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  1. RTI ‘transgressing into govt functioning’, Moily wants a debate D K Singh Posted: Sun Sep 25 2011, 01:19 hrs New Delhi: can be seen here : http://www.indianexpress.com/news/rti-transgressing-into-govt-functioning-moily-wants-a-debate/851360/0 Denying any rift between Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Home Minister P Chidambaram, Corporate Affairs Minister Veerappa Moily today called for a “national debate” on the scope of the Right to Information Act (RTI), saying it “transgresses into the independent functioning of the government”. This came in the context of Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy citing a Finance Ministry note that has brought the spotlight on Chidambaram’s role in the 2G spectrum allocation, which was obtained through RTI. “We call it argumentative India. Every person or ministry has the right to express views but you cannot interpret it as differences between Pranab Mukherjee and Chidambaram. In the context of RTI exposures, people are misreading things. Transparency, yes, but it cannot scuttle the independence of individuals and ministries expressing difference of opinion. It’s time for a national debate on this issue,” Veerappa Moily told The Sunday Express. As for the Finance Ministry’s purported letter regarding the role of Chidambaram, the Corporate Affairs Minister said it could not be construed as infighting in the government. The note sent to the PMO says that had the Finance Ministry, then under Chidambaram, stuck to the auction option, the grant of licences could have been cancelled. It adds that the note “had been seen by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee”. “Just because there is exchange of views on administrative matters, one cannot call it infighting. In a democratic process that our Cabinet system follows, there is free exchange of views to arrive at a correct decision. Even at the Prime Minister’s level, we express our differences. How can democracy function otherwise? But RTI obtain 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,” said Moily. The Corporate Affairs Minister, however, refused to discuss specific changes in the RTI Act, preferring a national debate first. Moily had earlier backed Chidambaram, slamming opposition parties for demanding his resignation. While the Congress has been quick to back Chidambaram, party president Sonia Gandhi has refrained from making any intervention so far. Sources said she has not spoken to either Prime Minister Manmohan Singh or Mukherjee or Chidambaram. “Let’s see how the court treats this matter,” said a senior Congress leader, maintaining that the party was not inclined to interfere in issues concerning governance. Congress sources, however, said many senior leaders have raised the issue of a “rift” in the top echelons of the government with her. “She had made some interventions in the past but that apparently did not last long. We are sure she will have a serious talk with the Prime Minister upon his return,” said a senior party functionary.
  2. Atul Patankar

    Threats shadow activists

    As reported by Pallavi Singh & Maitreyee Handique at livemint.com on FEBRUARY 10, 2011 New Delhi: On a Republic Day when India celebrated 61 years of justice, equality and liberty, Amar Nath Pandey says he encountered the darkest moment of his life. In late evening on 26 January, a lone assailant leaped from the folds of darkness in the street outside his house in Uttar Pradesh’s Robertsganj and shot him at close range. The bullet grazed his head above his left ear without causing any fatal injury, but it’s not the attack that has left him shaken. He says it’s the cruel coincidence of the assault with Republic Day, an event he had celebrated a few hours earlier. A serial applicant under the Right to Information Act (RTI) that grants the common man the right to access information on government schemes, and convenor of Lok Sangharsh Samiti, a group working against corruption, Pandey says 26 January will now always mark a day when someone wanted to kill him for exercising his fundamental right. “I don’t feel safe anymore. What had I asked for more than simple information?’’ he asks. The information Pandey had sought turned out to be complicated. His RTI queries over the last one year attempted to uncover corruption in the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), a government project that promises 100 days of guaranteed jobs to poor households every year; Indira Awaas Yojna, a government housing scheme for the poor; and other local projects in his village. Pandey claims that his RTI queries led to threats to his life followed by a road assault by a few unidentified men on a speeding jeep, as mentioned in the First Information Report (FIR) filed by him. Pandey could have been the 11th RTI activist to die. But the homeopath survived, becoming one of the many RTI activists to have suffered repeated attempts of murder, physical assaults and intimidation in recent months. According to figures available with National RTI Forum (NRF), a national organization based in Lucknow that was established to raise awareness about the Act, at least 10 activists have been killed in the past two years. There are no official figures for threats and assaults but NRF’s president Amitabh Thakur says relentless RTI applications are prompting attacks on the activists. Just a year ago, Satish Shetty, a 39-year-old social activist, succumbed to injuries after an attacker stabbed his head several times with a sharp weapon outside his home in Pune on a foggy morning of 13 January. On the night of 11 February last year, 55-year-old Vishram Bhai Dodiya, a bookseller in Surat, died on the spot after being hit on the head with a stick and with multiple stab wounds on his back, according to an FIR filing. Amit Jethva, an environmentalist from Gujarat’s Khamba village was murdered outside the state high court on 20 July 2010, as per the FIR. His brother Jignesh Jethwa claims that the attacks happened in response to his RTI queries on illegal mining in the neighbouring Gir reserved forests, which later formed the basis of public interest litigation. Under the RTI Act, citizens are empowered to seek information on the functioning of the government and are to get what they demand within three months; in matters relating to life and liberty, answers to queries can be demanded within 48 hours. Right to know a public act is a fundamental right. But the movement for greater transparency has now come under a shroud of darkness as individuals increasingly face threats—both veiled and direct—for attempting to expose corruption. “It’s reflective of complete disruption of the notion of governance in the country,” says Aruna Roy, leading social activist who spearheaded the RTI movement, which led to the enactment of the Act in 2005. Roy, a Magsaysay awardee, says while initial years of the Act uncovered small instances of corruption, violence has escalated as it’s now being used to unearth bigger scams. Santosh, who uses only one name, a 25-year-old activist with Delhi-based RTI advocacy group Parivartan, didn’t always believe that a simple 20-rupee application for information on food supplies to Public Distribution System outlets could unsettle ration shop owners in her Sunder Nagari colony