Besides re-filing 40-odd RTI applications which the late Shehla Masood had filed and the information of which was pending, her friends have recently launched a website ‘getup4change’which encourages citizens to file RTI queries anonymously under the banner of RTI Anonymous (RTIA)
Friends of the late Shehla Masood, the RTI (Right to Information) activist who was brutally assassinated, have formed www.getup4change.org which also encourages citizens to file RTI queries anonymously under the banner RTI Anonymous (RTIA). The ‘getup4change’ team volunteers will perform the role of RTI applicants for citizens who want to remain anonymous.
Noted Bhopal-based RTI activist Shehla Masood had asked for information regarding expenditure of travel and stay in luxury hotels illegally borne by the state government of 12 serving High Court Judges who attended the wedding of the son of Principal Secretary (law) Ashok Kumar in December 2010. At the time of her death, this application was pending.
Shehla’s friend, Ritesh Singh, and one of the founders of www.getup4change.org and RTI Anonymous (RTIA) re-filed the RTI application. While Mr Singh said, “I was threatened by the protocol officer of the Chief Minister’s office for this expose,” the documents procured under RTI have all been uploaded on the website (See link: http://getup4change.org/rti/1398/madhya-pradesh-high-court-judges-given-undue-favours/).
In short, documents uploaded on the website reveal that Rajendra Prasad Mishra, Deputy Secretary, has been convicted in this matter as hospitality was provided to the 12 judges flouting the protocol of the state government’s hospitality rules. Chief Justice of Rajasthan Arun Mishra did not attend the wedding but his wife was the beneficiary of her husband’s official privileges, thus illegally giving her the status of a state guest. Payment to Hotel Noor-Us-Sabah Palace Bhopal from the State Treasury was made in the name of Justice Arun Mishra although he was absent for the wedding; various other hotels and transport agencies were also paid for felicitations and transport of these judges, flouting norms for state guests. The scandal has serious implications as the Chief Minister is personally involved since it was at the behest of his office’s orders that the expenditure was approved.
Ritesh Singh is a third-year B Tech student of IIT-Kharagpur and sat for all the 12 days on fast with Anna Hazare at the Ramlila Grounds. He has so far filed around 100 RTI applications and is a veteran amongst the three founders in RTI activism. He said, “Shehla Masood was brutally murdered on 16th August 2011, as she sat in her car on her way to Boat Club in Bhopal to fast with Anna Hazare for the Jan Lokpal Bill. The bullet pierced her… turning this Tigress, as she was known among her close friends and who was a deadly cocktail for the corrupt, into a harmless corpse.”
Then quickly correcting himself, Ritesh said, “Did I say “harmless”? No. Shehla Masood has made her point most forcefully in her death. A group of her close friends have pledged to not let this victimisation of social reformers continue any further. They have decided to punish the people who killed her, in a novel way. While the investigation has been disappointing so far, this group of her friends has decided to re-file her 40-odd pending RTI applications to trouble exactly those who wanted to silence her because they didn’t want to reply to her pending RTI applications.”
Shehla’s group of friends who are passionate about keeping her memory alive by carrying on her work of exposing the corrupt include people from varied backgrounds. Anand Sharma, Senior Engineer at Seagate Technology in Colorado, US, steers the team enthusiastically from there. He said, “Shehla was Ritesh’s close friend and both used to do RTI activism together. Ritesh and Shehla had envisaged a slightly different service named ‘RTI Leaks’ which was planned to be a one-stop source for all RTI-related exposés throughout India. While the plan was materialising, Shehla attained martyrdom.
“After about one month of activism through our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/JusticeForShehlaMasood and other initiatives, we noticed that people who dared to stand up against corruption were being victimised. We thought RTI Anonymous (RTIA) is one solution that would hopefully reduce this issue to a significant extent. After several brainstorming sessions between three of us that is, Ritesh Singh, Avnish Singh (who is an IT entrepreneur and) I, we decided to launch the website www.getup4change.org through which we would implement the idea of RTIA.”
The RTIA was formed on 15th October and its activities are visible through the website www.getup4change.org. Mr Sharma said, “We have had an overwhelming response from people and it was highly motivating to see that they started believing us and putting their faith in our organisation.” They already have near to 150 RTI requests and the number is growing by the day.
