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  1. The Right to Information Act was supposed to bring transparency and accountability in all government transactions, but that has not happened. Apart from a few satisfied customers, a majority of residents are still waiting for their applications to be processed. As of November 2006, the state Information Commission (IC) had 4,551 pending complaints and appeals. Activist Shailesh Gandhi contends that state IC has refused to share their hit rate with the public. “It has refused to display their performance,’’ he says. “I have been pursuing the state IC and the Centre to share information about the number of secondary appeals and complaints filed every month and the number successfully disposed under Section 4 of the Act.’’ The Central Information Commission is the only agency to have displayed its report card. According to Gandhi, all states are “guilty of not disposing matters within the 60-day stipulated deadline”. Gandhi’s research found that many commissions had kept poor records of their transactions and tended “to lose” papers. The state IC and its Central counterpart disposed around 70 complaints and appeals per month while the Kerala IC disposed just 3 per month. The only IC that settles a reasonable number of complaints and appeals is Tamil Nadu, which disposes about 300 cases per month. Maharashtra appointed two additional information commissioners and authorised the appointment of four more. Gandhi says that as each commissioner, staff and infrastructure costs about Rs1.5 crore annually, “if they dispose of less than 1,000 cases each year, the cost per decision is about Rs15,000”. “If they do not issue orders within 60 days, they lack the moral authority to discipline junior officials like the PIO or the first appellate authority if cases are not decided in time. If they were to dispose off 300 per month, there would be no backlog in 2008.’’ An IC official said they receive applications on diverse issues. “Just as the courts take ages to mete out justice, we too need to assess each case on its merit,” he says. “That takes time. It is not fair to blame the authorities". DNA - Mumbai - Right to Information has become a waiting game - Daily News & Analysis
  2. I append below, an interesting article that I came across while browsing the archives of "The Hindu". Though the article appeared on May 20, 2003, the reader will observe that much of the points raised herein are still valid and relevant.--Ganpat. RTI Act — panacea or paper tiger? The Official Secrets Act is better known and already in force whereas the Right to Information Act is yet to take off. If both Acts co-exist, Gresham's law may force the latter to remain a paper tiger. CITIZENS' RIGHTS are a major indicator of a country's progressiveness and human development. Though the Indian Constitution got off to a roaring start with a bunch of awesome-sounding fundamental rights, the right to information (RTI) was not one of them. Citizens' rights are, in a sense, an abridgement of the corresponding rights and authority of government. The non-inclusion of RTI as a fundamental right, therefore, preserved the traditional, unquestioned right of government to maintain secrecy in its functioning by taking shelter under an Official Secrets Act (OSA) including the discretion to decide what is official and what is a secret. (A Hitler joke: a German who called Hitler a fool was prosecuted on two counts — one, abusing the Head of State and two, revealing a state secret!) Growing public concern about callousness and corruption in government resulted in a clamour for greater transparency culminating in a demand for an RTI Act. The consumer protection law created and strengthened the notion of citizens as consumers of government services. The Mazdoor Kisan Shakthi Sanghatan (MKSS) movement in Rajasthan was a turning point in the RTI movement and showed that even illiterate, socially mute and exploited labourers could assert and get their other rights conceded by invoking the RTI. The Government of India, based on the recommendations of the Chief Secretaries' conference on "responsiveness in government," appointed the Shourie Committee to review the OSA and suggest a draft RTI Bill. The draft, called the Freedom of Information Bill 2000 has been passed into law. Seven State Governments had already passed their own versions of RTI Acts. In practice, most information requirements can be categorised as follows: As From Citizens Government & elected representatives Voters Candidates & elected representatives Consumers Producers & sellers Clients Professionals Stakeholders Corporates Socialactivists All the above A citizens' RTI should, therefore, cover not only the government but also those activities of private organisations and individuals mentioned above which are likely to be of legitimate concern to citizens, or have an adverse impact on public resources or welfare. This is reflected in the stringent disclosure requirements under the Consumer Protection Act, Environment Protection Act, the Companies Act, etc. However, most individual professionals, such as doctors and lawyers, communicate cryptically and condescendingly or not at all, and almost never voluntarily, with their clients. In fact Indian professionals have always regarded their expertise and judgment as beyond question by lay mortals and even by courts and considered it infra dig to be brought under the Consumer Protection Act. Possible scenarios Let us consider possible scenarios in an average citizen's interaction with the government under the RTI Act. An imposed system can be resisted and killed by an entrenched bureaucracy by three methods — overuse, disuse and hide-and-seek. First, overuse. The RTI Act provides for an elaborate system of written application, acknowledgement, time limit, appeal, etc. In actual practice how many will have the time, patience and stamina to go through the whole gamut of such procedures if it is insisted upon in every case? In other words, the bureaucracy may hit back by a too literal and procedurally rigid implementation of the Act and defeat its purpose. The bureaucracy's real power is the citizen's urgency, the high opportunity cost of delay and the high transaction costs of repeated visits to the office. The strategy of a hostile bureaucracy will be to make the total cost of a corrupt approach appear to be less than that of a statutory approach. Now, killing by disuse. Though it is about two years since seven State governments passed their own RTI Acts very few in and outside the government seem to know, much less care, about the Act's existence or operation; and there is no information on whether the Act has been invoked, if so, in how many cases, by what categories of citizens and with what results. (Karnataka has an RTI Act. Yet even the Tamil Nadu Government is unable to get reliable information on Cauvery flows!) Even if the Act is invoked by citizens and requests filed, they could easily be delayed to the point of their death. Finally, hide-and-seek. A lot of information about government schemes, policies, achievements, etc., is