Right2Information

Right to Information – Master key to good governance

Archive for the ‘RTI ACT 2005’ Category

Most states lag in implementing RTI

Posted by rtiact2005 on October 19, 2006

Most states lag in implementing RTI
Himanshi Dhawan
[ 19 Oct, 2006 0149hrs ISTTIMES NEWS NETWORK ]

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/2201328.cms

NEW DELHI: This is one report card that could make it to the hall of shame. A year after the Right to Information (RTI) Act was made operational, barely a handful of states have passed the halfway mark in implementing RTI.

Only eight of the 29 states and five Union territories have ranked above 50% in RTI compliance.

The study conducted by a Non Governmental Organisation, Centre for Civil Society, examined all states except Jammu & Kashmir to judge how many were complying with Section 4 of the Right To Information (termed as duty to publish or DTP) Act that makes it compulsory for states to give suo moto certain information relating to the functioning of the administration, to the public.

Incidentally, literacy levels have not impacted awareness levels in states. States that have high literacy levels, including Kerala (90.92%) or Mizoram (88.49%), have lagged behind in implementing Duty To Publish.

Even states where civil society movements are strong have suffered. West Bengal ranks 14 in the charts with barely 24% compliance while Rajasthan – long considered the fountainhead of the Right To Information movement – is almost at the bottom of the ladder with 11%.

And surprisingly, states like Madhya Pradesh, Uttaranchal and Chandigarh were on top of the heap with over 70% compliance.

Predictably, Punjab and Delhi came in fourth and fifth with 64% and 59% compliance of RTI.

Manipur and Tamil Nadu ended up with 5% and states like Assam, Jharkhand and Sikkim joined Dadra & Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu at the end of the list.

The CCS studied compliance of DTP in the education sector. Under DTP, government and public authorities are bound to give certain information related to their functions, the public information officers appointed to address appeals and details about their budget and subsidies.

Commenting on the study, Gautam Bastian from CCS said that better implementation of DTP would remove some of the obstacles that the bureaucracy complains about.

With most of the information on their websites, offices would then be inundated with much fewer appeals and ensure better implementation of the law.

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RTI Act: New tool for politicians?

Posted by rtiact2005 on October 19, 2006

RTI Act: New tool for politicians?
Ayesha Khan

http://cities.expressindia.com/fullstory.php?newsid=205896

Vadodara, October 18: IS the Right To Information Act becoming a handy tool used by people to settle personal as well as political scores? Two Congress councillors in the Vadodara Municipal Corporation recently sought information related to health and development work under this Act. Another councillor from Padra has also been seeking information routinely in this manner. Though there is no legal provision preventing elected representatives from seeking information under RTI Act, many believe this is another way of misusing an Act meant to empower the common man.

In their party workers’ training meets, both the Congress and the BJP have been conducting refresher courses on the use of RTI Act and how to exercise the power to play the role of an effective opposition. In the Congress’ Janmitra sessions held across the State, one of the sessions was on RTI.

Perhaps, taking this to heart, two VMC councillors Chandrakant Srivastava and Imtiaz Patel have now sought information under RTI. While Patel has sought health data on the number of Barodians who have reported ill from specific areas, Bhattu has sought information on specific development work like laying of roads and drainage lines in his constituency.

Padra councillor Bipin Patel, who belongs to the Congress, has also been demanding information routinely under RTI, thereatfer legally challenging the BJP-led nagarpalika’s decision in certain cases. However, senior political leaders make a distinction between party worker and elected representative. A senior Congress leader, on grounds of anonymity, said: ”It’s slightly stupid for a councillor to seek information under RTI, as we routinely ask questions during the general board meeting. As councillors, irrespective of the party we belong, we are the ones to frame civic rules.”

But Srivastava and Patel defend their act. ”The information which we receive under RTI Act is the official data that can be used to counter the authorities’ claims. It has more credibility,” said Srivastava. City Congress president Bhikha Rabari, however, said, ”The councillors usually need not seek information under the RTI Act as they are privy to official information.”

Countering this, Patel said, ”Since we are in minority, the BJP-dominated board does not want to part with all information. Under the RTI Act, they have to clearly state the details, which exposes them.” Interestingly, there is no such precedent in Rajkot or Surat wherein elected councillors have sought information under the RTI Act to turn the heat on their political opponents or expose the alleged administrative inefficiencies.

Posted in RTI ACT 2005 | 3 Comments »

Trappings vs substance

Posted by rtiact2005 on October 18, 2006

Trappings vs substance
 
Business Standard / New Delhi October 17, 2006
 
http://www.business-standard.com/common/storypage.php?autono=261980&leftnm=4&subLeft=0&chkFlg
 
