission.

Elder daughter Preeti had decided to get into medicine but her parents suggested that she secure admission in a bio-medical course as a stand-by option.

So, on July 29, 2006, Preeti secured a seat in the FYBE (First year Bio Medical Engineering) course in Watumall Engineering College (WEC), Worli, by paying Rs 49,841.

Her continuance in the engineering college, though,depended on her score in the medical Common Entrance Test.

But when medical and dental admissions got delayed due to disputes in fee structures, the family changed their plan.

As per the WEC prospectus, if the admission was cancelled in four days, 80% of fees were to be refunded, and similarly, if admission was cancelled in six days, 60 per cent was to be refunded. Beyond that, no refund would be given.

"Since we didn't want to lose money in late cancellation, we cancelled the admission in 4 days,"said Preeti's mother Shilpa. However, WEC did not refund 80 % of the fees as promised. "Despite our reasoning, the college wouldn't budge,"said Rajesh.

Not fully convinced about WEC's refund rules, Rajesh moved a Right to Information Act application for clarifications in case of cancellation or upgradation of admission to the Mumbai University, to which WEC is affiliated.

"University officials promptly replied that cancellation amounts were in the range of Rs 150-250 for cancelling a seat within three months of admission,"said Rajesh.

Despite being shown the rules, WEC refused to pay up. "We then approached the registrar of Mumbai university, who told us to present our case in the students grievances redressal council,"said Preeti.

After hearing their case, the university wrote to WEC, ordering it to abide by the rules and refund the fees. WEC refunded 80 % of the fees after three months of chasing his money.

He used that money to admit his daughter into a course she always wanted to pursue — dentistry.

Preeti is now in first year BDS in a Navi Mumbai college. "I owe it to my parents,"she says.

But Rajesh has not given up as yet. He says WEC should have deducted only Rs 250 and not 20 % of the fees and will continue his quest for justice.

When contacted by TOI, WEC principal Sandhya Desai said that rules set by the Directorate of Technical Education and not those of the Mumbai University are applicable to them in case of admission and fees.

The Shikshan Shulka Samiti, the state fee fixation body had approved their refund rules for the year and hence 20% of the fees were deducted before paying the refund.

Given this scenario, Rajesh is campaigning to ensure that refund rules of all colleges are in line with those of the universities they are affiliated to.


RTI: Food Dept told to pay compensation

RTI: Food Dept told to pay compensation

14 Aug 2006, 1111 hrs IST,PTI

NEW DELHI: It's about time government officials brush up their PR skills - at least that's what the Central Information Commission (CIC) thinks so.

The apex body under the Right To Information (RTI) Act has backed a woman made to wait for over three hours at the Delhi Food and Civil Supplies Department offices for information about her pending application for kerosene oil, before being told that the official concerned was on leave.

An aggrieved Dasharathi, a resident of Panchsheel Park, had then complained to the CIC on March 16, this year saying that both her time and Rs 100 in travel costs were wasted solely due to the callous manner of the officials. "Misbehaviour with applicants approaching public authorities under the RTI is not acceptable.

In this case, the Department will invite Dasharathi to identify the members of its staff who refused to provide her the information," Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah observed. The CIC further said that the public authority will pay Rs 100 as damages to the complainant.

Dasharathi had approached the office of Nand Lal, Assistant Commissioner (South), Food and Civil Supplies Department, to enquire about the rationing of kerosene oil in her name. She was told to wait by the staffers as Lal was not in his cabin at the time. Three hours later, on enquiring again, she was unceremoniously told to come another day as he was on leave.


People must know who defrauded exchequer

'People must know who defrauded exchequer'

23 May 2008, 0457 hrs IST,TNN

NEW DELHI: India has approached the German authorities for information regarding secret bank accounts in the tax haven of Liechtenstein. Transparency International's India chapter had issued a statement calling on the government to accept the offer as countries like the US and UK had done.

Shishir Jha, spokesman of the Central Board of Direct Taxes refuted TI's allegation that the Indian government has not reacted to the German offer.

In response to the developments, Magsaysay award winner Arvind Kejriwal and rights activists Shekhar Singh and Manish Sisodia have asked for disclosure of details under the Right to Information Act. The appeal, made to the PMO, also wanted the list of account holders to be made public.

Sources in the finance ministry said the matter was brought to the notice of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh by former deputy PM L K Advani in April. Subsequently, India sent a reminder to the German tax authorities early this month. Later, finance minister P Chidambaram wrote to Advani on May 16, informing him about the action taken.

Meanwhile, in a letter to the PM, Kejriwal pointed out that Liechtenstein was a tax haven and the list was likely to expose names of those who evaded taxes and parked their money illegally.

''Honest tax-payers would feel cheated if the government does not obtain this list and enquire into it. The people have a right to know the names of these people who defrauded the public exchequer,'' Kejriwal said.

The letter said: ''The list could contain the names of bureaucrats, politicians and other individuals who earned their money through corrupt means. You would agree that this was public money, which is stashed abroad. This money was paid to the government as taxes by the people of India in trust that the money would be used for their welfare. However, some individuals have betrayed this trust and siphoned it for their personal benefit. The people have a right to know the names of those individuals who betrayed public interest.''

