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sidmis

CIC set for expansion as RTI cases mount

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sidmis

Right to No: BJP can't stand new CIC nominee

as reported by Divyamanu Chaudhry / CNN-IBN / Sep 03, 2008

 

UNPOPULAR WITH BJP: Ex-top cop Sreekumar could have been the nominee for the CIC's post

 

New Delhi: The Central Information Commission is set to expand but there is a controversy brewing even on the list of possible appointees.

One man whose name has been mired in controversy at least as far as the BJP goes, is former Gujarat top cop, R B Sreekumar. And the BJP leaders love to hate him.

 

So when Sreekumar's name was proposed by the central government, L K Advani made no bones about his opposition to the nomination.

"I had reservations and I mentioned them to the Prime Minister," said the BJP supremo. BJP has clearly not forgiven Sreekumar for speaking against Narendra Modi and his complicity in the Gujarat riots. So Modi's mentor and a part of the panel that choses the Information Commissioners, Advani was not just about to forgive and forget.

 

The former head of the intelligence wing of the Gujarat police, Sreekumar had sent a shudder across the establishment by filing an explosive affidavit in 2004.

In the 172-page affidavit that he had filed before the judicial commission probing the post-Godhra riots, he had listed instances of complicity of the police and politicians in the violence that rocked the state in 2002.

 

R B Sreekumar had became additional DGP (intelligence) only about 40 days after the riots started.

He was later unceremoniously shunted out from the intelligence department as the political leadership suspected his role in the leakage of the infamous Modi tapes to the media.

 

The union government is planning to increase the number of information commissioners.

 

Chief Information Commissioner, Wajahat Habibullah had only recently expressed the need to have more seats to flank his own.

 

"I am concerned and that is why I have asked for not one but two information commissioners," said Wajahat Habibullah.

 

The Central Information Commission has a duty to receive complaints from any person and enforce the Right to Information Act. It can even order an enquiry if it deems fit.

 

The prestigious commission includes one Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and not more than 10 Information Commissioners (IC) who will be appointed by the President of India.

 

The new commissioners are about to be nominated and appointed. The choices touted are the Secretary of department of Personnel and training, Satyanand Mishra and Chief Secretary of CBI, M L Sharma, among others.

 

Other nominees are Right to Information (RTI) activist Shailesh Gandhi and wife of former national security advisor J N Dixit. While Gandhi is an IIT engineer alongside his RTI activism, the nomination of Annapurna Dixit has clearly puzzled many.

 

Right to No: BJP can't stand new CIC nominee

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sidmis

Towards an informed choice

Aruna Roy & Nikhil Dey (as published in the Hindu)

 

To convert the controversy over the selection of Central Information Commissioners into an opportunity for change, we must shift our focus from individual names to the process of appointment.

 

The controversy over the ongoing selection and imminent announcement of five Central Information Commissioners raises issues that extend beyond their calibre, qualifications and selection. Right to Information (RTI) activists wrote to the Prime Minister and the UPA Chairperson demanding their voice be heard. Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha L.K. Advani refused to go to the selection committee meeting on the ground that he was not properly consulted in advance. This controversy mirrors similar debates in various States at the time of selection of State Information Commissioners. The selection committee meeting has been postponed. While the government decides on another date, and perhaps another panel, the debate on the selection and appointment has got livelier and richer.

 

For some time, we have been collectively grappling with the challenge of ensuring that these autonomous bodies and their functionaries meet the high standards and expectations of commitment, ethics, fearlessness and autonomy. These challenges exist for the selection and appointment of important functionaries such as the Comptroller and Auditor-General, the Election Commissioners, the Human Rights Commissioners, the Women’s Commissioners, the SC/ST Commissioners, the Chief Vigilance Commissioner and judges of the High Court and the Supreme Court.

 

The debate on the Information Commissioners illustrates the main issue: should the focus be on the individuals on the panel, their qualification, or the process of selection? Who decides? Does one define the other?

