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  1. Shrawan

    Transparency in Government is must

    There can be no faith in government if our highest offices are excused from scrutiny - they should be setting the example of transparency.
  2. Sajib Nandi

    Was it all for a better bargain, judges?

    Reported by Deccanherald.com on Jan 18, 2018 https://www.deccanherald.com/content/654402/was-all-better-bargain-judges.html The current imbroglio in the Supreme Court is being falsely represented as an issue of senior judges not being given sensitive cases. It is being passed off as a problem with the roster which the Chief Justice decides. The four judges had claimed that they were discharging their duty to the nation. The nation thought that the agitation of the four judges was against arbitrariness and corruption. We have been proved wrong. It appears the public venting of anguish was only a ploy to get a better bargain and recognition as senior judges! There is a deeper problem which is not being addressed. Citizens believed that this issue only reflected the fact that there is too much arbitrariness in the ways of our judicial functioning. But there is arbitrariness in the way the higher judiciary is selected in the first place, with India being the only country where only judges can select other judges. There is no transparency or a logical, justifiable process. The arbitrary collegium system of judges appointing judges started in 1993. It is worth noting that this system of selecting judges was never mentioned by the Constitution or any law of Parliament. Yet, the Supreme Court ruled that this was the constitutional intention! This was meekly accepted by the Executive and Parliament, but should have been questioned. Effectively, the Supreme Court had amended the Constitution and sanctified this by its judicial order. The Parliament and 20 state assemblies passed a constitutional amendment to correct the Supreme Court's diktat in 2014, which the apex court ruled as ultra vires! There is a reluctance in the judiciary's decisions to interpret the law as passed by Parliament or laid out in the Constitution. There is a great propensity to give different spins to many cases and justify deciding these on a "case to case basis". With arbitrary selection of judges and a propensity to interpret laws in different ways is coupled unbridled arbitrariness in hearing and deciding cases. It is common experience that cases of a similar nature which would have been initiated in the same court may be decided even at a gap of 10 years. Article 14 of the Constitution, guaranteeing equality before law, is violated each day in the courts of India. So also, the fundamental right to speedy justice, which the Supreme Court itself has ruled is a fundamental right of citizens. The present issue is being touted as an issue regarding allotment of cases to certain judges. There is talk that the chief justice is not giving the seniors sensitive cases. Some attempts at reconciliation were going on amongst the "brother judges". It appears that a give-and-take reconciliation may have resolved the problem. When the four judges said they were discharging their duty to the nation, did it mean that they were only fighting for their recognition as seniors? If that was the case, we were fooled into believing that there was a larger cause. Shun arbitrariness If the solution is to allocate the cases by seniority or that the collegium will decide on this, it will be a fraudulent agreement perpetrated on the nation. To claim that seniority of a few years makes judges wiser and more honest is foolish and false. The system must recognise that all judges, including the chief justice, must be assumed to be of comparable knowledge and integrity. Hence harping on seniority, getting judges to appoint judges, arbitrarily interpreting the Constitution must stop. Arbitrariness cannot be passed off as deep wisdom. To give one example of the ridiculous arbitrariness: the Supreme Court ruled that citizens have a right to know about the assets of those who want to become public servants. Subsequently, in RTI cases, the same Supreme Court has ruled that citizens do not have the right to know about the assets of those who are public servants! This is like saying that if a girl and boy want to get married, they must disclose certain information about each other. But if they are already married, they need not disclose the information. There are many such instances. The actual issue being alluded to was dishonesty and corruption, which must be addressed. Defence of arbitrariness is being passed off as a requirement for judicial independence, and maintaining the dignity of the institution! The issue appears to be a storm in a teacup because of some egos, instead of being about saving democracy. It was reported that the issues had been resolved over a cup of tea. The people and the nation would have gained if the scourge of arbitrariness in deciding cases, hearing them, appointing judges and allotting cases amongst others had been decidedly reduced. Alas, this dawn seems far away right now! This spring made a promise that it did not fulfil. The winter will continue and the four judges will get greater importance in the Supreme Court. We, the people, have begun to doubt the idea of idealism and a better State. (The writer is a former Central Information Commissioner)
  3. "Aadhaar has created third civil death for citizens," says CIC Prof Dr Sridhar Acharyulu “There are two Indian laws, that can declare a person socially dead. Aadhaar has created third civil death for citizens. This is because leakages in Aadhaar data is reality, no option (from linking Aadhaar) is a reality and that there is no opt out option from Aadhaar," says Prof Dr M Sridhar Acharyulu, Central Information Commissioner under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. He was speaking at a program on "RTI, Privacy and Aadhaar" organised by Moneylife Foundation's RTI Centre at Pune. UIDAI and the government have been claiming through advertisement and press releases that there are 1.2 billion Aadhaar holders across the country. "This means there are about 16 crore people who still do not have Aadhaar and around nine crore unique numbers (UIDs) are discarded by the Unique Identity Authority of India (UIDA). So what happens to these 25 crore citizens, in case Aadhaar is made mandatory for everything? Will they live or die?" Prof Dr Acharyulu asked. Prof Dr Acharyulu, said, “There is no provision in UIDAI to prosecute offenders. And even for filing a complaint against UIDAI itself, you have to approach the same Authority. UIDAI does not share any information to Aadhaar holders, but the same it give to private parties and government agencies. UIDAI collects data from residents without explicit consent, but refuses to share their data sharing agreement with third parties under the RTI. We citizens must demand complete transparency from UIDAI, especially about data they have collected from residents.” “Citizens need protection from the State,” the CIC said, adding “the State cannot claim privacy (for not sharing information