Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi ruled, “The award of compensation for harassment by public authorities not only compensates the individual and satisfies him personally, but also helps in curing a social evil”
In probably the first reflexive ruling, the Central Information Commission has issued a show-cause notice to its own CPIO (chief public information officer) and asked him to pay Rs3,000 as compensation to an appellant who was given piecemeal information, that too after much delay.
In a recent order, central information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi ruled, “Harassment of a common man by public authorities is socially abhorring and legally impermissible. It may harm him personally but the injury to society is far more grievous. The award of compensation for harassment by public authorities not only compensates the individual and satisfies him personally, but also helps in curing a social evil. It may result in improving the work culture and help in changing the outlook. The Commission in exercise of its power under Section 19(8)(b) of the RTI (Right to Information) Act awards a compensation of Rs3,000 to the appellant for the loss and detriment suffered by him in having to pursue the appeals and getting the information late. The Commission recommends that the secretary, CIC may consider recovering this amount from the salary of the persons responsible for this.”
The Commission also directed the PIO to provide the information before 10 May 2012 and the cheque be sent to the appellant before 1st June.
On 7th September, 2010, the appellant Haroon Siddiqui had filed a query with the CIC, asking for a copy of rules under which the deputy registrar authorized to return the second appeal and state the reasons on record for the return. He had earlier asked for information related to a CIC ruling involving the Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative (IFFCO) and had asked for the company’s reply to the CIC. He received mostly evasive answers from the CPIO and deputy secretary S Padmanabha. Dissatisfied with the answers, Mr Siddiqui filed the first appeal, which was rejected.
The CIC deemed that the CPIO’s refusal to disclose IFFCO’s reply was ‘erroneous’. The ruling said, “This refusal was erroneous since Section 11 is only a procedure which requires the PIO to inform the third party of his intention to disclose the information if the information was received in confidence. After receiving any objection from the third party, if the information is exempt as per the provisions of Section 8(1) or 9, the information may be denied by the PIO after giving reasons. In the instant case the respondent states that there is no evidence of any letter having been sent to the third party seeking objection. Besides, the appellant has a right to get any counter statements or submission made by the opposite party. It appears that a completely unreasonable rejection was made and the appellant has not received the information so far at all.”
Mr Gandhi said that Mr Padmanabha is directed give his reasons to the Commission to show cause why penalty should not be levied on him. He will also send the information sent to the appellant as per this decision and submit the Speed Post receipt as proof of having sent the information to the appellant, along with the copy of the information.
Use of low-powered amplification distributed sound system is the answer to the demand for grounds at locations where people are present or can reach conveniently and to keep the noise level within limits. It would be most effective if the court directs the MoEF to evolve the guidelines for its use
The Indian Education Society (IES) was denied permission to hold a function on its ground at its school—Raja Shivaji Vidya Sankul (King George School), Dadar East by the Police as the area was in the “silence zone”. IES moved the court and at the 21 March 2012, the Bombay High Court hearing (case No. WPL/353/2012) the court had directed the party concerned to use low-powered amplification distributed sound system instead. The case came up for hearing again on Friday 13 April 2012. The court has clarified that even the low-powered amplification distributed sound system cannot be used in the silence zone without the court’s permission.
It is reported that IES counsel Raju Subramanian informed the court that the order of 21 March 2012 hearing was in violation of Rule 6 of the Noise Rule (Control & Regulation) 2000 and is contrary to earlier judgments by the high court and confirmed by the Supreme Court, prohibiting the use of loudspeakers in a silence zone.
The report further added that he told the court that educational institutions, hospitals and religious places (and courts of hearing) do not fall in the silence zone as the zone begins 100 meters from its boundaries. Mr Subramanian felt that the court’s order may be grossly misused and should be modified to protect the citizens.
In response to this, the court is reported to have stated that the use of loud speakers, including the low-powered amplification distributed sound system cannot be used. It also stated that educational institutions schools may use loudspeakers for their normal activities like assembly and sports, for which they need not take permission.