When the RTI Act was being drafted, the need for a powerful and independent Information Commission was acknowledged as a key component of strong and effective legislation. The Act created the post of up to 10 Commissioners at the State and Central levels with the State Commissioners equal in seniority to the Chief Secretary, and the Chief Information Commissioner senior to the highest official in the State. A Commissioner can be removed only by the Governor or the President after making a reference to the Supreme Court and getting an enquiry report from it. . When you create a powerful and independent post, how do you choose the person? What should his or her qualification be? Who would be involved in the selection process? How open and transparent is it?

 

The RTI Act states the Information Commissioners “shall be persons of eminence in public life with wide knowledge and experience in law, science and technology, social service, management, journalism, mass media, or administration and governance.” It makes ineligible anyone who has connections with a political party or holds an office of profit or carries on a business. It sets up an Appointment Committee consisting of the Prime Minister or the Chief Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, and a Cabinet Minister nominated by the Prime Minister or the Chief Minister.

 

At first glance, this seems a fairly good set of criteria. However, experience in the States and at the Centre has shown that there has been strident criticism, and fairly widespread dissatisfaction with the appointments and the selection process. The major change made from the people’s draft of the RTI to the Bill and the law passed by Parliament was replacement of the proposed membership of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court on the Committee by a Cabinet Minister. This has certainly created an imbalance in favour of the ruling party. However, even if this change had not been made, it is unlikely that public satisfaction with the appointments would have been greatly enhanced. In fact, there is a lot of criticism about the lack of transparency and accountability in appointment of judges to the High Courts and the Supreme Court.

 

So what is the solution for all these watchdog Commissions which, taken together, represent the conscience of governance? The truth is there are many suggestions but very few tried, tested or obvious solutions. We might be able to lay down criteria but qualification and experience for these posts are not as important as commitment, autonomy and ethics. These are qualities that can rarely be measured or projected into the future.

 

So far, it has been a fairly arbitrary hit and miss process of selection. Some people with a fairly poor track record have done very well when they are given the guarantee of tenure and no future that can be ruined. There are others with an impeccable record, who have failed to display the confidence, daring and creative application that would convert these posts into the lynchpins that would make the lofty provisions of law and its rights actually work.

 

If we really want to convert this controversy into an opportunity for change, we must move our focus from individual names to the process of appointment. We must take some of the very valuable suggestions that have been made, and try and put some of them to use. We must use the space the law gives us, and involve people in the selection process. If it is tough to be removed from the post, it should be even tougher to get appointed. People being considered for these posts should be willing to subject themselves to intense public scrutiny before they are appointed, and be prepared for even more scrutiny of every act in office. We must open up this debate. The government must ask for suggestions, hold open hearings, use its website to communicate and elicit suggestions, draw from the process of parliamentary committee hearings, and try and ensure that our huge pool of public-spirited citizens is used for our collective good.

 

Eventually, no one can guarantee the performance of someone else. But we can ensure that the people feel confident that they have had a chance to be heard.

The RTI Act itself will actually help to drive this process. Soon after the appointment of the first set of Central Information Commissioners, an RTI application was submitted to ask about the basis of appointment and the minutes of discussions of the Appointment Committee. This set of questions has now got sharper, and the questions are beginning even before the appointments are made. If nothing else, the RTI Act will not allow the government to make arbitrary appointments. Any citizen can ask a question and will have to be given an answer. The government would be wise to involve the citizens and convert this into a positive exercise of participation and democratic governance.

 

 

(The authors work with the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan and the National Campaign for the Peoples Right to Information. They can be contacted at mkssrajasthan @ gmail.com)

 

The Hindu : Opinion / News Analysis : Towards an informed choice

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sidmis

RTI activist will be Central Info chief

as reported by Ashutosh Shukla in DNA, September 06, 2008

 

In what could prove to be a boost for the common man, Right to Information (RTI) activist Shailesh Gandhi was recently appointed as one of the four Central Information Commissioners (CIC).