Who drafts the anonymous RTI applications?
So, if a citizen wants to file an RTI application anonymously, who drafts and files the actual RTI application to the relevant office? The answer is fascinating. Mr Sharma said, “We now have a team of about 15 IIT Kharagpur students, working through the night, learning and drafting RTIs. We have a few retired government officials, who are not only experts in legal matters/labour laws and state laws, but have also been Public Information Officers for a few years, before retiring. They now do a final review of all RTI applications. For example, Ramakrishna Manja of Bengaluru is a 65-year-old retired Registrar and had been a Public Information Officer in the Institute of Mathematical Sciences. In addition, we have about 10 experienced RTI activists from different parts of India, who are helping us too.
What is the process of request for filing an RTI application?
Obviously, you have to go the website www.getup4change.org. Then says Mr Sharma, “On RTI Anonymous, a user can simply click on ‘Submit RTI’ on the homepage to file an RTI Application. They can also send their request directly to us through email (by creating a dummy email address).
“He/she has an option to give his email address if he/she wants to be notified about the status/progress of his RTI Application through his email. Otherwise he/she can very well file it through a dummy username. Once the user submits his/her RTI Application on RTI Anonymous, we extensively edit it to make it stronger and less ambiguous.
“And then we file it through random volunteers, based in different parts of India completely bypassing possibility of any victimisation. So this means a volunteer in Delhi with a proper Delhi residential address will file an RTI for an issue with, say, BBMP-Bangalore.”
Here’s a sterling example of the conversion from a raw query to the final draft
How the team members convert a RTI query into a proper Application Form, thanks to their hard work. However, I think applicants should be conscientious enough to write the application as closely to the official requirement as possible so that the team does not waste too much time on every RTI application. They have been getting a great response:
The raw RTI query filed by an anonymous citizen is as follows:
What has been done to bring noise levels to the mandated 45-65 db (decibels)?
Posted on October 18, 2011
The Environmental Protection Act and Supreme Court orders in WP #20050718 mandating 45-65 db levels and no honking or noises between 10pm to 6 am, to protect public health, wellbeing, and environment are one decade old.
The EPA enforcement authorities—Karnataka State Pollution Control Board, the police, the transport department, etc., have failed to effectively implement the orders against offenders like vehicles fitted with air-horns, musical horns, altered silencers etc and especially against the manufacturers and dealers of these torture instruments.
Every noise per second affects 8,000 uninvolved innocent public in a densely populated city like Bangalore (24,000/sq km).
Repeated complaints (and) petitions over the years to the authorities have not resulted in any concrete stringent steps to tackle the problem. They need is to do it on a war footing otherwise they should be liable for contempt of court proceedings and consequences on an ongoing basis until the orders are complied with.
One can see that the quality of life will dramatically improve with enforced silence taking us up immediately to the civilized society level from a barbaric age.
The drafted letter by members of RTIA below:
Public Information Officer,
Transport Department, Karnataka State government
5th Floor, MS Building,
Dr Ambedkar Road, Bangalore-560 001
Sub: Request for information under RTI Act.
I would like to have the following information under RTI Act.
1) What specific steps have you and the mandated enforcement authorities have jointly taken to implement Environment Protection Act and Supreme Court orders in WP#20050718 of 2005, to avoid attracting contempt of court proceedings?
2) Number of registered cases where the vehicles are fitted with illegal horns and/or modified illegal silencers. Please provide year-wise list from 2006 till date.
3) In how many number of cases (specified in reply to point 1) has the action been taken against the owners (offenders) under the Environment Protection Act?
4) List of the repeated offenders and the details of action taken against them.
5) Please provide the list of manufacturers and dealers of illegal horns and illegal silencers in the state of Karnataka. Also, give the details of action taken against such entities during the years 2006 to till date.
I request you to send the above information by post as required under the RTI Act. I am attaching the Indian Postal Order towards the RTI application fee (IPO no._________ of Rs 10) and the postal charges (IPO no._________ of Rs______).
According to the trio, the biggest challenges facing the RTI movement in India is “a deliberate attempt to create red-tape by making the whole process of filing RTIs extremely complicated; lack of a strong Whistleblower Protection Act and the government trying to dilute the Act, now and then.”
