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Critical review of RTI Act needs to be undertaken: Manmohan

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Critical review of RTI Act needs to be undertaken: Manmohan


TNN | Oct 14, 2011, 10.45AM IST



NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday said that a critical review of the RTI Act needs to be undertaken. However, the PM said that he is against any dilution of the Act.

Addressing the issue of the RTI Act, the PM said that while a critical review needs to be undertaken, the RTI Act should not adversely affect the delivery process in governance.


Explaining the statement in New Delhi, the PM said that bringing opinions in public scrutiny can discourage officials from giving honest and complete views.


He reiterated that government was committed to the act, but it should not impede governance.


The PM said that the Act has added significance in the context of the increasing number of projects being taken up in public-private partnership mode and that the demand for information under RTI has been growing significantly year after year in last six years.

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Sajib Nandi

Whistleblowers Act coming soon: Manmohan Singh


As reported by timesofindia.indiatimes.com on Oct 14,2011:



NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday said that the government would soon bring the whistleblowers act to protect those using the Right To Information (RTI) Act.


The prime minister, however, said that the exemptions under the RTI Act should be looked at critically. "There is a concern in the administration over the misuse of the act," he adds.


Manmohan Singh exhorted public authorities to proactively disclose information that was not exempted. He said he was against the dilution of the RTI Act.


However, "RTI should not affect deliberative process of the government," he said.


Addressing the two-day annual convention of the Central Information Commission here, Singh said "we wish to make the Right to Information an even more effective instrument for ensuring transparency and accountability in administration".


He said there was a need to strike a balance between disclosure of information and the limited time and resources available with public authorities.


"The Right to Information should not adversly affect the deliberative processes in the Government," he said adding, "We must take a critical look at it. There are concerns that need to be discussed and addressed."


There have been demands for amending the transparency law by certain sections of government who feel it is "transgressing" into their functioning.


Amendments to the RTI Act and exemptions given to security agencies from making disclosures under it are expected to be debated at the conference being attended by information commissioners.


"Another concern that has been raised is that the Right to Information could end up discouraging honest, well meaning public servants from giving full expression to their views.


"I think we need to remember here that a point of view brought under public scrutiny and discussion in an isolated manner may sometimes present a distorted or incomplete picture of what really happened in the processes of making the final decisions," he said.

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As reported in news.oneindia.in on 14 Oct 2011:



If RTI hinders governance, it should be looked into: Soni



New Delhi, Oct 14: The RTI Act needs to be looked into if it hinders governance, Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni on Friday said.


“...What the Prime Minister has said is that in certain areas if RTI is used in a way with a purpose of hindering governance then one has to look at that.


“When Prime Minister says something, we accept it as the statement of the government. So there is no need to ask individual ministers what they think of what the Prime Minister has said. You will not get a counter-view,” Soni said on the sidelines of an event of the paramilitary CRPF here.


Addressing the two-day annual convention of the Central Information Commission here on Friday, the Prime Minister had said “the Right to Information should not adversely affect the deliberative processes in the Government.”


Soni said, “RTI in my mind is one of the strongest instruments for empowering the citizen and I think India is one of the countries with literacy rates still at 73 per cent, RTI is being used very effectively.”


Soni inaugurated a three-day arts and handicrafts exhibition organised by the wives welfare organisation of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF).

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As reported by IANS in dnaindia.com on 14 Oct 2011:



Government trying to dilute RTI, says BJP


The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Friday strongly criticised Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for inviting a "critical look" at the Right to Information Act, and accused him of attempting to dilute the legislation.


The prime minister, addressing the 6th Annual Convention of Information Commissioners here, said the act has been effective but there were "concerns that it could discourage honest, well-meaning public servants from giving full expression to their views".


"Even as we recognise and celebrate the efficacy and the effectiveness of the Right to Information Act, we must take a critical look at it," Manmohan Singh said. "There are concerns that need to be discussed and addressed honestly."


BJP spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy took strong exception to Singh's remarks. "We never expected that the prime minister, through his words, will tell the country that money is wasted on RTI and the time of officials is being wasted," he said. "We think this is a big indication that there are attempts to dilute the Act."


Coming in the wake of comments by his ministerial colleagues, including Salman Khurshid and M Veerapa Moily for a relook at the RTI, the prime minister's remarks stirred the debate on reviewing the landmark legislation.


The government had faced a major embarrassment last month after a finance ministry note on 2G spectrum named Home Minister P Chidambaram for not insisting on the auction of precious airwaves when he was the finance minister. The note, obtained through RTI, forced Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee to come up with a clarification.


In his speech, prime minister said there was need to deliberate on ways to deal with the "vexatious demand" without hindering information to those whose demands genuinely serve public interest. He said the legislation for the protection of whistleblowers would further strengthen the RTI, and hoped the law would be enacted in the next few months.


Calling for a balance between the need for disclosure of information and limited time and resources available with public authorities, the prime minister said it was not desirable to have a situation in which an authority was flooded with requests for information having no bearing on public interest.


"We need to remember here that a point of view brought under public scrutiny and discussion in an isolated manner may sometimes present a distorted or incomplete picture of what really happened in the processes of making the final decisions," he said. "The right to information should not adversely affect the deliberative processes in the government," he added.


The prime minister said the government was committed to a comprehensive agenda of legal, executive and technology initiatives to curb corruption and improve governance, and the RTI was a powerful tool in that direction.


"We wish to make the Right to Information an even more effective instrument for ensuring transparency and accountability in administration...we are all agreed that empowering our citizens with this right was a huge step forward in the direction of curbing corruption and improving process of governance," he said.


Calling for a critical look at the exemption clauses in RTI Act, the prime minister urged the participants at the convention to come up with concrete suggestions. He said the RTI had provisions to deal with privacy issues but there were certain grey areas that required further debate. He said the convention was taking place at a time when there was "a vigorous debate on the issues of corruption and governance".


The prime minister said public authorities must endeavour to voluntarily put information in the public domain without waiting for applications from information seekers.


Following the 2G note controversy, there have been suggestions from ministers for a relook at the RTI Act. Khurshid said earlier this month that misuse of the RTI was affecting institutional efficacy and efficiency with even bureaucracy becoming reluctant to record its opinion.


Moily had called for a national debate on the scope of the RTI, saying it transgresses independent functioning of the government.

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As reported in pib.nic.in on 14 Oct 2011:



Right to Information -Expanding the Horizons


The 6th Annual Convention of the Central Information Commission has commenced in the national capital today. The Convention is discussing four topics, namely – Transparency and accountability: with special reference to Public Private Partnership Projects, RTI Act : Potential & efficacy in curbing corruption and grievance redressal, RTI Act - Exemption Provisions & Second Schedule and Experiences and Prospects of Information Commissions


The convention was, today morning, inaugurated by Hon’ble Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh. The Prime Minister announced that a bill for whistleblowers’ protection is being brought in. Dr. Manmohan Singh, stated that the conference of the Commissioners is very important. He said that he had the opportunity to address the third annual convention of Information Commissioners in November 2008. He observed that three more years have passed since he made observations in regard to the benefits of RTI Act and he can say with confidence that the Right to Information Act is now being more extensively and effectively used to bring into public gaze many areas of the work of public authorities which would otherwise have remained hidden from public gaze. He concluded by stating that I expect the 6th Convention of the Information Commissioners to give us a holistic assessment of the ground situation in regard to the implementation of the RTI Act.


Shri Satyananda Mishra, Chief Information Commissioner welcomed the guests on the occasion of completion of sixth year of the implementation of RTI Act. He stated that in a short period of six years, this law has found its way into the daily conversation of people. It is not uncommon to hear people say ‘I will RTI if so-and-so is not done.’ It has become a verb. He opined that the Right to Information (RTI) Act is the second most important legal document we have given to ourselves after the Constitution of India.


In his opening address Shri V. Narayansamy,Hon’ble Minister of Personnel stated that the knowledge is power and the transparency is solution. The Government is making all efforts for making the people aware. He also stated that the Government has recently created an identity for the RTI Act in the form of an Anthem. The Hon’ble Minister exhorted that the Indian law on the Right to Information is a model and unique legislation for the developing world. Government of the day has been working steadily towards creating the culture of openness in place of the culture of secrecy.


The vote of thanks was proposed by Shri M L Sharma, the Information Commissioner, CIC. In his remarks he observed that it is the paramount task of the Central Information Commission and the State Information Commissions to strike a balance between the need to disclose information and at the same time to disallow information which may adversely affect the national security or the efficiency of the administrative machinery. He thanked the RTI practitioners and stated that the Commission is sure that their field experience will enrich the proceedings of the technical sessions.