The fact that the convention to mark one year of the Right to Information Act was inaugurated by the President and the Prime Minister delivered the valedictory address indicates that at least in form the Act and its working are part of the official agenda. However, the fact that the website of the ministry of personnel continues to declare that “file notings” do not come under the Act highlights the long road ahead before it can be effectively used to improve governance. The ministry has responded to the chief information commissioner on notings by stating, along with legal advice, that the order has to be passed by all the commissioners sitting together. If this is the only way in which the commission could issue orders then hundreds of them already issued by one or two commissioners together would lose their standing. The Prime Minister has backed the Act with strong words but he is yet to take action to stop bureaucratic manoeuvres ingeniously contrived to prevent it from becoming effective.
Civil society groups which have played a key role in bringing the Act into being are in particular worried about the implication of two remarks by Dr Manmohan Singh. They are uncertain if his warning against “professional middlemen” getting involved in trying to work the Act can also come to include NGOs helping the poor and the uninitiated in seeking redress under the law. They are also intrigued by his comment that the Act should not end up creating “adversarial relationships” between different stakeholders. If the Act is to be used as a weapon against power brokers and the corrupt, then the latter can hardly be expected to give up without a fight. The Act can hardly be worked in the spirit of a tea party.
Serious conflicts are bound to emerge when the Act begins to make a serious difference. Those actively monitoring its working are enthused by the fact that there is such a groundswell of support for it. People are aggressively coming forward to use the Act and a significant constituency for it has grown up in a single year. But its proponents are perturbed by the huge backlog that is emerging and fear that before long a three- to four- year wait for a final decision on an application may become routine. There are two ways of preventing this. One is to ensure that information which can be easily accessed should be delivered promptly and the one-month limit should apply only to information not readily available. The other requirement is for the information commissions to give up their present hesitation to impose penalty on public information officers who do not deliver. If there is no credible sanction against default then things will not get done. Studies also indicate that progress has been slow in putting more information in the public domain, which is directed by the Act. Doing this with the help of technology will allow people to get information without having to apply under the Act. These are clearly early days for the Act as not more than a handful of applications have gone up to the high courts. It is there the final battles have to be fought and the attitude of the courts will be critical in determining if the Act means something or not.

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Appeal under section 19 (1) of the Right to Information Act, 2005.

Posted by rtiact2005 on October 15, 2006

Appeal under section 19 (1) of the Right to Information Act, 2005.

 

To        : The Appellate Authority,

Shri Jogendra Singh, Director General,

DIRECTORATE GENERAL OF Vigilance,

Customs & Central Excise, Headquarters Office,

Ist Floor, Samrat Hotel, Kautilya Marg, Chanakyapuri,

New Delhi – 110 021.   Phone: 011-2611 5722

 

(1)        Full name of the Appellant :

  Mr. Rajesh Vishnudas Darak

 

(2)        Address :         

C/o. Whistleblowers India, 8, Varsha, North South Road No.5, Vile Parle (W), Mumbai – 400 056.    

 

(3)        Particulars of the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) :   

Sh. C. S. Prasad, Addl. Director General Vigilance,

Ist Floor, Samrat Hotel, Kautilya Marg, Chanakyapuri,

New Delhi-110 021, Phone: 011-26115725

 

(4)        Date of receipt of the order appealed against :     22nd September, 2006

            (if order passed)          

 

(5)        Last date for filing the appeal :                             22nd October, 2006   

 

(6)        The grounds for appeal :

 

The CPIO has denied information under sections 8(1)(e) and 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act, 2005.

 

The subject matter of information is ‘ Relating to details of immovable & movable assets of persons specified.’

 

It is a fundamental right of the citizens of India to find out whether the employees of a govt. department are corrupt or not . India has been ranked as the worst performer by Transparency International on its global Bribe Payers Index, which is based on the propensity of companies from the world’s 30 leading exporting countries in bribing abroad. Please refer the link http://www.transparency.org/news_room/in_focus/bpi_2006#pr for the full report.

 

Customs & Central Excise is an important dept. entrusted with the task of collecting revenue & preventing revenue loss. The high level of corruption prevailing in the Customs & Central Excise department is evident from the noteworthy no. of ‘under cloud’ & ‘agreed list’ officers in sensitive postings. This shows that the Customs & Central Excise dept. has failed to keep a check on corruption. Having understood this fact, it becomes important to know whether the assets declared or possessed by the staff of this dept., are proportionate to their known sources of income or not.

 

The Election Commission of India has mandated disclosure of details of movable & immovable assets by each candidate seeking election to Parliament or a state legislature. Please refer page nos. 12 & 13, which are part of the 4-page Annexure (page nos.11 to 14) in the link http://www.eci.gov.in/ElectoralLaws/OrdersNotifications/Order_Assests_Affidavits.pdf#search=%22disclosure%20of%20assets%22  which is the mandated format for disclosure.

 

An example of one such disclosure, which is a part of the affidavit filed for the General Elections – 2004, made by Smt. Sonia Gandhi, MP from Rae Bareli, appears on page nos. 2 & 3 in the link http://archive.eci.gov.in/GE2004_Affidavits/Uttar%20Pradesh/Affidavits/19/Sonia%20Gandhi/SG.html

 

Further, the Karnataka Information Commission (KIC) vide its order dated 21st July, 2006 has directed the respondent to make available the assets and liabilities declarations to the complainant. A copy of the said order is attached herewith for your ready reference.

 

It is amply clear from the above facts & arguments that the CPIO’s denial of information, under sections 8(1)(e) and 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act, 2005 is not tenable. The public interest override prevails for such a disclosure, because disclosure of assets creates a disincentive for corruption by creating fear of exposure. This is the sole reason why the department’s conduct rule mandates disclosure of assets by its employees. Since the department itself, usually, does not have the time to check & verify the declarations of its employees, this task can be taken up by the citizens of India. The public has a right to know whether the public servants are working honestly or not.

 

The CPIO has thus failed to apply his mind correctly.

 

You are therefore requested to direct the CPIO to immediately furnish the required information.

 

 

Place    : Mumbai

 

Date     : 12/10/2006                                                                            Signature of Appellant

 

Enclosures :

 

1)       Copy of my RTI Application dated 14th August, 2006

2)       Copy of CPIO’s letter dated 29th August, 2006.

3)       Copy of CPIO’s reply dated 19th September, 2006.