already published in the form of reports, publicity material, budget documents, five year plans, etc. A lot of information is also placed on the table of the legislature in the form of annual administration reports, audit reports, replies to questions, etc. Giving this type of information will not present any difficulty. The problem arises, as it did in the case of the MKSS, when a citizen or an NGO wants to look into the internal documents and notings to see whether there has been any avoidable delay or impropriety. Sensation-mongering media and politicians may be interested in knowing the views expressed by officers and Ministers on the files. It is to guard against this type of inquisitiveness that the whole government culture is carefully and consciously oriented towards a single, overriding value — whatever the truth, under no circumstances shall the government appear in an adverse or embarrassing light in public eyes. The tendency for lower level officers would be to reject, or push up to higher levels, most requests under the Act in order to avoid being blamed later. The Official Secrets Act (OSA) has neither been scrapped nor even circumscribed confining its application to precisely defined, specifically listed and genuinely secret matters. The OSA is better known and already in force whereas the RTI Act is yet to take off. If both Acts co-exist, Gresham's law may force the latter to remain a paper tiger. Use of muscle power by politicians and misuse of legal power by the state against persons fighting doggedly for their rights or exposing irregularities in government is now a reality of our politics and administration. No doubt any citizen, poor or rich, educated or illiterate, can file a writ petition for getting any of his fundamental rights enforced — that is, provided he does not get beaten up or has acid thrown on his face on his way to the court! These days, invoking the Right to Information Act to ask for information which may get powerful people into trouble is likely to attract physical retaliation. This can, therefore, be attempted only by strong NGOs with an established reputation and wide mass support like the MKSS or politicians with countervailing muscle power, and not by ordinary citizens however patriotic and public-minded they might be. Even under the most progressively drafted RTI Act, can we imagine an ordinary citizen ever feeling safe to walk into a police station and demand factual information on the detenus, duration of custody, prescribed documentation, etc.! This is the area crying for the RTI Act to produce some real impact. This is also the area where the maximum resistance to disclosure from the bureaucracy and the political executive will be faced. At this stage, the reader might ask: Is the RTI Act, then, useless as the administrative ambience and culture are not conducive to its effective implementation? Laws are the crystallised symbols of a civilised, democratic society's values and a last resort remedy if other approaches fail. They set the tone for social behaviour, deter potential delinquents, penalise actual delinquents and remedy wrongs to some extent. It is a fact that their mere existence has, to some extent at least, prevented more violations and that in their absence the situation, bad as it may be, would certainly have been worse. The RTI Act, a much-needed piece of legislation, will in practice suffer the same limitations as other laws. But since it activates the exercise of many other rights, it is not enough to have the Act passed and lean back waiting for miracles to happen. It is necessary to create a conducive environment as well as systemic support so that the Act comes alive as an accessible, effective tool of improved citizens' interaction with the government. Remedies Possible remedies for the anticipated difficulties in the working of the RTI Act are: * In order to minimise the need for citizens to frequently invoke the Act, the government should be required under the Act to embark on large-scale simplification and demystification of its systems through technology and decentralisation, and periodical suo motu disclosure of all information relevant and useful to citizens (as is required of corporates). What this information should be could be finalised in a workshop involving active citizen groups. * The OSA should be amended confining its operation to specified matters genuinely affecting the security of the country. These provisions should be the sole exceptions under the RTI Act. * Internal notings and memos need not be exempted under the Act though the public servants concerned should be protected from resultant malignment or litigation if any. The idea of open files (i.e. government files being open to inspection by any citizen who has a legitimate, proximate interest therein) should be tried out as a pilot experiment and expanded. * Bona fide disclosure under the RTI Act shall not be punished even if it is subsequently held that this was wrong. As a logical extension, a whistle-blowers protection act should be enacted providing immunity from penal action to public servants who, with a bona fide intention of serving the public interest, are left with no choice but to disclose information on perceived misgovernance. * A citizens' RTI should cover not only government departments but also corporates, professionals and legislators in matters to be specified in the Act in respect of each. While legitimate professional autonomy, business risks and constitutional privileges should be respected, these should not entitle any category to blanket exemption from the RTI Act. * Grievances in regard to non-supply of the requested information should be sorted out on the spot by the highest officer in the same office instead of being converted into formal complaints or appeals and referred to some distant office. Necessary empowerment of officers should be done. * Information Technology should be used, wherever appropriate and feasible, not only to make government systems transparent to citizens but also to speed them up. * Special mechanisms to deal with genuinely urgent requests for information — if necessary within 24 hours — have to be created and monitored. * Providing information should not be made unduly expensive or considered a source of revenue. * Existing consumer courts may function as appellate authorities in cases of refusal to supply information under the RTI Act. * A balance has to be struck between one person's right to privacy and another's right to information. The former has normally to be protected unless the balance of public interest lies in disclosure. Such situations should be listed out as far as possible and the authorities competent to make this trade-off judgment specified in the Act itself. Citizens' power to exert and sustain legitimate pressure is the crux of good democratic governance. Knowledge is power and information is the seed of knowledge. RTI is, therefore, nothing but the obverse of people's right to good governance. P.K. DORAISWAMY Former Special Chief Secretary, Government of Andhra Pradesh The Hindu : RTI Act — panacea or paper tiger?