In their RTI applications, the applicants sought to know whether the government have decided not to accept the list of account holders. It also asked the PMO for correspondence between the Indian and German governments and a list of ministries and departments dealing with the subject. They have also asked for a list of files, and their contents, dealing with the issue.

Quoting Section 2(f) of the RTI Act, Kejriwal said that information relating to a private body which could be accessed by a public authority under any law, could be accessed by the Centre and made public.


Authorities cannot be compelled to act: CIC

Authorities cannot be compelled to act: CIC

11 Jun 2006, 1125 hrs IST,PTI

NEW DELHI: The Right to Information Act cannot be used to make a public authority do certain things or take decisions, the Central Information Commission has ruled.

"The Act can be invoked only for access to permissible information," the Commission said while dismissing an appeal filed by a social activist who complained Delhi Police were refusing to furnish him information he had sought.

Pratap Singh Gandas complained in his appeal to the Commission that he had been filing complaints or petitions to the police since 2003 to bring to their notice a range of illegal acts.

On October 31, 2005, Gandas submitted to Deputy Commissioner of Police Ravindra Singh a list of 144 petitions filed by him and desired to know what action was taken on them.

In respect of 84 cases, the DCP's reply stated "not substantiated". In 58 cases the reply was "filed" and in two cases, the official said "record being destroyed over three years".

The DCP's reply was upheld by the department's appellate authority and Joint Commissioner of Police Bhim Sain Bassi, following which Gandas complained to the Commission and claimed the replies given to him were "evasive" and "perfunctory".

However, the Commission felt police authorities had given Gandas their conclusions about each of the cases.

"The RTI Act cannot be used to make a public authority to do certain things or take certain decisions. It can be invoked only for access to permissible information," Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah and Information Commisioner A N Tiwari observed in their ruling.


SC evasive on asset declaration by judges

SC evasive on asset declaration by judges

14 Apr 2008, 0055 hrs IST,TNN

NEW DELHI: When Supreme Court judges adopted a resolution a decade ago to make a periodic declaration of their assets to the Chief Justice of India, they took care to state that the details of their holdings would not be made public. But now, the court is being evasive on whether judges have been filing such declarations at all.

In his response to an RTI (right to information) application, the court’s central public information officer (CPIO), additional registrar Ashok Kumar, simply said that the information relating to declaration of assets by judges is "not held by or under the control of" its registry and therefore could not be furnished by him.

The file notings, in possession of The Times of India , show that this elusive reply was given with the approval of the Chief Justice of India, Justice K G Balakrishnan, who is himself supposed to be the custodian of those declarations.

The file related to the RTI query on asset disclosures was in fact placed before Justice Balakrishnan on two occasions.

The first time was when a note prepared by the CPIO on November 27, 2007, was "put up to Hon. CJI for approval" by the head of the SC registry, secretary general V K Jain.

The second time was when Jain again "submitted for orders" of the Chief Justice a slightly revised note of the CPIO dated November 30, 2007.

The second note bears Justice Balakrishnan’s signature with the same date. In a typically brief reference to the three points proposed to be mentioned in the RTI response, the Chief Justice wrote: "A, B & C approved."

What is crucial is point B, which says: "The applicant may be informed that the information relating to declaration of assets by Hon’ble Judges of the Supreme Court is not held by or under the control of the Registry, Supreme Court of India, and therefore cannot be furnished by the CPIO, Supreme Court of India, under the Right to Information Act, 2005."

In keeping with the CJI-approved note, the CPIO wrote his formal reply under RTI on that very day, November 30, 2007.

The documentation behind the CPIO’s reply and the CJI’s approval of the evasion came to light thanks to another RTI application seeking disclosure of the file notings.

It has exposed the apex court’s resistance to transparency: Though the CJI can easily say whether judges have been filing declarations of their assets, the CPIO is made to claim under the RTI Act that the information is not in possession of the registry.
The matter is now pending before the Central Information Commission, which will have to give a ruling on whether the Supreme Court could be allowed to make a distinction between its registry and the office of the CJI in an obvious bid to confer immunity on the latter from any obligation under the RTI Act.

If the justification offered for stonewalling the question on assets is taken to its logical conclusion, the CPIO for the Supreme Court cannot answer questions related to the CJI’s office and Justice Balakrishnan will therefore have to appoint a separate CPIO for himself.

The RTI Act does not exempt the CJI from its purview.


RTI law mutilated: Article

RTI law mutilated

24 Jul 2006, 0000 hrs IST, ARVIND KEJRIWAL

Let's put aside for now the fact that 'certain' file notings have been kept out of the purview of Right to Information Act, 2005. A look at the orders passed by the Central Information Commission (CIC) would make one believe that the RTI law was amended, rather mutilated, quite sometime back.

A few examples serve to provide a disturbing insight into the workings of our new information law. Petrol pump allotments are mired in corruption. Manish Dyaneshwar applied for a petrol pump. He did not get it.

Under RTI Act, he asked for copies of all applications and marks given by interview board to each applicant. CIC ruled that such information could not be provided, as it would violate the applicants' privacy.

Tapas Dutta wanted a copy of the minutes of a meeting of a departmental promotion committee in a government department. CIC ruled that the minutes could not be made public, as that would violate the privacy of candidates.

