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Report Card on the Performance of Information Commissions in India

According to a “Report Card on the Performance of Information Commissions in India” prepared by Satark Nagrik Sangathan (SNS) and Centre for Equity Studies (CES), transparency is a key to promoting peoples’ trust in public institutions. The assessment found that several ICs were non-functional or were functioning at reduced capacity, despite large backlogs, as the posts of commissioners, including that of the chief information commissioner (CIC), were vacant during the period under review. In many cases, the appointments of information commissioners were found to be set aside by courts due to lack of transparency in the process of appointment and for being in violation of the provisions of the RTI Act and directions of the Supreme Court.
In addition, the Report, says, “By failing to disclose information on their functioning, ICs continue to evade real accountability to the people of the country whom they are supposed to serve. The legal requirement for the central and state information commissions to submit annual reports every year to Parliament and state legislatures respectively, is to make, among other things, their activities transparent and available for public scrutiny. However, very few ICs fulfil this obligation, and even fewer do it in time”. 
As part of the assessment, and in order to access information about the functioning of information commissions, both SNS and CES filed RTI applications with the 28 state information commissions (SIC) and the Central Information Commission (CIC). A total of 169 RTI applications were filed seeking identical information from all the 29 information commissions. The RTI applications were tracked to assess how each information commission performed as a public authority, in terms of maintaining and disclosing information. Three information commissions from Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu did not respond to, or even acknowledge, the RTI applications filed within stipulated time.
"Several ICs, like from Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh rejected requests for information invoking provisions seemingly in violation of the RTI Act. In all these cases, an appeal was filed against the denial of information. However, till the time of publication of this report, the requisite information had not been disclosed," the report says.
Apart from Tamil Nadu, three State Information Commissions (SICs), Odisha, Sikkim and Kerala returned the RTI applications citing procedural deficiencies.
Only 13 out of 29 ICs provided full information in response to the RTI applications filed as part of this assessment. Of the 107 chief information commissioners for whom data was obtained, the overwhelming majority (84%) were retired government servants including 67% retired Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officers and another 17% from other services. Of the remainder, 10% had a background in law (5% former judges and 5% lawyers or judicial officers).
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Resistance from banks in revealing Loan details to corporate entities

The RTI query, sent to the Ministry of Finance, sought details on individual exposure of various PSBs to corporate borrowers. The questions that were asked in the RTI query sought information on the loans given to the Reliance Industries, Adani Group, GVK Group, GMR and Jaypee Group. The RTI was first directed to the Finance Ministry, which then forwarded the RTI request to various banks asking them to provide the information. The RTI had questions on the money loaned to big industrial houses by government-run banks. However, all public sector banks except Andhra Bank and Allahabad Bank have refused to divulge information citing either the 'personal nature' of questions or how they don't fit under the provisions of the RTI Act. 
In their reply to the RTI query, the banks have said that the information available with banks under "fiduciary relationship" is exempted from disclosure.
Read about: Fiduciary Relationship under RTI
While Andhra Bank and Allahabad Bank have disclosed the loans given to big corporates, all other lenders refused to do so. Banks which did not disclose any detail in their reply to the RTI query include State Bank of India (SBI), Bank of Maharashtra, Corporation Bank, Indian Bank, Canara Bank, UCO Bank, Indian Overseas Bank, Central Bank of India, Bank of India and Syndicate Bank. Earlier this month, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley informed the Rajya Sabha that loans worth Rs 81,683 crore were written-off by public sector banks (PSBs) in 2016-17.
Country's largest public sector lender, the SBI, said, "The information sought by you under point number three to eight is the third party personal information held by the bank in a fiduciary capacity, the disclosure of which is not warranted for any larger public interest and as such is exempted from disclosure."
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Upper limit of Rs 50 imposed on RTI Fee by Supreme Court

The Supreme Court fixed on Tuesday an upper limit of Rs 50 as application fee that government authorities can charge those seeking information under the right to information (RTI) act, the country’s transparency law.
Also, a bench of justices AK Goel and UU Lalit said public authorities cannot ask for more than Rs 5 for each page as photocopying charge, and an applicant need not mention the “motive” while filling out the application form.
The order came on petitions challenging high fees set by different public bodies, including high courts and state assemblies.
The decision can be downloaded from here:
 
