Maharashtra Chief Information Commissioner and Pune’s Divisional Commissioner manipulated words in official orders, so that former President Pratibha Patil’s secretary and now State Information Commissioner from Amravati, Rajendra Jadhav, could be gifted an official bungalow in Pune, the place of his additional posting.
In early March this year, Rajendra Jadhav, former secretary at the President’s secretariat during Pratibha Patil's tenure, who had already been made Amravati division’s Information Commissioner (IC), was given an additional charge as Pune’s Information Commissioner, although the distance between both the cities is 555kms. (Read: Amravati’s Information Commissioner given charge of Pune that is 555kms away!).
What shocked Right to Information (RTI) activists and users was that Konkan and Mumbai regions, which also have Information Commissioners, are just at a distance of about three hours from Pune. Hence, either of them should have been logically given the additional charge of Pune, but the pleas were ignored. Instead, Jadhav has been spending public money to travel 14 hours to and fro to attend to Pune’s State Information Commission.
That Jadhav’s efficiency as Information Commissioner of Amravati and Pune is very poor, (despite the confidence shown in him by the official committee that recruits ICs), has reflected in the fact that Jadhav has cleared only 121 appeals in April and 141 appeals in Pune, ever since he took up this additional charge in March. Both in Amravati and Pune, the total pendency is over 12,000. Specifically - Pune has a pendency of 7,045 second appeals and Amravati has 6,096 pending second appeals, as per information procured by RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar.
The game plan seems so brazen. First, Jadhav was made Information Commissioner under the RTI at Pratibha Patil’s home town, Amravati. He is then given additional charge in Pune, where co-incidentally or otherwise, Pratibha Patil is presently residing after completing her tenure as President of India. If this was not fishy enough, now all rules and regulations of allocation of official residence for a government servant in Maharashtra have been broken and a bungalow has been allocated to Jadhav in the prime cantonment area of Pune, where senior government officers reside.
Moneylife visited the English-type bungalow allotted to Jadhav in G Block, Club of Western India, Pune Cantonment which has undergone a fresh coat of paint, unlike its six other counterparts, which look pale on the outside. (see image below).
In an official complaint addressed to the Governor on Wednesday, RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar, who has earlier written to him about State Chief Information Commissioner (SCIC) indulging in 'convenient’ transfers and other irregularities, has stated that as per the Maharashtra Government rules, an official bungalow is allocated at the town or city of the posting of a government servant. In this case, Jadhav’s posting is primarily at Amravati as Information Commissioner, so he is not eligible for an official accommodation in Pune, which is an additional charge.
However, Kumbhar has stated in the letter to the Governor that both SCIC Ratnakar Gaikwad and Pune’s Divisional Commissioner, Prabhakar Deshmukh have cleverly managed wordings to facilitate residence for Jadhav in Pune.
SCIC Ratnakar Gaikwad, in his letter to Pune’s Divisional Commissioner, Prabhakar Deshmukh, on 9 April 2014 has stated that, “Mr Ravindra Jadhav has been appointed Information Commissioner from 3 March 2014. Presently Jadhav is Information Commissioner of both Amravati and Pune. However, in actuality, Jadhav would be spending more time in Pune than in Amravati. That is because Pune has 7,151 second appeals pending while Amravati has 4,889 second appeals pending. Hence, it is necessary for him to get an official residence accommodation in Pune. ….Considering that his rank is equal to that of chief secretary, he should be given a house of that status and the same should be considered in top priority.’’
Very promptly, on 15 April 2014, Divisional Commissioner Deshmukh, who is also the chairman of the official housing allocation committee, wrote to the Public Works Department (PWD) to immediately allocate an official residence to Jadhav. Lo and behold, this was promptly allocated. It is rumoured that Pune’s rightful Information Commissioner, MH Shah, who unfortunately has had a paralytic attack and hence is on rest, is allegedly being asked to resign before his tenure so as to officially make Jadhav the Pune division’s Information Commissioner, says Kumbhar.
What needs to be considered is, on what basis can the second appeals pending in Amravati be considered less valuable than Pune’s second appeals? Why should Amravati suffer the absence of their rightful Information Commissioner? It can only be expected that one of the causes of inefficiency would be the 555kms distance that Jadhav would have to cover to come to Pune, so how was that sanctioned?
Over and above, Kumbhar points out the contradictions in this decision. He says, “Earlier, second appeals were heard in the applicant’s constituency. Meaning, if an applicant is from Sangli, his second appeal was heard in Pune division’s Information Commission office (as Sangli comes under Pune division.) Recently, Gaikwad, the State CIC, issued an order which makes it mandatory for the second appeal to be heard in the place where the headquarters of the public authority lie. Meaning, if the applicant from Nashik has made a second appeal against a public authority in Mantralaya, then the hearing would come under the SCIC and not the Nashik Information Commission (IC). Similarly, if a Nagpur applicant files a second appeal against a public authority of a co-operative, most of whose headquarters are in Pune, then the Nagpur IC has no authority to conduct the hearing – only the Pune IC has the authority.’’
The reason given for this amendment is that “anyway, second appeals are done through video conferencing”. In that case, says Kumbhar, if it is video conferencing then even Jadhav can conduct hearings of Pune, from Amravati. Allegations level;ed are that, the power centre of decisions of second appeals is being concentrated in Pune and Mumbai as most of the prominent public authorities are in these two cities. Hence, 'favourites' are required as ICs for Pune and Mumbai.
Honestly, between netas and babus serving their own vested interest, the citizen who has experienced empowerment through RTI is the victim.
(Vinita Deshmukh is 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 and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)
The apex court also asked the petitioner, Bishwajit Bhattacharyya, to file fresh petition with all the relevant documents stating what action Centre has so far taken on the issue
The Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to entertain a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking direction to the Indian government to recover around Rs20,000 crore tax dues from UK telecom company Vodafone and to restrain the government from going ahead with arbitration on the issue.
A bench headed by Justice HL Dattu, however, allowed the petitioner, former Additional Solicitor General Bishwajit Bhattacharyya, to file fresh petition with all the relevant documents stating what action Centre has so far been taken on the issue.
At the beginning of the proceedings, the Bench asked the petitioner whether he has talked to the concerned authorities and got relevant documents on the issue.
Bhattacharyya, who deals with tax matters and was a law officer during the regime of United Progressive Alliance (UPA), submitted that the Centre is not implementing the rule which was amended in 2012 to claim taxes and pleaded to the apex court to intervene in the matter by directing the Centre to administer the Income Tax Act "impartially, even handedly and without fear or favour".
"It amounts to arbitrariness of state action not to enforce law (Section 9 of IT Act) for 27 months after its enactment. This violates Article 14 of the Constitution," the petition said, adding, "Allowing arbitration proceedings under India-Netherland Bilateral Investment Protection Agreement (BIPA) would flagrantly violate rule of law."
He submitted that the I-T Act does not recognise conciliation as a dispute settlement mechanism and the tax dispute does not come within the ambit of BIPA.
Recently, the government had appointed former Chief Justice of India R C Lahoti as arbitrator in the tax dispute case.
The government's decision was in response to an arbitration notice served by Vodafone International Holdings BV In April under BIPA for resolving the dispute.