  3. ganpat1956

    RTI in North-East

    Intellectual Ennui and Corruption Source: IMPHAL FREE PRESS Posted: 2006-12-27 The Rights to Information Act was implemented months ago in the state with a bit of a fanfare, but it has also been so successfully ensured that all voices seeking transparency remain silent. The Act which has been described arguably as the best anti-corruption legislation ever, remains largely unused in the entire country, except in pockets where conscientious and enlightened citizens have made the best of it to make government policies and the policy making processes as transparent as possible. It is quite a surprise that while there is a deluge of social organizations and NGOs in the state, pushing so many varied issues, none have found policy transparency, and corruption resulting out of the lack of it, important enough to reserve some focused attention. This probably also suits the government and its machineries well. It nervously constituted an Information Commission, made mandatory by the Parliamentary Act, and now must be heaving a sigh of relief that nobody is interested in it. It must be said the government contributed guilefully to making the State Information Commission redundant by default. As per the RTI Act, the government is called upon to publicize the Act’s application widely so that every citizen gets to learn it empowers him or her adequately, and very simply and inexpensively too, to single-handedly challenge corrupt acts of the powers that be. Today, hardly anybody knows the mechanics of this Act, and most remain overawed and desist from approaching the Information Commission, presuming understandably it is only another part of the same forbidding bureaucratic castle. And so reasonable suspicions of official corruption still outrage the public, and yet, none of these issues ever come up before the Information Commission. It never seems to occur to even those many who know of the Act, that these doubts can be put to rest, or else if they are proven to be true, the corrupt acts behind them can be laid bare before the world. Except in the case of a few subjects, no government files can be withheld if sought through the prescribed procedure of this Act. This, would, in our opinion, be evidence to yet another resignation of sort of the elite of our society. Between their knowledge and their actualization, falls the infamous shadow described by TS Eliot in “The Wasteland”. Despite being the custodian of knowledge, they remain un-empowered and to that extent, cowardly, turning into incorrigible and often pedantic cynics, perpetually complaining and fretting, but never bold enough to come out of their intellectual ennui to take the bull by the horns, as they say. And so, even as the lone member of the Information Commission must be fighting boredom of having nothing to do, even those who complain of being direct victims of official corruption, only fume and curse, and nothing more. There have been plenty of these in the wake of DPC dam burst ahead of the February elections, and presumably there will be plenty more after the results for the MCS/MPS recruitment examinations are declared. While the elite’s inaction in the matter of corruption is intriguing, to be honest, it must be admitted that there are certain powerful and understandable inhibiting factors that would make the government and its departments reluctant to part with certain classes of files. In the engineering departments for instance, it is common knowledge that a good percentage of fund leakages are on account of “underground taxes” or extortion if you prefer. The number of officials who get kidnapped on account of these demands is phenomenal, and it has now become routine. It is also now strongly rumoured that even in matters of government job recruitment, various underground groups have come to demand quotas for their candidates. Just how are these to be covered up in government files, obviously must be a cause for governmental migraine. But understandable difficulties as these may be for the government, they cannot be allowed to become an excuse. For once an exception has been made, so many more misdeed can be swept under the same exception. Corruption indeed is getting a lot more complex. Intellectual Ennui and Corruption :: KanglaOnline ~ Your Gateway
  4. ganpat1956

    Delhi HC dilutes the RTI Act

    The rules framed by the court deter those who seek information about its workings, reports Avinash Dutt When the Right to Information (RTI) Act came into force in October 2005, lawyers who had been fighting for transparency in India’s higher judiciary were apprehensive that the courts might not be very forthcoming with information about their working. Many RTI activists also had their doubts about the courts’ willingness to part with information. The RTI rules framed by the Delhi High Court have confirmed their worst fears. They say that the rules completely dilute the provisions of the RTI. Under the RTI Act, heads of different government institutions are allowed to frame their own rules to implement its provisions. “The High Court rules defeat the entire purpose of the Act,” says the senior Supreme Court lawyer, Prashant Bhushan. RTI campaigner Shekhar Singh agrees. “Rules framed by the court violate the law,” he says. The Central Information Commissioner, Wajahat Habibullah, who is in-charge of overseeing the Act’s successful implementation, also has reservations about the rules. “I largely agree with Singh’s observation on the RTI rules formulated by the Delhi HC,” he said. Habibullah differs with Singh on some points, but he also feels that the HC rules need to be amended. Shekhar Singh elaborates why: one of the rules framed by the HC states that if an applicant seeks any information from a Public Information Officer (PIO) that is not under the officer’s jurisdiction, the information will not be provided. Nor will the fees paid by the applicant be refunded. “This is in violation of the act, which stipulates that such applications must be transferred to the correct PIO within five working days,” Singh points out. The violations, says Singh, don’t stop here. The Delhi HC rules state: “Decisions, which are taken administratively or quasi judicially, information therefore, shall be available only to the affected persons.” The Delhi HC Press Information Officer cited this rule as the reason for the HC’s refusal to divulge information about class III and Class IV recruitments done in the court