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43 years for RTI case finalisation in West Bengal- study

A biennial study conducted by Satark Nagrik Sangathan and Centre for Equity Studies has revealed a grim picture of RTI Act implementation with waiting time at information commissions running in years and commissions in several states becoming non-functional owing to unfilled vacancies. The study has found that if an RTI appeal were to be filed in West Bengal state information commission on November 1, 2017, it would be disposed of in 2060 – after 43 years. In Kerala, it would take six years six months and Odisha 5 years 3 months. The main reason for such a long waiting time is the reduced number of information commissioners that commissions are working with. 
The report has brought out, what it calls a “concerning trend”. The information commissions, which are the last resort for the common man to complain against wrongful denial of information, are increasingly returning cases. The highest number of cases have been returned by CIC, followed by Gujarat, Assam and Uttarakhand.
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abhijeet

Has any PIO got the right not to inform

Question

abhijeet

One PIO of West Bengal, furnished one ‘ enquiry report ‘ in response to one RTI application in May . 2007. At the end of the month (29/05/2007) the same applicant asked for certain information in connection with that ‘enquiry report ‘ received . The applicant specifically mentioned under the subject matter of information : Validity of the comments made by the Enquiry officer in this regard as received vide your letter dated 03.05.2007.

Relevant page of attested copy of that report was enclosed with the application.

On 25th June, 2007 APIO of that Department transferred that application dated 29.05.07 to another Govt. Department , with a request ‘ to furnish information point wise to the applicant, immediately , preferably within seven days ‘

Now it should be mentioned here that the matter was related with the Govt. Department , where the RTI application was submitted and it was clearly mentioned in that application.

So , why it was sent to another Department ?

Another pertinent point is that as per 6(3) of RTI Act ‘ transfer of an application ..shall be made as soon as practicable but in no case later than five days from the date of receipt of the application.’

But in the instant case it was transferred later than 26 days after receiving of it. Why ?

The applicant sent one reminder to the SPIO of both the departments on 17/08/07 and 21/08/07 respectively and the letter was addressed to the Secretary, SIC, who previously directed concerned State Public Information Officers to ‘ be more attentive in this regard in future correspondences in respect of RTI matter.’

 

The SPIO of the Govt Department, where the application was transferred , furnished the information dated 29/09/07, which was received on 12.10.2007 .

Most interesting point is that the SPIO “informed” – Record is not available with this office ., with respect to 5 queries out of six asked for. as the information was related with the Department, where the RTI application was correctly submitted.

The applicant, on receiving this information submitted 1st appeal on 06.11.2007 .

Recently the same applicant was requested by the SPIO to appear before the appellate authority on 11.06.2008.

Let us see what RTI act means regarding 1st appeal. Under 19(6) ------An appeal.. shall be disposed of within thirty days of the receipt of the appeal or within such extended period not exceeding a total of forty-five days from the of filing thereof, as the case may be, for reasons to be recorded in writing. It is need less to point out here that no reason was provided for the delay. But I would like to mention here with a sorrow and…….

that probably the SPIO came to know that the concerned applicant had already died !

This is the way how the RTI matters are being dealt with by some SPIOs of the West Bengal.

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abhijeet

In continuation of the earlier 'episode' as above I would like to share with members, further happenings in this regard for valued opinion and helpful suggestions for necessary action to be taken.

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Another applicant submitted same set of queries to the Cooperation Department on 13.11.2007 . As usual it was transferred to the Cooperation Directorate, that too only after submission of the 1st appeal on 31.12.2008. This time the PIO of Coop. Directorate correctly returned it to the previous (Coop). Dept. ; as the matter was related with Coop. Department and enquiry was conducted by one officer of Coop. Department . The matter has been clearly explained in the Memo dated 17.01.08, in which the SPIO of Coop. Directorate mentioned –“It appears that the information sought… relates to an enquiry conducted by an officer of Cooperation Department and may only be provided from your end.”