4)       Copy of KIC’s order dated 21st July, 2006

P.S. Hard copy of this Appeal alongwith the enclosures already sent by Speed Post today.

c.c. Chairman – CBEC – With a request to pass this on to the addressee, since my previous e-mail to this addressee had bounced; and an additional request to ensure that e-mail IDs of all the important posts are listed on the website, http://www.cbec.gov.in/

Rajesh Darak

Mera Bharat Mahaan…Nahi Hai,
Per Yeh Dosh Mera Hai.

Posted in RTI ACT 2005 | 28 Comments »

One Year of RTI :: Law ‘disappoints’ with mixed grades

Posted by rtiact2005 on October 11, 2006

Law ‘disappoints’ with mixed grades

Chetan Chauhan

New Delhi, October 10, 2006

http://www.hindustantimes.com/news/181_1817612,0008.htm

Free flow of information is still a distant dream despite efforts by the government. On Thursday, the federal Right to Information Act — billed a watershed in administrative transparency and citizens’ empowerment — will be a year old. But a pre-birthday jog down the performance lane rates it as “more of a disappointment than a weapon of mass empowerment” as envisaged by the National Advisory Council that drafted the law.

Even members of the Central Information Commission including chief information commissioner (CIC) Wajahat Habibullah and information commissioner O.P. Kejriwal admit that it has been “partially successful”. “We may not have been able to tap the potential of the Act,” Kejriwal said. A nationwide survey by the Centre for Media Studies (CMS), released on Tuesday, explains the reasons why the Act has failed to deliver. Most of the 19 states in which the survey was conducted have only two information commissioners housed in temporary offices with very little fund and manpower. States like Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Himachal Pradesh and Maharashtra have only one information commissioner.

The RTI Act allows appointment of 10 commissioners. The survey says appointment of retired government officials as information commissioners has been the reason behind the failure of the law. In Assam, a retired IPS officer heads the commission whereas a retired judge is at the helm in Uttar Pradesh. Andhra Pradesh is the only exception where the three commissioners are from different professions. RTI activists feel commissioners should be from different backgrounds to make the law more effective.

Another deterrent is the high processing fee charged by some states in violation of the Act, which stipulates Rs 10 for an application. States like Haryana and Tamil Nadu charge Rs 50, whereas Maharashtra and Orissa charge Rs 25 for an appeal. Andhra Pradesh scores as it charges no fee at the village level. The mandals and the district-level organizations charge a slightly higher amount.

Another reason why the Act has been ineffective is the information commissioners’ reluctance to use the penalty clause against officials providing wrong or no information.

The survey points out that no states, barring Goa and Karnataka, have invoked the clause. In Delhi, the CIC invoked the clause in two cases and later withdrew the penalty in one case. Kejriwal, however, defends the commissioners saying indiscriminate use of the clause might have led to the collapse of the administrative machinery. Shekhar Singh of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information feels that a more stringent use of the clause will send the message to the bureaucracy that tinkering with the Act will not be tolerated. “Now, the feeling in bureaucracy is that the Information Commissioners will protect them rather than punish them,” he said. Like Kejriwal, most RTI activists, are optimistic despite the initial hiccups.“The Act has indicated that it is a powerful weapon to change the work culture”.

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Good intentions

Posted by rtiact2005 on August 5, 2006

Good intentions

The RTI Act extends to the whole of India except the state of Jammu and Kashmir
 
Information according to the Act means any material in any form including records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinions, advices, press releases, circulars, orders, logbooks, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, data material held in any electronic form and information relating to any private body which can be accessed by a public authority
 
It includes the right to:
 
Inspect works, documents, records
 
Take notes, extracts or certified copies of documents or records
 
Take certified samples of material obtain information in form of printouts or in any electronic mode

Mar 11 , 2006

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From secrecy to transparency – The only way people can challenge this apparently omnipotent power is by exercising their right to information,

Posted by rtiact2005 on June 27, 2006

From secrecy to transparency 
Members of the ruling class have been withholding from the citizens vital information,

which impacts the lives of common people, to perpetuate their hegemony.

The only way people can challenge this apparently omnipotent power is by exercising their right to information,

says Nachiketa Desai

Friday, June 02, 2006

http://www.ciol.com/content/news/2006/106052503.asp

Knowledge is power. By implication, information that leads to knowledge becomes an instrument of power. Those at the helm of power know this. They wield this by denying crucial information to the people they rule over.

Anyone who has had the chance to deal with officials at any level – from the lowest rung of the bureaucracy such as a village revenue clerk, a traffic constable or even a peon in a government office to the high and mighty ministers – would be able to testify that it is because of the common man’s ignorance about how the system works that the officials ride rough shod over the public.

Politicians, bureaucrats, technocrats, contractors, business and industry tycoons and their executives are the ones who guard the secrets of governance – both public and corporate affairs – on the pretext that any sharing of knowledge with the common people would be detrimental to national security.

Regimes are known to have gone to the extent of imposing censorship on the press and incarcerating individuals trying to question the way the affairs of the country are being run. Questioning the authority was interpreted as sedition.

Even after the country became Independent, the attitude of the ruling class remained the same. “Trespassers will be prosecuted”, trespassing being any nose poking by the ordinary citizen in the affairs of the officialdom. Governance was carried out behind an impregnable wall of secrecy.

Only the sarpanch of a village and his henchmen would know how much fund has been allocated for digging a well, constructing a school building, a road or for distribution of dole to the victims of natural calamity. The information would be ‘off limit’ for the common people. A similar system prevailed at taluk, district and state level.