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As reported in pib.nic.in on 14 Oct 2011:



Prime Minister’s Address at the 6th Annual Convention of Information Commissioners


The Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, addressed the 6th Annual Convention of Information Commissioners in New Delhi today. The following is the text of the Prime Minister’s address:


“Let me begin by saying that yours is a very important conference. The Right to Information is now about six years old. I am sure we are all agreed that empowering our citizens with this right was a huge step forward in the direction of curbing corruption and improving process of governance. There are issues which directly affect the life of every citizen of our country. Therefore, as you evaluate past experience in the implementation of the Right to Information Act and deliberate upon ways and means - how to make it more effective, you will be contributing to efforts for improving the quality of life of the common man in our country. Not only this, this convention is taking place at a time when there is a vigorous ongoing debate on the issues of corruption and governance. It is my fondest hope that your discussions will contribute meaningfully to this debate. Let me also say that I am very happy to be amidst you today on this very important occasion.


I had the opportunity to address the third annual convention of Information Commissioners in November 2008. I had then stated, that there were indications that the benefits of the Right to Information had, in fact, starting reaching the common citizens. I had also said that one could discern at that time a gradual but steady process of building a more accountable, more transparent and citizen-friendly government. Three more years have passed since I made those observations and I can say with confidence that the Right to Information Act is now being more extensively and effectively used to bring into public gaze many areas of the work of public authorities which would otherwise remain hidden from public gaze. I think in these three years we have travelled further down the path of ensuring transparency and accountability in our administration. The power and the usefulness of the Right to Information Act are being felt more fully today than ever before. And this is all to the good.


We wish to build upon these achievements. Our government stands committed to a comprehensive agenda of legal, executive and technology initiatives to curb corruption and improve governance and we consider the Right to Information to be a powerful tool to enable us to move in that direction. We wish to make the Right to Information an even more effective instrument for ensuring transparency and accountability in administration. I would like to mention here our initiative to enact a legislation for the protection of Whistleblowers which would further strengthen the Right to Information. We expect this law to be enacted in the next few months and it would, among other things, help in prevention of violence against those who seek to expose wrongdoings in our public administration.


Even as we recognize and celebrate the efficacy and the effectiveness of the Right to Information Act, we must take a critical look at it. There are concerns that need to be discussed and addressed honestly. I had mentioned last time the need to strike a balance between the need for disclosure of information and the limited time and resources available with the public authorities. A situation in which a public authority is flooded with requests for information having no bearing on public interest is something not desirable. We must, therefore, pool all our wisdom, our knowledge, and our experience to come to a conclusion on how to deal with vexatious demands for information, without at the same time hindering the flow of information to those whose demands genuinely serve public interest. Another concern that has been raised is that the Right to Information could end up discouraging honest, well meaning public servants from giving full expression to their views. I think we need to remember here that a point of view brought under public scrutiny and discussion in an isolated manner may sometimes present a distorted or incomplete picture of what really happened in the processes of making the final decisions. The Right to Information should not adversely affect the deliberative processes in the government. We must also take a critical look at the exemption clauses in the Right to Information Act to determine whether they serve the larger good and whether a change is needed in them. I am happy that there is a special focus in your conference on the exemption clauses of the Act and I would urge all of you to come up with concrete suggestions in this area. There are also issues of privacy. The Act does have provisions to deal with privacy issues but there are certain grey areas that require further debate.


The Right to Information enables access to information even from a private party that comes under a regulatory framework. This assumes an added significance in the context of an increasing number of projects being taken up in the Public Private Partnership mode. I understand that your conference is being attended by experts from trade and industry bodies such as the FICCI, CII and the ASSOCHAM. I hope the discussions would also cover the commitment and the responsibility of the private sector companies for dissemination of certain basic information relating to their operations.


I understand that the demand for information under the Right to Information Act has grown significantly year after year in the last six years. It is a matter of considerable satisfaction for us that the rejection of the requested information has shown a consistently decreasing trend, from 7.2% in 2007-08 to 6.4% in 2009-10 and 5.2% in 2010-11. A decreasing trend is also evident in the percentage of requests in which appeals and complaints are filed with the Commission. The Commission, through its decisions from time to time, has laid down principles for disclosure of various classes of information which were not considered fit for disclosure thus far. All this indicates that public authorities today are more open and more sensitive to concerns voiced in the Act, and they are better prepared to respond to citizens' request for information. This is a matter of considerable satisfaction to all of us.


The number of appeals / complaints before the Commission, however, is still very large. This is indicative of the scope for further enhancement of the quantum as well as quality of voluntary disclosure. Public Authorities in our country have still a long way to go in making proactive disclosures of information that is not covered by the exemption provisions of the Right to Information Act. They must endeavor to voluntarily put information in the public domain without waiting for applications from information seekers. If this is done, a lot of time will be saved both for public authorities as well as for citizens. I am told that the Department of Personnel & Training will organize a series of workshops on the subject in the month of November 2011 for the Central Public Information Officers of all the Ministries and public authorities of the Government of India. These workshops will provide a forum for public authorities to learn from the experience of others. I am happy to know that the Central Information Commission has also offered to participate in these workshops.


A major challenge for public authorities in our country lies in the area of 'Information Housekeeping'. With the improvement in data management practices through computerization of records and work flows, the time may not be far when citizens may locate on their own, the status of their requests in the work flow artery of public authorities. The RTI Act itself mandates such Disclosure and Record Management. The National e-governance Plan, I hope, would go a long way in promoting the use of information and communication technologies in facilitating access to information.


I expect the 6th Convention of the Information Commissioners to give us a holistic assessment of the ground situation in regard to the implementation of the RTI Act. I look forward to your suggestions to deal with the difficulties in the effective implementation of the Act. The Chief Information Commissioner has raised certain issues, and I hope that my colleague Mr Narayanasamy has taken note of that. I sincerely hope that we can respond constructively to the various suggestions that have been voiced. Let me conclude that the assessment of our achievements and the suggestions for improvement would go a long way in empowering our citizens in a more real sense of the term. With these words, I wish your conference all success. I wish you very productive discussions over the next two days. I wish you all the very best in your efforts to improve upon the Right to Information Act and its application.”

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As reported in Dainik Jagram on 15/10/2011


मनमोहन भी आरआटीआइ में संशोधन के पक्ष में

ठ्ठ जागरण ब्यूरो, नई दिल्ली सलमान खुर्शीद और वीरप्पा मोइली के बाद खुद प्रधानमंत्री मनमोहन सिंह सूचना अधिकार कानून में संशोधन के लिए समर्थन में खुलकर सामने आ गए। केंद्रीय चुनाव आयुक्तों के सम्मेलन में उन्होंने आरटीआइ के दुरुपयोग और सरकारी कामकाज प्रभावित होने की तरफ इशारा करते हुए कहा कि इससे ईमानदार अधिकारी अपनी राय रखने में डर रहे हैं। प्रधानमंत्री ने गलत कार्यो को उजागर करने वालों के खिलाफ हिंसा रोकने के लिए जल्द ही विधेयक लाने की बात भी कही। इस मौके पर मौजूद मुख्य सूचना आयुक्त सत्यानंद मिश्रा ने लोकपाल से पहले सीआइसी को संवैधानिक दर्जा देने का दावा ठोक दिया। अभी हाल में ही सूचना के अधिकार के तहत आए एक पत्र से केंद्र के दो शीर्ष मंत्रियों प्रणब और चिदंबरम के बीच कलह सार्वजनिक होने के बाद से आरटीआइ में संशोधन की बहस तेज हो गई है। केंद्र के मंत्री भी आरटीआइ के जरिये फाइल नोटिंग और तमाम दूसरे गोपनीय मामलों को सार्वजनिक किए जाने का विरोध कर रहे हैं। भ्रष्टाचार के खिलाफ देश में बने माहौल के बीच आरटीआइ में संशोधन की कोशिशों के सियासी नफा-नुकसान को तौलने के लिए कांग्रेस ने खुद को दूर कर इस मसले पर बहस की जरूरत बताकर चर्चा से हट गया। इसके बाद प्रधानमंत्री ने खुद आगे आकर प्रशासनिक व्यवस्था के मद्देनजर इस कानून में संशोधन की पैरोकारी शुरू कर दी। केंद्रीय सूचना आयोग के दो दिवसीय वार्षिक सम्मेलन में प्रधानमंत्री ने कहा, आरटीआइ को सरकार की विचारात्मक प्रक्रिया को प्रभावित नहीं करना चाहिए। एक चिंता है कि मौजूदा कानून ईमानदार लोक सेवकों को अपने नजरिये का इजहार करने से हतोत्साहित करेगा। इसको लेकर एक समालोचनात्मक नजरिया अपनाया जाना चाहिए और चिंताओं पर विचार विमर्श कर इनका निवारण किया जाना चाहिए। हालांकि प्रधानमंत्री ने स्पष्ट किया कि आरटीआइ अधिनियम को कमजोर नहीं किया जाएगा। उन्होंने कहा, हम सूचना का अधिकार अधिनियम को और प्रभावी उपकरण बनाना चाहते हैं ताकि इससे प्रशासन में पारदर्शिता और जवाबदेही सुनिश्चित की जा सके। इसके साथ ही व्हिसल ब्लोअर की सुरक्षा के लिए प्रधानमंत्री ने कहा कि अगले कुछ माह में गलत काम के खिलाफ आवाज उठाने वाले लोगों की सुरक्षा के लिए एक विधेयक को लागू किया जाएगा। मुख्य सूचना आयुक्त ने वित्तीय स्वायत्तता की जरूरत पर जोर देते हुए सरकार से मांग की कि केंद्र और राज्यों में सूचना आयोगों को चुनाव आयोग तथा कैग की तर्ज पर संवैधानिक प्राधिकरण बनाया जाए। लोकपाल को संवैधानिक दर्जा देने की खबर का हवाला देते हुए मिश्रा ने कहा, अगर लोकपाल को संवैधानिक संस्था बनाया जा सकता है, तो सीआइसी और एसआइसी को संवैधानिक दर्जा हासिल करने का उतना ही अधिकार है। उन्होंने सूचना आयोग को वित्तीय स्वायत्तता नहीं मिलने का शिकवा भी किया।