On 5th November, RTIA is conducting a training programme for NRIs through a Skype conference call. Around 15 NRIs from different parts of the US have enrolled so far.
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife. She is also an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She can be reached at email@example.com).
Several law enforcement agencies are circumventing the IT Act, the Indian Penal Code and ultimately the Constitution, by not following proper procedure for removal of online content
Internet censorship in the age of free information is still a debatable issue. However, several times, it becomes necessary for the government to block or remove certain content from the Internet in the larger interest of society. In India, the Department of Information Technology (DIT) is the only designated authority that can order content removal or website blocking. However, many times, several law enforcement agencies are found to be circumventing the DIT by not following proper procedure for removal of online content.
In addition, the information procured by the Centre for Internet and Society (CIS) under the Right to Information (RTI) Act from the DIT and the latest Transparency report issued by Google show a wide gap. According to the reply from DIT, so far, six government officials and one politician have made requests for disabling access to certain online content under Section 69(A) of the IT Act. However, the report from Google says that it received 68 written requests from Indian law enforcement agencies for removal of 358 items from its various sites.
The statistics provided by the government show only eight separate requests made to the DIT, which under the IT Act is the only authority that can order blocking or removal of online content. These requests actually total up to 68—including 64 websites (at domain level), 1 sub-domain and 3 specific Web pages.
There are various reasons for blocking the online content, primary being adult content (61 domains), one domain and a sub-domain for specific communal issues and two specific pages, one a video speech of Shiv Sena chief Balasaheb Thackeray on YouTube and one page of Sukhbir Singh Badal on Wikipedia.
Section 69 (A) of the IT Act empowers the Union Government to “direct any agency of the Government or intermediary to block for access by the public or cause to be blocked for access by the public any information generated, transmitted, received, stored or hosted in any computer resource” through a designated officer.
However, the ground reality is very different when it comes to following the procedures of the IT Act. While there are few who approach the Designated Officer for blocking online content, as per the Google report, there are a number of people, agencies and institutions that are sending requests directly to domains or registrars for removing content. While blocking of online content is regulated by the IT Act, forcible removal of content is not. However, this is what is happening, most of the times. Surprisingly, companies like Google oblige such requests even when they are not under any legal obligation to do so.
According to CIS, the DIT did not provide answers to two specific issues, whether any block ordered by the Department has even been revoked and the basis on which the Department decides the intermediary (Web host, internet service providers (ISPs) for sending content blocking orders. In addition, CIS said the DIT in its reply to the RTI application only provided minutes of one meeting of the committee (Committee for Examination of Requests, constituted under Rule 8(4) of the Blocking Rules) that decides whether to carry out a block, when it had requested for minutes of all the meetings it had held. The Committee is supposed to consider each single item in every request sent to the Designated Officer. The DIT has accepted that it sent 68 items for blocking to the Designated Officer through six requests. This shows there is something that does not add up. Either the Committee is not following the Blocking Rules or the DIT is not providing a complete reply under the RTI Act, said CIS.
Many of the ills plaguing the world—oppressive dictatorships, state-sponsored terrorism and corrupt politicians—can all be traced to oppression, suppression and denial originating from the modern educational system which has failed to create healthy minds
“A chief event of life is the day in which we have encountered a mind that startled us”: Ralph Waldo Emerson
Education, higher or lower, should have the prime goal of creating healthy minds in society in addition, of course, to making comfortable careers. Unfortunately, today the sole aim of our present education system seems to be to make careers, the higher the pay the better. Smart people might not be educated in that sense but they are smarter all the same. Rabindranath Tagore, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Warren Buffet, and Dhirubhai Ambani were smart—but were not the products of this kind of miseducation! Parents, teachers, “educationists”, (so-called because they own educational institutions) educational administrators, as also the governments of the day, along with the brainwashed children today, want education only to make better careers. In the knowledge society of today nobody thinks. Thinking seems to be a distinct disadvantage in the present set-up! This looks good on the face of it but, in the long run, this could prove to be a dangerous game.
