Monday, May 31, 2010

Doctors cannot Order Tests without reason: Union Health Minister

Ghulam Nabi Azad says Doctors cannot Order Tests without reason

By Kathy Jones on May 31, 2010 at 8:20 PM

Indian Health News

Union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad has said that doctors simply cannot order expensive lab tests and will have to give out the reason for the same.

Speaking to DNA, Mr Azad said that doctors will need to explain why they ordered specific tests or asked for a patient to be admitted to the hospital if the said patient's condition was not serious. "Doctors cannot prescribe tests without giving reason. No information should be hidden; everything has to be put on record," he added.

He also said that the Right to Information Act will be made use of for finding the reason for lab tests and hospital admissions. "Doctors and clinical establishments cannot charge arbitrarily from patients; there has to be some reasoning behind the charges. For instance, for ultrasound or MRI, different clinics charge different rates within the same locality," he pointed out.

Mr Azad said that the health ministry is currently drawing up rules to increase accountability of doctors.


Outcome of Delhi HC verdict against CIC

Outcome of Delhi High Court verdict against CIC


Mon, May 31, 2010 10:02:24 IST

It may be mentioned that DoPT which is the nodal government-functionary to handle 'Right To Information Act' also usually creates hurdles by creating confusions and unwanted clarifications through its regular circulars and letters.

DIVISION-BENCH verdict dated May 21, 2010, in the matter 'Delhi Development Authority (DDA) versus Central Information Commission (CIC) and another' by Delhi High Court {WP(C)12714/2009} has created uncertainty over smooth functioning at CIC with media-reports indicating that some information commissioners have stopped taking petitions fixed for hearing before them. It may be mentioned that Department of Personnel and training (DoPT) which is the nodal government-functionary to handle 'Right To Information (RTI) Act' also usually creates hurdles by creating confusions and unwanted clarifications through its regular circulars and letters. A letter number 1/1/2009-IR dated May 22, 2009, by DoPT to CIC had also challenged constituting of benches by chief information commissioner. In view of all this it has become utmost necessary to incorporate some vital changes of academic nature to remove all confusions and uncertainty over functioning of CIC and implementation of RTI Act which otherwise has become a role-model for other countries to follow.

Repeal Sections 27 and 28 of RTI Act

Sections 27 and 28 giving powers to appropriate governments and competent authorities to frame their own rules are being grossly misused. Several state-governments and competent authorities including some high courts devised such rules which contradicted various sections of RTI Act itself! Even Delhi High Court in the referred verdict in the case WP(C)12714/2009 has discussed at length power defined under these sections about framing rules. Many public-authorities have even fixed RTI fees and its mode of payment differently in vast contrast to that laid down under 'The Right To Information (Regulation of fee and cost) Rules' where it is clearly mentioned that RTI fees should be rupees ten. RTI Act and its rules should be uniform all over the country for all states and competent authorities to remove confusions and misuse of power to harass users of RTI Act, and as such these two sections 27 and 28 should be repealed.

Definition of competent authority

Delhi High Court in the referred verdict in the case WP(C)12714/2009 has also questioned validity of chief information commissioner as competent authority for Central Information Commission. For removing such confusion, sub-section 2(e)(vi) may be added for epartmental heads at all public-authorities to be competent authorities for respective public-authorities. But such power to departmental heads for becoming competent authorities should be given by first repealing section 28 (also section 27) so as to avoid misuse of power as competent authorities to act against basic spirit of RTI Act.

Constitution of benches at Information Commissions

It is totally impractical that all the petitions having reached Information Commissions may be heard by all the information commissioners. Chief information commissioner should have power as head of a quasi-judicial body to constitute benches as deemed fit for smooth functioning of Information Commission.

Power to review verdicts of information commissioners by larger benches

Such a provision also favoured by Central Information Commission is necessary to minimise cases reaching to courts against verdicts of information commissioners. But review should be allowed in very selective cases having apparent error of law-point in verdicts by information commissioners. For this, legal-departments at Information Commissions should be adequately staffed with each review-petition requiring clearance from these legal-departments. Otherwise review if allowed for all verdicts may create another appellate authority without any meaning. However, Delhi High Court has rightly opined that all decisions by Information Commissions should be announced during proceedings only. It is observed that review is mainly sought usually in case of reserved verdicts.

