Right2Information

Right to Information – Master key to good governance

Archive for August, 2006

Chamber Of Secrets: is Sonia wavering, or will she stay the course?

Posted by rtiact2005 on August 31, 2006

Jitender Gupta
RTI ACT
Chamber Of Secrets
Truce over, officials who want to cover their track strike back
ANJALI PURI

http://www.outlookindia.com/full.asp?fodname=20060904&fname=RTI+%28F%29&sid=1&pn=1

The Right to Information (RTI) controversy is far from dead. Underlying the apparent truce brokered by Sonia Gandhi between hunger-striking protesters and the government is an alive-and-kicking campaign by the political and bureaucratic elite—to limit the ‘damage’ from a ten-month-old act once hailed for being radical, now increasingly mistrusted for being so.The fightback began barely within a day of Sonia’s intervention, which had last week led the government to defer its controversial move to amend the RTI act. First, unattributed government briefings in the media, described by activists as recycled anti-RTI arguments.
 
  “We can’t have a whole bureaucratic structure dealing with frivolous questions,” says Congress’ Kapil Sibal.  
 
Then, fresh hostilities in an extraordinary battle around the disclosure of ‘file notings’ between two actors responsible for implementing the act—the Department of Personnel and Training (DOPT), the nodal government department, and the Central Information Commission (CIC), the

independent RTI regulator. On August 21, the DOPT, armed with a legal missive from the additional solicitor general focusing on technicalities, essentially told the statutory body, whose members have the legal status of Supreme Court judges: back off.

And on August 22, the Union ministry of personnel, public grievances and pensions went to the high court to challenge the CIC’s directive to show it correspondence between A.B. Vajpayee and K.R. Narayanan, prime minister and president respectively, during the Gujarat riots. The CIC wanted to judge whether an appellant’s plea that the correspondence be disclosed in the public interest was valid. “After having been forced to defer the amendments, the government is now trying to sabotage the act by paralysing the functioning of the CIC,” said Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan. “It is also trying to make the CIC toothless, by saying: if the government thinks a particular piece of information is privileged, the CIC cannot even look at it—leave alone disclose it,” charged Bhushan.

So, who is the ‘government’? Clearly, not just Suresh Pachauri, the powerful minister for personnel, and public face of the campaign to defang the act. The prime minister, who once said he wanted everyone “particularly our civil servants…(to) see the Bill in a positive spirit” appears to have come around to the view that the act needs taming. The July 20 Cabinet decision to amend it was pushed through in minutes, with barely any discussion.

And, even as Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh defended the act, several Cabinet ministers were signalling otherwise. Digvijay told Outlook, “The Congress president does not want the act to be diluted. Personally, I don’t understand why there is talk of amendments when the act is still taking off…. The resistance to the act, is more an effort by babus to protect their own turf.”

But Union minister Kapil Sibal—described in party circles as the PM’s troubleshooter—bluntly said: “We can’t have a whole bureaucratic structure dealing with frivolous questions. It will slow down the decision-making process…and lead to more secrecy rather than less. As we move forward, the act will serve the larger public interest. But as it stands today, it is being misused by vested interests.”

Meanwhile, bureaucrats are busy warning that an act that enables “anyone with Rs 10” to access important files will open the door for nitpicking, hairsplitting, excessive caution, and mischief-making—questions like why did X official go abroad so often, why did he opt for Y tender, why did he deny Z promotion? “Check out the origins of the word ‘secretary’,” said one senior official, indicating that laws may have changed, but mindsets hadn’t. “It means keeper of secrets…”

And it became public this week that even the Supreme Court has suggested its own set of controversial amendments to limit the CIC’s jurisdiction over the apex court.

How did the accolades heralding the upa government’s showpiece legislation dry up so fast on official lips? Resistance from the bureaucratic establishment to a liberal information disclosure regime has been around since the mid-’90s, when the RTI movement first gained ground. But the reformist Sonia-led National Advisory Council (NAC) seemed to have carried the day on the present act, pushing through, despite excisions, a strong law.