There is a new malady, born in the west, against which Europeans have already woken up to fight. That disease is called “Wall Street Greed.” That name does not tell the whole story. The “Wall Street Greed” might have effectively destroyed the American economy lately, thanks to Lehman Brothers and their ilk. What has gone unnoticed, though, is the larger universal effect of corporate greed in general which has spread its tentacles to all areas of human existence. It has invaded the sacred temples of education, science, research, governance, judiciary, the medical care establishment, the media and all other spheres of day-to-day existence. Poverty being the mother of all illnesses, the poor in the world today pay for their poverty with their lives, thanks to this corporate greed. The latter was born out of the philosophy of Bernard Mandeville, who was Adam Smith’s teacher in some sense. Mandeville proclaimed that “in corporate philosophy what matters is only profit, irrespective of consequences.” (Italics mine).
Mandeville goes on to show in his Fable of the bees that a society possessed of all the virtues (blessed with content and honesty) falling into apathy and utter paralysis. “The absence of self-love is the death of progress. The so-called higher virtues are mere hypocrisy, and arise from the selfish desire to be superior to the brutes. The moral virtues are the political offspring which flattery begot upon pride.” Similarly he arrives at the great paradox that “private vices are public benefits”. Among other things, Mandeville argues that the basest and vilest behaviours produce positive economic effects. “A libertine, for example, is a vicious character, and yet his spending will employ tailors, servants, perfumers, cooks, prostitutes. These persons, in turn, will employ bakers, carpenters, and the like. Therefore, the rapaciousness and violence of the base passions of the libertine benefit society in general.” Although Mandeville was unpopular in his time for his views, today’s corporate world seems to be venerating him with one difference though. Today’s private vice does not translate into public good, which was the essence of Mandeville’s teaching.
The noble professions of medicine, law and scientific enquiry have ceased to be what they ought to be. The medical profession of the early 20th century in London was assessed to be a bunch of “incompetent, corrupt and nepotistic” humans who resembled a stinking pus-filled abscess on society, wrote a young MP and a physician, Thomas Wakeley in 1823. To set it right and let out that bad pus, he started a medical science journal with the name of the surgical instrument to drain pus-The Lancet. The journal has had a chequered career of nearly 190 years to date. Around the same time another great brain, a dramatist, Sir George Bernard Shaw, wrote a satirical drama, The Doctors’ Dilemma, which forced the star performers of the day, like Sir Arbuthnot Lane, out of business! Surprisingly, if one were to replace those star performers of London of 1823 by today’s star performers anywhere in the world including India, the drama would get greater kudos.
A recent audit by a medical journalist/historian has thrown up more surprising data. Hillary Butler, writing in the famous British Medical Journal, feels that the “nepotistic, incompetent, corrupt” bunch of 1823 has been replaced by a “Corporate Monstrosity,” today which would cut any Wakeley at his knees! Many, if not all, ills of society today could be traced to the faulty educational philosophy followed by the globalisation concept of the post-Second World War world. Terrorism, wars around the globe, white collar crime, irrational consumerism, disease mongering, drug peddling of both legal and illegal drugs, rampant fraud in research, intellectual terrorism, corruption in all the watchdog bodies ranging from the World Bank, IMF, WHO to national watchdog bodies, dangerous dictatorships, state-sponsored terrorism and corrupt politicians could all be traced to oppression, suppression and denial originating from the educational system failing to make healthy minds (health defined as “enthusiasm to work and enthusiasm to be compassionate”) as their main motto!
With the advent of the Cold War era, western education, even in the UK was slowly tilting towards the US model. Been to America (BTA) was considered an additional qualification for all top posts in the UK. Colonial countries in Asia and Africa, naturally, followed suit. Even India, despite our hoary excellent educational base which had attracted the best European brains in the past, was bending over backwards to fall in line with the American thinking in this area. The eastern block led by USSR followed a different path but, many great brains there were behind bars anyway in the pre-Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika period!
With the fall of the Berlin wall and the advent of the new economic liberalisation era in India after 1991, there has been a renewed emphasis in following the US model here. With European and American Universities starving for rich paying students, especially after the 9/11 tragedy which brought in a drastic fall in rich west Asian students gravitating to US and Europe for higher education, all those countries focused their attention on India to supply their needs what with the demographic predictions throwing up the possibilities of more of the 700-800 million young men and women looking for higher education in India in the next four to five decades. With a concurrent fall in the numbers of the younger generation in the west, the rush has become acute. Australia, USA, UK and European countries are selling their education like they sell their silicon chips! With the advent of the new era of young peoples’ exchange, thanks to the multitude of newer sweat-shops and body-shopping establishments in India, there is renewed awakening in the minds of young Indians about the hassle-free life in the west!