in New Delhi. Her rounds of government offices were always marked by protesting ration shop owners, who would protest her presence, abuse her and issue open threats before the authorities, she says. Between 2003 and 2009, she says there were nine attacks on her, two of which could have turned fatal. “Twice I was attacked with a blade and my throat was slit by unidentified men. I am not scared but my family worries a lot,” she says. She later reported the blade attacks to the police through a written complaint. In later years, Santosh filed about 100 RTI applications on a range of issues, including corruption in PDS, issuance of caste certificates for backward classes, installation of electricity meters and local area development works of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi. Yet, at the Central Information Commission (CIC)—the apex body established to ensure implementation of the law—RTI applications are often defeated by inordinate delays in responses from concerned officials. Activists say such delays expose individuals to possible threats from those with vested interest. Central and state information commissions, they say, often lack the power to take actions when government agencies resist, often in collusion with police. “We need to strengthen accountability in regulatory systems and for that, creation of a supervising body is essential. This is when the Lok Pal Bill becomes important,” says Aruna Roy. “It’s not so much about corruption, but arbitrary use of power given by the state.” The Bill provides for appointment of an ombudsman at the Centre who can look into irregularities by government officials and politicians and redress grievances of citizens. Wajahat Habibullah, India’s first CIC, says the very fact that attacks are happening proves the RTI Act is making an impact, though a more proactive role needs to be played not only by the commission but also members of the civil society and the police. “Efficacy of the Act is connected to the political future of the country. The government, which ensured its introduction, passage and implementation, should not fight shy of standing by the activists of the Act who are true ambassadors of democracy,” he says. “To make it work, social and political consciousness of this country have to work together.” The CIC deplored attacks on activists in a meeting held in September 2010. Its members have also begun discussing the Act and related issues with people engaging actively with the Act. The commission is also taking cognizance to ensure that information sought by RTI filers facing obstruction should be made public and writing to different authorities when such complaints arrive, according to information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi. “Ninety per cent of the RTI cases seek to access private information, not for public good. And both are equally important, and both kind of people need protection,” chief information commissioner Satyananda Mishra said. Aruna Roy insists attacks are not just a law and order problem; but Mishra believes otherwise. He says 90% of the cases are not related to public good or many private information is being asked through RTI. “Both are equally important because they are questions posed by public and both kind of people need protection. Actual enforcement can only be done by the police,” he says. In his tenure as CIC, Habibullah cites a case wherein the commission asked the respondent in the case to provide protection to the applicant. “A Coal India employee was being threatened for having filed an RTI to find out the donations made by his employer to the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund (PMRF). Responses from his employer and the PMRF on the amount of donations varied after which he received threat calls. We asked Coal India to provide him protection,” says Habibullah. While the RTI Act has well-intended principles and is anchored in the philosophy of empowering citizens with information for public good, it also suffers from a few loopholes which the government agencies use to evade action. Exactly a year ago, Ajay Kumar, who runs an NGO, was attacked by thugs—allegedly at the behest of Congress corporator Satbir Sharma—when he, along with municipal corporation officials went to take stock of unauthorized construction in north Delhi. They had gone supposedly to inspect land occupied by illegal means on the instructions of the central information commissioner, after the corporation failed to provide any answers to an RTI application, according to FIR filing. While Kumar was repeatedly hit with an iron rod that left him unconsciousness and with a broken nose, the police stood as mute witnesses, he says. Several of his colleagues, too, have been implicated for possession of arms. Following this incident, information commissioner Gandhi is said to have instructed the police to take action. But the police moved court, saying the commission was not a competent authority it can take orders from. “The police is clearly not comfortable in acting upon the orders of the commission,” states Gandhi. “And if such incidents could happen in Delhi in the presence of police and (perpetrators) can get away with it, it’s a matter of concern.” Around 263,261 RTI requests were received by the CIC in 2007-2008, the latest data available with the commission show. This excluded the complaints filed with the state authorities. And, surprisingly, the highest number of rejections for RTI requests has come from the home ministry, under whose control the central information commission itself operates. Sweeping the old order of corruption is almost impossible without an effective grievance redressal system. The RTI Act, Arvind Kejriwal, founder of Parivartan, says will remain ineffectual and RTI seekers will continue to face threat if whistleblowers aren’t protected. “Politicians, bureaucrats, police and industrialists are getting richer,” Kejriwal insists. “If anyone indulges in corruption, there’s little chance today that anybody would go to jail, or dismissed from their jobs or their ill-gotten wealth will ever get confiscated.” Meanwhile, RTI seekers feel vulnerable, giving up pursuing their case midway. Mohit Sharma, an advocate in New Delhi, filed a plea last year seeking information on the unauthorized construction on land controlled by the city municipal corporation. After repeated appeals, when the commission set a final date for reply, three executive engineers landed up at his home and made veiled threats to him and his aging father “to put reason in his son” or “he may meet with an accident”. “I did not surrender immediately and filed a police compliant,” says Sharma. “But after some thought, I gave up because there was a risk to life and I could see the consequences (of their threats),” says Sharma. Fear of harassment also prompted N.P. Singh, a doctor, to cancel his RTI application three years ago. Singh filed a complaint with the transport department about the delay in securing his driver’s licence and posed queries relating to general status and procedures of licence eligibility. Instead of a reply, a police officer promptly showed up at his east Delhi home to make a deal one afternoon: recall RTI in exchange for a licence. Singh relented. “I got my licence. But in these matters,” says Singh, “only thugs have their way.”