Three developments appear to have provided critics the ammunition to strike again. One, the decline of the NAC, with its social reforms agenda. Two, the alacrity with which large numbers of well-informed government servants are—no, not opposing the act—but using it to batter at an opaque regime of government promotions, transfers and postings. Finally, decisions by the CIC that have driven home to a reluctant official machinery the penetrative power of the act.

Foremost, of course, was the CIC’s January decision allowing access to file notings, which contradicted the government’s stubbornly-held position that the act did not cover file notings. (The Central Administrative Reforms Commission has also contradicted the government’s position.) The confusion dates back to the final stages of haggling over the bill, between the government and the NAC. While the government thought it had prevented ‘file notings’ being accessed by throwing out those two words from the definition of a document accessible under the act, it actually did not. The definition of ‘information’ under the act, which contains such words as ‘opinions, advices’, is broad enough to support an interpretation that the public has the right to see file notings (which are basically the opinions of officials).

The CIC has also allowed access to reports of government departmental promotion committees, and in one case, an annual confidential report, and rejected government arguments on the Narayanan-Vajpayee correspondence issue.

A striking feature of the RTI controversy is that the leading voices, both for and against, are of those who have served time in sarkari offices. Just as all critics of the act are not necessarily corrupt officials, not all supporters of a liberal RTI regime are starry-eyed crusaders. Among those who have come up with pragmatic pro-RTI arguments during the month-long campaign to ‘save’ the act, are ex-bureaucrats such as Madhav Godbole, E.A.S. Sarma, P.S. Appu, P.C. Alexander, B.N. Yugandhar and J.M. Lyngdoh, and sundry former judges.

The perspective, on this side of the divide, is very different: that a strong act’s potential to reform a corrupt and inefficient machinery far outweighs its uses to mischief-makers. The plethora of service-related RTI applications are of public relevance, argues Yugandhar, a Planning Commission member, because, they often flow from resentments built up over years over arbitrary, motivated and corrupt appointments. “Once principles are known, criteria become clear, and reasons for exemptions are known, such applications will reduce, and morale will greatly improve,” he said.

RTI activists argue that examples of misuse are being deliberately overstressed to drown out the good RTI can do, and has already done. Using RTI to expose huge corruption scandals may still be more aspiration than reality, but there are many significant achievements: fake muster rolls detected, siphoning of foodgrains from the public distribution system nailed, and passports, voter ID cards, ration cards, pension arrears reaching frustrated applicants within days of RTI applications being filed.

Two questions asked in RTI applications have struck sufficient fear in the hearts of public authorities for them to act on complaints, just to avoid supplying embarrassing information: what is the daily progress report on my application? What are the names of the officials handling my application? But that fear may now be on the wane, thanks to the current controversy, says ex-bureaucrat and RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal. Some authorities are now refusing such information, on the grounds that file notings are likely to be excluded from the act.

Ultimately, the fate of a law that has made waves around the world, for being, in the words of Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah, “the most powerful RTI law in the world”, will not hang on deeds or arguments. It will hang on political will. The key question, therefore, is: is Sonia wavering, or will she stay the course?

 
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Posted in RTI info in News Papers | 1 Comment »

Freedom of Information Act Blog 30th newsletter

Posted by rtiact2005 on August 31, 2006

Freedom of Information Act Blog 30th newsletter

To: foiauk@yahoogroups.com
From: Send an Instant Message “steve wood” <foiauk@yahoo.co.uk>  Add to Address BookAdd to Address Book  Add Mobile Alert
Date: Wed, 30 Aug 2006 14:02:47 +0100 (BST)
Subject: [foiauk] Freedom of Information Act Blog 30th newsletter

Freedom of Information Act Blog 30th newsletter
Freedom of Information Act Blog
http://www.foia. org.uk

Welcome to the 30th  FOIA Blog newsletter. This newsletter summarises Blog postings for August 2006

You can view all the Blog archives online:
August
http://foia. blogspot. com/archives/ 2006_08_01_ foia_archive. html