A government officer faced corruption charges. Ravi Kumar wanted to know whether the government proposed to take any action against that officer. CIC denied him this information. A government officer was found medically unfit for a job.

He was nevertheless issued an appointment letter. Someone asked for a copy of the medical report. CIC turned down the plea, saying this would violate his privacy.

I applied for inspection of files through which AIIMS decided to introduce user charges, thus making treatment so expensive that it became out of bounds for the poor. CIC disposed of my case without providing this information.

I was not even provided an opportunity to present my case. In a bizarre judgment, CIC ruled that one could not ask for information which can be replied in the form of a yes or no.

In another case, the commission ruled that you cannot ask any questions which started with why, when, whether. One does not find such provisions in the RTI Act.

In one case, CIC said that the expected benefits from disclosure of information should invariably outweigh the costs of providing it. This is not written anywhere in the Act. Besides, on what machinery or expertise does CIC have to do a cost-benefit analysis?

These judgments are in violation of the RTI Act. Those who have attended hearings at the CIC would vouch that while hearing any case, it desperately hunts for a clause under which it can deny information.

Interestingly, people were obtaining all this information under state RTI laws. Nine state governments have their respective state information laws under which people obtain such information.

CIC is not empowered to change the concept and definition of information. If appointments and promotions cannot become transparent, one wonders what RTI is meant for. The problem does not lie with the Act.

The Indian law is said to be among the more progressive RTI laws enacted by more than 65 countries. The problem lies with its interpretation.

When former bureaucrats were appointed to the posts of information commissioners, doubts were raised about whether they would have the will and strength to make governance transparent. Our worst fears have been confirmed.

Information commissioners flout the basic principles of natural justice. Cases are disposed of without hearing the parties. A bank employee was witness to bogus building repair bills claimed by his headquarters.

He applied under RTI Act for a soft copy of the list of all repairs shown in the accounts. The commission called for the bank's version and without hearing the applicant disposed of the case, denying information.

CIC did not give the applicant a chance to present his case. CIC disposes of half the cases without hearing the applicants. RTI rules clearly lay down that every applicant has to be heard before deciding his case.

CIC argues that since it is a quasi-judicial body, it is not bound by the principles of natural justice and, hence, need not hear applicants.

The problem is that the information commissioners, being former babus, were never in the habit of hearing out people before taking decisions. CIC, therefore, needs to be tamed.

The writer is with Parivartan, an NGO working on RTI issues.


First proceeding under RTI Act

First proceeding under RTI Act

24 Dec 2005, 0155 hrs IST, Manoj Mitta,TNN

NEW DELHI: The first ever quasi judicial proceedings under the Right to Information Act 2005 kicked off on a propitious note as a public authority readily agreed to mend its ways and give information to citizens without asking questions.

The Delhi Development Authority (DDA), represented by its vice-chairman Dinesh Rai, told the Central Information Commission (CIC) that it would shortly revise the format of its existing application form to bring it in line with the RTI Act, so that no citizen has to give any explanation for why he is seeking information.

In another far-reaching reform, the DDA said that each of its 40 public information officers would, in keeping with the RTI Act, be directed to accept any application for information regardless of whether the subject pertained to him or not.

The CIC also forced the DDA to admit that its website does not comply with the RTI mandate of making a pro-active disclosure in form of 17 manuals on different aspects of the organisation.

The concessions wrested from the DDA at its very first hearing may help the two-month-old CIC establish its credentials as the independent appellate body envisaged by the RTI Act.

It is still too early to say whether the CIC packed with ex-babus really has the will to thwart the covert and not so covert attempts by the bureaucracy to hide information from citizens.

In keeping with its stated policy of transparency, the CIC took the unusual step of allowing TV cameras to capture the proceedings in the face of objections from DDA officials.

At the end of a two-hour public hearing, the CIC gave a fortnight to the DDA to explain why it had withheld from an applicant, Sarbajit Roy, the public feedback on the proposed Master Plan for Delhi-2021.

The first hearing, however, had its share of teething problems. For one, the room available with the CIC to hold its public hearings turned out to be too small.

In fact, the CIC, currently housed in the old campus of JNU, has already put out an advertisement to lease a larger and more centrally located premises.

The CIC also admitted that it should not have in the very instance summoned the head of the DDA. It is likely that for future hearings, the CIC will summon only the public information officer of the department concerned to respond to the grievances of the applicant.


House panel insists judiciary under RTI Act

House panel insists judiciary comes under RTI Act purview

30 Apr 2008, 0115 hrs IST,TNN

NEW DELHI: In what could sharpen the divide between the legislature and judiciary, Parliament's standing committee has not only said that judiciary comes under the RTI Act but also called the current system of appointment of judges of Supreme Court and High Courts as being "against democratic principles".

If this was not enough, the parliamentary panel has expressed displeasure at the SC's reluctance to have a Bench outside Delhi and recommended that the first one be set up on a trial basis in Chennai.

Only two weeks ago, Chief Justice of India K G Balakrishnan had made contrary assertions on both counts. He had said that the office of CJI does not come under the purview of the Right to Information Act since he is a constitutional authority.