under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, over citizens, but citizens have a right to protect own privacy.” Participating in the panel discussion, Dr Pralhad Kachare, who has worked with YASHADA as Additional Collector and Associate Professor, said, "I had worked with UIDAI and know the limitations of Aadhaar project. While I recognise apprehensions in this project, I feel it needs to be revisited to make it more comprehensive." Dr Kachare also mentioned that people have no issues with sharing all data with private parties, like Google or Facebook and then call Aadhaar as surveillance tool. Responding to this, Prof Dr Acharyulu said, “We hear this argument several times. But just because a private party is collecting data from people cannot be a reason for the government to do so. In fact the government itself should object to such data collection from third parties.” Participating in the discussion, Dr Anupam Saraph, trustee of Moneylife Foundation and an expert on identification system, who has was the CIO of Pune city and was an advisor to Goa government, explained the difference between data collected by private parties and by the government through third parties. He said, “For example, when you open a Gmail account, there is an agreement you have to sign and there you have an option to opt-out. In Aadhaar there is neither any agreement nor an option to opt-out.” Dr Saraph also explained the difference between data sharing between two parties and giving access to third parties. He said, “When I carry out a transaction with my bank, the data is shared and transferred between the bank and me. It also gives me data protection from third parties and saves me from a possible fraud. When Aadhaar is used, we have no control on who will get access to the data that was supposed to be between two concerned parties.” Dr Saraph has used RTI for obtaining information from UIDAI, which reveals that their record is not unique and it cannot be used for de-duplication. “Nobody from UIDAI certifies Aadhaar. Identification and authentication are different and UIDAI has no definition on either of this, as per the reply I received under the RTI,” he added. The panel discussion was moderated by senior journalist Sucheta Dalal, Founder-Trustee of Moneylife Foundation. She said, "We as citizens need to be alert and resist all efforts to mandatory linking of Aadhaar with several services not related with use of government subsidy. Citizens need to wake up to dangers of the way Aadhaar is implemented and raise their voices now". Several RTI activist including former Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi, Vijay Kumbhar, Vinita Deshmukh, Sulaiman Bhimani, as well as citizens, activists from Pune and Mumbai participated in the program.
  4. Minister of State for Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions Jitendra Singh has admitted in the Rajya Sabha that the Government of India has “no mechanism” to monitor compliance with its own transparency directive, requiring each ministry and department to submit monthly report to the Cabinet Secretariat on proactive disclosures to be made under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005. Singh said this in reply to an unstarred query regarding the April 2016 Central Information Commission (CIC) directive to the Cabinet Secretariat to upload monthly reports of work done by all Ministries and Departments on their respective websites. Two months later, the Cabinet Secretariat issued a circular to all Central Ministries and Departments requiring them to upload the monthly reports. Meanwhile, the Delhi-based advocacy group Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), which works on RTI issues, has said that its “quick website check” of 52 Central Ministries and as many Departments reveals that only 13% of the Ministries and 5.7% of 52 Departments are compliant with the transparency directive by publishing monthly reports up to December 2017. If the Ministries and Departments that have their own websites are counted, the compliance rate for Ministries goes up to 14.89% and 6.5%, respectively, says CHRI’s Venkatesh Nayak in a report based on the quick check. Read more at: COUNTERVIEW: Modi govt's 13% ministries, 6% departments comply by Cabinet Secretariat's RTI transparency directive: Report
  5. Disciplinary proceedings are not human rights violation and security agencies, exempted from the purview of the RTI Act, need not provide information on such issues, the Delhi High Court has ruled. The ruling by Justice Vibhu Bakhru came on a CBI plea challenging a Central Information Commission (CIC) order directing the agency to provide one of its officers the status and details of disciplinary proceedings against him. The court set aside the CIC’s order of June 9, 2017, saying that the commission “fell in error” by issuing the direction. The verdict assumes significance as agencies which are exempted from the purview of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, are required under the transparency law to provide information they have pertaining to human rights violation and corruption. Read more at: https://www.india.com/news/agencies/disciplinary-proceedings-are-not-human-rights-violation-hc-2885246/ Note: Open the link in a new browser tab and change https to http
  6. A massive cut of over 63 per cent in the funds for the transparency watchdog -- Central Information Commission -- and propagation of the Right to Information Act has been announced in the Union Budget. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley allocated only Rs 8.66 crore under the head "CIC and RTI" which is a drastic cut of Rs 14.95 crore (or a deduction of over 63 per cent) from the revised estimates of 23.61 crore for 2017-18. Read more at: https://www.newindianexpress.com/business/budget-2018/2018/feb/01/over-63-per-cent-cut-in-budget-for-rti-cic-1766846.html Note: Open the link in a new browser tab and change https to http
  7. The finance ministry has told the Central Information Commission (CIC) that it does not have information about the loans given to industrialist Vijay Mallya, prompting the transparency panel to remark that the response was "vague and not sustainable as per law". Chief Information Commissioner R K Mathur, while hearing the matter of one Rajiv Kumar Khare, told the finance ministry official that the Right to Information (RTI) application filed by the applicant should be transferred to the proper public authority. The finance ministry official may have claimed that the ministry does not have information on the loans sanctioned by different banks to Mallya or the details of the guarantee given by Mallya against those loans, but the ministry had responded to questions in this regard in Parliament in the past. Read more at: Don't have records of Vijay Mallya's loans: Finance ministry to CIC- The New Indian Express Note: Open the link in a new browser tab and change https to http