Highlights from the blog during August 2006:

Latest issue of Open Government (also edited by myself)

Now available at http://www.opengovj ournal.org
New FOI search tool

http://foia. blogspot. com/2006/ 08/new-foi- search-tool- thought-this. html
Media updates for August

http://foia. blogspot. com/2006/ 08/media- update-guardian- ambassador. html

http://foia. blogspot. com/2006/ 08/media- update-sunday- herald-bnfl- paid.html

http://foia. blogspot. com/2006/ 08/media- update-open- secrets-bbc- year-has. html

http://foia. blogspot. com/2006/ 08/media- update-my- weekly-roundup- of.html

http://foia. blogspot. com/2006/ 08/media- update-guardian- police-dna. html

4th International Right to Know Day

http://foia. blogspot. com/2006/ 08/4th-internati onal-right- to-know-day. html
Decision notices from the ICO and comments

http://foia. blogspot. com/2006/ 08/latest- decision- notices-case- ref.html

http://foia. blogspot. com/2006/ 08/information- commissioner- upholds.html

http://foia. blogspot. com/2006/ 08/latest- decision- notices-they- are.html

ICO releases names of MP complainants after internal review

http://foia. blogspot. com/2006/ 08/ico-releases- names-of- mp-complainants. html

Freedom of information creates more confidence, ICO research reveals
http://foia. blogspot. com/2006/ 08/ico-press- release-freedom- of.html

Information Rights User Group

http://foia. blogspot. com/2006/ 08/information- rights-user- group-2nd. html 

Parliamentary update

http://foia. blogspot. com/2006/ 08/parliamentary -update-some- recent.html

New disclosure logs

http://foia. blogspot. com/log.htm

JISC Information Gateway survey

http://foia. blogspot. com/2006/ 08/jisc-informat ion-gateway- survey-as. html

UCL Constitution Unit – new research project/results of FOI live practitioner survey

http://foia. blogspot. com/2006/ 08/ucl-constitut ion-unit- new-research. html
Regards
Steve

www.foia.org. uk

Posted in FOIA UK | 1 Comment »

DoPT is using all possible legal strategies to dilute RTI Act. WHILE DOING NOTHING ABOUT IMPLEMENTATION.

Posted by rtiact2005 on August 29, 2006

It is a shame that DoPT is getting into legal battles and confrontation 
with Central Information Commission, where it is a champion against the 
implementation of RTI Act in letter and spirit. DoPT is using all 
possible legal strategies to dilute RTI Act, WHILE DOING NOTHING ABOUT 
IMPLEMENTATION. 

A. There in program for educating public under s 26.

B. There is no thrust on changing record keeping to meet the needs of 
RTI Act,envisaged in s 4(a).

C.Section 4(2) has far reaching consequences: nothing is being done to 
ensure suo-moto declaration of information to avoid RTI application 
from citizens.

D. Large scale training of public authorities is essentialfor 
implementing RTI Act, with focus on attitudinal changes to make them attuned to 
transparencu and greater public accountability. 

Aforesaid actions (A, B, C and D) can not be taken by Public 
authorities without budget provisions eramarked for implementation of RTI act. 

THERE IS NO BUDGET FOR THIS PURPOSE.

Dhirendra Krishna
dhirendrakrishna@yahoo.co.uk

Posted in Govt. of INDIA | 4 Comments »

Authorities asked to appoint APIO, PIO, BY HERALD REPORTER

Posted by rtiact2005 on August 28, 2006

Authorities asked to appoint APIO, PIO, BY HERALD REPORTER

PANJIM, AUG 24 — In an interim order passed on August 23 the Information Commission has asked the public authorities under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, who have not yet designated Assistant Public Information Officer (APIO), Public Information Officer (PIO) and not yet appointed First Appellate Authority (FAA), to do so within two weeks from the date of the receipt of the order.

