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  1. As reported by Radheshyam Jadhav at timesofindia.indiatimes.com on Nov 3, 2011 PUNE: The Right to Information (RTI) Act is once again on the Congress's radar. After Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed apprehension over the Act, chief minister Prithviraj Chavan has attributed the slow pace of his government to the feather in UPA's cap. The chief minister, accused of being a 'slow mover' when it comes to clearing files and taking policy decisions, said in Pune on Monday that because of the RTI Act any file could become public and hence he has to go slow on decision-making and scrutinise each and every document. "As chief minister I have to take many decisions and you have seen the consequences of one wrong signature," Chavan said, indirectly referring to the Adarsh scam which was exposed after an RTI query and had forced Ashok Chavan's ouster from the CM's post. "Now with the RTI in force, all files could be accessed by anyone and that's why one has to be very cautious," he added at a Congress rally in the city. A section of the Congress ministers and party leaders, along with alliance partner Nationalist Congress Party, has repeatedly questioned Chavan's 'slow pace' and even complained to their high commands about his slow style of clearing files. "When I came to Maharashtra, the atmosphere was murky for the party. Soniaji had given me clear directions. There was a gloomy mood in the administration, works were halted and the overall atmosphere was not healthy. I was directed to bring stability and negate the negativity," Chavan said. He claimed that he has succeeded in the task. "Now there is stability and works have started. But any single mistake can cost heavily and, hence, we are cautious. The Congress introduced the RTI Act to bring transparency in administration and governance. But there are people who seek information even from the Prime Minister's office. This was not possible before the Act was introduced." Chavan referred to the March 25 note, 'seen' by Union minister Pranab Mukherjee, which became a weapon in the hands of the opposition and the government's detractors like Subramanian Swamy because it suggested that jailed DMK leader and former Union minister A. Raja would have been forced to cancel allocation of 2G licences if the finance ministry under P. Chidambaram had insisted on auctioning the 2G spectrum. "There are many decisions which involved error of judgment and no one imagined that the RTI would bring these decisions to public view. With all the information suddenly becoming public, there is a perception that all mismanagements are happening now. Some of our colleagues were punished severely after such information came out," said Chavan, without naming Congress MP Suresh Kalmadi and former chief minister Ashok Chavan. Chavan's objections on the RTI have the backdrop of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's speech last month. Addressing the annual convention of the Central Information Commission in New Delhi, Singh endorsed the concerns of his ministerial colleagues over the Right to Information, saying that the transparency enabler should not adversely affect deliberations in the government and deter honest officials from expressing their views on file. While hailing the RTI's extensive use and underlining his government's intent to strengthen the law, the PM said that there was a need to strike a fine balance between the need for information and the vexatious demands that did not have a bearing on public interest. He cautioned that making a point of view public in an 'isolated manner' may present a distorted picture of how a decision was arrived. "The RTI should not affect deliberative processes in the government," Singh said. RTI unease Till recently, the Congress leaders have regularly touted the RTI Act, along with the rural employment guarantee scheme, to burnish their pro-people credentials. But the transparency measure seems to have boomeranged, going by the unease of senior ministers like M Veerappa Moily and Salman Khurshid that the RTI is revealing more than it should. The law came into being, despite misgivings of the bureaucracy and politicians, due to the strong impetus provided by Sonia Gandhi. But it has become a thorn in the flesh for a government reeling under corruption scandals. The RTI revelation on the finance ministry's controversial 2G note blaming home minister P Chidambaram for not insisting on auctioning the spectrum has proved the last straw for the government. Law minister Salman Khurshid has said that the RTI was affecting the functioning of the government when it reveals confidential communication between a minister and the PM. The 2G and Commonwealth Games graft cases have seen reams of documents being made public. This has helped in maintaining pressure on government not to go slow in investigations. Media reports have also been taken note of by courts in deciding whether investigations were to be monitored. Moily had also said that the RTI was being misused and incorrect inferences were drawn from such disclosures. He said this would lead to officers hesitating to work and hiding information. The government has tried to prune the RTI earlier also but the effort saw it at odds with the Sonia-led National Advisory Council. Despite the accolades that the RTI has received and Sonia's support for it, it seems that the government is turning conservative over how the law is to be used as letters and documents have been used as politically flammable material by the opposition that has targeted the government.
  2. Atul Patankar

    Mr 5% unclean?