Source: http://in.jagran.yahoo.com/epaper/article/index.php?page=article&choice=print_article&location=49&category=&articleid=111723692030910776

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As reported in Dainik Jagran on 15/10/11


आरटीआइ पर सवाल उठाकर घिरे पीएम

ठ्ठ जागरण ब्यूरो, नई दिल्ली सूचना के अधिकार के लिए अपनी पीठ थपथपा रही सरकार के मुखिया डॉ. मनमोहन सिंह इस पर सवाल उठाकर घिर गए हैं। मुख्य विपक्ष भाजपा ने जहां इसी सहारे आरोप लगाया कि वह उन्हें बल दे रहे हैं जो आरटीआइ के दायरे से बचने की कोशिशों में लगे हैं। वहीं राष्ट्रीय सलाहकार परिषद की सदस्य अरुणा राय समेत टीम अन्ना ने भी प्रधानमंत्री के सुझावों से असहमति जता दी है। उन्होंने आगाह किया है कि आरटीआइ को कमजोर करने की कोशिश नहीं होनी चाहिए। भ्रष्टाचार के मुद्दे पर चौतरफा वार झेल रही सरकार और कांग्रेस आरटीआइ का हवाला देकर अपनी साफ मंशा का दावा करती रही है, लेकिन शुक्रवार को प्रधानमंत्री के बयानों ने विपक्ष और सिविल सोसायटी को मौका दे दिया। मालूम हो कि सूचना आयुक्तों के एक समारोह का उद्घाटन करते हुए प्रधानमंत्री ने कानून की समालोचना की बात कही थी। उन्होंने फाइल नोटिंग को सार्वजनिक करने पर जहां कुछ आशंका जताई थी वहीं प्रशासनिक कार्यो में इसे दखलअंदाजी के रूप में भी देखे जाने की भी बात कही थी। आरटीआइ बनाने में अहम भूमिका निभाने वाली सिविल सोसायटी ने तत्काल इस पर अपनी आपत्ति जता दी। अरुणा राय ने जहां वर्तमान कानून से अपना संतोष जताया वहीं टीम अन्ना के साथी अरविंद केजरीवाल ने फाइल नोटिंग को सार्वजनिक किए जाने का समर्थन करते हुए कहा इससे ईमानदारी को बढ़ावा मिलेगा। उन्होंने सवाल पूछा कि प्रधानमंत्री को कोई आशंका है तो उदाहरण देकर बताएं कि इससे ईमानदार अधिकारियों के लिए मुश्किल कैसे होगी। बातों-बातों में सिविल सोसायटी ने यह याद दिलाया कि सरकार में पहले भी इसे रोकने की कोशिश हुई थी। अंतत: संप्रग अध्यक्ष सोनिया गांधी के हस्तक्षेप के बाद फाइल नोटिंग को सार्वजनिक करने का फैसला हुआ। अब फिर से इसे हटाने की कोशिश हुई तो अच्छा संकेत नहीं होगा। भाजपा प्रवक्ता राजीव प्रताप रूड़ी ने कहा कि 2जी, राष्ट्रमंडल खेल, आदर्श सोसाइटी समेत कई मामलों में सूचना के अधिकार से भ्रष्टाचार का पर्दाफाश हुआ। शायद सरकार इससे डर गई है। यही कारण है कि सरकार के उच्चतम स्तर से इस पर सवाल उठाए जा रहे हैं। रूड़ी ने परोक्ष रूप से आरोप लगाया कि पीएम उन लोगों को नैतिक बल दे रहे हैं जो किसी न किसी बहाने आरटीआइ के दायरे से बचने की कोशिशों मे जुटे हैं।


Source: http://in.jagran.yahoo.com/epaper/article/index.php?choice=show_article&location=49&Ep_relation=3&Ep_edition=2011-10-15&articleid=111723692931289326

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The (clever) statement put together, are just lull before a storm.


I envisage a brutal curtailment of the right of people by changing the definition of "Information" as well as "Public Authority". This will take out a large chunk of information from the public domain.

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As reported by IANS in expressbuzz.com on 15 Oct 2011:



BHOPAL: Bharatiya Janata Party leader L.K. Advani Saturday demanded a white paper from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the action taken by the United Progressive Alliance government to bring back black money from Swiss banks but did not spell out the time his own party would take to initiate action on the issue.


The former deputy prime minister also slammed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on his comments Friday to have a "critical" relook at the Right to Information Act and how its use might have an inhibiting effect on honest, well-meaning government servants.


"It seems surprising that for the last few Years the UPA Government has always claimed credit for enacting the RTI Act," Advani said.


"The concern for a critical look at the RTI is basically because of the series of exposure of various scams and corruption of the UPA Government," he said.


"And now, when the instrument of the RTI is being powerfully used by activists to expose the corruption and maladministration of the UPA government, suddenly the prime minister has spoken about the need to have a critical look at it," said Advani, in Jabalpur district of Madhya Pradesh during his Jan Chetna Yatra over corruption and black money.


Returning to the theme of black money, he said: "I am also demanding it (white paper on action on black money) because since the matter got highlighted, black money is being transferred from Swiss banks to other banks," Advani told reporters.


When asked about the time BJP would take to act on the issue, Advani said: "I cannot say about the time frame. We have come to power in centre only for six years and in that period our prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had initiated the issue."


Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad accompanied Advani at the press conference.


Meanwhile, BJP has suspended its Satna media in-charge Shyam Gupta after the Satna unit allegedly gave money to media persons for coverage of the yatra.


BJP state president Prabhat Jha suspended Gupta Friday night.


Advani's yatra will end in Delhi Nov 20.

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Does better governance require RTI be modified?


As reported by economictimes.indiatimes.com on 16 October, 2011:



One year after the UPA first stormed into power, the government passed the Right to Information (RTI) Act. Six years later, the RTI has emerged as the single most potent weapon to ensure transparent, clean administration at all levels of government, in most states.


On Friday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh promised to strengthen the RTI. In the same breath he added, "We must take a critical look at it. There are concerns that need to be discussed and addressed."


Singh is not alone. A few days earlier, law minister Salman Khurshid had said, "There is a confidential communication between a minister and the prime minister and then there are further consultations before we bring something to the Cabinet. If everything that I as a minister write to the prime minister comes out, then what is the point of writing to the PM confidentially?" His colleague corporate affairs minister Veerappa Moily also said that the RTI Act could hinder efficient governance.


The backlash against the RTI has begun. Is the government getting ready to bring the shutters down on its functioning? This should be resisted. To see what's happening, it's important to step back and see where the right to information movement began and how it grew.


In the 1990s, a bunch of folks calling themselves the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) began campaigning against petty corruption in villages. It forced government to come up with records of work done and payments made and get these cross checked with people in village hearings to see whether they'd got what the government had supposedly paid out. In most cases, there were huge gaps, because local departments had salted away much of the goodies.


This movement grew and became successful. For obvious reasons, it was popular among people, not with netas and babus. It took Sonia Gandhi, who heads the National Advisory Council (NAC) to convince the first UPA government to enact the RTI Act. Gandhi herself was persuaded of the importance of the right to information by people like activist Aruna Roy, a founder of the MKSS and member of the NAC.


So how does the RTI Act help? For starters, it lets every one of us ask any questions or get any information from the government, get copies of sarkari letters and documents, get records of public works and billing and so on.

Any government that goes about its work honestly should be more than ready to hand over these papers.


In 2006, there was a kerfuffle about whether notes made by babus on official files should be accessed by 'common' people. The government said it shouldn't; everybody else asked why not? Finally the government backed down, so you have the pleasure of reading all bureaucratic notes at your leisure after you get the documents you want.


Today, ministers like Khurshid and even the prime minister seem to be suggesting that the RTI somehow gets in the way of how the government functions. But why? What are babus and mantris petrified of? If files are cleared with clear consciences, what difference will it make if the paperwork is later seen by the people?


Khurshid says even confidential letters between members of the Cabinet might come to light. He seems to forget that the RTI has plenty of exemptions to what can be revealed to the people. These include stuff that can compromise India's strategic, diplomatic, economic or parliamentary interests. Sensitive information received from foreign governments and cabinet papers are also excluded.