Obviously, all establishments having anything to do with the country’s defence, nuclear power and energy, space programme and even irrigation projects were ‘off limit’ for the ordinary citizens.
 

However, winds of change began to blow as social activists like Medha Patkar, Anna Hazare and Aruna Roy and scores of grass roots level workers began crusading for people’s right to information. Through mass movements, non-violent direction actions and a series of public interest litigations in various courts, breaches began to appear in the iron wall that surrounded the establishment.
 

A much powerful hurricane that came hurtling down on the old regime was in the form of information technology revolution. Internet – the information super highway – made information available at the click of a mouse. The educated, urban young men and women were the first to get onto this super highway – exploring the ocean of information. Networking with like-minded people with common goals became instantaneously possible. Coalitions were formed, common action plans drawn and put into motion. E-advocacy gained ground.

With the proliferation of mass media – print, TV, film and Internet – suppressing information and denial of access to information became impossible. The iron wall behind which the establishment carried out its business came under tremendous pressure. Opening of safety gates became mandatory if the establishment wanted the wall not to collapse.

For the establishment, the Right to Information is a safety gate.

For the people, it is a tool with which they demolish the wall of secrecy surrounding the establishment and enforce transparency in governance.

(Nachiketa Desai is Associate Editor of CIOL)

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Sunil Jain: Right to information

Posted by rtiact2005 on June 26, 2006

Sunil Jain: Right to information
RATIONAL EXPECTATIONS
Sunil Jain / New Delhi June 26, 2006
http://www.business-standard.com/common/storypage.php?autono=96134&leftnm=4&subLeft=0&chkFlg=
Now that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has got a committee to investigate the charges against AIIMS Director P Venugopal and whether he has run down the country’s premier hospital/medical college, one hopes its findings will be made public and, equally important, Health Minister A Ramadoss will not be allowed to get rid of Venugopal even before he has a chance to respond to the committee’s report (assuming it is a negative one). This is not an empty fear as something similar happened just last month, when ONGC chief Subir Raha was unceremoniously shown the door. While the committee was set up after Venugopal went public with his spat with Ramadoss (which, in turn, followed Ramadoss appointing persons to various posts in AIIMS after removing Venugopal’s nominees), the health ministry has already asked Venugopal to explain why he went public on the issue!
 
The ministry of petroleum and natural gas had been having a running battle with the then ONGC chief Subir Raha for over a year (much like the one Ramadoss has been having with Venugopal, primarily over the latter’s support to the striking anti-Mandal doctors). So when a committee appointed by it (TNR Rao committee) severely indicted Raha for the Bombay High fire, the ministry simply got rid of Raha without getting his side of the story, or getting a neutral party to judge the case (the law requires the Public Enterprise Selection Board be this agency). Indeed, based on the Rao report, Petroleum Minister Murli Deora even said privately that ONGC had submitted fake documents to show its rigs/platforms in Mumbai High were safe—the Rao report had suggested a probe by agencies like the CBI to rule out collusion between ONGC and the agency that certified the platform as meeting the OHSAS 18001 safety certification. Yet Raha was asked to go without getting his side of the story (see “Raha’s fire refuses to die down,” Business Standard, June 5).
 
This is the ultimate irony: this is a government that was brave enough to come up with a Right to Information Act, and yet it remains extremely frugal when it comes to critical information. Deora’s insinuations about Raha, for instance, affect not just Raha, but lakhs of investors in the company, and given ONGC’s size, are a serious reflection on the manner in which the country’s companies are run. Yet, there is no official reaction to the report. So, neither the country’s investors, nor the insurance companies who have billions of dollars riding on ONGC have any clue as to whether the charges are worth the paper they’ve been made upon.
 
Nor is this the only instance of frugality with information. The Haryana State Industrial Development Corporation (HSIDC) inked an MoU with Reliance Industries to set up an SEZ in the state, and provided the company with 1,500 acres of land at Garhi Harsaru in Gurgaon district. While the land was originally acquired by HSIDC for its own SEZ, when the discussions with Reliance began, the proposed SEZ was merged with the Reliance one. A Congress MP, Kuldeep Singh Bishnoi, opposed the project saying that the land itself was worth at least Rs 3,500 crore and that the Haryana government had got very little for its contribution. The state was paid Rs 360 crore to compensate it for the cost of acquiring the land as well as equity in the project—if the Reliance SEZ was up to 10,000 hectares, the government’s equity share is to be 7.5 per cent, and if it was larger, this would go down to 5 per cent. Based on the proposed Rs 40,000 crore investment in the SEZ, the market value of the land should theoretically have entitled the government to a share of between 25 and 35 per cent, depending on whether a debt equity ratio of 2:1 or 3:1 is taken.
 
Once Bishnoi made the charges, you’d expect some sort of explanation for how the deal was structured, for whether or not the Haryana government and the state would benefit from the deal, apart from the usual spiel about the number of jobs the SEZ would create—after all, if the SEZ didn’t create the number of jobs promised, would the government be contractually bound to take back the land? And given the fact that up to 75 per cent of the land in the SEZ can be used to create housing, shopping malls and other such facilities for non-SEZ individuals, how would this give a fillip to the state’s industrialisation?
 
Now it is always possible the government and its investment bankers have done all the calculations and the deal is indeed a win-win one for everyone, but none of this has been made public. After all, if a state is investing over Rs 3,500 crore in a private sector venture, you’d expect a lot of information to be put out for discussion. Not only does this not happen, Bishnoi gets a show cause notice from the Congress party for daring to take the matter public! After Bishnoi went public with his opposition, the state has, however, increased its stake in the SEZ from 7.5 per cent to 10 per cent, something that is an indicator of the fat in the system. Bishnoi certainly hasn’t been thanked for this but, more important, no one really knows how this additional figure was arrived at.
 