  8. The slums redeveloped into housing societies under Slum Rehabilitation Authority have been brought under Right To Information Act (RTI) in order to bring more transparency. The state Information Commission has declared these to be public authorities under 2 (h) of the RTI act. On 19 December, 2017, the Chief Information Commissioner of Maharashtra had passed an order stating that all the societies built under SRA are public authority. The order also stated that the SRA authority are required to appoint a public information officer as well as the First Appellate Authority (FAA) under RTI. This order was passed after an application was made by Jayprakash Page on the said date. He had sought details of the total number of flats in his society. Read more at: Mumbai: Slums redeveloped into housing society to come under RTI for more transparency | Free Press Journal
  9. Parties fighting against RTI Political parties are fighting tooth and nail not to reveal their financial details. They do not want give information under the RTI Act. All parties are united, forgetting their differences, to fight against the transparency. Thanks to ADR and MKSS, we have at least the information about criminal, educational (or lack of it) or financial background of each contesting candidate. But unfortunately, there are no penal consequences for false declarations. The fudging of accounts of expenditure by candidates to keep it low within limits is never probed. The source of their donations and names of donors continue to remain secret. While whole population pays maximum 30 per cent income tax, the political parties enjoy exemption without any accountability. If they get donations of Rs 1,000 crore per annum, they should have paid Rs 300 crore tax, had there been no exemption. There is neither regulation of political parties, nor possibility of regulating the media. Not it is possible to imbibe culture of responsible commenting on social media. Expression right cannot survive without information and suppressing information is not good for democracy. The people should not continue to be left out to remain subjects, they should empower themselves with information to become vibrant citizens and question the parties and wrongs by media and social media. The political parties and the media should voluntarily come under the RTI and give information to the people to make India a real democracy. Read more at: Freedom of press & democracy Note: Open the link in a new browser tab and change https to http
  10. To streamline the working of State Information Commission (SIC), a seminar was organized at Sher-I- Kashmir Police Academy Udhampur on Saturday, wherein Chief Information Commissioner (CIC), Khurshid Ahmad Ganai, was the Chief Guest. State Information commissioner Mohammad Ashraf Mir, Director SKPA, M.S Salaria, Secretary Information Commission Ashok Kumar Pandita besides First Appellate Authorities (FAAs),and Public Information Officers (PIOs) of different units and wings of police department of the state were present in the programme. CIC said that the essence of the Act is to ensure greater transparency, accountability and corruption free governance. “RTI Act is not merely a provision but a potent tool to strengthen democracy and promote good governance”, he added. He maintained that Suo -Moto disclosure of information under section 4 needs to be followed in letter and spirit by all Public Authorities. Read more at: Essence of RTI is to ensure corruption free governance: CIC | State Times Note: Open the link in a new browser tab and change https to http
  11. Why should the Narendra Modi government withhold information on a loss of Rs 12,000 crore to the exchequer during the UPA government due to an alleged understating of accounts by six telecom companies between FY 2006-07 and FY 2009-10? With the Department of Telecommunications refusing to act on a query in the matter, the Central Information Commission (CIC) has now issued a show cause notice to its central public information officer (CPIO) demanding to know why action should not be taken against him for denying this information by not attending the hearing. The query had been filed by Harinder Dhingra on June 12, 2017 in which he had sought “a copy of the recovery notice and the reply sent by each telecom companies regarding the demand notice that was issued to six telecom companies (namely Bharti Airtel Ltd., Vodafone India Ltd., Airtel Ltd., Reliance Communication Ltd., Tata Teleservices Ltd. and Idea Cellular Ltd.) for understating their accounts from FY 2006-07 to FY 2009-10, which caused revenue loss of approx. Rs. 12,000 crores,” chief information commissioner R.K. Mathur recorded in his order. Read more at: CIC Pulls up Telecom Dept for Lack of Transparency on Rs 12,000 Crore Govt Revenue Loss - The Wire
  12. (1) Is it mandatory for the PIOs to put their names below the signature in the replies sent to applicants? (2) Is the only objective of RTI Act-2005 to provide acess to info to the citizen and the citizens derives no right under this act to bring/ask for accountability and transparency in the working of public authority?
  13. A 50-year-old police constable who has filed several RTI queries against some seniors has alleged threats to his life from his colleagues. The constable said it was his colleagues who got him transferred from Noida to Kannauj last month. Shushil Kaushik was transferred following a recommendation from Ram Pratap Singh, an MLA from Agra's Etmadpur. Singh admitted having recommended his transfer and said he had done so merely because some people had complained to him about Kaushik. Kaushik had, during his stint in the Noida police, filed many RTI applications against his bosses seeking transparency in the office. Sources said that his relentless crusade against corruption resulted in several inquiries against him, penalties and denial of promotion. Read more at: Cop alleges threats from colleagues over RTI drive | Noida News - Times of India
  14. Security for RTI applicant is an important subject not dealt with by the RTI Act. Does it mean that Act cares not for the lives of the applicants? No. If a person’s life is under threat simply because he asked for some information, which is a legally guaranteed right, who should be responsible? Harinder Dhingra filed an urgent petition saying that he was receiving multiple threats to his life and safety in the past 24 hours, to stop his efforts to secure information about the impersonation scandal in the appointments of LDCs and SSO (Inspectors) in ESIC, Faridabad. He also stated that because the ESIC was not implementing the orders of CIC, threats to him had been started. He wrote to the Commission that he filed representations to the official email IDs of Haryana police, the Ministry and the ESIC today (i.e, January 5, 2018). The appellant approached the Commission through his representative during the lunch time and also forwarded the copies of his representations to the three aforementioned public authorities. The appellant filed various RTI applications wherein directions were issued on 24th March, 2017 which was partly compiled with by ESIC and the matter was also referred to the CBI. The Commission directed the ESIC to provide information regarding appointment/recruitment of Social Service Officers (Inspectors). It was noticed that though there was a