in the last 16 years (see box). In fact, says Singh, “The act obligates the public authority to suo motu provide all administrative and quasi judicial decisions to the affected party but does not prohibit it from being given to anyone else.” The RTI campaigners also object to the HC’s stipulation of mandatory forms and the fees that go with it. The Central Information Commission has ruled that RTI forms should be made available to applicants who need them but should not be made mandatory. The HC has pegged the fee at Rs 500 per application. “Though the court is authorised to fix the fee, but the act also says that it should be reasonable. The rate is unreasonably high,” Singh says. However, Singh does not see the HC rules as all bad. He points out that one rule is actually an improvement over the RTI Act. The Delhi HC rules give the applicant an opportunity to appear in person and present his case before the PIO, something which the Central Information Commission does not mandate. Tehelka - The People's Paper
  5. ganpat1956

    Sub Judice? It is no bar to RTI Act>

    I am furnishing the following interesting news report which I found in "The Telegraph" dated 17.09.2006, for the benefit of RTI community: New Delhi, Sept. 16: Fighting a case against a government official but fed up with the roadblocks in getting the necessary documents from unwilling babus? Put your faith in the Right to Information (RTI) Act. Documents that may help beef up a legal case can be sought under this legislation even if the matter is already in court, says the central information commission. The commission — an independent panel appointed as the legislation’s custodian — has clarified that government bodies cannot deny documents to an appellant on the ground that the matter is sub judice. Many people have been denied information just on this plea, based on a dodgy interpretation of a clause in the RTI Act. “We believe that people fighting a legal battle have every right to be given information that will help them in the case. Government bodies have been wrong in denying information claiming the matter is sub judice,” chief information commissioner Wajahat Habibullah has told The Telegraph. He feels that most such cases have a strong “public interest component, which makes transparency extremely important”. For instance, Rajeev Agarwal, a senior manager at Wipro, had decided to take on Delhi’s traffic police after being told by officials to pay the “mandatory” bribe to get his driving licence renewed. Rajeev shot off a letter to the traffic police, asking to be told the procedure for lodging a complaint against the officials who had asked for the bribe. After waiting in vain for a reply, he filed a case and, under the RTI Act, sought details of appointments in the traffic police. This time he was told that since the matter was now sub judice, the traffic police were not obliged to provide him with the information. Habibullah’s clarification has made Rajeev happy. “I was told there would be no point applying to the central information commission as the matter was sub judice. Now I feel I can get the documents that will help me win the battle against corruption in the transport department,” he said in his sleek, wooden-panelled office overlooking the Lotus Temple. Mahaveer Singhvi, a young Indian Foreign Service probationer, is another appellant who was denied information on the same ground. Dismissed from service, Mahaveer is fighting a case against the Central Administrative Tribunal in Delhi High Court. He is waiting for documents relating to his dismissal from the foreign ministry. The contentious clause —Section 8(1)(j) — of the RTI Act says: “Information which cannot be denied to the Parliament or a State Legislature shall not be denied to any person.” It, however, does not say the converse — that information that cannot be produced before Parliament or a state legislature should not be made available to any person, as has been interpreted by government bodies. If a matter is sub judice, documents relating to it cannot be produced in Parliament or a state legislature. The link to the above is furnished herunder: Sub judice? Itâ019s no bar to info act
  6. ganpat1956

    Communication snap

    As reported in "Mid Day" (Dec.18,2006) The Bombay High Court and its subordinate courts don’t have a Public Information Officer (PIO). Till one is appointed, there is no one to give you official information on matters related to the said courts. You do have a right to seek a right to information though. Not covered by RTI Advocate Macchindra Patil had written to the Registrar General of the Bombay High Court M N Gilani, seeking information on the number of vacancies for judicial officers in the state. “The registrar general refused my application on the grounds that HC is not covered by the Maharashtra Right To Information Act,” he said. Patil, however, learnt that the Bombay High Court has already sought to address the issue of transparency by drafting the Right To Information Rules (RTIR). Notably, the high court initiated the move on its own. The RTIR, which was declared through a notification signed by Gilani on December 9, 2006, identified the PIO to be the most important officer facilitating the implementation of RTIR. Gilani, however, through a handwritten note dated December 14 admitted that no PIO has been appointed till date and assured that he plans to appoint one soon. The role of PIO To get information under RTIR, a self-signed application will have to be produced before the PIO after affixing a court stamp fee of Rs 12. After scrutinising the application, the PIO will instruct the applicant to appear on the fifth day of submitting the application. To inform the applicant whether the desired information can be passed to him or not is a duty of the PIO. If the applicant is illiterate, the PIO is expected to help him with the application. The PIO’s office will maintain a register containing details of applications made and action taken. The PIO will certify the information by putting his signature and seal. A fee of Rs 10 per page will be charged if the information is provided in the form of photocopies. A cash register will be maintained by the PIO. The RTIR notification is available on Bombay High Court’s website, www.hcbom.mah.nic.in
  7. ganpat1956

    Time now to enforce RTI: CIC