It is wrong on part of IES counsel to state that the silence zone begins from boundary of school premises and extends to 100 meters from there. The fact is that the boundary of a silence zone is so defined and any area falling within is silence zone or any extent as defined by the authority beyond the 100 meter distance. A silence zone is clearly defined as area comprising not less than 100 meters around educational institutions, hospitals, religious places and courts or any other area which is declared as such by the competent authority.
While allowing use of loudspeakers at the function celebrating the 125 year completion of the Bombay High Court building, and also in use of loudspeakers at religious places, the court gave a ruling that use of loud speakers for these four types of premises is permitted for their normal activities. For activities not normal to these premises, the Noise Rule will apply. This ruling was made much prior to the latest amendment of the 11 January 2010. This latest amended Noise Rule tries to clarify ambiguity by restricting noise levels not just to the limits specified for respective zones but to a level beyond the prevailing ambient noise levels at these locations.
Since the high court did use loudspeakers at very low amplification on its open lawns, which is within 100 meters of University of Mumbai premises, it was still in violation of the Noise Rule. However, despite traffic having been diverted that day and the ambient noise level was close to the permissible day time limit, use of loudspeaker at the high court function did not cause any increase in the noise level. It is this principle that needs to be followed—noise levels in the silence zone outside the premises which is the reason of the surrounding area getting classified as a silence zone should be within the limit so specified in the latest amendment rule 5(4) & 5(5).
In my opinion, the court needs to give greater weightage to Rule 5(4) and 5(5) and 7(1) while interpreting Rule 6. This would mean use of low-powered amplification loudspeakers could be used, but permission must be obtained from the competent authority.
The competent authority must have guidelines which the ministry of environment and forest (MoEF) could evolve after experimentation. Any party desirous of using loud speakers within silence zone could then use it so long as the levels do not violate Rule 5(4) & 5(5). While granting permission, the competent authority must get design of the low-powered amplification distributed sound system for approval and on satisfaction that there is no scope for violation, grant permission.
For this purpose, it would be most effective if the court directs the MoEF to evolve the guidelines. It should also ask the MoEF to modify Rule 6 such that those observing Rule 5(4) and 5(5) shall not be prosecuted for violation of Rule 6(i) and 6(v).
If these are followed, even political meetings in places such as playgrounds can be held. Care has to be taken that the playgrounds essentially are used for the said purpose in a year discounting for the monsoon and only limited days could the playground be used for political and cultural events. Use of low-powered amplification distributed sound system is the answer to the demand for grounds at locations where people are present or can reach conveniently and to keep the noise level within permissible limits.
There is one more point that needs commenting on. The court has asked MoEF to clarify its stand on impracticability of minimum standards of noise levels in residential areas and silence zones. The MoEF has been given time till 22 June 2012 to respond.
I hope the court, as well as the MoEF, gives adequate importance to restfulness of sleep, which one gets when noise levels fall to lower levels than the permissible ambient noise levels. This aspect has been very well explained in the Supreme Court judgment of 18 July 2005. Higher levels of noise lead to (a) not getting restful sleep and (b) increase in stress levels and adverse health implications. At first one may feel that if the minimum levels are not achievable why not raise it. That would defeat the very purpose of Noise Rules. What needs to be strived for is eliminating the causes of noise without unnecessarily curtailing human activities. Use of low-powered amplification distributed sound systems, reducing use of personal motorized transport by adopting public transport such as BRTS and non-motorized vehicles like bicycles, cycle-rickshaws, walking, etc, which are not only carbon neutral but also do not make the noise present combinations of transportations modes do.
(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 was member of Bombay High Court appointed erstwhile Road Monitoring Committee (2006-07). While he has been an active campaigner against Noise for more than a decade, he is a strong believer in functioning democracy. He can be contacted on email at [email protected])
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