  3. As reported at timesofindia.indiatimes.com on Sep 29, 2010 NEW DELHI: Central Information Commission, the country's transparency watchdog, is likely to go headless from Thursday as no decision has been taken on the successor of Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah. The new Chief Information Commissioner will be chosen by a committee comprising the Prime Minister, the Leader of Opposition and a minister of the Union Cabinet. The committee has not met to decide on the issue. Habibullah, who demits office today, said that Chief Information Commissioner is the administrative head of the transparency panel and all related works will come to a standstill until his successor is appointed. The Chief Information Commissioner will, however, authorise some Information Commissioner to keep hearing appeals and complaints against the departments which were under him. Habibullah is looking after the CBI, Cabinet Secretariat, the CIC, the CVC, Higher Education, PMO, Supreme Court and High Courts among others. According to the RTI Act, the Chief Information Commissioner can only be selected by the Committee hence the charge cannot be handed over to any other Information Commissioner at the CIC even temporarily. When contacted, the Prime Minister's Office said that no meeting on the issue has been scheduled as of now. Meanwhile, all but one Information Commissioners have passed a resolution saying the new CIC should be from among them. "The Commissioners wish to reiterate and emphasise that the successor to Shri Habibullah should be found from within the Commission," the resolution passed by seven Information Commissioners said. It did not get the support of Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi who put his dissent on record while Habibullah abstained. "If the Chief Information Commissioner were to be appointed from outside the Commission, it will not only run contrary to the healthy conventions established in such collegial bodies as the Supreme Court, CEC and UPSC , but will also be extremely demoralising for those already serving the Commission with the exemplary dedication," the resolution said. It said selection of any one as the CIC from outside the Commission would also amount to uncritical acceptance of the loud clamour of certain vociferous interested groups as rational wisdom. If any of the Information Commissioners is appointed from within the CIC the term of their office shall not be more than five years in aggregate as the Information Commissioner and the Chief Information Commissioner.
  4. I learnt to view govt from outside, as to how those outside see it: Wajahat as reported in Indian Express, New Delhi: 30, Sept. 2010 On his last day in office as the first chairperson of the Central Information Commission, Wajahat Habibullah was still busy writing, dictating, correcting and confabulating. Among his last meetings were with three appellants who were keen that he dispose of their complaints before demitting office. The man credited with putting the historic Right to Information Act, enacted in 2005, into place, says he grew in the job. “I was aware of the failings of government,” says the former bureaucrat, “but I learnt to view government from the outside, as to how those outside government see it — that’s what this job showed me most of all.” On the impact of RTI, Habibullah says: “The courts are now looking at how RTI relates to them. There were attempts by several wings of government to seek immunity from RTI, but institutions like the Army are very au fait with the RTI, having developed mechanisms to cope with it. As far as courts go, there are specific issues like how it relates to the CJI’s office.” Ads by Google Habibullah’s stint was praised for how he dealt with overenthusiastic RTI users while ensuring that government work wasn’t held up by demands of transparency. While he firmly weighed in on the side of RTI activists by resisting attempts to amend the law, he was also criticised for being soft on PIOs and not levying enough penalties. Among the seven cases he drafted and dictated on his last day was a decision regarding a complaint against the Calcutta HC, which had argued that as it was established by the “crown”, it did not come under the Centre’s jurisdiction. Habibullah dictated to his staff the basics of how “the Government of India is the successor government to the Queen, and we don’t cede sovereignty to her or any higher power”. It’s a far cry from the days when, he recounts, officers like him were trained to withhold as much information as possible. On his handwriting, he says, “My signature is so bad and my handwriting is even worse. We were trained to sign in a way that would be impossible to forge, and to write in a way that was unintelligible without our being there, so we could fudge our way out of file notings... all trained to defeat any freedom of information.” While he had resigned as CIC a few months ago to try and set up the State Information Commission in Srinagar — a project that never took off — he was held back by the government that said a successor could not be found. A J&K cadre officer, he has a lot of emotional energy invested in the affairs there. Habibullah’s father Maj Gen E Habibullah is credited with setting up the Military Academy at Khadakvasla. A 1956 picture of his father with Pandit Nehru on horseback was one of the few things in his room that went back home with him after work on Wednesday. A N Tiwari is new CIC NEW DELHI: Information Commissioner A N Tiwari is all set to succeed Wajahat Habibullah as the new CIC. His tenure will be all of two and a half months, till he retires. A full-term CIC will be picked only in December. Habibullah confirmed this to The Indian Express. Tiwari is credited with significant decisions like asking banks and financial institutions to be more transparent in dealing with RTI requests and making IT returns of political parties public. ens I learnt to view govt from outside, as to how those outside see it: Wajahat
  5. Inside the govt, a certain degree of misunderstanding still persists as reported by Anuja & Ruhi Tewari in Live MINT The Right to Information (RTI) Act—that empowers citizens to demand information from the government and obliges officials to provide it—completes five years on 12 October. Chief information commissioner (CIC) Wajahat Habibullah, who presides over the implementation of the Act, leaves office on Wednesday. In an interview, Habibullah, who has been associated with the Act since the beginning, talks about its successes and failures. Edited excerpts: Has the implementation of the RTI Act succeeded in meeting the original vision behind the law? I wouldn’t talk of a complete success, but I do think that it has set a certain direction. Therefore, that direction is the principal achievement I think. If I can call it that, it is the growth of realization within, particularly the government. The information held by the government must be given when asked for. There are exceptions of course; information in certain cases is exempt from disclosure… But my feeling is that there is a growing realization, at least in the government of India, the information I ask for has to be given. Radical change: Wajahat Habibullah says the implementation of the RTI Act hasn’t been a complete success, but it has set a certain direction. Amit Agrawal / Mint http://blip.tv/file/get/Sidin-InsideTheGovtACertainDegreeOfMisunderstandingStill Persi544.flv This is quite a radical change from what there was before, when we were not only conditioned, but actually trained to believe that the information that is held by the government is held in trust for the government and should never be given unless you are compelled to do so… I think, this would, in my view, be the principal achievement. But there have been conflicts over the jurisdiction of the Act. Has implementation suffered because of that? I think these conflict areas have been diminishing... An area (on contention) was: up to what extent are the high courts and the Supreme Court or the judiciary subject to the RTI Act? There also we have had reconciliation... One area, which is still ongoing, is the area of extent of the limitations of the RTI Act. What do you think are the drawbacks of the Act, and how have they hampered its implementation? The drawbacks have really come from what one may call teething problems. The commission itself was not quite sure of the extent of its authority. The government was not sure of the extent of the authority that Parliament had granted to the commission… The second thing was that of there were administrative problems, financial problems. We did not have money, we did not have proper premises… These difficulties persist, but staffing continues to be a problem. We tried to make do with such