    JODHPUR: The effectiveness of the country's 18-month-old path-breaking transparency legislation, the Right to Information Act, came under review for two days ata workshop on RTI over the weekend in the Sun City of Jodhpur. There were complaints of lack of interest on the part of State Governments in creating the necessary infrastructure for disseminating the information under the Act but the speakers -- who included Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah and pioneer of the movement Aruna Roy and CICs of Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan -- hailed the new law as one of the "outstanding legislations" in the world and "unprecedented" in the country going by the public response. Even while cautioning the public against assuming that the new law would act as a "jadui chhadi" (magic wand) to solve all the problems, Mr. Habibullah conceded that enough time had been given for the system to get attuned to the provisions of the new law. "The period training has ended. Now for denial of, or for delay in, providing information there should be a serious reason; otherwise penal action will have to be initiated," he said. The time was up not for the country's adamant bureaucracy alone. "It had been a training period for all of us. Now we have to move forward and give people what is theirs by right," Mr. Habibulah said. "This is an Act the people have accepted and adopted as theirs." "No better law could have been possible to curb corruption in the country," noted Congress general secretary Ashok Gehlot, convener of Bharat Sewa Sansthan. The workshop, meant to train youth in RTI and NREGA, was the first public programme at the newly inaugurated Rajv Gandhi Sewa Sadan premises of the Bharat Sewa Sansthan. "It is for the Governments to spread awareness on the application of the legislation. A certain amount could be earmarked for educating the public on the law," Mr. Gehlot suggested. He expressed happiness over the passage of the State level Right to Information Act in 2002 when he was the Chief Minister of Rajasthan. "Unless the penalty factor is not put into use the information will not come out," said Aruna Roy, whose Rajasthan-based Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan pioneered the public movement for the law. "Punish three; three thousand will fall in line," she said. Even after the legislation many officers continued to deny information to the seekers, she noted. "We need to put pressure on the State CICs to truthfully implement the Act," she added, pointing out that the offices of the State Commissions, including that of Rajasthan were forced to function under limited resources. Ms. Roy suggested a bold stance from the CICs. "The Commissioners should not be cowed down by the Government in power," she said. Giving an update on the law and its implementation, Nikhil Dey of the MKSS said there had been "tremendous input from the people" on the Act in the first year of its being. (The Hindu, Dec.19,2006-online edition)
  8. In the first decision of its kind from an international tribunal, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled yesterday that there is a fundamental human right to access government information. In the case of Claude Reyes and others vs. Chile, the Court found in favor of three environmental activists who in 1998 sought information from the Chilean government about a controversial logging project. By failing to provide access to the requested information, the Court held that Chile had violated Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees freedom of thought and expression. According to the Court, Article 13 contains an implied right of general access to government-held information, and States must adopt legal provisions to ensure the right is given full effect. The Court specifically ordered Chile to provide the requested information about the Rio Condor logging project or to issue a reasoned decision for withholding it, as well as to adopt adequate administrative procedures to protect the right in the future and to train public officials to uphold the public's right to information. International advocates of transparency in governance and the right-to-know applauded the precedent-setting court decision. "The Court has ruled that freedom of information is a fundamental personal, social, and civic right, and a critical component of a full transition to democracy," said Peter Kornbluh who directs the Chile Documentation Project at the National Security Archive. According to Helen Darbishire, Executive Director of Access Info Europe, the decision "will be invaluable for activists who need government information to defend other human rights, protect the environment, and fight corruption." Related Materials English summary of the case and decision http://www.freedominfo.org/documents/ICHR_Claude_court%20summary.pdf Access Info Europe press release http://www.freedominfo.org/documents/Access%20Info%20Europe%20Press%20Release.pdf'>http://www.freedominfo.org/documents/Access%20Info%20Europe%20Press%20Release.pdf Read the amicus brief filed in the case by Article 19 and the Open Society Institute Justice Initiative http://www.freedominfo.org/documents/Access%20Info%20Europe%20Press%20Release.pdf http://www.freedominfo.org/documents/osi_amicus_ichr.pdf [source: freedominfo.org: foi news - inter-american court finds fundamental right of access to information]
  9. For two decades the people of Sunder Nagri, on the north-east edge of the Indian capital, Delhi, had to make do without sewers. As the alleyways and backyards of their slum festered, local officials kept making and breaking promises to clean things up. Then, local businessman Noshe Ali decided to take matters into his own hands. Using a new law that forces the authorities to disclose information, he discovered what everyone in Sunder Nagri had already guessed - that there were no plans to dig any sewers. Armed with this knowledge, he persuaded the Indian capital's chief minister to authorise a budget, and work started within a year. "This place used to be really dirty. There were lots of mosquitoes and many people caught disease. Now things are quite different," Noshe Ali said. Desire for change The government brought in the Right to Information (RTI) law last year to open the opaque world of the civil service up to public scrutiny. It is a revolutionary act... It changes the power balance in favour of the people Former civil servant Arvind Kejriwal "Within government there is a desire to bring about change, to bring about greater transparency," says Wajahat Haibullah, the head of the Central