Known to be the face of RTI activism in the city, Gandhi consistently fought for the act while trying to create awareness about it by organising lectures and classes. He also unearthed various bureaucratic lacunas in the system.

 

While outlining his plan of action, Gandhi told DNA, “I categorically state that no file will remain with me for more than 90 days. I want to ensure that there is correct interpretation of the right to information and the laws related to it so that there are fewer disputes. Also, I want to bring about more transparency in the disbursal system.”

 

Gandhi said that he was also approved for the post by president Pratibha Patil. “I saw this as a good challenge and accepted it. Normally we just keep criticising the information commissioners for delays in clearing files and giving judgements. Now that I am in the hot seat, I will either prove that the work can be done efficiently or completely fail,” he added.

 

Gandhi has taken the endeavour of serving the office at a salary of Re1.

 

Apart from Gandhi, the other appointments include M Sharma, A Dixit and Satendra Mishra.

 

DNA - Mumbai - RTI activist will be Central Info chief - Daily News & Analysis

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Sunil Ahya

Now that Mr. Shailesh Gandhi has been officialy nominated,

 

Start - sound, lights, camera's - Action.

 

I have lot of hopes and expectations from him.

 

A very experienced, intelligent, educated and logical person who knows the exisiting judicial/bureaucracy system at the back of his hand and more importantly he has the common man of our country in his heart.

 

I pray to God that he succeeds.

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prbhat_gen

three cheers for IC SHAILESH GANDHI

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vijendra singh

Shailesh Gandhi is good acheivment for citizens .

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karira

As reported by Viju B of TNN in timesofindia.indiatimes.com on 06 September 2008:

Shailesh Gandhi appointed central info commissioner -Mumbai-Cities-The Times of India

 

Shailesh Gandhi appointed central info commissioner

 

MUMBAI : For RTI activist Shailesh Gandhi who has been in forefront of taking up several public causes and fighting against a corrupt establishment this new posting is going to be a real challenge. Ever since the news that he has been selected for the post of the Central Information Commissioner, Delhi came out on friday, his phone has not stopped ringing-right from ordinary citizens who had taken his guidance for filing RTI queries to civic activists called up to congratulate him.

 

"My philosophy and ideals will not undergo any change. Infact , if the system try to co-opt me, I may call it quits as I am only responsible to the people of this country ,'' Gandhi says.

 

The 61-year-old former IIT alumnus, who was awarded the Nani Palkhiwala award for civil liberties this year, had used the RTI act effectively for better governance and accountability in public life.

 

After filing the RTI queries, Gandhi had to pursue long battles with the establishment, be it exposing the anomalies in the PM and CM 's relief fund, the controversial Crawford Market proposal or the former state forest minister Surupsinh Naik's illegal stay at the JJ hospital during his prison tenure. (TOI had first reported all these cases in detail in the last two years.)

 

Gandhi decided to take up the post as information commissioner as the pendency of appeals had touched an all-time high. While the number of appeals at State Information Commission have touched over 16,000, the appeal at CIC have touched over 8,000. On an average , the information commissioner disposes 15-200 appeals every month. "This is a cause of worry. My commitment is that I will dispose of 350 -400 appeals every month,'' Gandhi said. He said he will try to keep the pendency to a minimum of three months.

 

"I also plan to take a token salary of Rs 1 and do this as a honorary work I have earned enough to lead a simple life,'' he says.

 

Five years ago, Gandhi had sold his successful plastic manufacturing company that he had run for 23 years, so that he could spent the rest of his life pursuing social work. "I felt I had got everything in life, a good education, a successful career, and good family life. Now the time had arrived to give something back to the society,'' he said. Even senior bureaucrats at Mantralya admit that though they have different opinions on issues like disbursal of CM's relief fund, they respect him as he always present his case very precisely and logically.

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sidmis

CBI Spl Director Sharma among four RTI Commissioners

 

Bureau Report | Zee News | September 08, 2008

 

New Delhi, Sept 07: The government has cleared names of four new Central Information Commissioners which include Special CBI Director M L Sharma and noted RTI activist Sailesh Gandhi.