He had also not found fault with the current system of appointment of judges. But the Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, and Law and Justice is unambiguous. On applicability of RTI, it said the law is applicable on all constitutional authorities including judiciary. It also asked the government to take "necessary steps to ensure that the fruits of the RTI Act, which is a historic piece of legislation, are enjoyed by the public".

After discussing section 2(h) of the RTI Act, that deals with definition of public authority, the panel came to the conclusion that all constitutional authorities come under the definition of public authority. The committee said, "It is conscious of the fact that all the three wings of state — executive, legislature and judiciary — are fully covered under this Act, since all organs of the State are accountable to the citizens of India in a democratic state."

RTI, the panel felt, is more applicable in case of judiciary since it has a dual role: administrative and judicial. "Except the judicial decision making, all other activities of administration and the persons included in it are subject to the RTI Act. This is the pith and substance of this enactment."

As for the current system of appointment of SC and HC judges, the panel said the collegium system should be dispensed with and the pre-1993 arrangement involving the executive should be put in place.

"Transparency, inclusiveness and merit should be the way of appointing judges," it said. The committee said aspirants to various vacancies should be allowed to apply and appear before the selection committee. "The closed system prevailing now is not getting meritorious persons called to the Bench... Till the warrant of appointment is issued by the President, it is maintained as secret. It is against democratic principles," the committee said, adding that aspirants' names, merits and the selection process should be made public and transparent, through the HC and SC websites.

Also, a report, at various levels in department of justice and home, should be on the website of the department till the final stage of issuing the warrant of appointment.

On setting up the SC Bench, the panel asked the government to "come forward with a necessary constitutional amendment to address this deadlock". It said that even Article 130 of the Constitution makes provisions for it. Earlier also, the parliamentary panel had made a similar recommendation. Setting up a Bench outside Delhi, the panel felt, "would be of immense help to the poor who cannot afford to travel from their native places to Delhi."


Also read the related stories

CIC to decide if CJI under RTI Act

14 May 2008, 0331 hrs IST, Himanshi Dhawan,TNN

NEW DELHI: Undeterred by the Chief Justice of India's assertion that he does not come under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, the Central Information Commission (CIC) has decided to take up the issue in a full bench hearing soon. The issue is likely to come up before the Supreme Court breaks for recess.

"We have received complaints from two people regarding the CJI's statement. We will take up the matter in a full bench hearing and till such time, I would like to refrain from making any observation on the issue," chief information commissioner Wajahat Habibullah said. The issue comes a time when the CJI has mellowed down from his earlier stance and said that his office is that of a public servant.

The CJI had recently remarked that as a constitutional authority, he did not come under the purview of the Act. "The CJI is a constitutional authority. RTI does not cover constitutional authorities," the CJI said. In a statement later, he clarified that he was a public servant and the issue of being governed under the Act was debatable.

Following the earlier remark, Subhash C Aggarwal and C Ramesh filed complaints based on newspaper clippings. In his complaint, Aggarwal has asked if the chief justices of the apex court and high courts come under the purview of the RTI Act. The appeal was first sent to the department of law and justice from where it was transferred to the department of personnel and training. Having met with no success, Aggarwal appealed to the CIC.

"There is a question of interpretation in the matter. If the office of the CJI is a constitutional authority, does the individual's actions outside office also remain outside the Act," Habibullah said.

The CJI's statement has met with widespread debate on the issue. A parliamentary committee added to the furore with its report pointing out that all constitutional authorities come under the Act. Saying that the definition of a public authority as described in section 2 in the RTI Act was inclusive of the executive, legislative and judiciary, the report added that chief justices of Supreme Court and high courts were also governed by the RTI Act.


Also read the related stories

Information Act will not apply to judicial proceedings: Commission

Legal Correspondent

Intrusion into judicial work unnecessary, it says

New Delhi: The Right to Information Act will not apply to furnishing of information on judicial proceedings in courts or tribunals, the Central Information Commission has held.

“Apparently all judicial proceedings are conducted in the open and transparency is the hallmark of all such proceedings. There is no element of secrecy whatsoever. But at the same time, it has to be borne in mind that the judiciary is independent and all judicial authorities including all courts and tribunals must work independently and without any interference insofar as their judicial work is concerned,” said the Full Commission, comprising Chief Information Officer Wajahat Habibullah and Information Officers A.N. Tiwari and Padma Balasubramanian.

“The independence of a judicial authority is all pervasive and any amount of interference is neither desirable nor should ever be encouraged in any manner.”

The Commission rejected the plea by appellant Rakesh Kumar Gupta of Delhi, who wanted certain information including the notes or minutes of the proceedings maintained by members of the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal before the pronouncement of the order, inspection of case records and a copy of the decision in a particular case.

“The jottings and notes made by the judges while hearing a case can never, and by no stretch of imagination, be treated as final views expressed by them on the case. Such noting cannot therefore be held part of a record ‘held’ by the public authority.”

Any intrusion into the judicial work under the RTI Act was unnecessary, the Commission said.

“The independence of the judicial authority flows from the discretion given to that authority to take all decisions in matters properly brought within the purview of that authority.