Information Commission, which oversees implementation of the law. For a fee of 10 rupees, Indians can now ask the government for information on almost anything. It has been enthusiastically welcomed by members of some of India's poorest communities who complain that for years they have been ignored by lazy, inefficient and corrupt bureaucrats. In Sunder Nagri, most families scrape a living from the textiles industry. Usha, the resident of a Delhi slum Though Usha did not get information, she got the certificates Men work heavy wooden handlooms squeezed into dusty rooms, and the women sit on the pavements outside, spinning cotton on old bicycle wheels. It is not just work on large infrastructure projects like sewer lines that they want to speed up. They are often made to wait for simple things like passports, driving licenses, electricity and water connections - or pay a bribe. Usha, for example, was asked to hand over 800 rupees ($20) for birth certificates for her two daughters. "They were asking for money from me, but we hardly have enough to even feed ourselves," Usha said. Revolutionary act Instead of paying bribes, she used the RTI to find out what was delaying her application, and which official was responsible. Rather than disclose that information, she was called into the local government office and given the birth certificates. "It is a revolutionary act," says Arvind Kejriwal, a former civil servant, who founded a grass-roots movement, Parivartan (Change), to champion the right to information. "It changes the power balance in favour of the people." A woman weaver in a Delhi slum Delhi's poor weavers have held bureaucracy to account Another resident of Sunder Nagri, Radha, alleges that she waited two years for a ration card, which entitles her to subsidised food. During that time she says someone else was using it illegally. "After I filed an RTI application the ration card arrived within days," she said. Mr Kejriwal and a network of media organisations and NGOs are now trying to spread awareness of the law from India's cities to its rural areas where a large proportion of government development funds is either wasted or stolen. New addiction "We are going around the country telling people they no longer have to pay bribes in India," Arvind Kejriwal says. He warns, though, that some within government want to reduce the powers of the act. In August the cabinet considered an amendment which would prevent disclosure of some comments scribbled on the side of files, but shelved the plan after nationwide protests. Even without the amendments, activists admit it will take a long time to genuinely open up the civil service. But a growing number of Indians are beginning to enjoy their new powers. "When someone learns to use RTI, he almost becomes addicted to it," Arvind Kejriwal says. "It is so powerful, it empowers the very ordinary citizen in a tremendous way." BBC NEWS | South Asia | Information law lifts Indian poor
  10. News I read from The Cronicle Herald.ca about Nosa Scotia Province Freedom of Information implimentation. ======================= Better, but far from perfect Province has gotten better, but N.S. charges highest fees for public info By DARCE FARDY Or as Alasdair Roberts, an expert in Canadian freedom of information legislation, and professor at Syracuse University, puts it: "Politicians and bureaucrats are not going to give up power easily. Given the opportunity they will try to reclaim it." Outgoing federal information commissioner John Reid was upset by a decision of the new Conservative government to stall on an election promise to introduce a much stronger Access to Information Act. He wonders whether the government’s plans were "simply hijacked by bureaucrats who saw their culture of secrecy threatened for the first time in decades." I have concluded, after 11 years as Nova Scotia’s independent review officer under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, and after nine months as the president of the Right to Know Coalition of Nova Scotia, that things will not change as long as citizens give no indication they care. The evidence is that they don’t, at least not in significant numbers. Let me make it clear this is not a partisan issue. Information commissioners across the country do not expect, nor do they see, any improvement in access when a government changes, even when members of the new government, while in opposition, stood four-square in support of access to information legislation and often criticized the party in power for its lack of transparency. I also want to say that the situation in this province does not match the one faced by the federal information commissioner. Nova Scotia has one of the best freedom of information acts in the country. It is the only legislation that requires governments and other public bodies to be "fully accountable" to the public; the act covers all government departments and agencies with rare exception; cabinet records are subject to requests and the records are made available to the review officer in their entirety during a review of a government decision; all municipalities, universities, colleges, school boards and hospitals in the province are subject to freedom of information legislation. Recently a provincial cabinet minister appeared at a public forum to discuss transparency and accountability in government and to face a critical public. Mark Parent, minister of the Environment and Labour, accepted my invitation to join a panel with other politicians. He answered questions, replied to criticism and stayed until the forum was over. I suspect there was no lineup of ministers wanting to appear in his stead. For some years now, the deputy minister of Justice, whose department is responsible to the legislature for the Freedom of Information Act, has appeared publicly to explain and defend the legislation. To my knowledge, no other minister has done what Mr. Parent did and no senior bureaucrat has followed deputy minister Doug Keefe’s example. Many of the employees who handle applications under the act for government departments have improved their approach significantly. I said in public recently that some of them are now "advocates of access to information" though I suspect many of them would like more support from their bosses. A recent audit by the Canadian Newspaper Association placed Nova Scotia fourth among the 10 provinces for its willingness to provide information on selected applications. Nova Scotia scored 89 