While there are both good and bad things in any system, especially the educational system, the time has come for us take stock of those fallouts, as our government is too keen to keep our doors wide open for foreign universities to step in and reap the harvest. The simplistic argument is that India will not be in a position to offer (free) higher education to all the needy in the future. Even private-public partnerships, much touted, seem to have run into roadblocks already. Some heads in the government are biased against home-baked education and feel that a foreign brand is better. In this cacophony the worst sufferer is Indian primary education. Unless and until we set that right, our higher education, built on that faulty foundation, could collapse any day. The “PROBE” report on primary education in India, commissioned by the GOI in 1997, shows that our primary education is in a real mess. I strongly feel that primary education of quality is the one that lays the foundation for making healthy minds, which is the essence of all education.
Taxpayers’ money should be fruitfully utilised to make primary (elementary, middle and high school) education not just compulsory and free but also effective and fruitful. Higher education should be paid for by the recipient, rich pay for it, meritorious get scholarships, and the poor get interest-free loans from a newly created Educational Development Bank. License and permit raj must end giving place to “quality” controlling the standards of institutions. It should be a buyers’ market and not sellers market as of now where quality is given a go-by.
Inclusive education for a country like India:
India is a very rich country with the largest world population of the poorest of the poor existing along with the superrich; the former are, of course, in a large majority. Nearly 67 million children in India have a peculiar disease, Nutritional Immune Deficiency Syndrome, (NIDS) which is deadlier than AIDS. While the whole world population of AIDS is just about 33 million about which there seems to be so much interest among the public and the medical profession, NIDS is not even mentioned in textbooks in medical school! Those children die in hundreds daily. The question of their going to school does not arise. Even if they did they would not be able to go any further as they have inherited a small hippocampus major, the part of the brain vital for memory, recall, creativity and learning. The reason for that defect is again poverty in their mothers when they were pregnant. Since the first trimester of pregnancy is when all the human organs are formed in the foetus inside the womb, if the mother suffers from malnutrition, organs are poorly made and they produce permanent damage in the offspring later. If we want inclusive education in India we have to tackle poverty at a war footing. Nutritional midday meals for pregnant mothers are a must—much more important than midday meals for children!
A business called education:
That will also put an end to this pernicious belief among greedy industrial honchos that education is a multibillion dollar industry which they think they can grab and make profits along with social respectability! Their unhealthy mind is the fruit of our present higher education they received both in India and abroad, especially our new breed of business managers who are the ardent followers of Mandeville. Even in the National Health System (NHS) of the UK, the hospital managers seem to have damaged the system so badly that the powers-that-be are having second thoughts about new NHS reforms. Teaching business management in isolation without teaching social philosophy, social conscience, moral responsibility and business humanism will bring forth a set of unscrupulous greedy sharks who would market unethical business tricks of the trade. While it is true that education is a mind-sharpening business, it is definitely not a money-spinning business.
Downside of elite education:
Let us look at the downside of elite education. I can never do better than this young sharp brain of an associate professor of English at Yale, William Dereswiecz, in his classical paper, Disadvantages of Elite Education in the journal, American Scholar. He is the victim of such education himself right from day one in elite private schools through two decades in Harvard and Yale and many other Ivy League institutions. William was not talking of the usual “curricula or the culture wars, the closing or opening of the American mind, political correctness, canon formation, or what have you.” He was talking about the “unspoken and unsaid things in normal educational parlance such as the private and affluent public ‘feeder’ schools”, the ever-growing para-structure of tutors and test-prep courses and enrichment programs, the whole admissions frenzy and everything that leads up to and away from it. Before, after, and around the elite college classroom, a constellation of values is ceaselessly inculcated. As globalisation sharpens economic insecurity, we are increasingly committing ourselves—as students, as parents, as a society—to a vast apparatus of educational advantage. With so many resources devoted to the business of elite academics and so many people scrambling for the limited space at the top of the ladder, it is worth asking what exactly it is you get in the end—what it is we all get, because the elite students of today, as their institutions never tire of reminding them, are the leaders of tomorrow.”