They have been directed to send copies of the notification to the Department of Information and Publicity (DIP).
Hearing the complaint by a law student, Amar Naik, filed against the DIP the Information Commission (IC) consisting of the State Information Commissioner, A Venkataratnam, and the Information Commissioner, G G Kambli issued several directions to DIP and Government bodies.
In its interim order on August 23, 2006, IC passed stringent remarks against the DIP. Hearing the complaint, the IC on June 26, 2006 had directed the DIP to prepare the list of PIOs, APIOs and FAAs, and notify the same in the official gazette within a period of one month.
It was brought to its notice that order was not complied with in all fairness. Though the DIP submitted the list of public authorities which had designated APIOs, PIO and FAAs, it contained a number of mistakes.
Therefore, the DIP has been now directed to get the information verified as already published in the official gazette and make the corrections wherever necessary within two weeks and re-notify the information in the form of a booklet.
While public authorities which have not yet complied or displayed the details has to do so within a month, and send the copy of the compliance to DIP.
They have been further directed that wherever more than one PIO and APIO are appointed, their jurisdiction be clearly specified within two weeks. And wherever the junior officer or officer with equivalent rank are appointed as FAA in their places senior officer be appointed as FAA.
The DIP Has been asked to file an action taken report on September 29, 2006.

http://oheraldo.in/node/18356

Posted in Goa RTI | 1 Comment »

The empire strikes back::Having failed to push through the amendment to the RTI Act, the Government is now attempting to bring it in through the backdoor.

Posted by rtiact2005 on August 28, 2006

The empire strikes back

Vidya Subrahmaniam

http://www.thehindu.com/2006/08/25/stories/2006082504181100.htm 
Having failed to push through the amendment to the RTI Act, the Government is now attempting to bring it in through the backdoor.

 

 

 

— Photo: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar.

SPEAKING UP: Activists of various organisations at a rally in support of the Right to Information Act, in New Delhi.

 

AUGUST 18, 2006: The Right to Information camp in the centre of the Capital’s bustling protest square at Jantar Mantar is crackling with excitement. RTI activists have informally learnt that they may have succeeded in pushing back the Union Cabinet’s threatened amendments to the Right to Information Act, 2005 — including most crucially an amendment to prohibit access to file notings — which they are convinced will destroy the soul of the hard-won legislation. Their optimism centres on Congress president Sonia Gandhi but for whose persistence the RTI Act would have remained a dream, and who, it is known, is discomfited by the attempts to dilute the landmark legislation.

But they are not shutting shop yet, at least not till they have it on the authority of the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) — the nodal agency for the RTI Act under the Ministry of Personnel and Public Grievances — that the amendments have been truly laid to rest. Indeed, for Nikhil De, Sandeep Pande, Shekhar Singh, and other RTI warriors, the flicker of hope — and the fear that the hope could be belied — is all the more reason to keep the adrenaline flowing.

In one corner, activists are holding a referendum on the proposed amendments. The ballot provides voters two options: they can support the amendments or oppose them, and expectedly the yes votes have a mammoth lead. Aruna Roy, the leading light of the RTI movement, pops in to check on the referendum and to catch the buzz on the amendments. Villagers from different States sit in circles narrating their experiences with the RTI Act. The sound of the bugle alerts them to the start of a mock play, and to the beat of drums, they sing: Bangla, gaadi, main nahi maanga, ubla anda, main nahi maanga, chhole bhature, uncle chips, main nahi maanga; muster roll, maine maanga, bill voucher copy, file copy, ration card, maine maanga, soochna ka adhikar, maine maanga (we do not ask for bungalow, car, boiled eggs, uncle chips or chhole bhature; we ask for muster roll, bill voucher copy, file copy, ration card; we ask for our right to information.)

August 19, 2006: Victory is in the air. Suresh Pachauri, Minister of State for Personnel and Public Grievances, has just announced that the proposed amendments will not go through in the monsoon session of Parliament. In the Congress party headquarters, Digvijay Singh tells journalists that the amendments are as good as withdrawn forever. In Maharashtra, Anna Hazare breaks his fast, and in Delhi, the RTI protest camp rolls down the shutters. Ms. Aruna Roy and her band of never-say-die activists are nevertheless nervous: It cannot be that a Government that has resisted the RTI Act with all its might will so easily give up.