per cent. Eight out of nine applications to different public bodies were met. The provinces ahead of Nova Scotia scored 100 per cent compliance. In a similar audit last year, Nova Scotia placed last in the country. Applicants for information from public bodies can now look for support in some 28 Nova Scotia court rulings brought down since the existing legislation was passed in 1995. All but one came down firmly on the side of providing the information or most of the information requested. So much for the good news. Nova Scotia has the highest freedom of information "user fees" in the country, inhibiting access to information from public bodies. I heard no good explanation for the substantial increase in fees five years ago from $5 for an application and no charge for a request for review by the Review Officer, to $25 for each step. I did not buy into the reason made public: that it would stop frivolous applications. In my experience frivolous requests were rare, and these fees do stop genuine applications. Revenue gathered from these fees is negligible. The government estimates that the act costs $1 million a year but this is likely a rough estimate. However, we can’t expect that this important program, like any other, can be done at no cost. It is money well spent. Whatever the true cost of administering this act, the government has been slow to give its administrators the resources to allow them to get out among the public to explain to people how and why they should take advantage of their fundamental rights to information from public bodies. As far as I know no government in Canada has claimed, as Sweden has, that its freedom of information legislation has made government more efficient. Freedom-of-information legislation no doubt has promoted efficiency because public bodies would require proper records-keeping in order to meet their obligations under the act. The establishment of the Review Office reveals that the government at the time appeared to have no idea what resources would be required. Hence no budget was provided. The government believed that a "part-time" review officer working a few days a month could handle "rare" appeals from the public. In my first year in the job I received 54 appeals, increasing in significant numbers each year until the fees were increased. Working alone at the time I found myself coming to the office six and sometimes seven days a week. It took government several years to admit that the job required a full-time review officer and changed the legislation to confirm this. Only then was a budget applied to allow me to hire two staffers. Nova Scotia’s Review Office had a staff of three before I retired. The freedom of information review office in Manitoba, a province of comparable population, had a staff of 15. While the budget for the Review Office was increased over the years, this increase was hardly commensurate with the amount of work required by the office and left precious little to allow for public education. The government’s lack of attention to the Review Office is further reflected in its failure to appoint a new review officer. An acting review officer has been filling in for 10 months. As far as other public bodies are concerned, many municipalities have not yet embraced their obligation to be open and transparent in their decision making. Some are unfamiliar with the legislation. Few feel obliged to share their deliberations with the people who put them in office. Apparently these municipal councils believe they work more efficiently if they don’t involve the public. It no doubt hasn’t occurred to them that citizens might have some good ideas worth considering. Nova Scotia’s school boards have refused the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies student information that was provided by the other three Atlantic Provinces. The Halifax Regional School Board has warranted public scrutiny several times recently and, one would hope, would be anxious to demonstrate its openness and accountability. School boards’ decisions, after all, have a tremendous impact on children, parents and, probably, grandparents. We need to know more about the reasons behind information supporting the decisions made by these boards. The committee organizing the Commonwealth Games may be losing public support by its reluctance or inability to provide enough information to assuage the concerns of those who fear the Games are going to lay too heavy a financial burden on the taxpayer. Even though I’m a supporter of the Games, I believe the organizers may have been receiving poor advice. In too many municipalities, universities, hospitals and school boards, the culture of secrecy still prevails. Let me return to a point I made earlier: politicians and governments are unlikely to improve the legislation, including reducing user fees, if the public demonstrates no interest. A campaigning politician once told me that not a single constituent he met on hundreds of doorsteps ever mentioned freedom of information, transparency or accountability. There’s evidence that thousands of Nova Scotians are unaware of their rights under the Freedom of Information Act and few of those who are aware take the time to exercise these rights. Although the annual audit by the Canadian Newspaper Association is welcome to all advocates of "open government," journalists themselves, at least in this province, are not frequent users of the act. In some cases their editors and producers do not give journalists who are inclined to use it the time to do so. The public deserves better from the media. The rewards for an enterprising reporter can be significant and the results useful to all of us. Reporter Jeffrey Simpson’s recent articles on restaurant inspections in The Chronicle Herald attest to this. Enter the Right to Know Coalition of Nova Scotia. Our mission as a non-profit agency is to educate the public about their rights to information and to advocate transparency in public bodies. The deplorable voter turnouts in recent elections make it clear that not enough Nova Scotians are engaged in the political process. This can’t be in anyone’s best interest. The coalition believes the Freedom of Information Act is an important avenue to take to create a better informed electorate. The members of the board of the coalition were encouraged by the turnout and vigorous debate at a recent forum at King’s College. We intend to continue our efforts and expand on them when we acquire the necessary funding.