staff that we have, the result has been—of course because of the lack of staffing —that there have been delays, not so much in the fact that information commissioners themselves are not hearing enough or giving orders but in the processing of applications at the official level. So this process has been a lengthy process and we had to depend upon outsourcing. And because we have been outsourcing, there has not been the kind of—and extent of—discretion, which we may have otherwise like to exercise, but these are minor matters. Why hasn’t the government done enough to make people more aware of the Act through advertising and other forms of publicity? Inside the government, a certain degree of misunderstanding still persists and it is not just with the government, it is with the activists also and that is why I have been disputing the use of this expression of RTI being characterized as a weapon against the government… I have also been critical of the government for not having done enough. The level of RTI (awareness) owes much to NGOs (non-governmental organizations), but they have been largely focusing in larger cities and that accounts for the fact that the awareness in larger cities is high and the use of the Act is also high. The government now has stepped up, you will notice that the government is issuing ads like it does in (MG)NREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) and other little shots and slides in television to promote the awareness of the RTI Act. How many applications do you get from rural areas? Does the government have specific plans to deal with the rural-urban awareness divide? The system for providing information in the rural areas has not been too systematized. The government already has a programme for rural common service centres that is going to be expanded across every district of the country. The idea being to provide computerized facilities right down to the district level, if not beyond. I see that the principal use of that will be use of the RTI... Karnataka and Gujarat have moved ahead with this kind of thing. Some activists who were campaigning for the RTI Act have now gone to the other side. Is their criticism constructive? Yes, all criticism is welcome. Of course, some criticism is abusive and it is, of course, not welcome. It is not that they have gone on the other side—they wanted the Act to come, they had certain expectations with the Act, they may find that its implementation is falling short of that. The level of awareness among public information officers (PIOs) is also very low. According to a PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) study, 45% of them said they have no training in implementing the RTI Act. Why is that? The PIO in my view actually has a very powerful position, which he is not using. He can demand his department to make the information accessible as is mandatory under section 4 of the Act, so his work is reduced, and if it is not done he has every right to come to the commission and say that the department is not complying. They also complained about not being paid incentives and that they were penalized if things went wrong. …The penalty may not fall on the PIO, but on the person who has failed to give the information… I do think that the fact that they have to give extra work, extra time, extra hour for this purpose and if you expect a good job to be done, then I would think that some sort of recompense would be advisable. Are we going to see an RTI implementation cell anytime soon? The government has considered it... I don’t know what happened after that. It is (supposed to be) an advisory body. So far as the commissioner is concerned, his autonomy will not be eroded, but it will be a body that will just advise the government. We already have the National Advisory Council as an advisory body to the government. Can NAC step in to advise the government on RTI? I think it already does. But NAC can’t become a kind of cell and it can’t be summoned by the minister that now you come and please advise us. The initiative will lie with NAC, they may summon the minister to come and advise them, but not the other way around! After five years, is the Act working smoothly enough so as not be affected by a change in the political regime, or with one CIC handing over to another? Political regime I don’t think is a threat at all, because I have of course been in discussion with the leadership of the (main opposition) BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party), with the Communists and with a number of people… Everybody has been actually making use of the law and I don’t think the law is under any threat from that quarter. The political class in general has been supportive. Inside the govt, a certain degree of misunderstanding still persists - Economy and Politics - livemint.com
  6. Atul Patankar

    Don’t brush aside RTI pleas: CIC

    As reported by Tanu Sharma at expressindia.com on Sep 23, 2010 Widening the ambit of the RTI Act, the Central Information Commission has told the 22 “exempted” security and intelligence agencies to be “careful” while dealing with requests for information and not just brush them aside. Several agencies like Intelligence Bureau, Directorate of Enforcement, NSG, CRPF are exempted from furnishing information under Section 24 of the RTI Act. Disposing an appeal filed by a Jharkhand resident, who had sought attendance details of a person working with the CISF in Patna, Habibullah said, “Under specific provisions of Section 24 (1) of the Act, there are circumstances under which even such listed organisations are accountable.” Habibullah “cautioned” PIOs with CISF to be more careful while dealing with requests in future.
  7. As reported by PTI at hindustantimes.com on September 22, 2010 The proposal for issuing a stamp of Rs 10 to be used as fee for filing applications under the Right to Information Act is pending before the Department of Posts for a year now. At present, a person has to either use a postal order or deposit Rs 10 in cash with the concerned department to get information under the Act. "CIC has received recommendation to make stamp of Rs 10 for RTI. We have forwarded a letter to Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) to act on it," Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah told PTI. The DoPT acts as nodal agency for work related to RTI Act. Many RTI activists, including Anna Hazare and Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi, had made a recommendation for such a stamp three years ago. The matter is now oscillating between the DoPT and the Postal Department. "We have received a request on making a stamp of Rs 10 for RTI. We have written a letter to DoP as they are responsible for making postal stamps," said G K Verma, Director for RTI Matters in DoPT said, adding the stamp is not ready yet. The proposed RTI stamp is to be made on the lines of Revenue Stamp and Central Revenue Fee stamp (CRFS). Activists have stressed for RTI stamp to popularise the Act and make it more effective among the masses, especially in rural areas. They want it to be available in post offices, Tehsil and Panchayat offices and banks to facilitate hassle-free implementation of Act. The money received through sale of such stamps should be utilised in creating awareness for the Act, the activists have said.
  8. As reported at expressindia.com on 20 July, 2010 New Delhi The Central Information Commission has directed the CBI to make public, records of the “trap money” used by the agency to crack corruption cases. Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah directed the CBI to provide an inspection of trap money register to an RTI applicant Harkrishan Das Nijhavan. Nijhavan had sought the details of trap money still withheld with the CBI, ACB in all the Delhi Units from January 1, 2006-January 15, 2009. Trap money is the money used by the agency to trap corrupt officials with the help of complainant. “Respondent Sumit Sharan, SP, CBI is directed that he will now, in accordance with the orders of Appellate Authority Y P Singh, fix a date and time when Harkrishan Das Nijhavan may be allowed inspection of the trapped money register, which will provide him with the necessary details which he has sought. This will now be free of charge,” Habibullah said. The agency in response to the RTI application had provided the skeletal details of the trap money but did not give any further details. “He (Nijhavan) has sought repeatedly to visit the office of CBI so as to inspect the register on the trapped money, regarding which he has received response. Although, he has been told verbally that he is welcome to do so, he has been unsuccessful in actually obtaining the appointment and then to gain access to the relevant register,” Habibullah observed.