Swift retribution

Yet even they could not have known that retribution would be so swift in coming. Two days after Mr. Pachauri’s much-hyped promise not to tinker with the original Act, his Ministry turned on the Central Information Commission, the final appellate authority under the Act — indeed the very backbone of the Act. The DoPT challenged the Commission’s jurisdiction in two vital areas — its power to enforce the Act according to its understanding, and its power to requisition records from government, government departments, and public authorities substantially funded by the Government (the second power available to the CIC under Section 18 (3) of the Act). If this was disconcerting, there was further bad news for the CIC and RTI enthusiasts. The Supreme Court suggested its own amendments to the Act, which, if passed, would for all practical purposes place the judiciary outside the purview of the Act.

Leaving aside the courts for the moment, the DoPT’s twin strikes amounted to this: If the RTI Act cannot be diluted by legal and political means, it will be diluted by subterfuge — by browbeating the CIC into toeing the government line; by reducing the Commission to a toothless body incapable of delivering on its bold promise to the commonest of common citizens: his or her right to access any information from any public authority barring some exceptions.

So far, the main battle between the DoPT and the CIC has been on file notings. The Department defiantly held them to be secret and proclaimed so on its website, leading virtually to all of the Government turning down requests filed under the RTI Act for file notings. The Commission not only ruled in case after case that the Act provided for access to file notings, it also repeatedly directed the Department to remove the misleading claim from its website. Finally, on July 13, it ordered the DoPT to do so or face action.

Now, matters have come to a head with the DoPT firing from the shoulders of Additional Solicitor General Gopal Subramanium. In Mr. Subramanium’s opinion — appended to a letter dated August 21 addressed to the CIC by L.K. Joshi, Secretary to the Ministry — the CIC’s July 13 order to the DoPT asking it to remove the website posting related to file notings was “plainly in excess of the lawful authority conferred on the Commission under Section 19 of the Act.” The Additional Solicitor General held the July 13 order to be “void” also because it was passed by a single member of the Commission.

Mr. Subramanium did not pass judgment on the rights and wrongs of file notings; he said the Commission had overreached itself in asking the DoPT to back off on file notings. Yet the legal opinion raises several questions. If the CIC cannot ask the DoPT to drop its claim that file notings are sacrosanct, then does it not mean that the DoPT can and will continue to make that claim? That the Government as a whole will go by the DoPT’s claim rather than by an Act passed by Parliament? Does this not amount to facilitating the backdoor entry of the amendment to disallow file notings? Also, does it not raise larger doubts vis-à-vis the Commission’s power to enforce the Act as it understands it? If it cannot perform its basic function, what use is the Commission?

The irony is that even those who want file notings withheld from scrutiny, including much of the bureaucracy, admit that the Act as it stands can only be interpreted as permitting their disclosure. When the Commission ruled in favour of file notings — for the first time on January 31, 2006, in the Satya Pal case — it relied largely on Section 2 (f) of the Act, which includes in the definition of information “records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinions, advices … ” File notings are nothing if not opinions and advices.

The DoPT’s second battle with the CIC has implications that go even farther. The DoPT has obtained a stay from the Delhi High Court against the Commission’s directive seeking inspection of the correspondence between President K.R. Narayanan and Atal Bihari Vajpayee exchanged during the anti-Muslim Gujarat riots of 2002. Says Mr. Shekhar Singh: “The DoPT would have been free to move the High Court had the CIC ruled in favour of disclosure of the correspondence. But to say that they will not allow the CIC even to look at the papers is [to] strike at the root of the RTI Act. How can one expect the CIC to rule whether some information should be made public or not if it is not allowed to examine it?”