“In other words, it would not be appropriate for the Commission or any entity functioning as part of the RTI regime to pronounce on the disclosure of a given set of information, if it is found that under another law (such as the Income Tax Act), this disclosure function is exercisable as part of the judicial function by a judiciary authority, such as the ITAT.”

The Commission said, “Given that a judicial authority must function with total independence and freedom, should it be found that an action initiated under the RTI Act impinges upon the authority of that judicial body, the Commission will not authorise the use of the RTI Act for any such disclosure requirement.”

An information seeker should, therefore, approach the court or the tribunal concerned “if he intends to have some information concerning a judicial proceeding and it is for the court or tribunal concerned to take a decision whether the information can be given or not.”

© Copyright 2000 - 2008 The Hindu


OIC entitled to info under RTI Act: SC

Overseas Indian Citizens entitled to info under RTI Act: SC

13 Dec 2007, 2141 hrs IST,PTI

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court opined that an Overseas Indian Citizen (OIC) is entitled to seek information from the authorities under the Right to Information Act (RTI).

A bench of Justices S B Sinha and H S Bedi asked Kunal Saha, an OIC from the US to move a fresh application by citing his OIC status before the Medical Council of India (MCI), Kolkata branch for seeking information on the inquiry report pertaining to his wife's death.

Earlier, two doctors were convicted by a court in Alipore (in Kolkata) for their alleged medical negligence relating to the death of Kunal Saha's wife Anuradha, a paediatrician who was suffering from a rare skin disease.

However, the Calcutta High Court acquitted the doctors of the charges following which he filed an appeal in the apex court.

During the pendency of the SLP, Saha under the Right To Information Act (RTI) sought the report of the inquiry committee appointed by the MCI to probe Anuradha's death, which was declined by the regulatory body on the ground that as an NRI, he was not entitled to it.


RTI Act is our last chance to cleanse the system

'RTI Act is our last chance to cleanse the system'

15 Aug 2006, 0000 hrs IST

The Right to Information Act is a rare piece of legislation that promises transparency and accountability in government. However, the bureaucracy and the political class have joined hands to kill the potency of the Act. Rights activist Aruna Roy tells the Times of India that the proposed seven amendments to exclude file notings, the identities of those who make notings, and all information during the decision-making process, from the purview of the RTI Act, is as good as repealing the Act:

Q: Why are RTI activists agitated over these amendments?

File notings are a record of recommendations made by every official who handled a file, and are essential to understand how, when, and why a particular decision has been taken. Further, denying access to all information during the decision-making process will forestall access to reasons for government delays, for example on why a ration card is being delayed. It will also hide information on how the government is going about finalising a mega deal, or on why a huge project is being approved. As access to file notings will ensure that publicly stated rationale for government decisions could be checked against the actual files, it will force politicians and bureaucrats to be more responsible in decision-making, thereby improving efficiency.

Q: Who do you think is behind the amendments?

I suspect those people who fear that transparency in decision-making will expose their misdeeds and corruption. This includes many bureaucrats and politicians. In contrast, honest officials know that public access to file notings will help them resist pressures from corrupt superiors and politicians. I have got many calls from secretaries to the government and from others, requesting that we should prevent the amendments. For example, a police officer called us to express support. His point was, security breaches and intelligence failure leading to terror attacks often happen because we are not posting the right person for the right job. Politicians have the final say in appointments and transfers. If they have to put the reasons for recommending specific transfers and postings on record and if these are open to public scrutiny, they will hesitate before pushing the case of unsuitable candidates. The RTI Act is our last chance to cleanse the system of corruption.

Q: What is to be done now?

We are concerned that a section of the political class will close ranks and pass the amendments. The RTI Act impacts everyone, cutting across class, caste, religion and region. We need to guard it. Every person interested in the future of this country should oppose the amendments and put pressure on the government to desist from introducing them. The RTI Act was the outcome of a democratic process that involved grass-roots activists, ordinary citizens, eminent jurists, and even progressive civil servants and politicians. It can't be subverted from the top. We can't allow that. We will fight these amendments every inch of the way.


HSC examinees can get answer sheet copies

HSC examinees can get answer sheet copies

Tuesday December 19 2006 14:26 IST

BHUBANESWAR: Now, students who have appeared for high school certificate (HSC) examination can get photostat copies of their evaluated answer sheets.

In a significant move on Monday, Board of Secondary Education (BSE) decided that only those students, who apply through Right To Information (RTI), will get copies of the answer sheets. They will have to pay Rs 2 per page though.

This is for the first time in 51 years of BSE’s existence that answer sheets will be made public. But what prompted this historic departure was interesting.

Earlier, some of the students had applied for the copies from BSE but the latter had declined since its statute did not permit it. “Making public the answer sheets could have repercussions since it contains the names of examiners,” a senior BSE official said.

Once the board declined, the applicants moved the State Information Commission which had asked the BSE secretary to appear in person.

The secretary had explained to the Commission about the board’s statute but the SIC was of the view that he must provide the evaluated copies within a deadline or pay fine at the rate of Rs 200 per day per candidate. Subsequently, the Board sought the State Government’s opinion on who should pay the fine but got no reply.

The BSE had to come out of the tricky situation by placing the issue either before the governing body or the education committee. However, both bodies are yet to be constituted.