Any minister has a right to be miffed if his confidential letter to the prime minister is leaked, but he can't blame the RTI for that. The minister should, instead, find out who leaked the letter.

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Aruna Roy lambasts PM for statement on RTI amendments


As reported by timesofindia.indiatimes.com on Oct 16, 2011:



PANAJI: Founder member of the National Campaign for People's Right to Information (NCPRI) Aruna Roy on Saturday condemned the statement of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that the Right To Information Act was adversely affecting deliberations in the government and deterring honest officials from expressing their views on file.


Roy was speaking at a seminar on 'Strengthening participatory democracy: Role of RTI' at the International Centre Goa, Dona Paula.


"The Prime Minister has made a statement that I completely disagree with. My seven-year period in government was fraught with corruption," said Roy, considered by many as one of the architects of the RTI Act.


Countering Singh's claims of bureaucratic inefficiency, the Magsaysay award winner said the killings of RTI activists was of much more concern than the RTI affecting government functioning.


"I'm much more concerned about the lives of RTI activists being killed. What have you done to protect our lives?" she sought to know from the PM.


Stating that even earlier, bureaucrats were not making file notings, Roy said, "No one wanted to take the onus (to make a noting) if it was a critical issue."


Stating that transparency benefits the system, Roy said, "We reject the suggestion that transparency makes bureaucrats inefficient. The government has always been inefficient. Papers accessed by us through RTI have proved this."


She opined that transparency actually aids honest bureaucrats, and felt that due to RTI, honest bureaucrats can make notings on files in the confidence that disclosure of the file notings under RTI would vindicate the honest stands they take.


"In the last six years, information received by the people has created upheaval in governance. What has upset the system is the scams. Instead of welcoming transparency, the persistence for amendments is wrong," she added.


Nikhil Dey, co-convener of NCPRI, too, was critical of the proposal for amendments and said, "We completely oppose amendments in RTI. The prime minister is saying the RTI affects bureaucratic functioning, but it is the opposite. It is a great benefit for honest officers as earlier their notings were being hidden."


"The government has consistently said that amendments will be done only after putting them in the public domain. It should not slip in amendments like it did the first time," Dey added.


Roy also lambasted the removal of the CBI from the purview of the RTI.


How can the government talk of a Lokpal on one side and remove the CBI from the purview of the RTI? she wondered. "Eighty per cent of cases investigated by the CBI are corruption cases," Roy added.


The chairman of the Planning Commission has said all public-private-partnerships will also be outside the purview of the RTI. How can this be done when the state provides facilities like electricity and water to these projects? she questioned.

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No relook at RTI Act: Salman Khurshid


As reported by www.hindustantimes.com on October 16, 2011:



Amid a raging debate on RTI, union law minister Salman Khurshid has made it clear that there is no proposal for a "relook" at the Act but noted that not only the government but the judiciary too had experienced "difficulties" because of it. "We are proud of RTI. We are pleased that we gave RTI to this country. Even if it causes inconvenience to this country to an extent, we will bear that inconvenience.


"But we must ensure that in totality, the efficiency and functioning of government is strengthened," he said.


On whether the RTI would be revisited, Khurshid said, "there is no proposal to relook at the Act".


He went on to add, "Today, we are only absorbing the experience of the RTI and now whether after a period, looking at the experience, looking at the demands, looking at the consensus that can emerge, we can bring about any changes or not is something that is futuristic. It is something which I cannot say today."


The law minister, however, ruled out making fundamental changes in the legislation.


"If you say that we'll make any fundamental changes in the RTI, the answer is no. We are proud of RTI," he told PTI in an interview recently.


Queried whether some more exemptions like the one granted to the CBI could be brought into the Act, the lawyer-turned-politician noted, "No legislation is perfect."


"You will have to see any legislation, you will have to, from time to time, (see) how it is working. If it needs to be tightened, you tighten it; if you need to broaden, you broaden it; if you need to deepen, you deepen it; if you need to make exceptions, you make exceptions as the CBI exception has now been made," the law minister said.


Replies to some RTI queries have generated major controversies recently like the one by a Finance Ministry note to the PMO which suggested that the 2G scam could have been averted if then Finance Minister P Chidambaram had insisted on auction.


Khurshid noted that the government and the judiciary have faced "some difficulties" in dealing with RTI queries.


"We certainly know, we (government) are not the only ones. Government is not the only one. Government meaning political government, not the only ones which felt some difficulties.


"Bureaucrats have felt difficulties, independent agencies have felt difficulties, the courts have felt difficulties," he said.


Elaborating on his point, he said the high courts and the Supreme Court are being asked questions, which include demands for draft judgements to see "how a draft judgement and the final judgement differs".


There have been demands to know why a certain judge is elevated to the Supreme Court and the other one was not, he said.


Referring to certain grey areas in dealing with RTI applications, Khurshid said what goes into the preparation of a Cabinet note is "today not clear. So, I think experience, either through judgements or in due course to amendments, you'll probably have to clarify this".


Asked if it was time to introduce fresh exemptions in the RTI Act, he said he could not say that. "It is a collective view that must emerge from society, from Parliament..."


When referred to 'voices' seeking changes, he said there are "all kinds of voices".


"There are some voices which say don't dilute. Some voices say don't touch RTI. Some voices say it is inconvenient, you have to chisel it," Khurshid said.


To a question on the exclusion of correspondence between a minister and the Prime Minister from the ambit of RTI, he referred to the oath which ministers take to maintain confidentiality.


"Now when the RTI was drafted, I don't think anybody looked at the oath, because if I can't disclose it to you, but whatever I do is disclosed to you by a clerk, then what is the point in having this oath. We should change this oath," he argued.


The ministers take oath that whatever comes to their knowledge is part of their functioning as a minister and they will not disclose to anybody unless they required by their duty to do so.


Khurshid said there are certain things that are kept confidential and secret for good reasons, and "not to defeat anybody's rights."

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Govt out to bottle people’s genie?


As reported by www.deccanherald.com on 16 October, 2011:



Six years after the enactment of one of the finest laws of independent India - Right to Information Act, 2005 - by Congress-led UPA that redefined the relationship between citizen and government, the ruling dispensation is engaging in second thoughts on the legislation.

spotlight250.jpgThe Right to Information Act, the many scams unearthed using the landmark legislation, murderous attack on its activists and proposed amendments to the RTI Act have all been making news over the last couple of years and more so in recent weeks.


The recent remarks of M Veerappa Moily as Union law minister and his successor Salman Khurshid, capped by a statement by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on October 14, seeking a review of the transparency law, have rankled the RTI activists no end. It is not without reason though. Let's take a peek at the changing stands of the two ministers and the PM:


* PM in 2006: “One year of RTI Act is the consummation of a process initiated with the adoption of our Constitution. The RTI took India closer to fulfilling Mahatma Gandhi’s idea of real Swaraj."

* PM in 2011: “Even as we recognise and celebrate the efficacy and the effectiveness of the RTI Act, we must take a critical look at it. There are concerns that need to be discussed and addressed honestly... The RTI should not adversely affect the deliberative processes in the government. We must also take a critical look at the exemption clauses in the RTI Act to determine whether they serve the larger good and whether a change is needed in them.”

* Moily in 2006 Administrative Reforms Commission report: “Files and notings per se are not confidential and should not be inaccessible to the public unless exempt under Section 8 of the RTI Act."* Moily in 2011: "There is need for a national debate on the scope of the RTI as it transgresses into the independent functioning of the government…Transparency, yes, but it cannot scuttle the independence of individuals and ministries expressing difference of opinion… But, RTI obtains some extracts of such exchange of views and attribute motives to them. If this continues, no officer or minister will discuss anything. Even the judiciary should appreciate it. Time has come to re-visit the issue of (making public) file notes and discussions.”

* Khurshid in 2011: “There is need for a relook at RTI. Its misuse is affecting institutional efficacy and efficiency, with even the bureaucracy becoming reluctant to record its opinion. A balance has to be maintained between transparency and accountability and institutional efficiency.”


Does this represent the changing face of the UPA with regard to the RTI, which it has been proudly touting for the last six years as one of its game changer legislations? If the above oscillating stands are any indicator, it surely does.


What are the compulsions behind the Congress-led government taking a relook at the RTI Act? True, the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) proposed amendments to the Act in 2009, which was put to public debate. While some provisions were outright opposed by the activists and experts, they suggested some changes to the draft amendments, as was also done by the National Advisory Council (NAC) led by Sonia Gandhi. However, comments made by the two ministers have been widely received with anger and dismay by the activists, who see it as an attempt to dilute the milestone legislation.

Government nervous

Obviously, the unending stream of scams have made a rattled government and some of its ministers to start demanding changes to the Act. Said RTI pioneer and NAC member Aruna Roy: “The truth is that RTI has opened a million cans of worms. It has put the fear of God in the government. The RTI has brought in transfer of power on an unimaginable scale and no government wants that.” Information obtained through RTI became fodder for unearthing major scams in the country, be it the Adarsh housing society scandal in Mumbai, the Commonwealth Games fraud or the 2G spectrum scam.