Another politician who opposed a similar project in Punjab was made to keep quiet in much the same way. If Dr Singh’s government is as committed to transparency as it claims you’d expect it to laud such whistleblowers instead of pulling the plug on them.

suniljain@business-standard.com

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Right to Information, Issues of Administrative Efficiency, Y.K.Sabharwal – Chief Justice of India

Posted by rtiact2005 on June 22, 2006

Introduction

Right to Information Act having come into force, in today’s colloquium, we propose to discuss its impact on Administrative Efficiency, Public Accountability and Constitutional Governance. 

Relevant provisions of the Act relating to the subject of today’s Judicial Colloquium:First it will be necessary to notice the important provisions of the Act which may come up for consideration before the courts or under which information may be called.Preamble to the act The preamble to the Act says that the Act has been enacted for establishing “the practical regime of right to information for citizens to secure access to information under the control of public authorities, in order to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority, the constitution of a Central Information Commission and State Information Commissions and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto”. It further points out that democracy requires an informed citizenry and transparence in information which are vital to its functioning and also to contain corruption and to hold governments and their instrumentalities accountable to the governed. The preamble, however, also refers to the exemptions and says that, in some cases, revelation of information in actual practice is likely to conflict with other public interests including efficient operations of the Governments, optimum use of limited physical resources and the preservation of confidentiality of sensitive information. The Act proposes to harmonise these conflicting interests while preserving the paramountcy of the democratic idea. 

Applicability

The Act applies both to Central and State Governments and all public authorities. A “public authority” (sec. 2(h)) which is bound to furnish information means any authority or body or institution of self-government established or constituted (a) by or under the Constitution, (b) by any other law made by Parliament, (c) by any other law made by State Legislature, (d) by a notification issued or order made by the appropriate Government and includes any (i) body owned, controlled or substantially financed, (ii) non-government organization substantially financed,- which, in clauses (a) to (d) are all, directly or indirectly funded by the appropriate Government.

Definition: Information

The Act defines information in sec. 2(f) as any material in any form, including the records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinions, advices, press releases, circulars, orders, log books, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, data material hold in any electronic form and information relating to any private body which can be accessed by a public authority under any law for the time being in force.   Sec. 2(i) defines the word ‘record’ as including (a) any document, manuscript and file, (b) any microfilm, microfiche and facsimile copy of a document, (c) any reproduction of image or images embodied in such microfilm and (d) any other material produced by a computer or any other device.

Definition: Right to Information

The “right to information” is defined in sec. 2(j) as a right to information accessible under the Act which is held by or under the control of any public authority and includes a right to (i) inspection of work, documents, records, (ii) taking notes, extracts or certified copies of documents or records, (iii) taking separate samples of material, (iv) obtaining information in the form of diskettes, floppies, tapes, video cassettes or in any other electronic mode or through printouts where such information is stored  in a computer or in any other device.

Maintenance and   Publication of Records

Sec. 4 makes it a duty of public authorities to maintain records for easy access and to publish within 120 days the name of the particular officers who should give the information and in regard to the framing of the rules, regulations etc. Subsection (3) of sec. 4 states that for the performance of subsection (1), all information shall be disseminated widely and in such form and manner which is easily accessible to the public.  Sec. 6 permits persons to obtain information in English or Hindi or in the official language of the area from the designated officers.  The person need not give any reason for the request or any personal details.  Sec. 7 requires the request to be disposed of within 30 days provided that where information sought for concerns the life or liberty of a person, the same shall be provided within 48 hours. Under sec. 7(7) before any decision is taken for furnishing the information, the designated officer shall take into consideration the representation, if any, made by a third party under sec. 11. A request rejected shall be communicated under sec. 7(8) giving reasons and specifying the procedure for appeal and the designation of the appellate authority. Sec. 7(9) exempts granting information where it would disproportionately divert the resources of the public authority or would be detrimental to the safety and preservation of the record in question.

Exemptions

Sec. 8 exempts from disclosure certain information and contents as stated in subclauses (a) to (j) thereof. Subclause (b) exempts information which is expressly forbidden by any court of law or tribunal or the dispute of which may constitute contempt of court. Subclause (g) exempts information the disclosure of which would endanger life, or physical safety of any person or identify the source of information or assistance given in confidence for law enforcement or security purpose. Subclause (h) exempts information which could impede the process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of offenders. Subclause (i) exempts Cabinet papers.   There are other exemptions.

Sec. 8(2) provides that a public authority may allow access to information if public interest in disclosure outweighs the harm to the protected interests.   Sec. 8(3) exempts information regarding matters or events which happened 20 years before the date of application seeking information. 

It is important to note that the Act specifies that intelligence and security organizations are exempted from the application of the Act. However, it is provided that in case the demand for information pertains to allegations of corruption and human rights violations, the Act shall apply even to such institutions.

Misc. Provisions

·        Sec. 18 deals with powers and functions of the Information Commissions.

·        Sec. 20 provides penalties for non-furnishing information as required by the Act in a sum of Rs.250/- per day. 

·        Sec. 21 states that no suit or prosecution or other legal proceeding shall lie against any person for anything which is in good faith done or intended to be done under the Act or rules. 

·        Sec. 22 overrides the Official Secrets Act, 1923 or any other law for the time being in force insofar as they are inconsistent with the Act.