As a result, in an executive decision taken on Monday, the Board decided to supply photostat copies to those who apply through RTI. But copies can be made available only within eight months of completion of the examination. Once BSE constitutes its committees when it meets on January 5, 2007, this decision would be formalised and a price fixed.


Article about RTI Act, 2005

Powered by information

The Right to Information Act (RTI) came into effect on October 12, 2005.

The preamble to this path-breaking legislation states that a democracy requires an informed citizenry and transparency of information which are vital to its functioning and also to contain corruption and to hold governments and their instrumentalities accountable to the governed.

The objectives of the Act are indeed laudable but the success of such a legislation depends on how well the right is used by citizens and how sincerely the provisions of the law are implemented by the government.

There are two parts to the RTI Act — the right of citizens to access information under the control of public authorities, and, the obligation cast on public authorities to disclose information on their own (suo moto). While citizens are usually concerned about their own rights, the importance of the latter cannot be minimised.

Section 4(1) of the Act requires every public authority to publish — within 120 days from the enactment of the law — 16 items of information including the particulars of its organization, functions and duties, the procedure followed in the decision-making process, the rules, regulations, manuals and instructions under its control, the budget allocated to each of its agencies, the manner of execution of its subsidy programmes and so on.

The enumeration of obligations is so elaborate that it will be a wonder if any government department or agency has been able to comply with all of them within the stipulated time of 120 days.

One would expect that before giving effect to a law with such far-reaching implications, any government would have made the necessary preparations. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the case. In fact, the time limit of 120 days is highly unrealistic, given the enormity of work involved.

One of the first tasks the central as well as the state governments should have undertaken is to train its own officials in discharging their responsibilities under the Act.

Recently, I was invited to address the participants of a workshop organized for officers from the southern states on the RTI Act. When I enquired how many of them had published all the information prescribed under the Act, the answer was, not surprisingly, none. Very few officials seem to be familiar even with the provisions of the law, let alone comply with them.

The authors of the law, perhaps in their anxiety to make it comprehensive, have left some of the provisions vague. For instance, according to clause (xiv) of Section 4(1) (b), every public authority must publish "details in respect of the information, available or held by it, reduced in an electronic form".

So much of information is held in electronic form these days that it is not clear if all of it should be published and for what purpose. Even a casual leave application of an employee is held in electronic form; would this have to be published?

To take another example, Section 4(1) (c) requires publication of "all relevant facts while formulating important policies or announcing the decisions which affect the public". The language used gives scope for varied interpretations.

Which policy is considered important would be a subjective decision of the authority concerned. What is important from the citizen's point of view may not be so according to a particular authority. Further, a literal interpretation of the provision may mean that all relevant facts would have to be published even at the time of formulating a policy.

How can a policy be published unless it is finalized? These are some of the problems that will be faced by those administering the RTI Act.

It would be instructive to know that in the UK, the Freedom of Information Act, which was passed in November 2000, came into force fully only in January 2005. The long intervening period of over four years was considered necessary for the public authorities to prepare themselves for discharging their responsibilities.

The implementation of the law was designed to be implemented in stages. The process of voluntary disclosure of information or the publication schemes, as it is called in the UK, preceded the coming into force of the right to seek information.

In fact, the disclosure of information began with the Parliament and the Central Government, and gradually extended to the local government and other public agencies. This process of publication itself went on till June 2004, the citizens' right to access of information coming finally on January 1, 2005.

On the contrary, just 120 days were given to all the public authorities in India — from the Central government ministries in Delhi down to the village panchayats and town municipal councils — to publish all the required information and get prepared to implement the Act.

Quite often, our parliamentarians have the tendency to pass laws in a hurry and then let the officials struggle in implementing them.

For the citizens, however, the RTI Act has come as a boon. It is a powerful tool to hold the state accountable and secure the services to which he/she is entitled. And people have started utilising it with telling effect. In Karnataka, a citizen was being denied electricity connection because he refused to pay bribe.

Once he filed an application under the RTI Act seeking reasons for denial, he got the connection. In Delhi, Bhupesh Kumar, a student had 'failed' in English. He used the RTI Act to see his English paper and in two months, his paper had been rechecked and he was promoted.

A schoolteacher in Maharashtra has succeeded in getting information 55 times under the RTI Act and exposed irregularities worth Rs 1. 5 crores (pertaining to leases on government-held properties). Thus any citizen can use this right - a farmer in a village to get a copy of his land record or a benefit under a government scheme, a school or college student to gain admission in an educational institution, a city dweller to get his water or electricity connection, provided he or she is entitled to it as per norms.

Action on the part of civil society to demand accountability on larger issues is yet to gain momentum in our country. Endless delays in execution of projects costing crores of rupees, misuse of funds, malpractices in public institutions provide ample material to use the RTI Act to seek information that can expose irregularities and perhaps help prevent scams.

The Chief and Public Information Officers appointed under the RTI Act will have to play a proactive role in guiding the public to access information and in ensuring that the public authorities adopt a positive attitude in dealing with the citizens and in disseminating information.

After all, the primary purpose of empowering the citizen to access information is to instill public confidence in the processes of government and to transform the 'culture of secrecy' in government to a 'culture of openness'.