The latest in the series of RTI exposes is the role of Home minister P Chidambaram in the 2G spectrum allocation scam during his tenure as finance minister. The documents that petitioner Subramanian Swamy submitted to the Supreme Court charging that Chidambaram was as much involved as then Telecom minister A Raja – now in jail – were all obtained through RTI. Pranab Mukherjee, who succeeded Chidambaram in North Block office and whose finance ministry office memorandum indicated that Chidambaram could have prevented the scam, referred to the issue saying that the document was ironically obtained through RTI, a law brought in by the UPA government.


The mood in the government goes directly contrary to the stand taken by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi. In her letter to the PM in 2010 (obtained, ironically, through RTI by activist S C Agarwal), she said, “It is important that we adhere strictly to the Act’s original aims and refrain from accepting or introducing changes in the legislation or the way it is implemented that would dilute its purpose. There is no need for changes or amendments”.


Changes proposed

Some of the amendments suggested by the DoPT include: limiting RTI applications only to one subject and 250 words (Karnataka has changed this to one subject and 150 words); levying a higher charge; abating of the proceedings before the Information Commission if an appellant dies; exempting the office of the Chief Justice of India from the RTI Act; prohibiting applications which could be deemed to be “frivolous or vexatious”; amendment to Section 8 of the Act (relating to exemptions) to “slightly modify the provision about disclosure of Cabinet papers to ensure smooth functioning of the Government”; forming two-commissioner benches instead of one etc.


While some of these proposals have been opposed by the activists who have given their suggestions to the DoPT, the Central Information Commission went one step ahead by stating that it was not necessary for information seekers to limit RTI applications ''to only one subject matter''.


The August 2011 order was issued by Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi, who has been critical of the proposed amendments. According to an RTI note made public by Gandhi, at a recent conference of Information Commissioners attended by 60 of them, all but two were opposed to the idea of tinkering with the historic legislation.


Amendments or no change, RTI has become an important tool for the public to break into the bureaucratic fortress. According to Minister of State for Personnel V Narayanasamy, the government received 6.05 lakh RTI applications in the last six years and 90 per cent were disposed of.


The rejection of the requested information has shown a consistently decreasing trend, from 7.2% in 2007-08 to 6.4% in 2009-10 and 5.2% in 2010-11. Between April 2006 and August 2010, the Central Information Commission, the RTI Act's apex body, disposed of 54,853 cases. That's an average of 1,035 cases a month. Between 2005 and 2007, about four lakh RTI applications were filed from rural India. About 30% of the rural RTI applicants were from the economically weaker sections and 65% were from above-poverty-line cardholders.


No surprises that after having brought in the pathbreaking legislation, the government wants to impose curbs on it!Changes proposed to RTI Act

* Limiting RTI applications only to one subject and 250 words (one subject proposal rejected by CIC)

* Levying a higher charge for RTI application

* Abating of the proceedings before the Information Commission if appellant dies

* Exempting the office of the Chief Justice of India from the RTI Act.

* Prohibiting applications deemed “frivolous or vexatious”

* Amendment to Section 8 (relating to exemptions) to “slightly modify the provision about disclosure of Cabinet papers to ensure smooth functioning of the Government”

* Forming two-commissioner benches instead of one



* As many as 6.05 lakh RTI applications in the last six years and 90 pc of them disposed of

* Rejections decrease from 7.2 pc in 2007-08 to 6.4 pc in 2009-10 and 5.2 pc in 2010-11.

* Between April 2006 and August 2010, the Central Information Commission disposed of 54,853 cases – an average of 1,035 cases a month

* Between 2005 and 2007, four lakh RTI applications were filed from rural India

Source: Government and studies by RTI organisations.

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As reported in timesofindia.indiatimes.com on 16 Oct 2011:



Bring corporates under RTI: Nitish Kumar


NEW DELHI: Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar on Saturday made a strong push for expanding the scope of Right to Information (RTI) Act, demanding that corporate sector and public-private-partnership (PPP) projects be brought under it, and joined the debate that started with the UPA expressing misgivings about the application of the transparency law it had enacted itself.


Delivering the valedictory address at the Sixth Annual Convention of the Central Information Commission, Kumar asked: "Companies have shareholders' money as well as investment from institutions. What is wrong if information about them is given?"


He also made a pitch for PPP projects being brought under the RTI's ambit.


Kumar's argument for expanding RTI's scope comes when the government seems to have developed misgivings about the transparency law. The new-found reservations of the UPA which not so long ago touted the RTI as its accomplishment were articulated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday in his inaugural address at the Central Information Convention.


However, the Bihar CM, who called the RTI a revolutionary measure, took an empathetic view of the fears associated with its application. "When a new thing comes it gives problem," said Kumar. Urging the authorities not to fight shy of parting with information, he said that governments would gradually get used to transparency.


Saying that the prevailing culture of secrecy leads authorities to resist even sharing even innocuous information with people, he said dissemination of information could actually help governments do a course correction. Social sector schemes with huge expenditure get strengthened if information about their implementation is in public domain.


He requested RTI activists to work towards a central Right to Service law that he has implemented in the state.


Dwelling at length on the Right to Service law that has been enacted in Bihar, Kumar said it is law that complements RTI and is helping improve services in the state. Amid applause, Kumar told CIC and information commissioners that they should not concentrate only on disposing appeals but also advise government on how it can be improved further. "Times have changed. We have to get used to it. There is RTI, media has also changed. What you say gets recorded immediately and beamed to the world. No point denying what you said. Better think before you speak," he said amid applause.


Kumar offered to host a national conference of CIC, state information commissioners, RTI activists and international experts in Patna. "I want to learn from you. If Bihar lags behind, the country lags behind," he added.

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An opinion in telegraphindia.com on 16 Oct 2011:





The road to hell is paved with good intentions. The path to governmental inertia is paved by the Right to Information Act. There is no denying that the intentions behind the RTI Act are laudable. For too long, the actions of ministers and bureaucrats have been shrouded in a bizarre kind of secrecy. It was assumed that citizens in a democracy had no right to know how an elected government functions and how decisions are taken. The champions of the RTI Act challenged this state of affairs. They argued that in a democratic system, the people had a right to know, if they wanted, how a decision was arrived at. Public servants, by definition paid for by the public, could not hide their official activities from the people. The RTI Act was seen as a necessary step towards introducing a modicum of accountability into the government machinery. That the RTI Act has been successful is indicated by the flurry of applications that are received to get relevant information. Government servants previously reluctant to part with information can no longer parry queries with a shrug of their shoulders. There is an excess of information but it is not clear how this helps in anything unless it massages the egos of those who apply under the RTI Act.


There are two abuses of the RTI Act that are somewhat unexpected. First was that the provisions of the Act would be used to pinpoint bureaucrats or ministers to actually settle scores or even to harass them. Decision-makers suddenly felt exposed. This fear was buttressed by the assumption among some sections of the population that all governmental decisions are taken in bad faith. The direct consequence of this was the second misuse referred to above. Bureaucrats have become very wary of taking decisions and of noting on files. The extreme example of this was no decision-making and no activity. In other words, the RTI Act fed procrastination in ministries. The quest for transparency ironically resulted in greater opacity.


Any democratic system operates on the basis of trust. It is true that in India, the political class and the bureaucrats often act in a manner that does not evoke any trust. But this does not mean that the entire system is faulty and can be made to grind to a halt in the quest for transparency and in the hunt for erring decision-makers. There is another question to be considered. In India, the thirty year rule concerning the opening of government files and documents to the public is hardly ever adhered to. Even today, as many scholars will bear witness, it is difficult to gain access to certain files of the Nehru era. So what transparency is being achieved — access to information about yesterday’s decisions while large arcs of the past are deliberately kept closed to the public?

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As reported by Aditi Tandon in tribuneindia.com on 16 Oct 2011:



No takers for PM’s call for RTI Act review


Scope must never be limited; it needs to be expanded, say experts


The Prime Minister’s call for a critical relook at the Right to Information (RTI) Act found no resonance in the two-day convention of the Central Information Commission which discussed vital aspects related to the scope of the law.


The convention, attended by information commissioners and RTI activists from across the country, ended today with a clear message to the government that there was no need for any amendment to the Act and its scope must never be limited.


The PM had yesterday asked the experts to deliberate on the need to curb vexatious demands for information, address privacy concerns and revisit exemption clauses to see if they needed change.


On all these pointers, the House voted for status quo, saying the law was good enough as it was and needed no change at the moment. Chief Information Commissioner Satyananda Mishra summed up the deliberations, “There was unanimity on the fact that there is no need to amend the RTI Act and that its scope must never be limited. In fact, it needs to be expanded.”


The experts also agreed that the exemption clause under the Act was enough and did not need to be enhanced in scope. The clause disallows sharing of information pertaining to security and intelligence agencies. Recently, the government placed the CBI under Schedule 2 of the Act, exempting it but the experts today said there’s no logic behind exempting the CBI as it dealt with investigations of corruption issues.