serious suspicion about impersonation, as visible from the contentions of both the parties, nothing tangible could come out of the exercise under RTI and other investigations. One of the reasons for this is weeding out of records like the copies of admit cards etc. The officers representing the public authority represented to the Commission that the ESIC had learnt from its past experiences like this and was making foolproof arrangements to prevent any possibility of impersonation in the examination. The officers also submitted about the measures to increase the transparency and publish the results on website immediately after the completion of the evaluation along with the merit list to prevent the irregularities. The Commission felt that there was a need to inquire into the allegations of impersonation and irregularities raised by the appellant. The Commission recommended a follow-up action on letter dated 09.08.2017 and reminder dated 30.09.2017 addressed to Joint Director (TFC), CBI, requesting them to use the services of the handwriting experts through CFSL to bring out the persons involved in the impersonation scandal in ESIC. The Commission directed the Central Forensic Science Laboratory to inform the appellant when they would respond to the letter dated 25.09.2017 forwarded from the Additional Commissioner of ESIC and provide a certified copy of their conclusions to the appellant within 15 days from the date of preparing such letter/report, and the CPIO of ESIC is directed to forward this Order to CPIO concerned, Central Forensic Science Laboratory and follow-up accordingly. The Commission directs the respondent authority to inform the appellant about the progress in the investigation and action taken on the serious issue raised by the appellant. The Commission also directed the public authority to provide certified copies of the extract of weeding out register and also directed the Chief Vigilance Officer, ESIC, to inform the status of inquiry, along with latest action status, within 15 days from the date of receipt of the order. Dhingra also submitted that: “I am pursuing this case of fraud played on deserving candidates, who lost out on the jobs to non-deserving candidates, which in turn turned this Mafia against me, who can be seen roaming around my residence enquiring about me. The delay in not providing information by ESIC has exposed me to risk of being physically harmed and as such it is prayed that ESIC is directed to provide information and also put on public domain so that risk to the appellant is minimized.” It was personally represented that after this Commission ordered the public authority to furnish the copies of report of Central Forensic Science Laboratory (CFSL), who analysed the admit-cards and attendance sheets, and the orders were uploaded on the official website of the Commission on 30.12.2017, the threats started pouring in. It was represented that some unidentified people passing by him, when he was walking in his colony, threatened him to stop pursuing the RTI cases, and were leaving the scene immediately, even when Dhingra was asking him to come home and discuss. The appellant said that such incidents happened at different times involving different people in the last 24 hours. The Commission found that threats were serious in nature and risk to life and liberty of appellant increased. He also wanted the action-related information on his representation for protection filed before the Ministry of Labour and Employment, Chairman ESIC and the Director General of Police, Haryana. In view of the urgency and seriousness of the matters, the Commission considered that this complaint of non-compliance as an immediate extension of second appeals in the above referred numbers and directed the authorities concerned to initiate measures to secure the life and liberty of the appellant and his family members and inform him the steps taken to assure him of protection. The CIC order says: A.The Commission directs Shri Raj Kumar, IAS, Director General of ESIC, to take necessary measures to ensure the life and safety of the appellant Mr. Harinder Dhingra and his family members, and file compliance report within 48 hours. B.The Commission directs Shri Arun Kumar, Insurance Commissioner, (Revenue & Benefit, Recruitment, Inspection & Actuarial, Pubic Relations, P&A Except E-II, E-IV & E-VI), Ministry of Labour and Employment, to initiate necessary steps to secure the life and safety of the appellant and his family members, besides instructing speedy investigation and strict action against the culprits, who are obviously behind the threats, and because any delay in investigation might increase the risk of appellant and others, and file compliance report within 48 hours. C.The Commission also directs Shri Baljit Singh Sandhu, Director General of Police, Haryana, to urgently act on this complaint and provide adequate security to Mr. Harinder Dhingra and his family members, besides, inform him the action taken and submit compliance report to the Commission within 48 hours. D.The Commission also directs the CPIO, ESIC Hqrs., Faridabad, to comply the order dated 11.12.2017 and send the compliance report within 10 days. The Whistle Blower Protection Bill 2011 is part of a drive to eliminate corruption in the country's bureaucracy and it was passed by the Lok Sabha on 27 December 2011 and by Rajya Sabha on 21 February 2014 and received the President's assent on 9 May 2014. This is “an Act to establish a mechanism to receive complaints relating to disclosure on any allegation of corruption or willful misuse of power or willful misuse of discretion against any public servant and to inquire or cause an inquiry into such disclosure and to provide adequate safeguards against victimization of the person making such complaint and for matters connected therewith and incidental thereto”. The salient features are: What: It seeks to protect whistle blowers, i.e., persons making a public interest disclosure related to an act of corruption, misuse of power, or criminal offense by a public servant. Who: Anybody can be a whistle blower: Any public servant or any other person including a non-governmental organisation may make such a disclosure to the Central or the State Vigilance Commission. Identity: It insists on disclosure of identity. Every complaint has to include the identity of the complainant. Confidentiality: However, the Act protected identity from disclosure: The Vigilance Commission shall not disclose the identity of the complainant except to the head of the department if he deems it necessary. The Act penalises any person who has disclosed the identity of the complainant. Penalising complainant: The Act has a controversial clause that prescribes penalties for knowingly making false complaints. Whether this Act extends protection to the information seekers under RTI Act? Whether information seekers fall under the category of ‘persons who made disclosures to State or Central Vigilance Commissioner’? (Based on decision in CIC/ESICO/A/2017/142254, Harinder Dhingra v. PIO, ESIC, Faridabad, on 5.1.2018) The news article is available at: Which law protects info seekers?