  9. Govt's different yardsticks on officials quitting as reported by Himanshi Dhawan, TNN, in Times of India, NEW DELHI: Jul 3, 2010, In a blatant example of interpreting the law to suit the day's needs, the Centre chose to accept the validity of a written resignation as having immediate effect and then saw a similar situation in very different light — all within four months. The department of personnel and training (DoPT) accepted information commissioner Omita Paul's resignation — submitted on June 26, 2009 — on the ground that under the RTI Act, resignations of commissioners and chief information commissioners (CIC) would be treated as final without the formal acceptance of their appointing authority, the President. Four months later, the department did an about-turn to say that CIC Wajahat Habibullah's resignation could not be accepted as it was his "intention" rather than an actual resignation. The provocation was a legal notice demanding that Habibullah's orders be struck down as null and void as well as the government appointed selection committee's inability to reach a consensus on a replacement. RTI records accessed by activist Arvind Kejriwal from PMO and DoPT have revealed the "arbitrariness" in the appointments and resignations of information commissioners (ICs). RTI records show that Omita Paul was appointed information commissioner on May 13, 2009 and she resigned on June 26. She joined the finance minister's office the same day even before her resignation was accepted by the President. In a letter dated September 3, President's secretariat raised a legal point asking whether the resignation had to be formally accepted by the President or would it be considered accepted by virtue that it was in the person's writing. Refering to RTI Act's section 13, under secretary Faiz Ahmed Kidwai said the Act "provides that an IC may at any time by writing under his/her hand addressed to the President, resign from his/her office. The RTI Act does not provide that the resignation has to be formally accepted by the President." He added that the same procedure was followed for judges of high courts. The DoPT took a view from the law ministry which in its opinion — approved by the law secretary — said that resignations of the IC and CIC "be treated as final without the formal approval of the President," in a note dated October 15. The law ministry based this conclusion on the fact that RTI Act section 13 had similar provisions as Article 124 and 217 of the Constitution that deals with resignation of HC judges. However, DoPT was caught in a bind when Habibullah resigned. The selection committee was unable to find an "acceptable" replacement and despite putting in his papers on October 19, Habibullah continued to hold charge. To compound matters, DoPT was issued a legal notice by Supreme Court advocate Adbul Rasheed Qureshi demanding that the resignation be accepted and all orders given by Habibullah be declared void. Source : Govt's different yardsticks on officials quitting - India - The Times of India
  10. As reported at ptinews.com on 27 Apr 2010 New Delhi, Apr 27 (PTI) The CIC has directed the Central Vigilance Commission not to destroy documents, whose disclosure is yet to be decided by it, even if there is a policy of disposing them of after a specified period. Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah said during a hearing that the documents sought by RTI applicants should not be destroyed till a decision is made on their disclosure. The case is related to Maj Gen (Retd.) V K Singh who, through his RTI application in 2008, wanted to know from the CVC the status of his complaint highlighting the alleged corruption in Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). The CVC said in its reply that his complaint was "filed" and no file notings were available. Source: fullstory
  11. Atul Patankar

    CBI is harrassing me says RTI activist

    As reported at ndtv.com on April 6, 2010 All he did was exercise his right, the Right to Information (RTI). But now RTI activist Mannish Bhatnaggar claims he is being harassed, by none other than the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). Bhatnaggar who filed the complaint on March 31, 2010 in the office of Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah shared his plight. "Little more than a month ago I had filed an RTI application with the CBI but instead of providing me the information, CBI officials have been visiting my house and meeting my neighbours," he said. While Bhatnaggar himself is trying to take the issue lightly, he says his family members, relatives and neighbours have never been so scared. "My family members are asking me to go out of Delhi for sometime and my neighbours are worried about several strangers roaming around in the neighbourhood and enquiring my whereabouts," he said. Mannish says the CBI sleuths first visited a friend of his, whose address he had been using for correspondence for his RTI purposes. "Almost a week ago, my friend's landlord had a few unexpected visitors and that very day the landlord issued a notice to my friend asking him to vacate the flat," he said on condition of keeping his friend's identity under wraps. After a few days, he alleges, some CBI officials reached his house in Rohini and sought his whereabouts from his mother. "My mother got scared and asked me not to come home for a few days. After that I have been getting calls from several people who have enquired about my relatives and neighbours," he said. But on March 31, Bhatnaggar decided to raise the issue with the Central Information Commission (CIC). "I had a meeting with Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi who asked me to file a written complaint with the office of the Chief Information Commissioner," he said. But according to Mannish, even after filing the complaints the stream of unknown and suspicious visitors continued, forcing him to shoot off an urgent telegram to all the top offices of the country. "On Sunday, I sent a mail to the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the Prime Minister's Office (PMO), the Home Ministry, the Chief Justice of India and the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC)," he said. He also forwarded a copy of his complaint to the Delhi Police Commissioner and the CBI's administrative branch. Though he has not received a reply from anywhere, apparently there have been no unexpected visitors for sometime. When contacted, the CBI was not forthcoming with a clear reply. "I don't have proper details of the issue so it would not be appropriate for me to make any comment. I will be able to divulge any details only after getting all the related information," said CBI spokesperson Harsh Bahl. Meanwhile, Bhatnaggar is still maintaining a safe distance from his home. "I have been an RTI activist for more than five years but had never faced such a situation. I am surprised as well as scared with the high-headed attitude of the country's most prestigious investigation agency. But I would not back out without getting the replies of my RTI," he said. Source: CBI is harrassing me says RTI activist
  12. As reported at thehindubusinessline.com on March 25, 2010 The Central Information Commission has been able to resolve almost 75 per cent of the total complaints/appeals received by using the Right to Information (RTI) Act. The Commission disposed off about 45,000 cases over the last four years till February 2010, out of the total 60,000 odd cases filed, according to Mr Wajahat Habibullah, Chief Information Commissioner. There has been an increase in awareness of the RTI Act which is evident from the sheer increase in the number of appeals received on a month-on-month basis. “In the first year of the introduction of the Act we were receiving about 60-70 appeals in a month, which has now gone up to about 2,000/month,” Mr Habibullah said while speaking on the sidelines of an inter-active session organised by the Merchants' Chamber of Commerce here on Thursday. The Commission, Mr Habibullah said, had been receiving complaints/appeals across a wide range of issues. “While we receive appeals pertaining to kerosene, ration card and land allocation from the poorer sections of the society, we have also been receiving appeals from affluent people pertaining to their ancestral properties or from members of political parties,” he pointed out. Source: The Hindu Business Line : About 75% of complaints under RTI Act redressed