“The Ministry which recommended CBI’s exemption is itself not exempt under the Act,” ML Sharma, Central Information Commissioner said.


Legal luminaries like V Vijay Kumar, vice-chancellor of the Ambedkar University at Chennai, warned against constant additions to Schedule 2 (exempted entities). “You can’t keep adding entities to the list. The Act’s exemption clause is sufficient. Schedule 2 must be periodically reviewed,” he told TNS.


For privacy, which the PM called a grey area under the RTI, experts resolved that there could be no definition. Privacy is not a right given under any law of the country. It is an evolving right. “Even the courts interpret privacy on a case to case basis. We can’t define it and should not even attempt to do so,” V Vijay Kumar said.


The CIC also made it clear that exemptions needed to be seen liberally. “The Act intends to share information, not hide it. The exemption clause need to be seen in that light,” Mishra said.

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As reported by PTI in zeenews.india.com on 16 Oct 2011:



Don't touch the RTI Act: Info Commissioners to Gov


New Delhi: Information Commissioners strongly feel that there should be no tinkering with the RTI Act to constrict it and instead steps should be taken to further strengthen it.


They were of the view that "the ambit of the RTI Act should not be constricted. It should instead be strengthened. The RTI Act should not be amended at this stage and should be retained as it is. It is not the time for making any amendment in it," Chief Information Commissioner Satyananda Mishra said today.


Summing up the events of the two-day annual CIC convention attended by 65 information commissioners and experts, Mishra said a wide range of topics were discussed.


These included bringing public-private partnerships under transparency law, its exemption clauses, pro-active disclosures and experiences of Information Commissioners.


"Infrastructure and other services like health and education, governments are taking PPP mode. RTI Act acts on government funded projects... The Convention came to the conclusion that PPP projects should be brought under the RTI Act," he said.


He said experts were of the view that exemption provisions of the RTI Act should be used only in exceptional cases while disclosure of information should be the general norm.

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An editorial in economictimes.indiatimes.com on 17 Oct 2011:



PM should instil more transparency in RTI Act instead curtailing it


It is unfortunate that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has joined the ranks of those critical of the Right to Information (RTI) Act. He should be at the forefront of efforts to instil more transparency in the process of government, not less.


The PM raised three specific concerns; these are legitimate and need to be addressed. A flood of RTI requests wasting civil service time in processing them is one. Another is RTI applications prising officers' comments and observations out of context, opening them to misinterpretation and, thereby, inhibiting officers from giving their honest opinions transparently.


And the third one is the adequacy of the exemption list in the Act, excluding certain kinds of information from disclosure under the Act. The first two are readily remedied by delivering on this government's inaugural promise, contained in the President's speech of June 4, 2009, to implement "a public data policy to place all information covering non-strategic areas in the public domain".


That is to say, instead of waiting for requests for piecemeal information, the government would proactively disclose all documents that do not contain privileged information. Such a data policy would obviate the need to deal with a flood of information requests, and also rule out statements being taken out of context - the context, too, would be part of the disclosure. As to what all needs to be exempt from disclosure, the Act's existing list seems fairly comprehensive.


In fact, too comprehensive, given the reality that corporate intelligence and journalists routinely access much of the information contained in the exempt list, making the aam aadmi the only loser to be kept out of the loop. People look up to Dr Singh as a bright spot in the political firmament, rising above its customary cloud of venality.


If he, too, signals a desire to draw a thicker veil over the government, it would send altogether the wrong signal on where the government stands in the ongoing battle against corruption. We hope the PM would make it unambiguously clear that he stands by his government's promise on a new data policy. And nothing carries conviction like prompt action.

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As reported by Lola Nayar in outlookindia.com in issue dated 24 Oct 2011:



Double Whammies


Are RTI, CAG hurting politicians more than governance?


What began as a few whispers is now a booming drumbeat. Powerful senior ministers are asserting that the Right to Information Act (RTI), till now flaunted as one of the UPA government’s biggest gifts to the aam aadmi, is “transgressing into government functioning”. Similar misgivings are being voiced on another constitutional body that has been in the news lately—the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG). Put together, this has raised fears of a possible attempt to muzzle the proverbial messenger.



“The government has not made it clear what can or cannot be made public, which is what’s leading to controversies.”Sudha Pai, Professor, JNU


“Both (RTI and CAG) are messengers that bring to people something that has been stolen or gone wrong,” says former CAG T.N. Chaturvedi. But that’s not how a beleaguered government is seeing it. Facing varied governance scandals, it says that RTI is being misused for political and business ends. Over the past few weeks, one RTI response brought to fore the rivalry between Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee and home minister P. Chidambaram. Another RTI reply has cast doubts on the CAG’s assessment of losses to the exchequer in the 2G case.


Are they really hampering government functioning? That’s arguable, feels former chief information commissioner Wajahat Habibullah, pointing out that if government agencies share information or store it well in the first place, no time would be lost in retrieving and giving RTI responses. “The apprehensions,” Habibullah stresses, “arise due to the fact that we have been an insular government and very secretive so far. The use of RTI is not to impair law or government functioning.” On concerns over leakage of sensitive information, he cites the example of the army, which has streamlined the system with adequate checks.


Civil society, meanwhile, is happy that RTI is now helping improve services by generating, for instance, public debate and action in Tamil Nadu and Chhattisgarh for monitoring nrega and better supply of subsidised foodgrains, respectively. Voicing civil society’s fears, Nikhil Dey of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information says: “We’re worried that the government will dilute the RTI on some pretext. If at all we need to rethink, it’s only about better implementation.”


Till now, civil society has managed to thwart attempts by the government to impose many new conditions—like word limit or multiple questions in an application. So far, the government has promised there would be public consultation for any amendment.



“The CAG is not interested in running down the government or the PMO. Its report can only hold a mirror to events.”T.N. Chaturvedi, Former CAG


“Why should there be any rethink on RTI? Nobody can fully cleanse the system, but at least RTI is helping to do so in bits and pieces. It has put some fear in the system,” says former chief election commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh, who still lends support to various anti-corruption movements. The general consensus is that despite the odd misuse of RTI for political ends, it has only helped improve government functioning. Unfortunately for the government, the full potential of RTI is still being unravelled.

While admitting that RTI is being used as a weapon to fix political rivals, Prof Sudha Pai of JNU’s Centre for Political Studies feels the RTI legislation is fine, though some rules governing it need to be better defined. “The government has not made it clear what can be made public and what cannot (like cabinet deliberations), which is what is leading to so many controversies,” she says. Pai points to the Supreme Court’s directive in the case of universities, which clearly defines what sort of information (including exam answer sheets) can be made available under RTI provisions and to whom.


In bureaucratic circles, opinions are more varied and nuanced. Some admit to being wary of taking risky decisions, while others feel that RTI helps them ward off political pressure for taking decisions that could backfire. “RTI should really be used for the rights of citizens. Let us not use RTI to become overseers of governance. We are not intellectually ready for that,” says D.K. Mittal, secretary, financial services. Similarly, while supporting RTI, former petroleum secretary Anil Razdan feels files that are “current” or in the process of decision-making should be kept out of RTI’s purview.


While admitting to the desirability of freedom in action for a government without being overly questioned, former cabinet secretary T.S.R. Subramanian would prefer to settle for “the lesser evil of complete transparency at the cost of efficiency”. He states that people overruling a decision or views expressed by their subordinates are not necessarily villains; he would be worried if only one point of view was expressed in a file with no one questioning it. Of course, the noting has to give the reasons for the dissenting view.



“The system can’t be fully cleansed, but at least the RTI is doing it in bits and pieces. It has put some fear in the system.”J.M. Lyngdoh, Former Chief Election Commissioner


But sometimes the overruling itself can be seen as questionable—for example, the varied estimates emanating from CAG on 2G losses. Declining to comment on the issues raised, the CAG is expected to put the facts before the public accounts committee (PAC) soon. In a convocation address on October 11, CAG Vinod Rai said: “These criticisms emanate from a mindset that views accountability agencies as an adversary than as an aid to good governance and better management.”

At the centre of the CAG controversy on 2G losses, R.P. Singh, former director general, audit (P&T), describes RTI as a “double-edged cutting weapon, good so long as it’s working in my favour”. Called to depose before the PAC, Singh refuses to get drawn into any controversy, maintaining that “the CAG is constitutionally empowered to present his report. It is his responsibility and liability.”


Former CAG Chaturvedi, who came to prominence with Bofors and helped the institution earn public and international credibility, says the procedures for audit are so strict and prolonged that they often come in for criticism. At the same time, “CAG is not interested in running down the government or the PMO. The final report will only hold a mirror to what’s happened. It is doing only what the government wants,” Chaturvedi says.


Given the credibility deficit facing the government, most bureaucrats and experts feel the RTI and CAG should be strengthened and their scope extended to all entities utilising public funds. But will the politicians play ball?