  15. Citing example of Kamala Mills fire, and how Mumbai Fire Brigade denied them information under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, the activists say, "SB Karade, Deputy Fire Officer denied us information under RTI Act on number of NOCs issued to various establishments and action taken against such entities. The idea behind denying this crucial information on technicalities is only with a view to help the lawbreakers and nothing more. By denying the said information, said Officer has acted in utterly irresponsible manner, particularly in view recent spate of fire incidents. Transparency and accountability is something which missing in Mumbai Fire Brigade." Read more at: Bring Disaster Management and Fire Brigade under Civil Defence, demand activists
  16. Sarvesh Kaushal, Special Chief Secretary-cum-Director-General, MGSIPA, Chandigarh, inaugurated a Right to Information (RTI) awareness camp at DAV College here today. Sarvesh Kaushal said besides providing relief to the people, the Act had also brought transparency, accountability and efficiency in the administrative system. “It has proved to be a useful tool for good governance. Its goal is to make people aware of the procedures in their surroundings as well as the complex policies of the government.” Read more at: https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/jalandhar/rti-promotes-transparency-accountability-sarvesh-kaushal/531440.html Note: Open the link in a new browser tab and change https to http
  17. Several Right to Information (RTI) activists, including former Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi, and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) like Moneylife Foundation had been demanding MCGM and its Commissioner Mr Mehta to put in public domain all application and replies provided, instead of calling RTI users as ‘blackmailers’ and blocking RTI applications from Praja Foundation, an NGO. Mr Gandhi says, “Users of RTI cannot be condemned for using their fundamental right. MCGM should follow the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT)’s office memorandum (OM) and the Maharashtra GR and display all RTI applications and responses on the website. Blaming citizens for the corruption and rot in MCGM is anti-democratic. MCGM is refusing to be transparent and accountable and to follow the RTI Act. Had it followed the Section 4 requirements of the Act, the number of RTI applications would go down and any scope for blackmailing and corruption would also be curtailed. Citizens will seek to make the MCGM accountable. It is their right and duty.” “The rot is so deep that, the municipal commissioner chose to accuse the RTI activists of colluding with corrupt officials, instead of bringing transparency into the MCGM’s functioning. It is not hard to fathom why he did not name a single such ‘activist’ but tarnished all of them instead; he is looking for scapegoats,” Ms Dalal says. Read more at: Prominent citizens appeal Maharashtra CM for action against MCGM’s high-handedness
  18. In Another Blow to Transparency, Government Restricts Access to Secretariat Information According to Anjali Bhardwaj of the NCPRI, they were surprised to learn that a crucial para in the CSMOP – which prescribes procedures for secretariat work – had been amended. “In previous years, we would refer to the office of manual procedures and ask whether a reply had been sent under para 66(1) of the manual. However, this time when we checked the latest edition (14th edition) of the manual, we found that “member of public” has been replaced by ‘VIP’.” Bhardwaj said the 13th edition of the manual, which was issued in 2010, stated in para 66(1) that “each communication received from a Member of Parliament, member of the public, recognised association or a public body will be acknowledged within 15 days, followed by a reply within the next 15 days of acknowledgement sent.” The 14th edition had been revised to state in para 37(vi) that “each communication received from a Member of Parliament/VIP, shall be acknowledged within 15 days, followed by a reply within the next 15 days of acknowledgement sent.” As such, “member of public” had been surreptitiously replaced with “MP/VIP” to deny information to ordinary citizens. Through this sleight, all the ordinary citizens were in a way debarred from accessing information, that too by a ministry and department that is supposed to uphold the Right to Information Act. Read more at: In Another Blow to Transparency, Government Restricts Access to Secretariat Information - The Wire
  19. Read the related news article at: Two years after asking schools for transparency in fee structure, govt loses its way | Bengaluru News - Times of India
  20. How is a judge appointed in the High Court or elevated to the Supreme Court, how is a judge appointed as the Chief Justice of a High Court and how and when is a judge transferred from one high Court to another high court? The simple answer is, the public does not know. The reason has been the Supreme Court’s general attitude towards Right to Information, despite its judgments declaring how vital the public’s right to know is for a democracy, how sunlight is the best disinfectant and that the public has a right to know how its public institutions with public functionaries are functioning. Read more at: Transparency Eclipsed - The Statesman Yogesh Pratap Singh is Associate Professor of Law at NLU Odisha and Deputy Registrar, Supreme Court of India.
  21. Reported by Youthkiawaaz.com on December 27, 2017 17 Times The SC Made Liberal Judgements That Made Us Proud In 2017 Media is not merely the 4th pillar of democracy, but also a watchdog towards the working of the State. However, the politicization of the media, sensationalization of news due to the TRP race, numerous elections leading to the media becoming involved continuously in elections mode lead to the neglect of some core issues which are important for public purposes, information dissemination, discussion and debate. The article covers some important decisions made by the Supreme Court of India in 2017 that were not given the coverage they deserved. 1. The Supreme Court Declared Religion Was Not Important In Politics In the first week of January, a seven-judge Supreme Court bench ruled that “religion, race, caste, community or language would not be allowed to play any role in the electoral process”. This order was violated on very next day when Former UP Chief Minister Mayawati declared contestants on basis of caste. Also, since Supreme Court has called Hinduism “a way of life” in 1995 judgement, the order was debatable. 2. Rolling Back The Ordinance Raj Then, in January a seven-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court, in Krishna Kumar Singh vs. the State of Bihar, has held that the failure to place an ordinance before the legislature constitutes an abuse of power and a fraud on the Constitution. This was because Bihar government had re-promulgated a 1989 ordinance, for seven successive times, without even once tabling it in the State Assembly. The judgement should have been widely hailed to ensure democratic institutions function desirably. 3. Cash Donations To A Political Party Thereafter, in February, the Budget presented several political reforms like the maximum amount of cash donation that a political party can receive, was reduced from ₹20,000 to ₹2,000 from one person. Further, an amendment was proposed to the Reserve Bank of India Act to enable the issuance of electoral bonds which could be purchased only by digital modes of payment. The final details of this bond are still awaited. Moreover, every political party was mandated to file its return within the time prescribed in accordance with the provision of the Income-tax Act to ensure tax-free status. 