Rashtrapati Bhavan denies copies under RTI Act

Rashtrapati Bhavan denies copies under RTI Act

Wednesday April 11 2007 00:00 IST

KANNUR: The letters written by leaders of various political parties, extending support to Manmohan Singh for the formation of a government at the Centre, have become a matter of controversy with the refusal of the President’s Secretariat to issue photocopies of these letters under the Right to Information Act.

Various political parties including the Karunanidhi-led DMK, CPM, CPI, RJD and other allies of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) had handed over letters extending support to Manmohan Singh to the President before the formation of the Union Government. The reason cited for refusing to issue the copies of the letters by Nitin Wakankar, Central Public Information Officer, Rashtrapathi Bhavan, is that these letters were given under a ‘‘fiduciary relationship’’ between the authors of the letter and the President and that this came under Section 8(e) of the RTI Act.

The argument of the Central Public Information Officer of the Rashtrapati Bhavan is now being challenged by the Thalassery-based People’s Council for Civil Rights headed by T Asafali through an appeal petition filed with the Internal Financial Adiviser and Appellate Authority under the RTI Act at the President’s Secretariat. Asafali’s request seeking photocopies of the letters written by the leaders of the UPA allies had earlier been rejected by the Central Public Information Officer.

In his appeal petition filed with Rasika Chaube, Appellate authority under the RTI Act at the President’s Secretariat, Asafali has contented that ‘‘there is no question of existence of a fiduciary relationship’’ between President of India and the leaders of the parliamentary parties.

‘‘Since some of the coalition partners who offered support to Manmohan Singh for forming government at the Centre are now speaking against it as if there is a change of circumstance, people are entitled to know the contents of the letters,’’ argues Asafali in his appeal petition.

The Appellate authority at the Rashtrapati Bhavan is yet to respond to the appeal petition filed by Asafali.


Minister not ‘BA pass’, reveals RTI

Minister not ‘BA pass’, reveals RTI

Monday April 28 2008 00:00 IST

Ratan Pani

SAMBALPUR: Although Transport and Commerce Minister Jayanarayan Mishra has graduated himself in politics and so well, he has been caught off guard on another front.

Information sought under the RTI says he has not passed the degree examination contradicting his claim made in his affidavit during the 2004 Assembly elections.

Mishra, the Sambalpur MLA, puts up a brave face though, the facts are against him. The allegation had been doing the rounds for quite sometime by the Sambalpur Bikas Manch.

According to information obtained by Manch convenor Debasis Purohit, Mishra had claimed to be a graduate of Burla NAC College under Sambalpur University in 1984.

In reality, the Manch said, information supplied by Burla NAC College has mentioned about the Minister doing his Intermediate Arts (IA) during the period 1981-83.

Although he pursued his Bachelor’s Degree (BA) from 1984 to 1986 with history and political science, the college authorities have feigned ignorance about Mishra completing his degree.

‘The college,’ the authorities replied diplomatically, ‘is not in a position to provide any information about passing of BA by Mr Mishra as records relating to the same is no more available in the college.’

However, it has failed to provide university registration number which is mandatory.

In his affidavit submitted with the nomination papers, Mishra had informed that he has passed his degree from Burla NAC College in 1984,which cannot be true under any circumstances as he had completed his IA in 1983 and it would require another two years after that to obtain the degree.

Contacted, Mishra said he would present his case in proper forum. State Youth Congress president Rohit Pujari sought Mishra’s resignation and urged the Election Commission to initiate criminal proceedings.


Amend "misleading" contents on website: CIC to DoPT

Amend "misleading" contents on website: CIC to DoPT

New Delhi (PTI): The website of the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) keeping a record of file notings exempted from the purview of the RTI Act has been termed as "misleading" by the Central Information Commission.

The Commission also asked the department to amend the portal.

The transparency panel asked the Centre to amend the contents of the portal to bring it in tune with the Right to Information Act, which does not include file notings under the exemption category.

"Since this incorrect quotation has misled members of the public, our decision in this matter would be placed before the Minister of State, Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions for appropriate and early action," Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah said.

The DoPT's website maintains that information under the RTI Act does not include file notings.

The CIC in a significant decision in January 2006 had held that the file notings were not exempted and it should be available to information seekers.


Bureaucrat fined under RTI Act

Bureaucrat fined under RTI Act


Imphal, June 28: Ukhrul Deputy Commissioner Pankaj Kumar Pal was fined Rs 25,000 under the Right to Information Act for failing to furnish information sought from him.

Manipur Chief Information commissioner R.K. Angousana Singh issued the order today, directing Pal, the state public information officer, to deposit the amount in the government account within 15 days. The commissioner, in his order, said the information officer failed to furnish the required information despite repeated reminders from the commission.

The commissioner on June 13 asked Pal to furnish the information within seven days to R.K.Awungashi, chairman of an Ukhrul district NGO.

The commission also issued a show cause notice on the same date stating that fines should be imposed on him for failing to furnish the information.

The deputy commissioner, however, said he had directed the Zonal Education Commissioner Ukhrul to furnish the required information to the commission.

Awungashi wanted information on the construction of 68 ramps in 58 schools of the district for the Assembly elections held in February last year. The construction cost Rs 1,30,092, provided by the school education department.

