Should the applicant and the Public Information Officer follow the amended rules of the state government or abide by the National RTI Act? There’s a lot of conflict, say experts
The Maharashtra government’s amended RTI (Right to Information) rules are in straight conflict with that of the national RTI Act. This has led to a cloud of confusion amongst RTI applicants and Public Information Officers (PIOs), say RTI experts. One wonders whether this was indeed the intention of the government so as to dilute the RTI movement in the state.
Vijay Kumbhar, a leading RTI activist from Pune, has made the following analysis:
1. The only 150 words restriction: As per the amendment, the RTI applicant is permitted to ask a question on only a single subject matter and restrict his question to 150 words only. (Rule - 3A of Maharashtra’s amended rules: - Request relate only to single subject matter: - A request in writing for information under Section 6 of the Act shall relate to one subject matter and it shall not ordinarily exceed one hundred and fifty words , if an applicant wishes to seek information on more than one subject matter , he shall make separate applications; provided that , in case the request made relates to more than one subject matter, the public information officer may respond to the request relating to the first subject matter only and may advice the applicant to make separate applications for each of other subject matters.)
Mr Kumbhar argues as follows: For example, ifthe PIO receives a RTI application which has queries relating to two different departments:
• As per the Maharashtra’s amended rules, the PIO will respond only to the first query and will advice the applicant to make a separate application for his second question.
• However, as per the national RTI Act’s Section 6 (3) rule, it is responsibility of PIO to transfer application to other public authority. The rule says: (6 (3) - Where an application is made to a public authority requesting for an information,— (i) which is held by another public authority; or (ii) The subject matter of which is more closely connected with the functions of another public authority, the public authority, to which such application is made, shall transfer the application or such part of it as may be appropriate to that other public authority and inform the applicant immediately about such transfer: Provided that the transfer of an application pursuant to this sub-section shall be made as soon as practicable but in no case later than five days from the date of receipt of the application.)
So, what should the PIO do? Should he obey the national RTI Act or the amended rules of the Maharashtra government?
2. The answering of only the first question dilemma: The PIO receives a RTI application related to multiple subject matters which require more than one public authority to give the replies. Maharashtra’s amended rules state: “the public information officer may respond to the request relating to the first subject matter only and may advice the applicant to make separate applications for each of other subject matters."
Mr Kumbhar argues: Suppose, the first subject matter is not concerned with the public authority which receives the request, what should the PIO do? Answer the next subject matter related to his public authority or transfer the application under section 6 (3) of the Act or ask the applicant to file another RTI application to the relevant authority?
• As per the Maharashtra’s amended rules, “the PIO may respond to the first subject matter only.”
• As per Section 6 (3) (excerpted above) of the national RTI Act, it is the PIO’s duty to transfer the application to the relevant PIO within five days from the date of application.
So, what should the PIO do? Should he follow Maharashtra’s amended rules or the national RTI Act?
3. Regarding the number of words in a RTI application: How does the PIO calculate that the application contains 150 words? Does that mean words including words given in format Rule 3 of Maharashtra RTI rules? There are about 65 to 70 words in that format; if we count 50 words for other matter including the applicant and PIO’s name and other things , only 30 to 35 words remains to write in the column “subject matter of information” and “description of information required”. Are these number of words sufficient to make a request?
• As per Maharashtra’s amended rules: If we go strictly by the words written in rule that “subject matter” shall not ordinarily exceed 150 words , then the applicant gets 150 words to write in the column “subject matter of information”, and “description of information required”. There’s too much confusion here. too.
Opines Maj Gen Sudhir Jatar (retd), “the points are well taken.Strictly, confusion has now been confounded.YASHADA should take up for amending the rules to make them compliantwith the Act and take into account the valid points raised byVijay Kumbhar.Until then, the PIO should show maturity and try to help theinformation seeker as much as possible without being a “lakeer ka faker”!!
(Vinita Deshmukh is the editor of Life 365 (www.life365.in). She is also the consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
According to Tanya Thakur, the Common Law Admission Test 2012, had questions which were not within the prescribed syllabus
The Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court has issued a notice to the National Law University (NLU), Jodhpur while hearing a petition filed by a class 12 student which stated that the Common Law Admission Test (CLAT) 2012 was conducted in gross violation of its own specific syllabus. The petitioner has also demanded fresh examination.