4. Naga Women Stand Up For Women Empowerment Additionally, protests occurred in Nagaland where women were demanding 33% constitutional reservation for Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) in Nagaland, as available in rest of the nation &abd mandated to be implemented by Gauhati High Court. The debate was centred around traditional rights of Nagas against women empowerment Furthermore, a CBI report submitted to the Supreme Court said that there are more than 31 lakh NGOs existing in India, but only 8% – 10% of those file annual financial statement. Hence, the Supreme Court demanded a clear data bank about existing NGOs from the Centre. It is hard to debate that, amidst growing foreign links in NGOs, there is a need to provide an institutional and legal framework to NGOs. 5. CCTV’s To Be Installed In Courtrooms And Its Premises Then, the Supreme Court ordered the installation of CCTV cameras in courtrooms and its premises, without audio recording, in at least in two districts of all states and union territories within three months. This is a major step considering the large-scale opacity in functions of Judiciary. 6. Ban On Publishing Predictions By Astrologers, Tarot Reads, etc. Thereafter, the Election Commission (EC) said that predictions by astrologers, Tarot readers and Political analysts on election results cannot be published or broadcast by the media. This is a necessary reform to ensure free & fair elections in India. 7. New OBC Commission To Get Constitutional Status Further, the Lok Sabha passed a constitutional amendment which renames NCBC as “National Commission for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes” in the Constitution. An accompanying bill, “The National Commission for Backward Classes Bill 2017”, was also passed to repeal the 1993 law. This is a major reform for the upliftment of OBCs, as NCeBC was granted Constitutional status (Article 338B). Also, the law stipulates only one central list for OBC, same as that for SC and ST. There would be no parallel existence of central and state OBC lists. This would reduce the State governments power to grant OBC inclusion as per vote bank politics and the parliament will decide on the inclusion/exclusion under Article 342A. He may do this in consultation with the Governor of the concerned state. 8. Money And Muscle Power In The Elections Moreover, the election commission using Article 324 cancelled the by-election to the RK Nagar constituency in Chennai, which fell vacant after the death of CM Jayalalitha. It was cancelled as large-scale bribing of voters to the tune of ₹89 crores which made it impossible to conduct free and fair elections. 9. Paid News Got Caught Likewise, the Election Commission (EC) disqualified Madhya Pradesh Minister Narottam Mishra, for three years, for filing wrong accounts of election expenditure. The membership has been revoked under section 10A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951. The petition seeking Mishra’s disqualification was filed in 2009, alleging that the he had not included expenses incurred by him on ‘paid news’ while filing his expenditure statement before EC after the 2008 poll. 10. Karnataka Assembly Resolution To Arrest Journalists Additionally, the Karnataka assembly Speaker ordered the imprisonment of two journalists for a year based on recommendations of its privilege committees. Earlier in 2003, the Tamil Nadu assembly Speaker directed the arrest of five journalists for publishing articles that were critical of the AIADMK government. This was a debatable decision as privileges vs freedom of speech & expression were at odds with each other. 11. Right to Internet: Under a Fundamental Right Furthermore, the Supreme Court, in a judgement, has said that the right to access Internet comes under fundamental right of expression and cannot be curtailed at any cost. The judgement was passed during a hearing of a PIL filed by Sabu Mathew George against search engines (Yahoo, Google and Microsoft) for strict adherence to section 22 of the Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) (PCPNDT) Act of 1994. The court said that the Right of Internet Access is permissible, until and unless it doesn’t “encroaches into the boundary of illegality”. This judgement could have large-scale ramifications and would help in making the Internet as part of Fundamental Rights in future. 12. Digitization In judiciary Then, ‘Integrated Case Management Information System’ (ICMIS) was introduced in the apex court for digital filing. Its functions include the option of e-filing cases, checking listing dates, case status, online service of notice/summons, office reports and overall tracking of progress of a case filed with the apex court registry and is a big shot in the arm for Digital India initiative and solving three crore cases in the judiciary. 13. Power Struggle In Puducherry Moreover, the debate begun between Puducherry Lieutenant Governor and Cheif Minister overpowers designated to the two authorities, similar to Delhi power struggle. The CM has insisted that the Lt. governor should work according to the advice of the council of ministers and she should inform prior to visiting any constituency. However, the Lt. Governor said that she was the “real administrator” and all files had to be sent for her approval as she had the powers over administrative matters. The issue needed a greater debate over conflicts between Article 239, 239A, 239AA, Union Territories Act, 1963, Rules of Business of the Government of Puducherry. 14. Minimum Government, Maximum Governance Thereafter, the Union Government has merged the Ministry Of Urban Development (MoUD) and the Ministry Of Housing And Urban Poverty Alleviation (MoHUPA), and now it will be called as the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs. This move goes along with the objective of “Minimum Government, Maximum Government” but more such moves are needed in this regard. 15. NRIs To Vote In The Elections Additionally, the Union cabinet has approved a proposal to change the electoral laws to allow NRIs to vote in the Lok Sabha and assembly elections through a proxy. Overseas electors will have to appoint a nominee afresh for each election — one person can act as a proxy for only one overseas voter. This is unlike the armed forces who can nominate their relatives as a permanent proxy to vote on their behalf. This is another step which would facilitate greater involvement of Indian citizens living abroad and help in getting them connected to their national identity. 16. Article 35A: A New Debate Opens Up After Article 370 Further, a great debate which now needs to usher is on Article 35A of Indian Constitution, after a recent petition in Apex Court against the constitutionality of the article. Article 35A was incorporated into the Constitution in 1954 by a Presidential order issued under Article 370 (1) (d) of the Constitution. Article 35A of the constitution empowers the J&K legislature to define state’s “permanent residents” and their special rights and privileges without attracting a challenge on grounds of violating the Right to Equality of people from other States or any other right under the Constitution. For example, Article 35A protects certain provisions of the J&K Constitution which denies property rights to native women who marry from outside the State. The article is now debatable as it was not added to the Constitution, through amendment under Article 368, thus bypassing the parliamentary route of lawmaking. It is contended that it is discriminatory against non-residents as far as government jobs and real estate purchases are concerned. Thus, violating fundamental rights under Articles 14, 19 and 21. The article needs greater public debate and will be examined by Apex Court in future. 17. Real Estate: A Real Reform Then, a big ticket reform by Centre namely Real Estate (Development and Regulation) Act, 2016 that was passed by the parliament in March 2016, which came into effect fully from May 2017. The move is expected to regulate largely hitherto unregulated real estate sector to usher in transparency and systemization. What remains to be seen is how long it takes to ensure all states adhere to it.