On 17.02 2008 , The applicant sent one reminder to the concerned SPIO of the Cooperation Department , enclosing a copy of the 1st appeal for furnishing direct, specific and proper information at an early date.

On 27th February, 08 the SPIO of Coop. Dept . provided ‘information’ in an enclosed statement , which was not signed by anybody, though in the statement it was mentioned twice that ‘ It is not possible for undersigned ’ The applicant failed to understand who was the undersigned and as such once again wrote a letter to the PIO mentioning that---- Neither the signature of the PIO nor the designation was provided with the reply received in the enclosure .Was it not possible for any officer (Why not PIO) to sign the reply provided ?

The SPIO sent the same set of reply with enclosure , but this time the enclosed reply was attested by one officer of the department. But question still remained who was the so called ‘ undersigned’ ? Whose statement was provided in that unsigned but attested enclosure , is yet to be ascertained.

Now let us examine what type of reply was furnished in response to the questions raised for the validity of the enquiry report.

Q2Which were the points observed and examined by the Enquiry Officer that led him to conclude that majority of the panel members did not appear in the interview at all ? Had he examined the proceedings report/note of the interview conducted by Sri ---------------------? Please let me know how many panel members represented their case personally or by authorized persons to Sri ............. and whether Sri ---------- did follow the Order dated 17.08.96 in this respect ?

R2The points observed and examined by the Enquiry officer are best known to him as he did not submit any paper in support of his observation to this department.

It is not possible for the undersigned to confirm that whether he had examined the proceedings/report of the interview conducted by Sri Surath Biswas as there is no indication of submission of any document along with this enquiry report.

In his enquiry report the Enquiry Officer remained silent in respect of the panel of members as indicated in para-II ,as he did not submit any related document with his enquiry.

R3. The matter related to verification of signature of panel of members of their representatives was best known to him, as he did not submit any paper in this regard along with his enquiry report.

Q4.Please let me have the points/ evidences and court’s order which convinced the enquiry officer to make his finding that “ 60 persons had been empanelled dubiously” .

R4.Regarding dubious empanelment of 60 persons , the Enquiry Officer did not submit any document in this regard along with his enquiry report . So it is not possible for the undersigned to provide any document in this regard as asked for.

 

 

Q5)“ There was no allegation against the conduct of election” – in view of the petition filed by some members in the High Court before the said election and the dispute case filed just after the said election on 20th January,2004 ( dispute Case no ---- of 2004 ) by one member ( this dispute case is still pending) challenging the election on fraudulent voter list, how it was decided that there was no allegation against the conduct of election , as observed by the

Enquiry Officer. Had he gone through the Court order dt 15.03.2004 in this regard ?

R 5. It is not possible for the undersigned to ensure the applicant whether the enquiry officer had gone through the court order dtd. 15.3.04 related to query No 5 as there is no reflection in the enquiry report in this regard.

6) Had the Enquiry Officer gone through the Orders and judgment of the Learned Single Bench dated 30.01.1985, that of the Division Bench dated 30.09.1985 and finally the Order of the Hon’ble Apex Court dated 18. 12 1985 along with the Hon’ble Court’s verdict which was given considering the petition filed against the panel members and directed to hold election “after elimination of disqualified members” (Dated 22.07.1994). Did he consider any of these judgments before deciding whether Sri ---------correctly followed Court’s judgment or not ?

R6.The matter as indicated in query No.6 was best known to the Enquiry Officer because the enquiry officer remained silent in this regard .

The enquiry Officer did not pass any comment in his enquiry report whether Sri Biswas correctly followed the judgment of Hon’ble High Court

In fine , the undersigned is like to mention here that the Enquiry Officer has already retired on superannuation..

 

It is also known to us that the corrupt officer , against whom many complaints were submitted to different departments of the State Govt, including the Chief Minister had escaped proper punishment before his retirement with the help of this type of “ENQUIRY” conducted by one officer of the same Department who exonerated him from all charges , without providing any supporting documents .

It is really fine that the enquiry officer has already retired , as mentioned.

But I think that the administration probably has not retired on superannuation .

Has the administration retired from taking any appropriate action against corruption or corrupt persons?

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