  11. Gandhinagar, November 1: Devised to bring transparency in administration and governance, the Right To Information (RTI) Act, 2005 is in fact becoming an effective grievance redressal tool in the hands of public suffering official apathy. A proactive office of the State Chief Information Commissioner (SCIC) is helping send across the message to government functionaries to fall in line or be ready to face penalties. In two months of taking charge, the new SCIC, R N Das, has slapped more than 40 show-cause notices as to why authorities should not be penalised for delay or denial of providing information. Das has also slapped considerable fines in two cases, one related to the Office of Stamps and Valuation in Rajkot, and the other on Visnagar Municipality. Advertisement “The idea is to make decision-making authorities in various departments take note of the consequences of taking RTI Act lightly. In the present scenario, junior officiers designated as Public Information Officers or their assistants become scapegoats in case of any action against the departments,” Das says. In an example of how sternly the message is being sought to be conveyed, the State CIC not only asked the Vadodara Municipal Corporation (VMC) to furnish information sought by an applicant on encroachment, his order also asked the public authority to publish and adequately publicise the statutory powers vested in it and its officers for the removal of illegal constructions on public land as well as private land meant for common use. The verdict ends with a threat of action under Section 20 of the RTI Act that calls for penalty in case the authority fails to act. One, the APIO of VMC failed to respond in the mandated 30 days on the application of one Bharat Acharya, who had sought information related to encroachments on common and public land in some residential societies of Vadodara in November 2005. Acharya’s appeal against denial of information too was responded to by the APIO rather than the appellate authority. Das says that this is happening in many cases: “The scope, significance and implementation of RTI Act is yet to be understood completely. In fact, authorities at the district level and below it need to be sternly told to RTI is meant to strengthen the common man, and delaying or denial tactics are futile.” In yet another instance of proactive verdict under RTI Act, on October 5, Das asked the Panchmahals District Panchayat to make changes in its system of keeping records to make access to information quicker. This was apart from a penalty notice under Section 20 of the Act that was slapped owing to the delay by the panchayat in supplying the information sought by applicant Pradeep Shah. Under RTI Act, SCIC gets the whip cracking
  12. CENTRAL INFORMATION commissioner O P Kejriwal said that so far none of the petitioners exercising their rights under the Right to Information (RTI) Act had made enquiries about the departments known for high rate of corruption prevailing there. Kejariwal, who had come to participate at a panel discussion at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT-K) on the occasion of Antaragni-06 here on Friday, told newsmen that most of the petitions filed were related to delay in departmental promotions or denying the right of promotion to the employees. The petitioners wanted to know the reason for the delay or denying the promotion, he said. He said the petitioners did not prefer to make enquiries about the corrupt practices prevailing in a particular department. People appeared to be more concerned about their personal well being rather than the well being of the society as a whole. To a question he said that during the first year the RTI Act could not be implemented in a very effective manner but now its teeth were strengthened and the officials were under pressure to keep the documents ready to answer the enquiries of the citizens. He said it was wrong to allege that the commission had been very liberal towards the government officials and extended them certain privileges as compared to the petitioners. He said several guilty officials were fined and in many cases stern warnings were issued to the officials who failed to maintain transparency or to give satisfactory reply to the petitioners. Kejariwal said that since October 5 about 1,500 applications were received and notices to about 25 officials were given who failed to satisfy the petitioners and out of them notices to three officials were issued by him. He, however, said that as the awareness about the RTI would grow the number of applications would go down. Officials would become alert and ensure transparency in the records. He said though the bureaucrats and politicians were not very happy with the passing of the RTI, it seemed that under the public pressure government would not dare to make any amendment in the Act to make it ineffective. He admitted that poor infrastructure like scarcity of staff, inadequate office premises, lack of qualified personnel and proper awareness about the Act had slowed down the implementation of the Act. Sourse: To date, no query about corrupt depts : HindustanTimes.com
  13. Transparency Review, an initiative of the Centre for Media Studies (CMS), has been engaged in taking steps to make good governance a serious concern and amongst other issues has regularly published data on corruption in India. To promote awareness and implementation of the Act, the Centre for Media Studies has set up a Transparency Study Unit. It will examine developments in RTI and associated social objectives, facilitate dissemination of relevant information and serve as a link between Media, RTI groups and activists. Here is the journal for the month of July-Auguest 2006 (in pdf)
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