Adds civil liberties lawyer Prashant Bhushan: “If you take the two issues together, what the Government is saying is that any information it regards as exempt from scrutiny will effectively remain inaccessible. Further, in future this or any other Government can deny any information to the Commission, virtually rendering useless the provision for an independent appellate authority.”

The story then is not just about amendments to the RTI Act. It is also about a nodal Information Commission that is under attack from all sides, an Information Commission that cannot enforce its own orders, worse, that cannot access information. Can there be a bigger irony than this?

Posted in RTI and babus | 1 Comment »

Govt still defiant on RTI

Posted by rtiact2005 on August 28, 2006

Govt still defiant on RTI

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/1930872.cms

NEW DELHI: When it was trying to reduce access to file notings, the government famously claimed that the proposal would actually “promote even greater transparency”. The department of personnel and training (DoPT) has since come up with another paradoxical claim on file notings — this time for refusing to delete its interpretation on them from its website.

The regulator of the Right to Information Act, the Central Information Commission (CIC), had directed DoPT on July 13 to remove from the website its own interpretation of the law that file notings made by ministers and bureaucrats could not be disclosed to citizens.

Justifying its defiance of CIC’s order, DoPT said it was not a party to the case in which it had been directed to remove the reference to file notings. Since the case related to the railway ministry, DoPT said, on the basis of additional solicitor-general Gopal Subramanium’ s opinion, that RTI Act does not enable CIC to deal with a department which is “not directly before it as a respondent in an appeal”.

In other words, DoPT is claiming that it had not been given a proper notice before CIC passed the July 13 order. Documents in possession of TOI, however, show that DoPT has been put on notice in several cases ever since CIC laid down in January that file notings were very much accessible under the RTI Act.

Documents also indicate that DoPT is trying to take advantage of its own failure to take notice of repeated orders and reminders from CIC. The irony is, in one case decided just two days before the July 13 order, DoPT was the respondent and it gave an undertaking that it would disclose file notings to the appellant, Mahavir Singhvi, if CIC directed it to do so. Sure enough, CIC went on to pass such a direction.

Related Stories
RTI: Sonia stays move to erase notings
At VMC, Right to Information implies vague info
Readerspeak: Let there be a mass movement
Complete Coverage: Another freedom struggle

Posted in Govt. of INDIA | 1 Comment »

`Take action on petitions received under RTI Act’

Posted by rtiact2005 on August 26, 2006

`Take action on petitions received under RTI Act’

Staff Reporter

http://www.hindu.com/2006/08/26/stories/2006082603110300.htm

Review meeting held at Collectorate

 

 

 

Dharmapuri: The Collector, M. Chandrasekaran, has instructed officials to take immediate action on petitions received under the Right to Information Act.

Speaking at a review meeting at the Collectorate on Friday, he said that names of Public Information Officers (PIOs) and Appellate Authority should be displayed in a board in front of departments concerned to provide information to the public. The salient features of the Act were also discussed in the meeting.

Mr. Chandrasekaran said that people could apply for information to the PIO of the concerned office. People who were interested in applying under the Act can obtain the form from the officials concerned. A sum of Rs. 50 should be remitted in the district treasury or banks and the challan copy should be attached with the form and submitted in person or through post or courier to the officials concerned.

They can also seek the assistance of the Public Information Officer to fill in the application form. Inspection of files can also be done. The Collector said that stringent action would be taken against the Public Information Officer if information was not provided within the stipulated time. Fine starting from Rs. 250 a day to Rs. 25,000 would be imposed on the officials.

Posted in Tamil Nadu RTI | 2 Comments »

File notings important

Posted by rtiact2005 on August 25, 2006

File notings important

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/1920714.cms

The people of India rejoiced at the usher-ing in of a new regime, when Parliament enacted a law giving them access to information on governance. But a section of the bureaucracy was not amused.

Subsequently, some political adminis-trators were persuaded by scheming bureaucrats to try and effect a change in law. The entire Opposition, and even the supporting Left parties, have come out against the unwarranted step. And, for good reasons.

