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Archive for February, 2008

Maharashtra Chief Minister’s Relief Fund and RTI

Posted by rtiact2005 on February 28, 2008

Maharashtra Chief Minister’s Relief Fund

——— Forwarded message ———-
From: “Shailesh Gandhi” <shaileshgan@ gmail.com>
To:all RTI@yahoogroups. com>
Date: Thu, 28 Feb 2008 17:42:01 +0530
Subject: Maharashtra Chief Minister’s Relief Fund
After a 27 month RTI saga the Chief Minister has conceded that
the Maharashtra CM’s fund will come under RTI scrutiny. But the path to
reach here has been a long and chequered one. On 26 October, 2005 I asked
for some simple details about the money spent from the CM’s relief fund
which was refused by the PIO, on the grounds that it is a Registered Trust
with no Government controls, hence not a Public Authority. A first appeal on
21 February 2006, by me arguing that this was a Public authority in all
senses, prompted the first appellate authority to give a decision it would
be a breach of Legislative privilige! A second appeal was filed to the
Information Commission on 10 April, 2006, and the Single Commissioner held a
hearing on 1 June, 2006, but did not issue any order. I argued that if the
Legislative assembly chose not to ask questions on a particular matter, it
could not supercede my Right to Information. After repeated questioning
about this by Citizens and media, the full bench of the Maharashtra
Commission was called on 7th December, 2007. Four Commissioners- one each
from Nagpur, Aurangabad and Pune met in Mumbai with the Chief Commissioner
in Mumbai,- for the hearing. After I made my opening argument for a minute
the State lawyer said they wanted to make a written submission and that the
Advocate General would place the State’s arguments, hence the matter should
be adjourned by six weeks. I protested that the State could have presented
its submissions earlier and the Advocate General could not be the only
person in the State to present arguments. Besides, if at all an adjournment
was desired, the State should have asked for it earlier. After the full
bench had assembled, the State was only flexing its muscle and devaluing the
Commission by insisting on an adjournment. The Commission however was
willing to agree to the State’s demand, and the next hearing was fixed on
7th January, 2008. On that day, again the four Commissioners assembled in
Mumbai and the Advocate General presented the same arguments which the PIO
and the First Appellate authority had presented. I also argued that the CM’s
relief fund trust had 12 members- six ministers and six secretaries who were
all Public servants, and every paper or telephone of the CM’s relief fund
was Citizen’s money, apart from the argument of the disclosure being a
breach of legislative privilige being completely illogical. The Advocate
General also told the Commission that they had recently written to the
Legislature to elicit their opinion. My protests notwithstanding the
Commission again gave in to the State’s diktat and decided on another
hearing on 29 Jaunary, 2008 for giving final orders.

On 29th January, the Advocate General stated that they felt it was
necessary to give their arguments made on 7th January in writing to
‘crystallise’ what they had said. My protests that the Commission was
allowing the State to denigrate the Commission and thereby the RTI Act fell
on deaf ears. The decision has still not been given by the Commission. In
the meantime I asked the Charity Commissioner for details of the Trust and
got information that apart from the initial filing of details in 1967, no
details had been filed! Media had also been highlighting all this and on
27th February, 2008 the CM displaying sagacity announced that the details of
the CM’s fund would be disclosed under RTI.

The same cannot be said about the senior officers in the State who
doggedly refused to give information in a show of arrogance. The Advocate
General also does not appear to have been keen to advise in the letter and
spirit of the law, but was only concerned with defending what he perhaps
perceived as his clients, ” the Government officers”. I wish the Advocate
General would understand the RTI act better since he will have to give an
opinion in future as well on a matter which has become very important for
Citizens. The Information Commission also appears to be willing to be taken
around the mulberry bush by the State, and this will result in a devaluing
of the position of the Commission and concomitantly the RTI Act. I am hoping
the Commission will display wisdom and give its reasoned order atleast now.

In one sense however, this is a true triumph of democracy with RTI being
the tool to bring accountability; Citizens and media highlighting a gross
mistake; and the CM at some point acknowledging that the State had been in
error, and taking corrective action. On this count I would thank the CM for
not sticking to an arrogant position, and graciously accepting the Right to

shailesh gandhi

28 February, 2008

PS.: As per the CIC’s order on 15 March, 2008, details of PM’s Relief fund
have to be given under RTI. However my RTI application asking:

As of 31st March, 2007 I want the details of the amounts deposited in banks
or any other place, in the following format:

Name of bank or Institution where

Money is deposited
Interest rate at which money deposited

Has been rejected, on 4 January, 2008 refusing to give even this
information, saying it may amount to ‘disclosure of information including
commercial confidence, trade secrets or disclosure of intellectual property
the disclosure of which would harm the competitive position of third
parties’! There is also another still more obfuscating reason given,
claiming fiduciary relationship of the officers holding the information.
There is a balance of over 1400 crores, and my first appeal has also been
rejected without any reasons. At the current disposal rates of the CIC, the
second appeal I have filed might be heard after the present Shri Habibullah
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