·        Sec. 23 bars all courts from entertaining any suit, application or other proceeding in respect of any order made under the Act and every order under the Act should be first appealed against.  

Right to Information as a Fundamental Right:

Supreme Court on the Right to  Information

That the right to information is a fundamental right flowing from Art. 19(1)(a) of the Constitution is now well-settled. Over the years, the Supreme Court has consistently ruled in favour of the citizen’s right to know. The nature of this right and the relevant restrictions thereto, has been discussed by the Supreme Court in a number of cases:·        In Bennett Coleman,[1] the right to information was held to be included within the right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by Art. 19(1) (a).·        In Raj Narain,[2] the Court explicitly stated that it is not in the interest of the public to ‘cover with a veil of secrecy the common routine business… the responsibility of officials to explain and to justify their acts is the chief safeguard against oppression and corruption.’·        In S.P. Gupta,[3] the right of the people to know about every public act, and the details of every public transaction undertaken by public functionaries was described.·        In Cricket Association of Bengal,[4] the right to impart and receive information from electronic media was included in the freedom of speech. The airwaves were held to be public property and hence distribution of these waves between government and private channels was to be done on an equitable basis.·        In P.U.C.L.,[5] the right to information was further elevated to the status of a human right, necessary for making governance transparent and accountable. It was also emphasized that governance must be participatory.As can be seen, the above judgments cut across freedom of the individual, privacy, freedom of the press, duties of Governments, duties of public authorities, right to seek disclosure of information about candidates contesting in elections and so on and so forth and also to the exceptions contained in Art. 19(2) of the Constitution.

Administrative Efficiency & Right to Information:

Efficiency in context of Governance

Although efficiency in the private sector may be judged in solely economic terms, it cannot be so simply evaluated in the public sphere of Government. Unlike the business community, the purpose of Government is not to generate profits. Government has many duties in society including the allocation of scarce resources and the provision of social services such as health care, and its efficiency must be evaluated in broader, more distinct terms than profits and losses. Furthermore, Government is constrained by the public in terms of what is desired and what will be tolerated in ways that agents of the private sector are not. The Government is accountable to the people and, therefore, goals cannot be set by the Government alone; Government has to keep the citizens satisfied or at least pacified.

Types of efficiency in Governance

There are three definitions of ‘efficiency’ in relation to Government;[6] administrative efficiency, policy efficiency and service efficiency.

Policy efficiency represents the idea of making the right political decisions. It involves the selection of appropriate programmes to achieve Government objectives.

Service efficiency is manifested in the effective provision of services to the public, responsive to public opinion and so on. Thus, the efficiency in Government must be measured in terms of all three facets of efficiency. 

Administrative Efficiency

Administrative efficiency, the most important of the three, comprises of conducting the administration without unnecessary delays or ulterior or corrupt motives and giving reasons while passing various orders. It refers to the effective management of the political system. It encompasses good organization and efficient productivity. Where required or implied, principles of natural justice have to be observed.

Systemic Malaise of Corruption

It is a common grievance of citizens that representations or statutory applications or appeals, are kept pending for long periods, sometimes months or years, without disposal.  Where the applicant is likely to benefit monetarily, such as where has to get money for services rendered under a contract or a refund of amounts payable to him by public authorities, there is a tendency to keep the matter pending for ulterior motives including corrupt motives. In some other cases, applications are simply disposed of as rejected or saying that the Government or the concerned authority “finds no reason” to accede to the request etc. The avoidance of reasons is a device usually resorted to by officials who have no good reasons for denial of the relief.

Impact of the new law

Now that the statute requires information about the pendency of the applications, reasons as to why they are not disposed of or the reasons behind the rejection of an application, there is bound to be improvement in the efficiency of the departments. As of now, the only supervision of efficiency is supervision that is made by the superior officers at the time of reviewing the employees’ work and while recording comments in the annual confidential reports or ACRs. That process has not proved successful and though it may be continued, still the threat of a Designated official calling for the relevant information at the instance of a citizen will be a salutary check on the inefficiency of officers. It also checks lethargy or bad faith or corrupt motives.

Constitutional Avenues remain open

 Under the Act, where a citizen has exhausted the remedy of appeal or second appeal, the finality given to the orders of the commissioners and appellate authorities is only for the purposes of the Act and the citizen has a right to approach the High Court under Art. 226 or where it refers to a fundamental right, he may even approach the Supreme Court under Art. 32.

One other thing of considerable importance is that where the information sought for affects the liberty or the human rights of a person, information has to be furnished within 48 hours. No doubt, here the Act tries to exempt under sec. 8(h), information the disclosure of which would impede the process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of offenders and under sec. 8(g) it also exempts information the disclosure of which would endanger the life or physical safety or any person or would identify the source of information or assistance given in confidence for law enforcement or security purposes. Obviously, these provisions are intended to balance the rights of liberty as against the duty to protect the security of State, public order, decency or morality or incitement to an offence which are protected under Art. 19(2).

Public Accountability & Right to Information:

Scope of Public Accountability

 ‘Public Accountability’ is a facet of administrative efficiency. Publicity of information serves as an instrument for the oversight of citizens.  By the same token it suggests that law could become a means for fighting corruption. Therefore, a Government which produces a trustworthy flow of information creates greater certainty and transparency. This is especially appreciated by those who intend to invest in the Country. International experience shows that countries that allow citizens access to public information have seen a reduction in indicators of corruption and, consequently, substantial increases in administrative efficiency.