Incorporating RTI fees and mode of payment in RTI Act itself

Many state governments and competent authorities have misused power under section 27 and 28 to have RTI fees other than rupees ten as mentioned in rule-book. Even mode of payment is quite cumbersome at some places like at Bombay High Court where stamp-papers worth rupees twelve rather than postal-orders/pay-orders/cash etc are required towards RTI fees. Moreover, despite repeated DoPT circulars, many public-authorities insist on name of payees on postal-orders/pay-orders etc other than 'accounts officer'. To remove all confusions, RTI Act should incorporate a new section mentioning rupees ten as RTI fees payable in name of 'accounts officer' through cash/postal-order/pay-order only. Even postal-department should be directed to issue special commission-free postal-orders of rupees ten with payees name pre-printed as 'accounts officer' exclusively for RTI purposes.

To save time and money for both the public-authorities and of RTI petitioners, say first six pages should be provided free-of-cost, charging from the first page in case copied pages exceed six. Public-authorities should be required to send all replies by ensured and economical Speed Post on destinations with Speed Post centres, and by registered post on other destinations.

Adding another sub-section 19(11)

Written submissions by public-authorities at least twenty days before scheduled hearing at Information Commissions should be made compulsory with a copy to the petitioner. Since public-authorities are much-more elaborative in their response at the commission, ever-increasing work-load on the commissions can be considerably reduced by abandoning the hearing in case petitioner is satisfied by suggested compulsory written submissions of public-authorities.

Penal-provision for appellate authorities and competent authorities

Recommendations of Central Information Commission for providing penalties for defaulting appellate authorities should be added in section 20 which presently spells out penal-provision only for public information officers. Provision for penalising competent authorities for not complying with provisions of providing necessary information as mandatory under various sub-sections of section 4 of RTI Act should also be there.


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

THE HINDU: Saving the right to information miracle

Saving the right to information miracle

Vidya Subrahmaniam

The RTI juggernaut has begun to roll over Indian babudom. Let us not turn the clock back.

Over the past week, there have been reports that the Prime Minister's Office, responding to Sonia Gandhi's muscular intervention, is backing off on the dreaded amendments to the Right to Information Act, 2005.

On the other hand, it is worth remembering that the amendments scare has never been too far away. It resurfaced as recently as April 30, 2010 — this time in the benign form of a friendly letter to an RTI applicant. The letter, from the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), was in response to his application seeking details of the amendments under consideration, and it confirmed that far-reaching changes were in fact under way.

And yet, whatever the outcome of this see-sawing confrontation between the government and the growing band of RTI stakeholders — activists, Information Commissioners, ordinary citizens — one thing is clear. Almost against its will, official India is changing.

The DoPT's letter is an example in itself. In the past, the department, the nodal government agency for matters relating to RTI, would get into a lather if anyone so much as asked a question. RTI activists and the Central Information Commission (CIC) fought a marathon battle to get the DoPT to acknowledge that the Act allowed access to file-notings. The department stubbornly maintained the opposite on its website, providing just the excuse the other Ministries needed to stonewall demands for file-notings.

The DoPT's April 30 letter is accommodating to the point of disbelief. In reply to “point number 8,” it says: “copy of file noting is enclosed.” Was this the same government organ that possessively clutched file-notings to its bosom? Not just the DoPT. There is reason to believe that RTI glasnost is wrecking babudom's practised ways everywhere in government. If today we know for a fact that Ms Gandhi and the Prime Minister hold opposing views on amending the RTI Act, it is thanks, ironically, to RTI. The Manmohan Singh-Sonia Gandhi correspondence was accessed by Subhash Chandra Agrawal, an RTI zealot with an unmatched penchant for bombarding government offices with complicated queries — the kind that would have normally got the government bristling.

Yet today he has in his possession documents of unimaginable importance. To name only a few: The entire 2004 and 2010 Padma awards records, including a 2004 “secret” letter from A.P.J. Abdul Kalam to Atal Bihari Vajpayee on norms for deciding the awards; information on the wealth and assets of judges as well as expenditure on the travels of judges and their spouses; files relating to appointment of judges; the Naveen Chawla-N.Gopalaswami correspondence; details of RTI amendments under consideration; and most recently, a CIC ruling extending the RTI Act to correspondence between the Prime Minister and the President.

Indian Express has scooped significant stories using the RTI Act, and recently published the entire lot of letters exchanged between Ms Gandhi and Dr. Manmohan Singh over the term of the first United Progressive Alliance government. The letters confirm what many have suspected for long: that two different visions inform the offices of the Prime Minister and the Congress president.