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A column by AJ Philip in omantribune.com on 17 October 2011:



Treat it as a feather in the government’s cap


Nothing has empowered the citizen of India more than the Right to Information Act that came into force on October 12, 2005, since the Constitution conferred on him the right to vote in elections in 1950. Until then only members of Parliament and state legislatures had the power to ask questions about government functioning and elicit information. If any official refused to give information without valid reasons, it would be considered a punishable breach of parliamentary privileges.


Under the RTI Act, any citizen can ask for information about any government activity, report or letter on a nominal fee of 20 cents. The official concerned has to give an answer within a month in ordinary circumstances. If the question pertains to a life-threatening situation, the answer has to be given in 48 hours. A well-oiled, large machinery of information officers and appellate authorities have been set up to not only provide answers but also deal with officials who refuse to part with information.


The standard practice was to treat every government file as “secret” or “top secret”. Even such basic information as how much money has been allocated to widen a road or build a school could not be obtained, except by greasing the palms of the officials concerned. But the enactment of the RTI Act has transformed the whole situation. Officials are now scared of withholding information as it can invite disciplinary action.


Citizens have made full use of the Act. In fact, many of the scoops published by newspapers and aired by TV channels during the last six years could be traced to the questions asked under the Act. One such question was about the confidential letter Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee had written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh about the billion-dollar scam relating to the allocation of 2G spectrum for telecommunication. It cast a shadow on Home Minister P Chidambaram giving the impression that there was a turf war going on in the government.


Though the issue has been sorted out by the two senior-most ministers, it has given rise to an opinion in the government that the RTI Act needs to be curtailed. Former law minister Veerappa Moily and law minister Salman Khursheed have articulated the viewpoint that the citizen’s unbridled power to ask questions has compromised governmental efficiency. How anyone can give a confidential opinion if it can land in the citizen’s hands, they ask rhetorically.


But the question is why a minister or official should have two opinions on the same subject, one to be disclosed in public and the other to be shared only with his boss. Last fortnight, Justice P N Bhagwati regretted a letter he had written as Chief Justice of India to then prime Minister Indira Gandhi praising her to the skies. It compromised the credibility of the institution he presided over. If the RTI had existed then, he would not have written that letter.


The point is that those in authority should stand up for truth and give their honest opinion during a Cabinet meeting or while clearing a file. Ministers and senior officials have the power to overrule the opinion of their subordinates but, more often than not, they want the subordinates to prepare the files in the fashion they want, because, if they are caught, they can blame their juniors. Little surprise, the corrupt elements criticise the Act on the specious plea that their time is wasted in providing frivolous information.


The Act has in-built safeguards. For example, questions that can impair national security or investigation of criminal cases are not allowed. Similarly, nonsensical and frivolous questions can be rejected. Yet, surprisingly, the prime minister has lent his weight to the plea that the law needed a “critical look”. While addressing information officers recently, he said, the “RTI shouldn’t adversely affect the deliberative processes in the government”.


The fact is that the Act has made the “deliberative process” more transparent. If the government is proactive and on its own makes information available in the public domain, many people may not even have to ask any questions. Six years after the Act was launched, if it needs a relook, it is to strengthen it and not to weaken it.


The United Progressive Alliance Government has every right to claim credit for enacting the path-breaking law that has brought about some measure of transparency in government functioning all over the country. Far from that, ministers like Veerappa Moily and Salman Khursheed behave as if they are apologetic about the Act, which has truly empowered the citizen. What an irony!

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An editorial in dailypioneer.com on 16 Oct 2011:



Targetting the RTI


UPA plots another devious strategy


The Prime Minister, Mr Manmohan Singh’s assurance that the Right to Information Act would not be tampered with, should be taken not with a pinch of salt but loads of it, because there is every indication that the Union Government is contemplating its dilution in the wake of the major embarrassments it has caused through the various expose of scams. If the Prime Minister indeed believes in the Act as it stands, his call for a debate on the subject is inexplicable, as is his lamentation that the Act had come to adversely impact the functioning of the Government. A legislation which has empowered the people of this country to seek information that affects their well-being in a variety of ways, cannot hit governance. The fact is that the RTI Act has helped not just unravel the dubious conduct of the Government but also exposed the lies it has been flooding the people with. Take the recent case of the Finance Ministry’s note on the 2G Spectrum scam that really triggered a flurry of activity in the UPA government. Not only had the Government not submitted the document to the Joint Parliamentary Committee constituted to look into the spectrum licensing irregularity, but also one of its senior Ministers had outright denied the existence of any such note. It took an RTI application for the truth to be made public — the truth that the then Finance Minister, Mr P Chidambaram could have halted the scam in its tracks had he vetoed the licensing process then Union Telecom Minister A Raja had adopted. It is not the business of good governance that is being affected because of vigilant RTI activists, as Mr Singh claims, but that the business of shady happenings in governance is threatened with more and more exposures. If Mr Singh believes that governance has been negatively impacted by the use of the RTI, he should provide concrete examples. But there are none. His contention that honest and well-meaning public servants would be discouraged from expressing their frank views is also without substance. The RTI Act is not some Damocles Sword that hangs over sincere officers, but it is a tool to extract wrongdoings. No conscientious officer or Minister has any cause to be worried by the RTI. Those who need to run for cover are the ones who have something to hide, and if the Government is not prepared to bring such people to book, the RTI Act will help in that task. It is ironical that a government that prides itself on bringing the landmark legislation now suddenly finds faults with it after being at the receiving end.


Those who think — and continue to think despite everything — that the Prime Minister is committed to the continuance of a strong Right to Information legislation, should be worried that he has chosen to virtually endorse the views of some of his Cabinet colleagues who have batted for a review of the Act. He has become part of a carefully orchestrated campaign to render the Act toothless. His concern that the legislation is being used by vested interests for settling personal and political scores may be valid in the sense that there is always a possibility of the Act being misused, but there are enough safeguards in the Act to torpedo such attempts. The demand for a review — and the subsequent inevitable tinkering with the key provisions — of the RTI Act, should be resisted.

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The UPA Govt. especially after 2G Scam and coming out of the certain important papers of March 2011 from PMO's Office,through RTI Act, become restless and thinking of an opportunity how and when the amend the RTI Act. The earlier move to amend the ACT was any how scuttled. Despite the CBI etc. have been brought out of the ambit of the ACT. Any time this move to make certain amendments may come. So the all RTI Activists have to be alert to oppose tooth and nail any move amend the Act.The Act is quite sufficient and on the contrarary its implementation requires stricter measures.- s.p.pataskar, adilabad.

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Sajib Nandi

RTI implementation needs strengthening: Habibullah


As reported by zeenews.india.com on October 19, 2011:



New Delhi: National Commission for Minorities Chairperson Wajahat Habibullah Wednesday said there is a need to strengthen the process of implementation of the Right to Information Act.


"The government needs to reform and strengthen the process of implementation of the Right to Information Act as it is the government which has access to every information," the former chief information commissioner told reporters here.


"This in an important act through which the government has to ensure transparency in the dissemination of information," he added.


Habibullah's remarks come close to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's suggestion to review the transparency law.


Addressing the annual convention of the Central Information Commission Oct 15, the prime minister said: "Even as we recognise and celebrate the efficacy and the effectiveness of the Right to Information Act, we must take a critical look at it. There are concerns that need to be discussed and addressed honestly."

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Lack of common sense


An article by Bibek Debroy in The Economic Times (Wednesday October 19, 2011, 07:15 PM)



RTI (Right to Information) Act was labeled as one of the big successes of UPA-I. If there were going to be implementation problems with RTI, shouldn’t that been foreseen in 2005? After all, there were State-level experiences before Central legislation was passed.


The argument now doing the rounds is that RTI is hampering functioning of government. Bureaucrats have become extremely cautious about what they put down in files. Several Ministers have targeted RTI. And if one read between the lines, so did PM, at the Annual Convention organized by Central Information Commission (CIC).


That RTI has exposed corruption is undeniable, though in big-ticket corruption (2G, CWG) its role has been more tangential. Transparency and accountability are desirable. If one is transparent and accountable, why should one be scared of RTI? That’s true of bureaucracy, as well as political masters. But clearly, because there is non-transparency, RTI has become a bit of a nuisance. Skeletons may tumble out on petroleum, civil aviation, or coal mines. Better nip it in the bud.


However, any attempt to dilute RTI will lead to backlash, though this is not the first time since 2005 that arguments have been advanced about diluting RTI, by using the exemption clauses. Therefore, one option might be not to dilute RTI formally, but kill RTI systems through neglect. For instance, leave vacancies in CIC. Don’t bother to fill them up. Given the targeting of RTI by assorted Ministers, this neglect is probably malign, not benign.


If one goes back and asks, what were the self-proclaimed successes of UPA-I, the answer would be RTI and MGNREGS. Whether MGNREGS is a good scheme or a bad one is a broader debate. However, MGNREGS has also led to some adverse effects – food inflation, higher wages, squeeze on farm profitability because of higher input costs and so on.


