World
Capitol Case: Robert Freeman’s Enduring Fight Against Government Secrecy
Freeman, the executive director of the New York Committee on Open Government, reflects on seven governors and their records for transparency
 
Robert Freeman has been helping people extract public information from New York state agencies for four decades. He is the executive director of the New York Committee on Open Government, a division of the New York Department of State that advises the public on the Freedom of Information Law — the state statute authorizing access to public records.
 
While Freeman gives Gov. Andrew Cuomo credit for making a substantial amount of state data available online, he says the administration has been slower and more difficult than any previous administration in responding to formal Freedom of Information requests. 
 
Several ProPublica reporters have recently experienced delays and resistance from New York state agencies in responding to such requests. Joaquin Sapien has spent the last several weeks reporting on violent crimes perpetrated by youngsters living in group homes throughout New York City. Last week, he received a response to a request for inspections of the homes and enforcement actions made against their operators from the Office of Child and Family Services. The response came two weeks past the 20-day-deadline and said the agency needed an additional 75 business days to fulfill the request. 
 
Meanwhile, ProPublica reporter Michael Grabell has fought a three-year legal battle with the New York Police Department trying to obtain records on the department’s use of X-ray surveillance machines. 
 
Freeman agreed to participate in a Q&A with Sapien. In it, Freeman, 68, draws on his experience working under seven different governors to speak to such delays in the release of public information and their underlying causes.
 
The transcript of the Q&A has been edited for clarity and space. (Listen to the full interview below or on SoundCloud.)
 
 
 
Courtesy: ProPublica

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Robert Vadra will definitely be caught: BJP Lok Sabha chief whip Meghwal

Meghwal has been leading the party's fight against Robert Vadra's land deals and is confident that Vadra will be nailed in what has come to be known as the Bikaner land deal case

 

The Robert Vadra land deal “cases” will be brought to their "logical conclusion and justice done in each case without any fear or pressure from any quarter", promises BJP’s Chief Whip in Lok Sabha Arjun Ram Meghwal, who has been persistently pursuing the allegedly illegal land deals of Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law for the past three years.
 
Meghwal, the only Lok Sabha MP to cycle to parliament, also said that the BJP would do everything to "bring out the truth" behind former IPL chief Lalit Modi’s "links with Congress leaders". 
 
Meghwal has been leading the party's fight against Robert Vadra's land deals and is confident that Vadra will be nailed in what has come to be known as the Bikaner land deal case.
 
"Enquiries are already going on against Vadra's land deals in Bikaner, Haryana and Delhi. There is a Land Ceiling Act in Rajasthan and, when an ordinary person violates it, he faces action from law authorities. Vadra and his companies have openly violated the Act. We will take this issue to its logical end. I am confident that in the Bikaner land deal, Vadra will definitely be caught," Meghwal told IANS in an interview.
 
Initially a weaver, Meghwal, 62, went on to become an IAS officer and then a Member of Parliament from Bikaner.
 
On the Lalit Modi case, Meghwal said: "BJP will take the Lalit Modi issue further. We will bring the facts into the public domain about how many Congress leaders have relations with Modi," Meghwal said.
 
He also said that the previous UPA government's decision to launch Enforcement Directorate action against Lalit Modi was done with "bad intention" and the Modi government would "prove this point at a proper time".
 
"P. Chidambaram’s (former finance minister) letters to the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer on Lalit Modi was written with bad intentions," he said.
 
"We will take this issue to its logical end," he added.
 
Modi is embroiled in a row over alleged financial irregularities when he was the Indian Premier League commissioner. The Enforcement Directorate has built up a case against him. The government had also cancelled his passport. He is living in UK since 2010.
 
On the ongoing logjam in parliament, Meghwal accused the Congress party of playing petty politics, saying "they are trying to regain their lost ground by raising an issue which is a non-issue."
 
"Congress' behaviour in this session was totally different. To regain their lost ground they are using the platform of parliament and shying away from debate," he said.
 
Defending External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj over her links with Lalit Modi, Meghwal said, "Sushmaji helped an Indian woman who has been suffering from cancer. What she did was with good intentions."
 
He also defended Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh Chief Ministers Vaundhara Raje and Shivraj Singh Chouhan.
 
He said Raje has done nothing illegal or immoral whereas Chouhan himself is a whistle blower in Vyapam scam.
 
The Congress, supported by some other opposition parties, has been demanding the resignations of Sushma Swaraj and Vasundhara Raje over their association with Lalit Modi, while Shivraj Singh Chouhan is embroiled in the Vyapam recruitment scam controversy.
 