 

The President signed the appointment of four new Central Information Commissioners recently and a formal order is expected tomorrow.

 

The other two new Central Information Commissioners are Satyendra Mishra, presently Secretary with Department of Personnel and Training and Anuradha Dixit, wife of veteran diplomat and former National Security Adviser J N Dixit.

 

Sharma, a 1972 batch IPS officer of Rajasthan cadre will be the first Central Information Commissioner-cum-police officer. He had proceeded on leave after he was superseded by his junior officer Ashwini Kumar as CBI Director.

 

With the fresh inclusion of these four Central Information Commissioners, the total strength goes upto nine, including Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) Wajahat Habibullah. As per the Right to Information(RTI) Act the total number of commissioners is fixed at eleven.

 

Besides CIC, A N Tiwari, M M Ansari, O P Kejariwal, Padma Balasubramaniam are other four central information commissioners. Subramanium is retiring in November this year and Kejariwal is due to retire next year.

 

Zee News - CBI Spl Director Sharma among four RTI Commissioners

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jiwateshwar

I guess the only way out now is for mr Gandhi to decline joining as IC. That would be a big slap on the govts face. Also we members of this forum should really write to the president about this.

 

Mr Gandhi would anywayz be unable to last for long in the company of bureaucrats.

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sidmis

Sailesh Gandhi must stay at CIC to bring some sanity to it.

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karira

I am anxiously waiting to see what departments are allotted to Mr Sailesh Gandhi.

That will reveal a lot.

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jps50

It will be difficult for Shri Shailesh Gandhi to cope up with babu culture of CIC. Most probably he will not be able to stay for long with CIC.

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Sunil Ahya

RTI I understand is the baby of Mr. Gandhi, and who else can nuture it better? I think it is a historic devepolment for our country.

 

Jiwateshwar,

 

Once in an interview on NDTV, Bill Gates was asked this question " Sir your country firmly believes in transparency, how come you are working so closely with China"

 

To this Bill Gates answered "We do not let business mix with our personal beliefs, moreover we can make difference by being a part of the system, rather then watch it from outside"

 

So Shailesh Gandhi should definetly be a part of the system to make a difference rather than watch it from outside.

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shan

Yes , I can already feel & see the Officers running for cover !!!!!!

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sidmis

CIC turning into 'parking slot' for retired babus

as reported by Ashish Sinha | 9 Sep 2008 |TNN

 

NEW DELHI: With an IAS and IPS officer each taking oath as commissioner, along with a late diplomat's wife, the Central Information Commission has assumed an overwhelming bureaucratic character.

 

CIC now has three former IAS officers on board, including chief information commissioner Wajahat Habibullah, and among the remaining are one each from IPS, Indian Information Service and Indian Postal Service.

 

The two non-bureaucrats are former national security adviser J N Dixit's wife Annapurna Dixit and educationist M M Ansari. The commission, set up under the Right to Information Act, can have a maximum of 10 commissioners, besides the CIC.

 

As per rules, they should be "persons of eminence in public life" from fields as varied as law, science and technology, social service, management, journalism, mass media or administration and governance.

 

The two bureaucrat commissioners are personnel secretary Satyananda Mishra and CBI special director M L Sharma, who went on leave after he was superseded by Ashwani Kumar to be CBI director. Incidentally, another commissioner, A N Tiwari, was also personnel secretary before he was appointed. The responsibility for implementing the RTI Act lies with the personnel ministry.

 

The CIC and information commissioners are appointed for a term of five years or till they turn 65 (whichever is earlier). This has made the information commission a lucrative post-retirement assignment.

 

But the appointments have to be approved by a committee headed by the PM with the Leader of Opposition as its member, along with a Cabinet minister. Since every name must have consensus, getting the coveted assignment is not easy.

 

The situation in the states is no different since state information commissions (SICs) have turned out to be a major rehabilitation avenue for serving or retired bureaucrats.