  22. Reported by Sentinelassam.com on December 28, 1017 https://www.sentinelassam.com/story/editorial/0/disclosing-babus-assets/2017-12-28/1/330223#.WkR_m9-Wa00 In the New Year, the Modi government will seek to keep better account of the assets of babus. In a recent order by the Centre’s Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), bureaucrats have been told that those who do not declare their assets and liabilities by January 31 next will be denied vigilance clearances needed for promotions, empanelment for senior posts and foreign postings. This follows up on an earlier DoPT order issued over six years back in April 2011, with several extensions since then. The latest deadline set on 1st January, 2018 has been extended by a month for bureaucrats ‘who have not yet complied with earlier orders’ to submit their Immovable Property Returns (IPRs). The DoPT has even designed an online module which babus can log into for filing such returns. Only last September, a senior bureaucrat in Andhra Pradesh made headlines just three days away from retirement. Launching as simultaneous raids at his properties spread across several cities in Andhra and Maharashtra, Anti-Corruption Bureau sleuths on the first day itself totalled disproportionate assets worth over Rs 500 crore. On a reported monthly income of Rs 1 lakh, this babu amassed these assets including prime urban lands and a luxury hotel. No prizes for guessing how he did it, for such seizures and arrests of rogue bureaucrats have become all-too-common in State after State, Assam no exception. Observers are now viewing the latest DoPT order as the Modi government’s renewed thrust on ‘zero-tolerance towards graft’, that it means business in ensuring greater transparency by making bureaucrats toe the line. If so, will it succeed? In 2011 too, the DoPT had warned defaulting bureaucrats of withholding vigilance clearances, putting their names on its website, denying promotion and taking other punitive action. Earlier, property returns filed by government officers were scrutinised only if there was a criminal investigation ongoing or on suspicion of corruption. The DoPT, in fact, had been stoutly rejecting RTI applications seeking details of assets of government servants, on grounds of privacy. The Central Information Commission (CIC) had been arguing otherwise — that disclosure of assets of a public servant is not debarred under invasion of privacy clause of Right to Information Act. With the pressure mounting, particularly after the Anna Hazare-led India Against Corruption movement, the DoPT in 2014 had to change the rules on property returns so as to make the information public. As per these rules notified under the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, every public servant was to file declaration, information and annual returns of assets and liabilities (as on March 31 every year) by July 31; such declarations would include those of spouses and dependent children, and would be in addition to returns filed under various services rules. This at once provoked a backlash from the bureaucracy. Civil servant associations made frantic representations that declaring assets of family members ‘would compromise their security’. The wife of a government official moved Delhi High Court, contending that the DoPT rule violated her right to privacy. There was much brainstorming within the government whether family members of government servants should be exempted from making such disclosures, or to keep the information in sealed cover to be opened only during investigations or official proceedings against the concerned official. At this juncture the question arose whether elected political representatives could also raise ‘similar apprehensions’ about disclosing assets of family members, if the demand of government servants was accepted. Be as it may, Parliament last year passed the Lokpal and Lokayuktas (Amendment) Bill, 2016, exempting spouse and children from mandatory disclosure of assets by public servants. During the debate, the point was raised as to what will the government do if corrupt officials stash away ill-gotten gains in the names of their spouses and children. However, with the Modi government also enacting a law against benami property, it now has an instrument to seize such assets. Nevertheless, large sections of the bureaucracy continue to be recalcitrant, and political leaders can push them only so far. Even a firebrand leader like Yogi Adityanath came up against a wall of such defiance when he ordered babus to declare their assets, immediately after taking reins in Lucknow as UP chief minister. At a national convention organised by a students’ body in Gurugram recently, BJP national vice president Vinay Sahasrabuddhe put it candidly by speaking as “an academician first and a politician later”. According to him, politicians who are supposed to give orders to bureaucrats have “little knowledge of the subject” and those instructed to obey the orders “naturally have a sense of contempt”. What he did not mention was that, with many political leaders themselves steeped in corruption after coming through an opaque electoral funding system, blatant use of muscle power and using officialdom to run a flourishing commission raj — there is little moral authority left in the system to keep babus in line! If the Modi government really cracks the whip this time by denying babus any more extension to declare assets, it will be an achievement with an election year rapidly nearing.
  23. The Narendra Modi government has made an oft-repeated commitment to promote transparency and participatory decision-making processes to contain the scourge of corruption in public life. While the Right to Information (RTI) Act is used for promoting free flow of information, the policy of ‘minimum government and maximum governance’ has been pursued to ensure transparency and accountability in the functioning of the government. However, the evidence presented in the 12th Annual Convention of the Central Information Commission (CIC) on December 6, 2017, is contrary to the above claims made by the government. Read more at: Is the Modi Government Hiding More Than What It Is Revealing With the RTI Act? - The Wire [M.M. Ansari is a former chief information commissioner.]