    As reported by Vinod Kumar Menon at mid-day.com on 12 Nov 2010 Prithviraj Chavan got a 40-lakh flat in Wadala for a mere 4 lakh under CM's 5% quota for the poor, reveals RTI In less than 24 hours since he took oath as chief minister of Maharashtra, Prithviraj Chavan's Mr Clean image has been put to the test. An RTI activist has revealed that the CM bought a property meant for the weaker section of society, worth Rs 40 lakh in Wadala for a mere Rs 4 lakh, but did not mention it in his affidavit submitted during the Rajya Sabha elections. When MiD DAY visited Venus building, we found Prithviraj Chavan's name on the society's notice board and that the society dues for flat 201 were paid till March 2011. The flat is on lease The documents (copies of which are with MiD DAY) reveal that Chavan had stated his average monthly income as Rs 76,000 and was allotted the flat in Bhakti Park, building no 12, measuring 1032.7 sq ft on May 20, 2003. RTI activist Anil Galgali, who obtained the documents, adds that while Chavan, who was an MP based in Delhi, had quoted his monthly income as Rs 76,000 in the application, the ration card copy issued in his late mother Pramilabai Dajisaheb Chavan's name showed the annual family income as just Rs 1 lakh. However, for a family to fall under the weaker section the annual income should have been under Rs 1.5 lakh in 2003. And Chavan's income clearly was far more than that. The price of the said property was over Rs 40 lakh, but Chavan was allotted the flat for a mere Rs 4 lakh under the 5 per cent quota of the chief minister, reveals the RTI. Ironically, the chief minister in question was none other than Sushilkumar Shinde, who has been accused of clearing the Adarsh housing file during the same period (2003). No mention Interestingly, in the affidavit submitted in the 2009 Rajya Sabha elections, Chavan does not mention any details about his Wadala property. Though his assets mention about property in Delhi valued over Rs 1.1 crore. An RTI activist has revealed that CM Prithviraj Chavan bought a flat that was reserved for the poor in Venus building, Bhakti Park in Wadala Galgali said, "The only reason to file an RTI in December 2008 was to get the list of people who had obtained flats under the chief minister's quota. I had information about rampant misuse of the scheme to benefit certain people from well-to-do families depriving the rights of poor." He added, "Initially the Urban Development Department were reluctant to share information. I had to then challenge it in appeal and finally after two months in February 2009, I got the list of beneficiaries since 1984 to Feb 2009, including names of journalists, freedom fighters, politicians, artists, etc." "It is a mere coincidence that I had sought the details of Chavan, as I knew he was with the PMO office and based in Delhi. On checking the documents, I found the irregularities and hence decided to expose it," said Galgali. Weaker section A person having an annual income under Rs 1.5 lakh can apply for a house under the weaker section of society chief minister's quota (2, 5 and 10 per cent) schemes Doesn't add up > In an affidavit submitted before the 2009 Rajya Sabha elections, Prithviraj Chavan claimed he had assets (houses) valued at Rs 1.1 crore in Delhi. He does not mention about the Wadala property. > In an application for the Wadala flat, Chavan claims his monthly income as Rs 76,000, whereas his mother's ration card (which has Chavan's name as well) claims an annual family income of Rs 1 lakh The Other Side Numerous attempts made by MiD DAY to get comments from Prithviraj Chavan did not yield any result. His personal assistant Bharat Mane confirmed to MiD DAY that the message was conveyed to the CM and he would revert back with his statement, but at the time of going to press, their was no response from either the CM or his office. Meanwhile, the CM's cousin Punjabrao Chavan denied that Chavan ever had any property in Mumbai. "He (Chavan) has never discussed about any such property that he owns in Mumbai."
  3. Atul Patankar

    India sanctions 116 posts for CIC

    As reported at igovernment.in on 03 December 2009 New Delhi: The Government of India has sanctioned 116 posts for the Central Information Commission (CIC) as the commission has been facing severe manpower crunch. The manpower situation was acute since CIC was also providing assistance to State Information Commissions (SIC) under a centrally sponsored scheme though staffing to the SICs are the responsibility of state governments. The government has also launched a centrally sponsored scheme for strengthening the State Information Commission and for capacity building on RTI through the State level Administrative Training Institute (ATI). For this, the government has sactioned Rs 3.27 crore during 2009-10. In 2008-09, the government had released RS 4.90 crore to the Administrative Training Institute. The government of Chattisgarh, Gujarat, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram, Tripura and Uttarakhand had sought central assistance for implementation of the Right to Information Act, 2005 Minister of State for Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions Prithviraj Chavan said. Recently, the fourth anniversary convention of the Central and State Information Commissioners highlighted the problems faced by the CIC and its state units in terms of sparse office premises, lack of basic office equipments, manpower crunch and low budgetary provisions. Source: India sanctions 116 posts for CIC : iGovernment
  4. Atul Patankar

    RTI amendment this session?