‘Public Accountability’ is a part of governance. It is the Government that is accountable to the public for delivering a broad set of outcomes but more importantly it is the public service consisting of public servants that constitutes the delivery mechanism. Therefore, the accountability and governance arrangements between Government which acts as the principal and the public service which is its agent, impact on the Government’s ability to deliver and on its accountability to the public.   The challenge lies in ensuring that the public service is geared to meet the expectations of the Government of the day and that public service is neutral, whichever party is in power. When a Government department translates a Government’s policy into programmes, the success of that translation is very much dependent on a clear understanding of and commitment to the outcomes that are sought.  It is not surprising that the history of accountability and governance within the public service has shifted from measuring “inputs” to measuring “outputs”, to matching outputs, and identify outcomes. The key which weakens accountability or the effectiveness of the Government or the public sector is the lack of information.[7]

Need for a Culture of Openness

Countries which have introduced laws relating to freedom of information are seeking to replace a “culture of secrecy” that prevails within their public service with a “culture of openness”. These new information laws are intended to promote accountability and transparency in Government by making the process of government decision-making more open. Although some records may legitimately be exempt from disclosure, exemptions should be allowed narrowly inasmuch as disclosure is the rule rather than the exception.

synergy between the act and existing mechanismsNo doubt, at the moment, we have the media, we have the reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General and we have the Opposition in the legislature and the Judiciary and Public Interest Litigation, which can seek and publish information. They are important organs that check the government. They are all concerned with obtaining information from Government. But the new Act proposes to empower the citizen directly with a right to information to make the State and the public sector more accountable. The provisions of the new Act will also benefit the aforementioned functionaries.The private sector, by definition is not publicly accountable, but so far as the Government and public sector are concerned, they are publicly accountable. The transition from ‘government’ to ‘governance’ defuses the responsibility and hence the need for public accountability.One of the methods of measuring public accountability is to evolve a cost benefit analysis of the actions of Government and also of the public sector.  An important mechanism to conduct such cost benefit analysis is a mechanism which can compel the Government and the public sector to reveal facts to the public.   Without information, there cannot be a test of “value for money”.The right to information is necessary to promote a culture of accountability and to expose corruption and malpractice. Accessibility of information and release of facts pertaining to finance, proceedings and decisions of all the social actors whose activities have an impact on the public, is the guarantee that such actors will be accountable and will fulfill their mandates. Accountability targets mismanagement, abuse of discretion, bribery, other forms of corruption and malpractices.   Sometimes media reveals a fraud and describes it as a tip of the iceberg.  Therefore, more facts are necessary to discover the whole picture of the fraud, and it is only when all the information is revealed that the total damage to public monies can be evaluated and the persons made accountable.

Law Commission Reports

The Law Commission had suggested in its 166th Report on “The Corrupt Public Servants (Forfeiture of Property) Bill, 1999”, that a law be made for confiscation of property acquired by corruption. It is not merely sufficient to remove a corrupt official from his office or to imprison him.    The fruits of his corruption must be confiscated to the State. The Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Act, 1988 provides for confiscation of property held benami in the name of other persons but the Act says that the appropriate procedure must be made under the rules. The Law Commission has pointed out repeatedly that rules have not been made since 1988 and that rules must be made to make the provision effective.   The same view was expressed by the Commission for Review of the Constitution. Unfortunately, neither a law for confiscation of property acquired by corrupt means has been made, nor steps have been taken to make the rules under the Benami Transactions Prohibition Act, 1988, during all these years.The Law Commission has also given a Report (Report No.179) (2001) on the Whistle Blowers Law which is called Public Interest Disclosure (Protection) Act. This Report has not been translated into law by Parliament. However, in the case relating to Mr. Dubey who was killed in Bihar for bringing corruption to the notice of the Government, – Government has, at the instance of the Supreme Court, come forward with a notification under which they have designated the Vigilance Commissioner as the authority to receive complaints about corruption and mismanagement in Government. The Vigilance Commission has issued Circulars which are available on its website stating the manner in which complaints can be made to the Vigilance Commissioner confidentially and as to how the name of the complainant will be kept secret and how the complainant will be protected from harm or victimization. On account of lack of sufficient publicity in this behalf, the number of complaints filed confidentially before the Vigilance Commissioner is almost negligible. The proper thing for any good Government will be to enact the Whistle Blower Law on the basis of the draft Bill provided by the Law Commission.Such laws as mentioned above coupled with the effective implementation of the Right to Information Act will go a long way in ensuring that the Government and public sector operate without the malaises of mismanagement, inefficiency or bribery.

Governance and Right to Information:

Definitions of Good Governance

“Good governance” means the efficient and effective administration in a democratic framework. It involves high level organizational efficiency and effectiveness corresponding in a responsive way in order to attain the predetermined desirable goals of society. According to the World Bank document entitled ‘Governance and Development (1992)’, the parameters of good governance are as follows:

  1. Legitimacy of the political system.  This implies limited and democratic government.
  2. Freedom of association and participation by various social, economic, religious, cultural and professional groups in the process of governance.
  3. An established legal framework based on the rule of law and independence of judiciary to protect human rights, secure social justice and guard against exploitation and abuse of power.
  4. Bureaucratic accountability including transparency in administration.
  5. Freedom of information and expression required for formulation of public policies, decision-making, monitoring and evaluation of government performance.
  1. A sound administrative system leading to efficiency and effectiveness.
  2. Co-operation between government and civil society organizations.

Similar principles have been enunciated by the OECD, which emphasizes on legitimate government, accountability of political and official elements of government, competence of government to make policy and deliver services; and respect for human rights and rule of law.