Right to information has been linked with an inviolable human right. A valuable human right should be able to survive sly or subtle means to take it away, particularly when it is entrenched as a fundamental right in the Constitution.

Freedom of expression envelops in it the right to information. The supreme court of Ceylon has ruled that freedom of expression guaranteed in its constitution includes access to information. No informed constitutional court is likely to adopt a different view.

It is not production of mere documents as contained in the government file that furnishes the useful information. The key to crucial information is contained in the ‘note file’. That discloses the link between the reasoning and ultimate conclusion – an integral facet of citizen’s rights for reasoned orders.

No principled government official or political administrator should feel uncomfortable about his views being scanned by competent legal and administrative authorities. A person dealing with public matters should have the humility to accept other points of view, reached after informed discussion and argument.

It is wrong to believe that the note file would always be used as a weapon against the administration. It can help an administrator defend his stance. An agriculture university passed an order that was challenged before Kerala high court. Justice B Eradi, on the basis of the note file, decided in favour of the administration.

Justice T Chandra Sekhara Menon of Kerala high court set a welcome precedent by ordering for the production of government files for the scrutiny of a complaining citizen. After a series of legal battles, the citizen managed to obtain relief.

When a new government came to power in Kerala, the post of vigilance commissioner was abolished. 

There were prima facie indications of mala fides. When the note file was produced before court, the impression was dispelled.

The secretary concerned argued that the vigilance commission was, in that context, like a fifth wheel to a coach. The court ruled in the administration’s favour.

The experience is not confined to one court or region. The new chief justice of Karnataka, possibly carrying with him the practice and tradition of Kerala, calls for government files as aids to his reaching a correct and quick conclusion.

When I was a judge in Bombay high court, a sensational decision concerning allotment of the prime land in Malabar Hill area for IAS officials was reached on the basis of government files, note files included.

As a participant in the adjudicative process (along with Justice Saraf), it can be asserted that arriving at a conclusion (without fear or favour) would have been impossible without note files. The decision was upheld by the Supreme Court.

The consequences of non-disclosure of note files would be disastrous. Imagine a well reasoned note of a secretary being presented before a minister. While the ultimate decision rests with the minister, he must indicate his views, even if briefly, if he goes against officialdom.

Former Kerala chief minister Achutha Menon exercised such authority on numerous occasions. When an important service case was decided by a single judge, the government pleader suggested filing an appeal. The additional advocate-general said it was not necessary.

Secretary Zachariah Mathew prepared a long note analysing the two conflicting opinions. The note file came before the chief minister. Being a true democrat, Achutha Menon agreed with the government pleader and the secretary, even though the additional advocate-general belonged to the political party of which Achutha Menon was the leader.

Note files are the live wires in a decision-making process. Snap them, and you are plunged into darkness.

The writer is a former judge of Bombay and Kerala high courts.

Posted in RTI Activists | Leave a Comment »

This round to the RTI

Posted by rtiact2005 on August 25, 2006

This round to the RTI

http://www.thehindu.com/2006/08/23/05hdline.htm

 

 

In what constitutes a significant victory for the people of India, the Government has been forced to withdraw the illiberal amendments to the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005 that it had decided to table in the current session of Parliament. Ever since it became law, the RTI Act has proved to be a progressive instrument of democracy, empowering citizens to obtain official documents (such as ration cards, electricity bills, and passports) with ease, and to have access to government records without having to pay bribes or use undue influence. Pre-RTI, secrecy often shrouded corruption, and the arbitrary exercise of power by administrators and bureaucrats could not be countered in an informed way. There is the apocryphal story of a former Union Minister who would write “not approved” on lucrative files and add the letter “e” to convert it to “note approved,” after the consideration demanded had been paid. Information is power; and this power suddenly made available to the people sent shivers through the bureaucracy and the political establishment. Now decisions made by the government could be tracked, investigated, and challenged. `File notings’ are comments and notes made on files and reveal the reasons behind decisions great and small. They are often the most interesting parts of official files. They can say much about the straightforwardness, the integrity, and the efficiency of a government. The right to information in a democratic framework certainly implies that citizens should be aware of the reasons behind crucial decisions. From January 2006, thanks to a landmark ruling by the Central Information Commission, file notings have been accessed round the country in a veritable festival of democracy. Unsurprisingly, the establishment struck back sooner than later. In a move initiated at the very top and supported by a chamber orchestra of establishment interests, amendments were approved by the Cabinet to steal `file notings’ (except those relating to social and development issues) and other key empowering features away from the purview of the Act.