Awungashi, the petitioner, in his application dated March 27, 2007 told the information officer that he wanted to inspect the construction of the ramps after getting the relevant information from him.

The commission said the information officer neither rejected the petition, nor gave any response. The petitioner then moved the commission on July 24 last year.


Saturday, June 28, 2008

Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams gears up to enforce RTI Act

TTD gears up to implement Right to Information Act

Special Correspondent

To publish 17 manuals on the working of its core departments

  • TTD Executive Officer briefs senior officials on modalities of Act
  • Process can serve as an internal mechanism for constant evaluation
  • Chief Information Officer to gather inputs from various departments

    SOME SERIOUS TALK: TTD Executive Officer A.P.V.N. Sarma closeted with Heads of Department in Tirupati on Monday for discussion on implementation of Right to Information Act in the TTD

    TIRUPATI: Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD) will be publishing 17 manuals on the working of its core departments to provide the necessary inputs to the public as and when required under the Right to Information Act.

    At a meeting held here on Monday by TTD Executive Officer, A.P.V.N. Sarma with senior officials and heads of its various departments, the modalities for effective implementation of the Act were discussed in detail.

    Preparing its key personnel and the HoDs for the implementation of the Information Act, Mr. Sarma explained to them broadly its salient features and asked them the keep themselves abreast of all the developments that take place in the various departments from time to time. They in turn could pass on the same as and when required by the public.

    Mr. Sarma felt that the process could serve as an internal mechanism for constant evaluation of the working of various departments and would eventually improve their accountability. He asked TTD Chief Information Officer Anitha Shaw Akella to gather the inputs from the departments and bring out the manuals soon.


    Ms. Anitha earlier made a power-point presentation on the work already underway in this regard. Among the officials present were Joint Executive Officer N. Muktheswara Rao and Special Officer (Tirumala) A.V. Dharma Reddy.

    © Copyright 2000 - 2008 The Hindu

  • Courtesy_

  • Call to create awareness of the RTI: THE HINDU

    Call to create awareness of the Right to Information Act

    Special Correspondent

    Transparent society has better prospects of good governance: Aruna Roy

  • Government, NGOs should furnish details of funds
  • File notings of officials should be made public

    CHENNAI: Speakers at the inaugural session of the "Consultation on making the right to information a reality — role of government, media and civil society" on Saturday stressed the importance of the right to information in ensuring good governance.

    Aruna Roy, Magsaysay Award winner and leader of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, Rajasthan, said a society willing to be transparent had better prospects of good governance. As arbitrary use of power led to corruption, transparency in governance was extremely important for democracy and the rule of law, though it was a tough task to accomplish.

    Transparent approach

    Not only the Government but non-Governmental organisations also should adopt a transparent approach, more particularly with regard to furnishing details such as the source of their funds and spending.

    Ms. Roy underscored the need for making public the file notings of officials. Though opinion on the issue was divided, she was of the view that honest officials would benefit if this system was adopted. Implementation of the suo motu part of the Right to Information (RTI) Act under Section 4 was important, she said and added that till the Central law was put in place, the State law should continue.

    She called for creating awareness among the people by distributing copies of the Act and organising workshops on how to use the law.

    Social audit

    On the implementation of the Rural Employment Guarantee Act, Ms. Roy said social audit at the panchayat level would prevent corrupt practices.

    Inaugurating the consultation, N. Narayanan, Chief Secretary, said as the RTI Act would become operational by October 12, the process of its implementation had been set in motion.

    Initial meetings with Secretaries and heads of various departments were held, and the results of the efforts to frame rules and other related work would be made known shortly.

    "No major problems"

    Though the lower levels of the bureaucracy might find it irksome at the transition stage and there might be knee-jerk reactions, at some point or the other, there would be no major problem in the implementation of the RTI Act.

    The Government, civil society and the media should work in greater coordination to reinforce democratic traditions and good governance through the implementation of the RTI Act.

    A good information system would ensure the effective implementation of various welfare and social security schemes, Mr. Narayanan said.

    Sriram Panchu, founder trustee, Citizen consumer and civic Action Group, (CAG) said the RTI Act should be applicable to the private sector too.

    The NGOs should play an important role in helping the citizen to raise the right questions to get the right information.

    A.K. Venkat Subramanian, trustee, Catalyst Trust, stressed the need for making the right to information a reality.

    © Copyright 2000 - 2008 The Hindu

  • Courtesy_

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    The RTI Act was passed by the Lok Sabha (Lower House) on 11 May 2005, by the Raj Sabha (Upper House) on 12 May 2005 and received Presidential assent on 15 June 2005. Parts of the Act came into force upon Presidential assent, but the Act came fully into force on 12 October 2005, 120 days after Presidential assent.

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    This Blog Spot is meant for publishing reports about the usage of RTI Act (Right to Information Act, 2005) so as to create an awareness to the general public and also to keep it as a ready reckoner by them. So the readers may extend their gratitude towards the Author as we quoted at the bottom of each Post under the title "Courtesy".Furthermore, the Blog Authors are no way responsible for the correctness of the materials published herein and the readers may verify the concerned valuable sources.

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