  13. As reported at ptinews.com on 05 March 2010 New Delhi, Mar 5 (PTI) The disclosure of educational records of public servants under the RTI Act cannot be treated as invasion of their privacy, the Central Information Commission has held. Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah was hearing the case of an RTI applicant Jagdish Prasad Gaur who had sought photocopies of educational records of Joint Director, Security, R D Sharma besides other personal details from Lok Sabha Secretariat but his request was turned down. Gaur had alleged that Sharma abused him and he wanted to file a criminal case against him which required these details. The secretariat cited exemption clauses of the RTI Act which allowed withholding information which is personal in nature and would not serve any public interest. Source: fullstory
  14. As reported at zeenews.com on February 25, 2010 New Delhi: TERI School of Advanced Studies does not come under the ambit of RTI Act but one of the postgraduate programmes run by it does fall within the purview of transparency law as it receives funds from government, the Central Information Commission held on Thursday. "We come to the conclusion that TERI School of Advanced Studies, New Delhi, a society registered under the Societies Registration Act, 1860, cannot itself fall within the definition of the public authority," Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah said in an order. The Commissioner was hearing a case of an RTI applicant Ajay Kumar who had sought details of 'Masters course in Public Policy and Sustainable Development' run by the institute which he claimed receives financial help from department of Personnel and Training (DoPT). "Besides, the MoU bears out that the funding provided by the DoPT in this matter is only the funding of each participant. Nevertheless, the fee itself will inevitably go towards actual financing of the programme, which has been set up at the behest of DoPT for the benefit of candidates sponsored by it," the order said. "The Programme Coordination Committee with the Chairman, Board of Management, as Ex-Officio Chairman of the Committee, will constitute a public authority," he said. Habibullah said the course has been financed indirectly by funds provided by the DoPT and managed by a NGO on which Government stands represented. TERI School of Advanced Studies is a Deemed University recognised by the UGC. Source: TERI out of RTI ambit but one of PG courses under it: CIC
  15. As reported at timesofindia.indiatimes.com on 14 January 2010 NEW DELHI: The Central Information Commission has sought legal advice for disclosing information on cases related to human rights violations by personnel of paramilitary forces under the RTI Act. Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah told PTI that "number of these (human rights violations) cases have come to our notice. We are seeking legal advice on the matter and it will be decided soon by a full bench of the Commission." According to the second schedule of the Right to Information Act Act 2005, intelligence and security agencies established by the Central Government including the paramilitary forces have been kept outside its ambit. However, the information related to the allegations of corruption and human rights violations can be given. The disclosure of information about human rights violations is made after getting nod of the CIC within 45 days. Section 24 (1) of the Act reads, "... in the case of information sought for is in respect of allegations of violation of human rights, the information shall only be provided after the approval of the Central Information Commission, and notwithstanding anything contained in Section seven, such information shall be provided within forty-five days from the date of the receipt of request." Source: CIC seeks legal opinion for disclosing info on HR violations - India - The Times of India
  16. As reported at indianexpress.com on Dec 29, 2009 New Delhi : The records with a parliamentary committee can be provided to an RTI applicant once the report is tabled on the floor of the House, the CIC held on Tuesday, but exempted cases where documents are declared confidential. The case relates to RTI applicant Patanjali Sharma who sought a certified copy, from Rajya Sabha, of a rule of the Central Secretariat Services furnished to a Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs by Department of Personnel. "I am seeking the information relating to the inputs supplied by the Department of Personnel and Training, on the basis of which the (committee) prepared its 83rd Report," Sharma told the Rajya Sabha. He said there were gross factual errors in the report which are adversely affecting his career advancement. Rajya Sahbha gave some information but did not allow inspection of record saying these were "considered" confidential. "The deliberations of the Committee come in public domain only in the form of reports, which contain in detail the matters considered by it at different stages. The reports also carry with them records of the proceedings of the Committee in the form of minutes," it said. The CIC rejected the arguments saying the report was placed on the floor of the house in 2001 and there was nothing to suggest that it could be withheld from Parliament. "Inspection of the file, which is part of access to information...together with taking certified copies of the documents or records... is evidently accessible to appellant," Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah said while rejecting the arguments. Habibullah said the Committee had decided to place this before Parliament as long ago as 2001. "Once that has been done, it cannot be argued that any component of that Committee¿s proceedings resulting in the report being placed before Parliament is to be withheld from Parliament, unless so specified," he said. The CIC said the report does not stipulate whether Committee has not decided or has decided against placing a report, or any of its components, before Parliament. He directed the Central Public Information Officer to allow the inspection of the records after seeking permission of the Chairperson of the Rajya Sabha Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs within 10 days. Source: Parliamentary committee proceedings to be revealed under RTI: CIC
  17. As reported by Raminder Singh at mynews.in on 04 Dec 2009 New Delhi: The Chief Information Commissioner of India Wajahat Habibullah has consented to withdraw his resignation from the office to the President of India. Wajahat Habibullah, who had resigned as the ChiefInformation Commissioner of India, on 20th Oct 2009 was supposed to take up his new assignment as the watchdog to the Right To Information in Jammu and Kashmir on Oct 26. According to informed sources the development was consequent to the criminal notice issued today by the Supreme Court of India in a contempt of court motion filed against Shri Habibullah by the Solicitor General of India citing 2 recent decisions of the CentralInformation Commission ordering the court's Public Information Officer to disclose cerrtain information pertaining to the recent appointment of some judges of the court. If Habibullah had taken up his new assignment in J&K he would have had to defend the case in his personal capacity. The Union of India has alleged that the publication on the CIC's website of these controversial decisions containing scandalous pleadings of the appellant has tended to lower the dignity of the Court and interfere in the administration of justice by busybodies in collaboration with the CentralInformation Commission. Commenting on Mr Habibullah's watchdog role in Jammu and Kashmir, a source in the PMO had said. "His essential task would be to help the government in consolidating the dialogue process with Kashmiri separatists with whom he has a personal equation,". Tragically now the peace process must defer to a legal process. Source: Wajahat Habibullah to complete term as CIC