Is there any reason why these could not have been foreseen? Post facto, why does Agriculture Ministry now want to restrict MGNREGS to slack agricultural seasons alone? It’s not the specifics of RTI or MGNREGS that I am highlighting. Instead, I wish to highlight the broader point.


With all this economic and bureaucratic expertise, couldn’t the government have anticipated these outcomes? Does it require a great deal of common sense to realize that the Planning Commission’s unnecessary defence of the poverty line would be a public relations disaster? Behind this governance deficit argument (which is true), one forms the impression that UPA-II also lacks all common sense.


Source: http://blogs.economictimes.indiatimes.com/policypuzzles/entry/lack_of_common_sense

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  • Similar Content

    • karira
      By karira
      As reported by Lydia Polgreen on nytimes.com 22 January 2011:
      High Price for India’s Information Law
      KODINAR, India — Amit Jethwa had just left his lawyer’s office after discussing a lawsuit he had filed to stop an illicit limestone quarry with ties to powerful local politicians. That is when the assassins struck, speeding out of the darkness on a roaring motorbike, pistols blazing. He died on the spot, blood pouring from his mouth and nose. He was 38.
      Mr. Jethwa was one of millions of Indians who had embraced the country’s five-year-old Right to Information Act, which allows citizens to demand almost any government information. People use the law to stop petty corruption and to solve their most basic problems, like getting access to subsidized food for the poor or a government pension without having to pay a bribe, or determining whether government doctors and teachers are actually showing up for work.
      But activists like Mr. Jethwa who have tried to push such disclosures further — making pointed inquiries at the dangerous intersection of high-stakes business and power politics — have paid a heavy price. Perhaps a dozen have been killed since 2005, when the law was enacted, and countless others have been beaten and harassed.
      In many of these cases, the information requested involved allegations of corruption and collusion between politicians and big-money business.
      “Now that power people are realizing the power of the right to information, there is a backlash,” said Amitabh Thakur, an activist and police official who is writing a book about people killed for demanding information under the law. “It has become dangerous.”
      India may be the world’s largest democracy, but it remains dogged by the twin legacies of feudalism and colonialism, which have often meant that citizens are treated like subjects. Officials who are meant to serve them often act more like feudal lords than representatives of the people.
      The law was intended to be a much-needed leveler between the governors and the governed. In many ways it has worked, giving citizens the power to demand a measure of accountability from bureaucrats and politicians.
      When the law was passed, Mr. Jethwa, a longtime activist who nursed a lifelong grudge against those who abused official power, immediately seized upon it as a powerful new tool.
      His objective was to stop illegal quarries near the Gir National Park, 550 square miles of scrubland and deciduous forest near his hometown, along the southern coast of Gujarat, India’s most prosperous state. The preserve is the only remaining habitat of the rare Asiatic lion. The animal is featured on the national emblem of India, and is considered by Hindus to be a sacred incarnation of Lord Vishnu.
      But the forest sits in a mineral-rich area of coastal Gujarat dotted with cement factories that churn out building materials to fuel India’s near double-digit economic growth. The limestone that lies just beneath the soil in and around the Gir Forest is an ideal component of cement. By law, the forest and a three-mile boundary around it are off limits to all mining activity. But quarries the size of several football fields have been cut deep into the earth in the protected zone.
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      Balu Bhai Socha, an environmental advocate who worked with Mr. Jethwa, said the pace of mining rapidly increased as the local economy boomed.
      “The speed with which the illegal mining was going on, we realized, within 10 years they will clean out the whole forest,” Mr. Socha said.
      Mr. Jethwa repeatedly filed information requests to unearth the names of those operating the quarries and to see what action had been taken against them. He discovered there were 55 illegal quarries in and around the preserve. One name stood out among the records of land leases, electricity bills and inspection reports: Dinubhai Solanki, a powerful member of Parliament from the Bharatiya Janata Party, which governs Gujarat.
      Mr. Solanki, who had risen from the State Legislature to Parliament, was a local kingmaker and an imperious presence. He had the backing of the local police and bureaucrats, activists here said. Mr. Jethwa and many others suspected that he was the mastermind and principal beneficiary of the illegal mining operation.
      In February 2008, Mr. Jethwa was attacked by a gang of men on motorbikes. He was beaten so badly that he had to be hospitalized. He immediately suspected Mr. Solanki.
      “If someone attacks me, or kills me in an accident, if my body is injured — for these acts the Kodinar Member of Legislative Assembly Dinu Solanki will be responsible,” he wrote in a letter to Gujarat’s chief minister, Narendra Modi, after the attack.
      His father begged him to stop.
      “I cautioned him several times about the danger,” the elder Mr. Jethwa said. “But he used to say: ‘Forget that you have three sons and say you have two sons. Let me do my work.’ He would say, ‘My religion is rule of law.’ ”
      Mr. Jethwa’s information requests found sheaves of correspondence between forestry officials and local bureaucrats showing that despite repeated efforts to shut down the quarries, the practice continued.
      By last June, he felt that he had amassed enough evidence to file a lawsuit to stop the mining. He filed the papers on June 28. On July 20, late at night, he was gunned down, leaving behind a wife and two children.
      Because of his activism and the place where he died, practically on the doorstep of the state high court, political pressure forced an unusually swift investigation. Detectives used cellphone records to link Shiva Solanki, the nephew of Dinubhai Solanki, to the killing, and he has been charged with conspiracy and murder. He is accused of hiring a contract killer to murder Mr. Jethwa.
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      Anand Yagnik, a prominent human rights lawyer in Gujarat, said that the police had made no effort to investigate Mr. Solanki.
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      Mr. Jethwa’s death has sent a chill through the community of activists here. Mr. Socha, the environmental activist, said that he now thought twice before challenging powerful interests and that he wondered if the risks were worth it.
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    • karira
      By karira
      An article by L V Srinivasan in thehindubusinessline.com on 24 January 2011:
      The Hindu Business Line : Takeaways from an RTI experience
      Takeaways from an RTI experience
      A case where request for info on some Budget 2007 notings was rejected by the CBDT, but made available by the Central Information Commission, the Second Appellate Authority under the RTI Act.
      The Right to Information Act of 2005 is a very important piece of legislation to bring about complete transparency in the functioning of the bureaucracy and thus increase accountability as well as reduce corruption.
      Since it is a relatively new legislation it takes time for people to understand its implications and make good use of it. Already we hear about lot of RTI activists making best use of the Act.
      India being a diverse country with people in different economic strata, any systemic change takes its own time to be visible.
      The experience of the past suggests that even though it is slow, such changes indeed are accepted by the people over a period of time. For example, VRS and privatisation of PSUs were vehemently opposed when introduced, but were well embraced later by the employees of PSUs.
      Through this article I wish to share an interesting experience with the Central Information Commission (CIC), the Second Appellate Authority under the RTI.
      Request rejected
      I had sought from the Central Board of Direct Taxes, New Delhi (CBDT) the file notings in the Union Budget of 2007, concerning the retrospective amendment to Section 54EC of the Income-Tax Act, as per which the investment of long-term capital gains was capped at Rs 50 lakh and thus any capital gain in excess of this amount was taxable even in the previous year 2006-07.
      This request was rejected by the CPIO (Central Public Information Officer) in the CBDT. The appeal against this request was also dismissed by the First Appellate Authority in the CBDT stating that file notings in the “Budget Files” are exempt from disclosure under the RTI Act. The matter was carried in further appeal to the CIC.
      For filing the appeal with the CIC, it is possible to do it online on the CIC Web site ( rti.india.gov.in), which is very user-friendly. After submitting it online, a physical copy of the application has to be printed, signed by the appellant and sent to the CIC along with the enclosures such as the information request to the CPIO, his response, appeal to the First Appellate Authority, decision of the said Authority, and so on. An appeal number is generated as soon as the online filing is complete and at any subsequent point of time, the status of the appeal can be tracked on the Web site by quoting the appeal number.
      The hearing by the CIC is conducted through videoconference for appellants who are stationed outside Delhi. The respondents (CBDT) will be required to present themselves in person in the courtroom of the CIC in Delhi. The appellant can present himself at the local office of the National Informatics Centre. NIC is present across all State capitals and in a number of districts in various States.
      In my case, I got an intimation for the videoconference for a particular date and just a day before that I got another intimation for a subsequent date. Hence I was under the impression that the hearing has been postponed. But just to reconfirm this I called up the CIC office at Delhi on the morning of the first date when they realised that there has been some error in sending the second communication and that the hearing is scheduled on the first date itself.
      As it was too late for me to proceed to the NIC office, the CIC officials took down my landline number and informed me that the Information Commissioner (IC) will conduct an audio conference with me and the respondent (CBDT).
      Bingo, the call came from the IC and the hearing lasted for about 30 minutes and it got concluded with a decision from the IC that the file notings in the “ Budget File” have to be shared and there is nothing confidential about them, three years after the said Budget was presented in Parliament.
      The physical orders are awaited from the IC, though the same has already been posted on the CIC Website (cic.gov.in), for any one to see. Thus it will be seen how the whole process is so citizen-friendly, which we are not generally used while dealing with bureaucrats.


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