 

A recent study of SICs showed that 31 (or 58%) information commissioners in 20 states were from "administration and governance" background and 27 of them were retired IAS officers.

 

The study, conducted by PRIA (Society for Participatory Research in Asia) for April-October 2007, revealed that 15 SICs were headed by former IAS officers and one (Assam) by a retired IPS officer. Only four of these 20 panels — Jharkhand, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh — had non-IAS chief commissioners, all from legal background. Since then, the situation could have marginally changed.

 

Leading RTI activist Aruna Roy, who played a crucial role in the enactment of the information law, has maintained that at the central level, Department of Personnel and Training should not have been made the supervising body of RTI Act as it was also the cadre controlling authority of IAS and certain other services. Roy favoured the creation of an independent and wide-based council for shortlisting probable information commissioners.

 

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/India/CIC_turning_into_parking_slot_for_retired_babus/articleshow/3460403.cms

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taurus

A point to be noted here is that even the leader of opposition did not insist for inclusion of eminent personalities (other than ex-bureaucrats) as ICs. He was satisfied as soon as his objection for a particular person was agreed to. No politician or no bureaucrat wants other than their ilk to be ICs.!!! No one wants an activist of all the people to be an IC. It is a great concession given to the society that 'one' has been made IC. We should all be ever grateful of this magnanimous gesture of the 'rulers'.

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  • Similar Content

    • Shrawan
      By Shrawan
      There can be no faith in government if our highest offices are excused from scrutiny - they should be setting the example of transparency.
    • Shrawan
      By Shrawan
      CENTRAL INFORMATION COMMISSION




      Appeal No.ICPB/A-1/CIC/2006


      Right to Information Act – Sections 6/18

      Name of Appellant : Satyapal
      Name of Public Authority : CPIO, TCIL

      DECISION


      Decisions appealed against :
       