In light of the above, if one were to venture a list of parameters that go into determination of the quality of governance, the major factors would include limited Government, legitimacy of the Government, political and bureaucratic accountability, freedom of information and expression, transparency and cost effective administration, established legal framework based on rule of law for protecting the human life, securing social justice and checking abuse of power.[8]

Right to info. and its relationship with Good Governance The basic premise behind the right to information is that, since Government is ‘for the people’; it should be open and accountable and should have nothing to conceal from the people it purports to represent.   In a responsible Government like ours where all the agents of the public must be responsible for their conduct, there could be no secrets. The right to know, though not absolute, makes citizens wary when secrecy is claimed for common routine business of administration. Such secrecy is hardly desirable. Information is an antidote to corruption, it limits abuse of discretion, protects civil liberties, it provides consumer information, it provides people’s participation and brings awareness of laws and policies and is the elixir of the media.

Currently, the words “governance” and “good governance” are being increasingly used in development literature. “Bad governance” is being increasingly regarded as one of the root causes of all evil within our societies. Major donors and international financial institutions are increasingly basing their aid and loans on condition that schemes to ensure “good governance” are undertaken. Governance means the process of decision making and the process by which decisions are either implemented or failure in implementation is acknowledged and remedied.   Governance includes national governance, international governance, corporate governance and local governance. Government is one of the actors in governance and so is the public sector. All actors other than Government, public sector and the military constitute “civil society”.

According to a paper prepared by the Human Rights Initiative,[9] good governance has eight major facets. It is participatory, consensus oriented, accountable, transparent, responsive, effective and efficient, equitable and inclusive and follows the rule of law. It is assessed that if corruption is minimized, the views of the minorities and vulnerable members of society are heard, that promotes governance. Good governance is an ideal which is difficult to achieve in its totality. However, to ensure sustainable human development, action must be taken to work towards this ideal. The right to information is one of the methods by which success may be achieved in good governance.I am sure that in this colloquium, these and all other aspects relating to the new statutory right to information will be discussed and assimilated.   I wish the discussions all success.                                                      ———–


[1] Bennett Coleman v.
Union of
India , AIR 1973 SC 60.

[2] State of
UP v. Raj Narain, (1975) 4 SCC 428.

[3] S.P. Gupta v. UOI, AIR 1982 SC 149.

[4] Secy., Ministry of I&B, Govt. of
India v. Cricket Assn. of
Bengal , (1995) 2 SCC 161.

[5] People’s
Union for Civil Liberties v. UOI, 2004 (2) SCC 476.

[6] (http://imej.wfu.edu/articles/1999/1/02/demo/Glossary/glossaryhtml/efficiency.html)

[7] Governance and Accountability in the Public Sector, speech by Hon’ble Lianne Dalziel, 2003 (www.scoop.co.nz).

[8] See Importance of Human Right to Information – A Key to Good Governance by Ms. Prabha,

S.D.
College , Muzaffarnagar, UP, contained in chapter 27 of the book, Good Governance in
India , edited by C.P. Barthwal.

[9] “What is Good Governance” (July 2001).

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Aruna Roy declines Centre’s offer, Expresses anxiety over bid to dilute Right to Information and NREG Acts

Posted by rtiact2005 on June 21, 2006

 Aruna Roy declines Centre's offer, Expresses anxiety over bid to dilute Right to Information and NREG Acts

Special Correspondent

http://www.hindu.com/2006/06/22/stories/2006062204381300.htm

Expresses anxiety over bid to dilute Right to Information and NREG Acts

 

  • Government must have clear, unequivocal position in support of NCMP
  • `Development comes at great personal cost to certain sections of society'

    NEW DELHI: Expressing anxiety over attempts from "some quarters, within (the) Government" to dilute the Right to Information (RTI) Act and the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, Magsaysay Award winner Aruna Roy on Wednesday declined the Government's offer to extend her term on the National Advisory Committee.

    In a letter to the Prime Minister explaining her reasons for declining the offer, Ms. Roy said, "While there are many assurances in the National Common Minimum Programme (NCMP) that will take a while to implement, there must be a clear and unequivocal position of the Government in support of NCMP positions."

    Stating that "in the current euphoria about the performance of the economy, there is a great danger of not paying heed to the anguish of the poor and the marginalised," Ms. Roy in her letter reminded the Government that the results of the last Lok Sabha elections "are ample testimony to demonstrate how the majority of voters did not see an eight per cent growth rate as a case of India shining."

    Of the view that in some cases development passes by the majority of the people, the Magsaysay awardee said there were other cases where development comes at "great personal cost" to sections of society. As a case in point, she makes a reference to the Narmada dam and the situation of those it has displaced. "Despite better rehabilitation for tribals being an explicit assurance in the NCMP, even existing policy and Supreme Court orders were violated. As this Government considers adopting a new rehabilitation policy, it will have to come to terms with this crisis of credibility and confidence due to decisions taken that violated NCMP assurances."

    While declining the offer, Ms. Roy, however, maintained that the space for wide-ranging public discussion that the NAC provided "needs to be preserved and strengthened." Lamenting the manner in which NAC's role has shrunk over the past four months, she said, "The effective implementation of the NCMP needs the inputs, experience and expertise of many people outside [the] Government." Her apprehensions about the Government's commitment to NCMP apart, Ms. Roy has also cited a personal reason for moving out of the NAC. Having helped draft the RTI and NREGA, she now sees for herself a greater role in their implementation at the grass-roots level. While signing out of the NAC, Ms. Roy points out that her decision to leave was taken in consultation with colleagues from the various peoples' movements she is associated with.

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