Tanya Thakur, the petitioner, said the NLU Jodhpur had mentioned that General Knowledge (GK) section will only test students on their knowledge of current affairs, i.e. matters featuring in the mainstream media between March 2011 and March 2012. Similarly for Legal Aptitude it said that this section will test students only on legal aptitude and not any prior knowledge of law or legal concepts. If a legal term is used it will be explained in the question itself.
However, “in contradiction to what the organizing institution said, at least 22-25 questions in the GK section came much beyond the current affairs period. Similarly, there were many legal terms in Legal Aptitude section that was not defined,” says Ms Thakur, who had also taken the entrance exam.
Considering the urgency in the matter, justice SS Chauhan issued a notice to NLU, Jodhpur to explain its position and fixed the next date of hearing on 28th May. The result of the entrance exam is also expected on the same date.
The CLAT is an all-India entrance examination conducted by 14 National Law Schools/Universities for admissions to their under-graduate (Bachelors of Law LLB) and post-graduate degree (Masters of Law- LLM) programmes. The CLAT 2012 was held on 13th May at 46 centres in 20 cities across the country. NLU, Jodhpur was the organizing institute for CLAT 2012.
According to the petition, the situation was even worse for the Legal Aptitude section. “As far as the petitioner can remember, there were a very large number of legal terms in the Legal Aptitude section which was technical/legal in nature but none of these terms were explained or clarified. She says that most of these questions were from the Contract Act but the terms like void, voidable, void ab initio and many other legal terms were not at all defined or explained.”
According to the Times of India, CLAT’s organising committee had refuted all charges stating that the question paper was set by the experts with questions within the frame work.
The Hazard Centre’s own observations on the BRTS corridor suggest that there is huge inconvenience being caused by the CRRI experiment to bus commuters, pedestrians, and cyclists, who are emphatic that the BRT corridor must be retained and have several suggestions for how it may be improved….
(Buses ply on the road as commuters are stuck in a traffic jam on BRT corridor stretch in New Delhi)
A typical criticism of motorcar-centric perspective as though the people traveling speedily in the buses are not commuters. The “traffic jam” in the direction of flow of BRT buses is actually at the signals while one can feel the movement of traffic in the opposite direction. You have read the numbers in Part I of this article. Now read on.
Bringing forward essence of Part I of the Saga of Delhi BRT (Bus Rapid Transit),
(i) At a frequency of 30 seconds and 30 km/h speed, the gap between two consequent buses in the BRTS will be 250 m while at 20 km/h, it will be 166 m. However, much of this gap may appear to be in terms of distance, in terms of time, in 30 seconds another bus will pass the spot. This means that there is practically no room to put any other mode between two BRT buses without affecting its performance.
(ii) A BRT plying normal buses with 70 passengers bus capacity running at 30 seconds ‘headway’ will carry 8,400 persons per hour per direction (pphpd); while articulated buses with 175 passenger bus capacity at that same headway will carry 21,000 pphpd and bi-articulated buses with 250 passengers bus capacity will carry 30,000 pphpd.
(iii) Mixed traffic on a three-lane corridor will barely carry about 5,000 persons per hour overall including 20 normal buses in one hour at three minute headway.
(iv) In 2008, barring a few, many media went on a vicious campaign against the BRTS first corridor in Delhi; the campaign died down when public transport users’ opinions became public knowledge.
“The Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) in Delhi offers an alternative model of transportation providing separate spaces for buses, private motorised vehicles, cyclists, pedestrians and livelihood opportunities. Focusing more on the movement of people rather than of vehicles, giving due right of way for non-motorised modes of transportation, this model promised sustainability of both the transportation system as well as the environment. However, since its launch in 2008, it has faced strong opposition from the car lobby which found its space limited to two lanes on the corridor while the buses sped by on the bus lane. This system also faced severe criticism in sections of the media supporting car users and actually got support from the car manufacturers. While the reporting was negatively biased towards the corridor, its benefits for the larger section of the population and the overall transportation system were not given much importance by the media.