The CIC has far surpassed expectations, pushing the envelope to uphold transparency and accountability in the public sphere, and shaking up the judicial fraternity with its daring interpretation of the RTI Act. The CIC's January 2009 ruling that the Act covers the assets of Supreme Court judges is beyond anything one could have imagined in pre-RTI India.

To understand the import of this decision one has only to look at the incredible phenomenon of the Supreme Court appealing to itself against the Delhi High Court order upholding the CIC's ruling in the judges' assets case. Significantly, the effect of all this has been to open rather than shut doors. One judge after another has come out voluntarily to declare his assets.

A little over a month ago, this writer filed two RTI applications with the Ministry of Rural Development. Twenty days later, I got a call from the Ministry. Over the following week, officials incessantly fussed over me, worrying that I was not finding the time to go over and inspect the files. Once in the hallowed corridors of Krishi Bhawan, officials eagerly obliged with mounds of files, pointing out file-notings and such, and printing out photocopies late into the evening.

In the case of the second application, the Ministry overshot the RTI deadline of one month by five days. But no harm done. A Deputy Secretary was on the phone profusely apologising for the “unwarranted” delay. The ease with which officials parted with file-notings was a knock-out surprise. Indeed, the experience was almost surreal. Did I owe the kindness to my being a journalist or was something else happening here? The former possibility is fairly ruled out because the fourth estate is not a particular favourite of the bureaucracy.

In truth, not just me, RTI applicants everywhere are possibly finding it just a bit easier to approach the giant behemoth called the government. The term “top secret” which was the bureaucracy's single biggest weapon, no longer looks that forbidding. A correspondent from The Hindu approached a member of the Padma awards committee seeking details of the controversial Padma Bhushan award to NRI hotelier Sant Singh Chatwal. The member threw a fit: “How dare you even call me? Don't you know our decisions are secret?” Yet thanks to RTI, within days we had full information, not just on the award to Mr. Chatwal but on the 1,163 names considered by the committee. The awards committee member, like so many from the “secrecy” era, had not understood that what was secret in his time was open information today. The Hindu correspondent actually held in her hand President Kalam's “secret” note to Prime Minister Vajpayee. And the letter was handed out by the Home Ministry, once the proud repository of all things secret.

Spectacular as these breakthroughs are, it is the smaller stories involving a score of poor RTI applicants that truly point to the transfer of power taking place on the ground. Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi's favourite story is of a man in rags who was treated with respect at the ration office only because he had filed an RTI application. “The same officer who used to treat him like dirt offered him a chair and tea,” says Mr. Gandhi. “The man understood the power of information, and told me what he had achieved was far more than a ration card. From being always overpowered, he actually felt powerful.”

The implications of this transformation are surely not lost on the top echelons of government. Though not fully by any means, feudal, secretive India has adapted to an open information culture sooner than anyone could have anticipated. Who could have thought that government departments would treat information seekers with deference? If this is the case with the number of RTI users still being minuscule, one can guess the scale of the havoc a fully operative RTI Act would cause.

Says RTI pioneer Aruna Roy: “What we are witnessing is a potentially massive transfer of power. This is democracy at the grassroots, and that is why it is hard to believe that the government will let go of the amendments. RTI has opened a million cans of worms. It has put the fear of God into the bureaucracy.”

And so we have a strange situation. One half of the government is ever so slowly relaxing its hold on information, while the other half is far from giving up. The conflict becomes visible every now and then. Last month, the Home Ministry released the details of the 2010 Padma awards aspirants but advised the RTI applicant who sought them not to make them public.

At a South Asia RTI workshop convened in Delhi recently, delegates from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka seemed in awe of the Indian achievement in RTI. Pakistan framed a freedom of information ordinance in 2002. However, official data from that country shows that all its federal departments and ministries put together get less than five information applications a month. Between 2003 and 2007, only 51 complaints reached the office of the Federal Ombudsman (equivalent to the Indian CIC). Of these, only eight were filed by ordinary citizens. The Indian CIC in the single year of 2009 received 21,500 appeals and complaints, of which it disposed of 19,500.

India's RTI activists and Information Officers are an unusually inspired lot. Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah has passed landmark rulings that have changed the rules of governance. Information Commissioner Gandhi has been working with a rare dedication, spending his own money to employ staff, and disposing of 5,800 cases annually. Aruna Roy and countless other activists breathe and sleep RTI.

For all their sake, and more importantly, for the sake of the common citizens, the miracle called the Indian RTI Act must be saved.

© Copyright 2000 - 2009 The Hindu


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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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