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COMMENTS

rihanahmad

2 years ago

This gentleman is too biased to comment on subjects / topics that his own party is embroiled in . I find it funny that people who are being blamed of doing alleged acts of omission and commission + criminality, are giving themselves a clean chit . It is like auditing yr own accounts .

Police nexus in trafficking an open secret: DCW chief

Maliwal, who at 30 is the youngest to take charge of this job, had recently equated prostitution with 'rape', drawing the ire of some activists

 

Swati Maliwal, recently appointed chief of the Delhi Commission for Women (DCW), says “police nexus” in trafficking of women to Delhi is an “open secret” and says rehabilitating sex workers was on top of her agenda.
 
Maliwal, who at 30 is the youngest to take charge of this job, had recently equated prostitution with "rape", drawing the ire of some activists.
 
Maliwal said that those involved in sex work were mostly doing so because of compulsion, not choice. Providing good career alternatives would enable women to leave sex trade if they so desired, she said in a detailed interview to IANS.
 
Maliwal, who was a personal aide of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal handling public grievances, said rehabilitating and improving the living conditions of sex workers was on top of her agenda. Free treatment for acid attack victims at Delhi's top hospitals and government jobs for them was her other focus area. 
 
Maliwal spoke to IANS at her central Delhi office and said she would work to keep DCW "fiercely apolitical". 
 
Excerpts:
 
Q: Amnesty International is planning to declare sex work as a human right. How does this apply to Delhi's red light area, GB Road?
A: GB Road is three kilometres from Parliament. But there is no cognizance of the plight of these women. After my visit, a group of sex workers came and said we want to get out of this (sex work). Nirmal Chaya (government-run home for women) is not the alternative. If we rehabilitate 50 women, that would send a message that we are serious about it. There are other issues like how to stop trafficking of minor girls. The moment you enter the area, some pimp approaches you saying baraah saal ki mast, teraah saal ki mast (12-year-old girl, 13-year-old girl).
 
Q: Those in authority and even police often say off the record that prostitution "prevents rape" of "decent women". Can a GB Road with its trafficked minors be running without a police nexus?
A: I strongly condemn this mindset. Most of these girls are being trafficked and in sex work because of poverty. For all those who are saying these things, please realise that this is not social work. Why should we put that moral obligation only on these women? The day I accept this, I will also be in GB Road doing what these women are doing. There is police nexus. It is an open secret. But if you close these brothels down where will these women go? They may get back to sex work in worse conditions.
 
Q: How do you intercept traffickers with a police force that may not be completely on board?
A: Trafficking is also taking place in Delhi through placement agencies. DCW is the nodal authority for registering these agencies. We are going to be working on this very soon. We are also trying to increase our presence in GB Road, too. Once that happens, the police will be a little wary about whatever is happening.
 
Q: DCW is often seen as a toothless tiger. How will you change this?
A: Teeth are very important. The reason I am not harping on that is because no work has been done in DCW till now. Present DCW's mandate is clear - making visits, recommendations to the government, taking suo motu cognizance of issues related to women, issuing studies, commissioning committees - none of that has happened so far. In eight years only two visits have taken place. The Delhi Dialogue Commission has recommended more powers for us in its Bill of Rights for Women like penal powers, powers of a civil court. But for the next three-four months, I want to focus on the existing mandate and set up systems.
 
Q: What are your plans for helping acid attack victims?
A: Their health is a very serious concern. The SC had ordered all government and private hospitals to give them free treatment and medicines. But it's not implemented. So we met Delhi Health Minister Satyender Jain and he has appointed a nodal officer who will work with DCW to get these women treated at top private hospitals free of cost. The acid attack victims will be part of the task force on this. Second issue is low rate of conviction and long drawn legal battles. The government will now appoint a senior prosecutor to fight these cases. I got a proposal approved for government jobs for these victims from the CM when I was his advisor (public grievances). Now ministers will get them placed in the government according to their profiles. This is my first victory in a way.
 
Q: You had tweeted against the sexist comments made by three elected representatives, Aam Aadmi Party MLA Somnath Bharti, Bharatiya Janata Party MP Ramesh Bidhuri and Congress MP Gurudas Kamat. What about respect for women in politics?
A: No matter which party they are from, whether Somnath Bharti or Kamat, they are elected members and 50 per cent of the electorate is women. It's unfortunate that these statements were made in the House. The Speaker should take action. They (politicians) need to learn to respect women and speak in a proper manner about women. That's the least they can do.
 

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COMMENTS

Rajeev Juneja

2 years ago

I think Maliwal seems to be haeding in the right direction. She carries, grit and the will to go ahead inspite of ample obstacles. I think shes doing a great job... God Bless her...

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