The glaring disadvantages of elite education are that it removes one from the stark reality of life in this world. The student does not have touch with the most important problem of life—poverty. Students from such schools are uncomfortable in the company of the poor and people coming from ‘non-elite’ schools. The former are fed that they are the best and those institutions especially the Ivy League try and see that their students get the A grade all the time. If one were to audit the average grading, GPA used to be around 2.6 in most institutions. Now most government institutions in the USA have an average of 3 and private ones of 3.6! If a student in a State college gets A grade it is true “A” as s/he has no avenues to make it to A otherwise at any rate, as happens in Ivy League where As could be manipulated. Elite schools create an atmosphere where greed gets generated in the student’s mind. Students are reminded that they are the best and they are the leaders of the future. Many of these leaders are not in touch with reality. One example he quotes are Al Gore and John Kerry from Harvard and Yale. Both are smart, intelligent, and successful but have been miserable failures with the electorate. I can quote the innate electoral wisdom of people like George Bush in the USA or Lallu Prasad Yadav in India, neither of them is from Ivy League.
In life also we try and give A grade to some people in preference to others. One example is the fat pay packets that the top managers of some private companies get. In the industry they are “A” graders. If one had a trained healthy mind during his/her education he/she would have realised that it is unethical, even downright sinful, to receive a pay packet which is more than hundred thousand times the pay of the lowest-paid employee of the same organisation. Both are born alike and both will die alike. The only difference is the different opportunities they had in their early educational career—one coming from the Ivy League where he got in because of what William describes above, in addition to his affluence in society. This gap between the haves and the have-nots that has been growing wider by the day, thanks to unhealthy educational system, is at the root of many social ills—noblesse oblige (nobility obliges).
We have had the IITs created by the brains of an American University Consortium which has helped create a new class of Indians who pride themselves to be superior to others vis-à-vis their pay packets at campus selection lists. It is a shame that even the institutions pride themselves by advertising the offer of pay packets for their alumni as synonymous with the quality of education that they impart. I would be happy to know in which field IITs have taken knowledge forward in India during their existence. “Knowledge advances not by repeating known facts, but by refuting false dogmas.” With that definition of Karl Popper the only research which is worth its salt is refutative research. I know of no such work being done by our IITs which could set the River Ganges on fire.
There was a time, a couple of decades ago; when universities thought that they would be better off getting themselves tagged on to some industry for mutual benefit and for better funding of research etc. Within a very short span of time such arranged marriages ran into rough weather. It was soon realized that corporate greed started manipulating research activities to such an extent that genuine research flew out of university widows! In the UK many such marriages have ended in agreed divorce without alimony payments, though! The grip of the vested interests on science research is still worrying. They manipulate textbook writing to research grant distribution and research publications in “leading” journals and soup up data to suit their business even today! This is worrying—to say the least.
In conclusion, one could take the best of both the worlds and make a new system that incorporates the positives, bereft of the disadvantages of either for future education in India. Foreign universities will, of course, be most welcome as they would give a tough competition to our universities to come up to survive in the midst of such healthy competition. But we must not forget that universities exist only to make healthy minds. Careers are secondary in university education. Career based vocational education at the end of good primary education at High School level must be encouraged to lessen the unnecessary burden on universities. It is necessary to emphasise that education is not a money-spinning business lest all our efforts to give our country a new ethical “healthy mind making” educational system to prepare our youth to be healthy world citizens of tomorrow, should go down the drain as happened in the past.
“The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.”
(The author has MD, FRCP, FRCPE, FRCPG, FRCPI, FACC, FAMS qualifications. He was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 2010. He is Editor-in-Chief, The Journal of the Science of Healing Outcomes; Chairman, State Health Society's Expert Committee, Govt. of Bihar, Patna; Former Prof. of Cardiology, The Middlesex Hospital Medical School, University of London; Affiliate Prof. of Human Health, Northern Colorado University and Retd Vice Chancellor, Manipal University. His website is www.bmhegde.com).