  18. As reported at hindustantimes.com on November 25, 2009 Five years after Justice (retd.) S.N. Phukan submitted his report on the Tehelka scam, the Central Information Commission has asked the Centre to provide him a copy of the report for the former defence minister George Fernandes, whose name had figured in the case. He can get the copy only if the Lok Sabha Speaker had exempted the report from tabling in Parliament. “Lok Sabha Speaker would be the only authority in holding documentation to establish that such information has been exempted from being submitted to Parliament on any ground,” Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah said on Monday. The defence ministry rejected Fernandes’ RTI application seeking copy of the report on the ground that it contained “highly sensitive and secret information relating to the defence equipments” and has not been tabled in the Parliament. In the interim report tabled in Parliament in 2008, Phukan had given Fernandes a clean- chit in $ 14 million defence deals and the Kandla-Bathinda pipeline project that had figured in the conversations taped by Tehelka. Habibullah said the Centre can’t deny providing the report’s copy as it failed to provide proof that the report was not tabled in “acquiescence of Parliament”. Source: Give Tehelka panel report to Fernandes, CIC tells govt- Hindustan Times
  19. As reported at indianexpress.com on Nov 23, 2009 Lucknow : Effective implementation of the Right to Information (RTI) Act has played an important role in helping the Congress, led by Sheila Dikshit, to form government for three consecutive terms in New Delhi, feels Wajahat Habibullah, Chief Central Information Commissioner. In fact, it had also helped late Y S R Reddy to regain power in Andhra Pradesh, Habibullah claimed, stressing that RTI doesn’t only empower common people but governments too. He was addressing around 200 RTI activists from Uttar Pradesh during a two-day workshop-cum-seminar on People’s Right to Information on Sunday. “While through RTI, as aam admi gets to know what elected representatives are doing for their welfare during their five-year term, MPs and MLAs can also come clean and win over voters by ensuring transparency,” said Habibullah, who is waiting to be relieved of his responsibilities in New Delhi and head the J&K information panel. Urging governments to ensure implementation of Section 4(1)B of the RTI Act (make transparent the functioning of government organisations), Habibullah said the House will itself get into order once the process of putting data on the website of every department begins. Prominent RTI activist Shekhar Singh, whose name is also in consideration for the post of CIC, spoke about safeguarding RTI and described how the law was drafted to catch corrupt officials in government departments. Founder member of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI), Singh also presented the findings of a recent nationwide survey conducted by his group. The survey tested the knowledge over 35,000 citizens across 10 states regarding RTI. Unfortunately, Uttar Pradesh did not figure in the survey as the State Information Commission could not supply them with the required records. The experts also expressed dismay over the proposed amendments to the RTI Act that include the introduction of an exemption for so-called “vexatious and frivolous” applications. A silent march to the Vidhan Sabha demanding that the government does not bring about any amendments into the Act, concluded the two-day workshop. Source: ‘RTI played major role in forming Cong govts in Delhi’
  20. As reported at dnaindia.com on November 20, 2009 The suprme court today argued before the Central Information Commission (CIC) that Right to Information (RTI) cannot apply unless the sought information is "lawfully" held by an authority in a manner a title of property is held, which was rejected by CIC. Presenting the apex court's arguments before the Commission, advocate Devadatt Kamat said the word "held" as mentioned section 2 (j) of the RTI Act does not does not mean possession of it unless there is a sanction of law behind holding of information. Hence, there cannot be any Right to Information, he maintained. Chief information commissioner Wajahat Habibullah said the argument was not correct and would "strike out the root of the RTI Act" as in that case no information could be asked under the transparency law. Habibullah said the word "held" mentioned in the section means ordinarily held adding it does not say lawfully held or held like property title as mentioned by apex court. The CIC was hearing the plea of information rights activist SC Agrawal whose application seeking complete correspondence with the CJI in the case of justice R Reghupati of Madras high court being allegedly approached by a Union minister to influence his decisions was rejected by the supreme court registry. Section 2 (j) says "right to information" means the right to information accessible under this Act which is held by or under the control of any public authority. Source: RTI can't apply unless info is lawfully held: SC to CIC - dnaindia.com
  21. Atul Patankar

    Padma award notings to be made public

    As reported by Himanshi Dhawan at timesofindia.indiatimes.com on 12 November 2009 Gopalaswami's letter on Chawla can be made public, says CIC NEW DELHI: The Central Information Commission (CIC) on Wednesday allowed former chief election commissioner N Gopalaswami's letter on his successor Navin Chawla to be made public but with a rider. Ruling that the letter sent by Gopalaswami to the President related to a third party, the CIC said that Chawla's views be taken before the disclosure. The decision comes months after Gopalaswami's letter raised a storm over the constitutional propriety of such an action. The Opposition had in fact gone to town alleging that Chawla was prejudiced towards the ruling party. The President's secretariat had refused to give a copy of the letter which had hogged limelight as it was alleged that Gopalaswami had recommended to the President that Chawla be removed from office for alleged "partisan" functioning. RTI activist S C Agrawal had sought the copy of Gopalaswami's letter which was rejected by the President's secretariat saying its disclosure would be an invasion of privacy and had invoked the related clause section 8(1)(e) of the RTI Act to deny the information. Agrawal argued that contents of the letter were already in the media and hence there was no reason to claim `invasion of privacy' and that in fact disclosure would ensure verification of the facts that had been reported. Chief information commissioner Wajahat Habibullah, in his decision, said that there was "no doubt that the information sought is third party and held in confidence by the President. This is therefore clearly third party information qualifying for the protection allowed by the Act as such". The CIC has asked the President secretariat CPIO to refer the matter to Chawla to "obtain his opinion on the disclosibility of this information". Source: Gopalaswami's letter on Chawla can be made public, says CIC - India - The Times of India