  24. By Zeenat Saberin in Aljazeera.com on 18.12.2017 Aadhaar: India's information war over ID cards | News | Al Jazeera India must extend the deadline linking a national ID card to banking, phone accounts and government services to the end of March 2018, the Supreme Court has ruled. Friday's developments renewed attention on the ambitious national identity card project, "Aadhaar", which the government touts as the largest biometric ID card programme in the world. The validity of the government's orders - whether or not citizens can be forced to enrol, for instance - will be debated in the top court from January 17. The launch of Aadhaar combined with several high-profile leaks of citizens' data have raised privacy concerns. In August, the Supreme Court declared that privacy is a fundamental right, a move interpreted as a setback to the government's plans. The mandatory use of national identity cards and connecting them to accounts and mobile phones is being challenged at the top court. The government says the project will lead to a "social revolution". "Within reach of the country is what might be called the 1 billion-1 billion-1 billion vision," said Arun Jaitley, India's finance minister, in August. "That is 1 billion unique Aadhaar numbers linked to 1 billion bank accounts and 1 billion mobile phones. Once that is done, all of India can become part of the financial and digital mainstream." Critics have warned that the public's privacy is at risk, claiming Aadhaar cards would link a large amount of data, without clear safeguards for access or use by government or private companies. They say that Aadhaar would allow authorities to create a full profile of a person's spending habits, phone records, banking records, rail bookings, property ownership and a trove of other information. 'You would cease to exist' Karuna Nundy, a Supreme Court lawyer, said India's poor, often denied access to social welfare schemes unless they can furnish an Aadhaar ID, are particularly vulnerable. "People have starved to death because they were denied food entitlements for lack of Aadhaar," she told Al Jazeera. "The Bhopal gas victims, who I represent in the Supreme Court, are being denied compensation without it. On the flip side you have easy identity theft and [the] government handing over citizens' data to companies, and without consent." In Jharkhand's Simdega district, an 11-year-old girl died of starvation in October, months after her family's ration card was cancelled because they did not possess an Aadhaar number. "In November, 50-year-old Shakina Ashfaq died in Uttar Pradesh province, with her family alleging it was because the paralysed woman was unable to appear in person at a government ration shop to authenticate her Aadhaar card," Nundy said. It would be nearly impossible for poor, illiterate citizens to reconstruct their identities. Some may not even know if their identities were stolen in the first place, she added. Srinivas Kodali, an independent security researcher based in Hyderabad, cited problems in the implementation and design of the project. "The biggest privacy risk is your entire identity being stolen and you ceasing to exist if your Aadhaar number is deactivated for any reason," he said. "You would cease to exist for any government department or private service provider. You basically become a nobody." In February, Kodali reported on an Aadhaar data leak from a government website, which saw the release of Aadhaar ID numbers for more than 500,000 people. He complained to the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), the government department responsible for administering the Aadhaar programme, but did not receive a response. "All I received were legal notices [addressed to the portal Centre for Internet and Society which published my report highlighting this breach]," he said. Speak for me, a website launched this week, is asking citizens to register their complaints about being forced to link Aadhaar with phone, banking and other services. The platform allows Indians to write to legislators to argue on their behalf in parliament. Government denials as leaks continue By the time of publishing, UIDAI had not responded to Al Jazeera's request for comment. In November, UDAI's chief executive Ajay Bhushan Pandey claimed that the cards would be invaluable in fighting bank fraud, which he said had resulted in a $3bn loss over one year. "If every bank account was verified with Aadhaar then this would not have been possible," he told a conference, according to reports. UIDAI has admitted, however, that 210 government websites have mistakenly published several citizens' personal data, including their ID numbers, names and addresses. In May, the Bengaluru-based Centre for Internet and Society said a central government ministry and a state government may have inadvertently exposed up to 135 million Aadhaar numbers. "The privacy infringement that a law proposes to make must be proportionate to the purpose it seeks to achieve," said a lawyer associated with the Aadhaar case, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "Aadhaar, by design, does not have a specific purpose. For any purpose, whether it's privacy versus security, privacy versus convenience, there are different trade-offs. But with a general-purpose database like Aadhaar, you cannot make those trade-offs. Therefore you can't even test if a certain state action is proportionate." Members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) say these fears are unfounded. "Aadhaar is a very safe and secure system," said Arvind Gupta, the former head of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Information Technology team. "It has a double contract architecture for privacy by ensuring that the right people access the data that you would otherwise give on paper; you can now do it electronically. Your biometric data is never shared with anybody else. "Of course people have to make it more safe, more secure. That is an ongoing process." Deadly violence against activists The controversy comes amid deadly violence against those seeking to use India's landmark Right to Information (RTI) Act, passed in 2005. At least 65 RTI activists have been killed since the act was enforced in 2005, according to the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI). At least 159 assaults and 179 cases of harassment and threats have also been registered in the same period by the organisation. Those targeted included activists trying to expose sour government deals, from illegal sand mining and alleged tampering of electronic voting machines to corruption in local government. Now, the government appears to be delaying laws that would strengthen the RTI Act and empower whistleblowers, activists have said. "If you look at the Modi government's record, it has been terrible," said Nikhil Dey, an activist. "The Lokpal [Corruption Ombudsman] Bill and the Whistleblowers Protection Act, which I call the RTI 2.0, aims at moving from transparency to accountability. It's been three years of this government and the ombudsman has not yet been appointed. "The Whistleblowers Protection Act is not being effected and the government is trying to put in terribly damaging amendments to this act. In a sense, the government is trying to stop the forward movement in this journey, even legislatively." One proposed amendment, he said, would see information requests made by people who die before the request is fulfilled being cancelled, with the information never released. "This, actually, would encourage people to be killed [by those seeking to suppress information]," said Dey. Another proposed amendment allows applications to be withdrawn while still in process. "That again opens doors to blackmail and threats," he said. The government's refusal to release information about policies while seeking greater information from their citizens is worrying, critics say. So far, the government has refused for example, to share details of decisions regarding India's major demonetisation decision imposed last year. Queries around appointments to independent watchdogs such as the national auditor, comptroller, and the election commission have also been shot down.
  25. subhendu pattanayak

    Asking questions in RTI

    After depositing a fee I went several times to a public authority to get my certified copy of a case record.When I failed to get it ,i filed my RTI as below: ''What is the time limit fixed by this office for supply of Certified true copy of a case record to the applicant who has deposited fees for this?" Reply of PIO :"No questions can be asked through the Right To Information Act 2005.This is for your information." Instead of going to 1st appeal i filed my 2nd RTI : "Please give me a copy of relevant provisions laid down in " The Odisha Right to Public services Rules-2012" which is applicable for communication to the person applying for any such service under this rule in the event a service is denied or delayed to him." The PIO answered in the same manner : "To get such information you should read the book-"Odisha Public Services Rules-2012".This is for your information ." What is this?Can I accept that my problems are solved?Denial of both the information by PIO sought under RTI Act 2005 is a ipsofacto mockery of the provisions of the so-called transparency Act. Should I keep silence or take any further steps? Sent from my SM-J200G using RTI INDIA mobile app
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