The recent move of the Delhi High Court questioning the feasibility of the bus corridor and the subsequent commissioning of Central Road Research Institute (CRRI) to study the corridor is based on a petition by a Delhi-based NGO, purporting to represent auto-rickshaws, contending that the “traffic in the non-bus lane was moving at a snail’s pace” and demanding that the ‘empty’ bus lanes be opened up to all other motorized vehicles. Such an approach does not question the role of cars in the first place for creating congestion and whether their removal from the roads would not make things much better! While the study of the BRT corridor by CRRI is to be welcomed to assess whether the BRT has achieved its original objective of making travel easier for the larger section of commuter population (only 12% use private motorised vehicles in Delhi), it is important to revisit the existing findings of research conducted by various independent agencies who have studied the corridor from various perspectives. Some of the studies regarding BRT in Delhi are listed below. The compilation of these can be read at Hazards Centre website:
It was the Delhi-based NGO Hazards Centre’s initiative in writing a letter, signed by near about 110 concerned knowledgeable individuals in 2008 that lowered the tempo of media viciousness against BRTS. Interestingly, Times of India Ahmedabad edition has been a great admirer of the Janamarg BRTS introduced in Ahmedabad in 2009.
In response to recent onslaught by Times of India, and the experiment CRRI carried out in the second week of May 2012, Hazards Centre backed by 77 concerned knowledgeable individuals (urban planners, transportation experts and eminent citizens) shot off an appeal on 27 April 2012 to CRRI and other authorities, protesting against the experiment to be carried out by CRRI from 30 April 2012 on the BRT Corridor, prior to commencement of the week-long experiment by CRRI. The commencement of the experiment was postponed by a week.
Subsequently by another letter sent on 2 May 2012, CRRI was requested to put the rescheduled “trial run” from 12 May 2012 to 17 May 2012 on hold, appealing to them to use their authority to put a stop to any “trial run” or ‘experiment’ which places the bus lane on the left of this corridor on the grounds that it violates the directions of the Delhi High Court as well as the Terms of Reference (TOR) issued by the Transport Department.
CRRI was further written to on 10 May 2012 informing them how the premature release of the “findings” of the study by CRRI had prompted major violations all along the corridor, without any penal action whatsoever being taken by the police, against the local goons threatening the Delhi Integrated Multi-Modal Transit System (DIMTS) employees trying to bring some order. CRRI had been cautioned that the entire set of Supreme Court mandated objectives of controlling pollution and reducing congestion through restrictions on use of private cars, and promoting public and non-motorised transport was being defeated by the willful neglect of the police, the transport authorities, and the local administration.
Hazards Centre adds in their recent letter “You have consistently ignored these letters and not made any attempt to intervene in a completely unscientific enterprise, and thus provoked further social anarchy on the BRT route. If any evidence is required for this it lies in the destruction of parts of the BRT corridor by the petitioner in the high court who appears to have taken the law into his own hands, as reported in the Times of India (14 May 2012), as well as from a reading of the order of the high court dated 11 May 2012 which reads, “If the CRRI feels that the suggestion of the applicant is justified and the removal of concrete divider at a distance of 300 yds from the traffic signal is imperative for this purpose, CRRI is free to do so”. Thus, his (petitioner) claim, that his power to destroy the dividers flows from the high court, has no basis in fact. Even CRRI has issued a denial on 13th May to the commissioner, Transport, Delhi Government clarifying that “this institute is no way responsible for the above-mentioned demolition of the physical infrastructure done by any third party on the BRT stretch”.
Hazards Centre goes on to say “Our own observations on the corridor suggest that there is huge inconvenience being caused to bus commuters, pedestrians, and cyclists, who are emphatic that the BRT corridor must be retained and have several suggestions for how it may be improved…”
It is hoped that the fuel price hike will give impetus to rational thinking amongst policymakers and politicians on the one hand and planners on the other. They cannot be LLTT i.e. Looking at London and Talking to Tokyo, so to say—talk of improving public transport and do precisely contrary by providing newer facilities to user of personal motorized vehicles.
(Sudhir Badami is a civil engineer and transportation analyst. He is on Government of Maharashtra’s Steering Committee on BRTS for Mumbai and Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority’s Technical Advisory Committee on BRTS for Mumbai. He is also member of Research & MIS Committee of Unified Mumbai Metropolitan Transport Authority. He is member of the Committee Constituted by the Bombay High Court for making the Railways, especially the Suburban Railways System Friendly towards Persons with Disability (2011- ). He can be contacted at email@example.com)