  22. As reported by Shashwat Gupta Ray at sakaaltimes.com on October 24th, 2009 PUNE: The implementation of new Right to Information (RTI) Act in militancy-troubled state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) would help in removing the disquiet in people for almost two decades by enabling their participation in the governance system, Chief Information Commissioner (CIC), Government of India and J&K State CIC designate Wajahat Habibullah said here on Friday. “The genesis of unrest in Jammu and Kashmir is the feeling of alienation in the daily governance system. They have developed a sense of mistrust against the state governments ruling the region till now,” Habibullah told Sakaal Times. Habibullah was in the city to attend a function organised by Public Concern for Governance Trust (Pune Chapter) to analyse the completion of four years of RTI Act in the country. However, the recently introduced RTI Act of 2009 in J&K would help in resolving the disquiet of almost two decades amongst people of the state as it would help in removing the sense of alienation among them and allow them to participate in the governance system, the CIC said. A draft bill on RTI Act was tabled on March 7, 2009, and passed by the Legislative Assembly and the Legislative Council by March 12. The Act subsequently came into force on March 20. The government is presently in the process of appointing Public Information Officers (PIOs) and Assistant PIOs. “This sense of alienation led people believe that they don’t have any stakes in the government’s decision making and it was acting on the behest of Delhi. But now, empowered with the RTI, they can question the government on its policies and remove their doubts,” Habibullah said. According to the senior bureaucrat, this will help people develop sense of belongingness with the government. “People will know whether the state government works for them or it is a stooge of Delhi, as some disgruntled groups want the people to believe. The transparency through flow of information will encourage more public participation in the governance, which is the essence of freedom and democracy,” the CIC said. Source: RTI Act in J&K will help remove disquiet: CIC
  23. As reported in thehindu.com on 24 October 2009: The Hindu : National : Government campaign on RTI not enough: Habibullah Government campaign on RTI not enough: Habibullah PUNE: Outgoing Chief Information Commissioner of India Wajahat Habibullah said here on Friday that the State governments had not done enough to spread awareness of the Right to Information Act (RTI). Speaking at the fourth anniversary celebrations of the Act organised by the Public Concern for Governance Trust here, Mr. Habibullah, who recently resigned to become RTI watchdog in Jammu and Kashmir, said: “Under Section 25 of the Act, it is the responsibility of the government to make sure that people know about the Act. Though the Doordarshan and the All India Radio have timely programmes about the RTI, the government is yet to start a huge campaign to create awareness.” Citing a study done by Shekhar Singh of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information, Mr. Habibullah said, only 30 per cent of Indians knew about the Act. The percentage dipped in rural areas to 10. He observed that these people knew about the Act by word of mouth or through the radio but not because of any efforts taken by the government. Similarly, the awareness in urban areas was thanks to the media and non-governmental organisations. Mr. Habibullah said that the RTI could hold up a mirror to people’s needs. “If a particular department receives a huge number of queries,” he said, “the government will know that the department is inefficient and people want a change in its working.” “Conducting elections is not enough for a democracy. Some sections of society, like Naxals, do not think they are stakeholders yet. Whether the RTI is able to make people feel like stakeholders in governance is its ultimate test.” Mr. Habibullah said that government departments had the responsibility to put up information related to them outside their offices under section 4 of the Act. In addition, they also ought to computerise records and make them freely available on websites. As this had not been done yet, a majority of the queries received under the RTI so far related to trivial information. This built undue pressure on the RTI machinery. State information commissioner Vijay Kuwalekar (Pune division) said, 90 per cent of the queries were of a personal nature. “Some applicants even attach 500 typed pages with their applications,” he said. “Like in Karnataka, applications should be made in less than 150 words.” The RTI activists pointed out other flaws in the machinery like non-updation of the State Information Commission website in over three years and non-payment of penalties by public information officers.
  24. As reported by Ishfaq Naseem at kashmirlive.com on September 03, 2009 Five months after the Jammu and Kashmir government brought the state's Right to Information (RTI) Act on par with the Central Act, it is setting up its State Information Commission. According to government officials, while the state has begun its search for an official to head the State Information Commission, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah is keen on Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah heading the organisation. In fact, officials said, Omar has also talked to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in this regard. Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibuallah will retire on September 30 next year when he attains the age of 65. Habibullah, however, said he will decide on joining as the Chief Information Commissioner for Jammu and Kashmir only when he gets a formal offer. “Let the offer come from the state government,” he said. The state’s Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ali Mohammad Sagar said the State Information Commission will start functioning shortly. The term of the Jammu and Kashmir Chief Information Commissioner will be for five years—similar to the Central Chief Information Commissioner’s term. Source: Omar wants Wajahat to head J-K info panel - KashmirLive.Com
  25. As reported at indiaenews.com/bollywood on September 01, 2009 Aimed at highlighting the common man's struggles and the role of Right to Information (RTI) in bringing a change in his life, an International RTI Film Festival (IRFF) is being organised by a team of NGOs and civil society groups here next month. 'The films made on RTI have played a major role in spreading awareness about its importance and usage among people. This usage of Right to Information and its effect on the life of the common man has been beautifully taken up by various filmmakers,' Neeraj Kumar of Kabir, an NGO, told IANS Tuesday. 'The main motive of this film festival is to bring all such films (dealing with work done in the direction of achieving a transparent system) in front of public and to make them realise that the crying need of the hour is not to complain but to act,' he said. 'We plan to carry it forward to other major cities of the country. We are working on a plan for Lucknow, Bhubaneswar and Bhopal,' Kumar further said. The films will be selected by a screening committee comprising of Chief of Central Information Commission Wajahat Habibullah, Orissa Information Commissioner Jagadananda (one name), Magsaysay award winner RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal and others. 'The films could be on RTI and on issues like self-governance, transparency and accountability. The entries can include the success stories, grassroots initiatives, community efforts, issues and solutions,' Kumar added. Source: India eNews - International RTI Film Festival in Delhi in October
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