    As reported by Rashme Sehgal at The Asian Age on 30 July, 2009 July 29: The UPA government is planning to bring in a proposed controversial amendment to the Right to Information Act in the current session of Parliament. The proposed amendment is aimed at deleting "file notings" which many in the government believe were never part of the RTI Act as passed by Parliament. The ministry of personnel is reported to have readied the amendment and a stronger UPA government is confident it will be able to get it passed. Senior sources in the law ministry point out that details of the amendment have not reached them. But activists monitoring the RTI assert that past precedent has shown that the government often prefers to hold "informal consultations" around a controversial draft and then introduce it quietly in Parliament. Minister of state for personnel and public grievances Prithviraj Chavan’s recent statement in Parliament last week that the government does indeed plan to amend the act has further confirmed the misgivings of different civil society organisations. Mr Chavan had said in a written reply, "It is proposed to review the number of organisations in the second schedule to the RTI Act 2005 and make rules for more disclosures of information by public authorities." Shekhar Singh of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information, who is closely associated with bringing out an independent report monitoring the functioning of RTI along with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences and the Centre for Studies of Developing Societies, believes the pressure to amend the act has come from both MPs and bureaucrats. He believes several parliamentarians had during a parliamentary committee meeting expressed dissatisfaction at the functioning of the act. "While speaking before a parliamentary committee, many MPs claimed they were upset at their inability to access information pertaining to the functioning of state legislatures. Nor, under the act, can Member of Parliament access information pertaining to an individual officer," Mr Singh pointed out. The bureaucracy has also expressed dissatisfaction on some key aspects of the act. Their point of view was reinforced by the recent findings of the Administrative Reforms Commission report which has complained against increasing numbers of applications being of a "vexatious" and "frivolous" nature. Mr Singh refutes that the large number of applications have overstretched the public information officers (PIOs). "The deluge of RTIs is restricted to only a few ministries. On an average, 70 per cent of the 72 PIOs that have been appointed have received only 10 applications in their concerned department," he said. "Rather than sit down and analyse what are the bottlenecks in each department and ironing those out, a blanket ban on file notings will not resolve the issue," Mr Shekhar Singh added. A similar exercise was proposed in 2006 but was kept in abeyance when Congress president Sonia Gandhi is believed to have advised the government that there should be wider consultations among the stakeholders to allow the controversy over the file noting provisions to be sorted out. Sources in the ministry of personnel however maintain that neither the group of ministers nor the parliamentary standing committee had intended to include the words "file notings" in the definition of "information" given in Section 2(f). Central Information Commissioner O.P. Kejriwal says, "Information minus the notings amounts to taking the life out of the RTI Act." Source: The Asian Age - Enjoy the difference
  5. Atul Patankar

    Govt to amend laws to strengthen RTI Act

    As reported at business-standard.com on July 8, 2009 The Centre today said it proposes to strengthen the Right to Information (RTI) Act by making changes in the laws to provide for disclosure by government in all non strategic areas. "It is proposed to review the number of organisations in the second schedule to the Right to Information Act, 2005 and make rule for more disclosure of information by public authorities," Union Minister of State for Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions Prithviraj Chavan told the Rajya Sabha. The government has received representations expressing doubts about the proposed amendments. Non-governmental organisations and social activists will be consulted on the proposed amendments, he said adding "no time frame can be fixed for completion of the process". The government has also conducted a study through an independent organisation to assess the key issues and constraints in implementation of the RTI Act, 2005. "The study recommended measures for improving awareness on right to information, improving convenience in filing information requests, improving efficiency of the Information Commissions, enhancing accountability and clarity of various stakeholders," Chavan said. Source: Govt to amend laws to strengthen RTI Act
  6. Atul Patankar

    Over 13300 cases disposed off by CIC

    As reported at timesofindia.indiatimes.com on 08 July, 2009 NEW DELHI: The Centre on Wednesday said a total of 13,322 cases were disposed off by the Central Information Commission during 2008-09, almost double the cases resolved by it in the previous year. In a written reply to the Lok Sabha, union minister of state for personnel, public grievances and pensions Prithviraj Chavan said a total of 7,722 cases were disposed off by the CIC in 2007-08 as against 4,074 cases in 2006-07 and 682 such cases in 2005-06. A total of 8,924 cases were pending as on April 1, this year, he said. Chavan also said Government has advised the Commission that decision on complaints and appeals should be taken by the Central information Commission as defined in Section 2 (b) of the RTI Act, 2005 and not by Benches of the Commission. "The Right to Information Act, 2005 does not contain any provision for the constitution of Benches," Chavan said. Source: Over 13300 cases disposed off by CIC - India - The Times of India
  7. Atul Patankar

    RTI will be made more accessible: Chavan

    As reported at timesofindia.indiatimes.com on 30 May 2009 NEW DELHI: The government will study practices in other countries before establishing a separate directorate for prosecution, minister of state for personnel, public grievances and pensions Prithviraj Chavan said. Chavan, who took over formal charge on Friday, said that various systems will be taken in to consideration and the proposition of setting up a directorate of prosecution will be put up before Cabinet soon. "We are studying the practices in other countries and will bring the proposal to Cabinet soon,'' Chavan said. Prosecution is currently under the CBI that is overburdened with more than 8,000 cases under investigation. The minister added that efforts would be made to make Right to Information Act more accessible. Replies to RTI queries on the Internet and filing of RTI on phone were facilities that were being looked at. "We have already kickstarted work on setting up a call centre so that people can ask for information on the phone. The system is already operational in Bihar and we will introduce some refinements before introducing it in some states. The facility is likely to start in Delhi soon,'' he said. Chavan however refused to specify any deadline on these plans. Denying that CBI was under any political interference, Chavan admitted that there was a public perception that the agency worked on the direction of its political masters. "This perception exists and we must change it. The government will work towards making CBI a more effective and efficient agency,'' Chavan said. Source: RTI will be made more accessible: Chavan - India - The Times of India
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