The United Progressive Alliance Government had reckoned without the groundswell of opposition its illiberal move would provoke. Rejecting the idea that disclosure of file notings can be abused, social activist and Magsaysay award winner Aruna Roy says: “You can only blackmail those who have something to hide.” Section 8 of the RTI Act already has a comprehensive list of exemptions relating to issues of national security, privacy, certain judicial matters, and other sensitive information that might endanger lives and affect the larger public interest. In the face of nationwide protest by human rights activists, lawyers, retired judges, students, intellectuals, retired civil servants, and ordinary citizens and confronted with political opposition ranging from the Left to the BJP, the Government has decided not to go ahead with the retrograde tentative draft Bill and has instead called for a discussion with all stakeholders. In addition to denying access to the dreaded file notings, the amendments seek to stop disclosure of material on decisions in process; to remove access to “material” on the basis of which Cabinet decisions are taken; to withdraw access to the identities of those who have recorded notings and opinions specifically on development and social matters; and to exempt all information related to “a process of any examination” conducted by a public authority or “assessments or evaluation” for the purpose of official postings, transfers, and promotions. It must be understood that the Government’s retreat on the RTI amendments is for the time being. It is vital for the citizens of India to be prepared to stage uncompromising resistance against the UPA Government’s move to enfeeble one of the world’s most progressive right to information laws.

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Luminaries come together to fight corruption

Posted by rtiact2005 on August 24, 2006

Luminaries come together to fight corruption
 
DH News Service Bangalore:

http://www.deccanherald.com/deccanherald/aug242006/state1941232006823.asp

As well-meaning ideas go, this one is hard to beat. No less a person than a former chief justice of India, a union minister, a former education and revenue minister, an MLA and a member of the State Planning Board, have come together to fight corruption and injustice in the country. If they have their way, a Virtual Court might be in the offing, apart from a reformed electoral system and a new political culture.

Under the chairmanship of former chief justice, Justice M N Venkatachaliah, a registered Trust — the Centre for Standards in Public Life (CSPL) — started functioning on Wednesday, with the trust members drafting ‘bills’ and memoranda that would be screened by a Governing Council for “further proceedings”.

Addressing the media on the occasion, Justice Venkatachaliah said a comprehensive law was required to regulate the formation of political parties, their funding, issues pertaining to transparency and the like.

“For this, all political parties should be brought together, and a consensus evolved, as it is time somebody arrested the decay in the political system,” he said. A three-member body would screen and approve a Political Parties Law within three months, he added.

Stating that the size of the parallel economy of the country was estimated at 47 per cent of the $690-billion GDP of the nation, he said the ‘nexus’ between the political party executives and permanent civil services should be checked immediately.

Former union minister M S Gurupadaswamy, whose brainchild CSPL is, said corruption in public life would be addressed by the Trust. “The electoral system is in urgent need of reform. Also, the Lokayukta should be given full autonomy and powers and strengthened at the state level,” he said. The Lokpal Bill, pending for over 20 years, should be passed soonest.

The other trustees of the outfit are former education/revenue minister B Somshekhar, former MLA Chandrakanth Bellad and former Planning Board member-secretary Mumtaz Ali Khan. There are 20 members in the Governing Council, including journalist Kuldip Nayyar, historian Ramachandra Guha, and leading Supreme Court advocate Prashanth Bhushan.

CSPL is located at Aradhya Complex, 1st Floor, 21/1, Vani Vilas Road, Basavangudi.

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