       
      The CPIO, TCIL has declined to supply a copy of a document on the ground that the same forms part of “file Noting” which, according to CPIO is exempt under the RTI Act. Appellate authority also has confirmed the decision of the CPIO. The appellant contents that he has the right to seek information contained in the “File Notings”.
      Facts
      Shri Satyapal – appellant, a resident of Delhi, applied to the CPIO, TCIL seeking for copies of certain documents by a letter dated 17th October, 2005. By a letter dated 14th November, 2005, CPIO, TCIL furnished copies of certain documents, however, stating that a particular document sought for was a file noting in the Department of Telecom and as such it was exempt from disclosure. By a letter dated 17th Nov. 2005, Shri Satyapal again wrote to the CPIO, TCIL pointing out that the information sought for by him did not fall within the ambit of Section 8 of the RTI Act and as such the same should be supplied. He also brought to the notice of CPIO, TCIL that in respect of information already furnished, a copy of a bill in respect of advertisement relating to independence day 1996 had not been supplied. By a letter dated 28th Nov. 2005, the CPIO, TCIL while furnishing a copy of the bill, once again reiterated that file notings are exempt from disclosure in terms of the clarification given by the Department of Personnel in their website. Aggrieved by this decision, Shri Satyapaul preferred an appeal to the appellate authority by a letter dated 14th Dec. 2005 stating that file notings are not exempt from disclosure in terms of Section 8 of the RTI Act. He followed up the same by letters dated 14th Dec., 31st Dec. 2005 and 5th January, 2006. The appellate authority by a letter dated 5.1.2006 rejected the appeal stating “The information sought by you pertains to the file notings of the Department of Telecommunication as also that of TCIL. I am of the view that TCIL is exempted from disclosing the information sought by you under Section 8(1)(d)&(e) of the RTI Act. UO No.7-17/95-PP dated 4.10.1995 is a part of file notings. You have mentioned in your appeal that the information has been denied misconstruing it as “file notings” by CPIO, TCIL. I confirm that these are notings in the file”. Aggrieved with the decision of the appellate authority, Shri Satyapal has filed this appeal before this Commission. According to Shri Satyapal, there is no specific exemption from disclosure as far as file notings are concerned in Section 8 of RTI Act.
      Commission’s Decision :
      It is seen that while the CPIO declined to furnish the information sought for on the ground that file notings are exempt from disclosure, the appellate authority, without confirming or rejecting the stand of CPIO that file notings are exempt from disclosure, has relied on Section 8(1)(d) and (e) of the RTI Act to deny the information.
      As is evident from the Preamble to the RTI Act, the Act has been enacted to vest with the citizens, the right of access to information under the control of public authorities in order to promote transparency and accountability in the working of any public authority. Conscious of the fact that access to certain information may not be in the public interest, the Act also provides certain exemptions from disclosure. Whether file notings fall within the exempted class is the issue for consideration.
      Section 2(f) defines information as “Any material in any form, including records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinion, advices, press releases, circulars, orders, logbooks, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, data material held in any electronic form and information relating to any private body which can be accessed by a public authority under any other law or the time being in force”.
      Section 2(j) reads : “Right to information means the right to information accessible under this Act which is held by or under the control of any public authority and includes the right to (i) inspection of work, documents, records; (ii) taking notes, extracts or certified copies of document or records; (iii) …… (iv) …. “. In terms of Section 2(i) “Record” includes (a) any documents, manuscript and file;
      In the system of functioning of public authorities, a file is opened for every subject/matter dealt with by the public authority. While the main file would contain all the materials connected with the subject/matter, generally, each file also has what is known as note sheets, separate from but attached with the main file. Most of the discussions on the subject/matter are recorded in the note sheets and decisions are mostly based on the recording in the note sheets and even the decisions are recorded on the note sheets. These recordings are generally known as “file notings”. Therefore, no file would be complete without note sheets having “file notings”. In other words, note sheets containing “file notings” are an integral part of a file. Some times, notings are made on the main file also, which obviously would be a part of the file itself. In terms of Section 2(i), a record includes a file and in terms of Section 2(j) right to information extends to accessibility to a record. Thus, a combined reading of Sections 2(f), (i)&(j) would indicate that a citizen has the right of access to a file of which the file notings are an integral part. If the legislature had intended that “file notings” are to be exempted from disclosure, while defining a “record” or “file” it could have specifically provided so. Therefore, we are of the firm view, that, in terms of the existing provisions of the RTI Act, a citizen has the right to seek information contained in “file notings” unless the same relates to matters covered under Section 8 of the Act. Thus, the reliance of the CPIO, TCILO on the web site clarification of the Department of Personnel to deny the information on the basis that ‘file notings’ are exempted, is misplaced.
      However, it is seen from the decision of the appellate authority that he was of the view that TCIL was exempted from disclosing the information sought, under Section 8(1)(d)&(e) of RTI Act. In terms of Section 8, there shall be no obligation to give any citizen information relating to matters covered under subsections (a) to (j) of that Section. Section 8(d) exempts information including commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property and Sub section (e) exempts information available to a person in his fiduciary relationship. Even then, at the discretion of the competent authority even these information could be disclosed if he is of the opinion that public interest so warrants. From the decision of the appellate authority of TCIL, which is not a speaking one, it is not clear whether the file notings, a copy of which was denied to the appellant, relate to commercial confidence or trade secret or intellectual property or is available to TCIL in its fiduciary relationship.
      Direction :
      Since we have held that file notings are not, as a matter of law, exempt from disclosure, the CPIO, TCIL is directed to furnish the information contained in the file notings, on or before 15.2.2006 to the appellant. However, if the CPIO, TCIL is still of the opinion that the said file notings are exempt under Section 8(d) & (e), he is at liberty to place the file notings before the Commission on 13.2.2006 at 11 AM to determine whether the same is exempt under these sections and even if so, whether disclosure of the same would be in the public interest or not.
      Let a copy of this decision be sent to CPIO, TCIL and the appellant.


      Sd/-




      (Padma Balasubramanian)




      Information Commissioner




      Sd/-




      (Wajahat Habibullah)



      Chief Information Commissioner


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