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American Diary: One Day to Go—Glad Tidings in Wisconsin

With just one day to go, Obama and Bruce Springsteen are due to hold a rally while Governor Romney continues to press for his case as President

I arrive at Wisconsin late Sunday evening and learnt that President Obama and Bruce Springsteen are to hold an early morning rally in Madison. This should be the icing on the cake. President Obama has been revisiting the message of ‘change’ and bipartisanship once again. He is casting himself as an agent of change. He will also visit Ohio and Colorado. The years of organisational and campaigning effort is culminating in one final push.

 

It is rumoured that his final rally is with Dave Matthews in Aurora, Colorado, the site of the appalling ‘Batman’ shootings. If the rumours are to be believed, it is Obama’s most significant statement against gun control, possibly to woo the undecided women electorate. A bold move nonetheless, and I hope it has been polled and cross-checked before the announcement and not just a speculation.

 

Governor Romney, on the other hand, has been is criss-crossing the swing states and will speak to anyone who listens. He had been in Ohio criticising offshoring and says that a vote for him is a vote for America. I found the people of Ohio unusually subdued in view of their crucial role in deciding the outcome of the election. They were completely matter-of–fact and taking it in their stride.

 

The polls indicate that one or the other side is leading with the thinnest of margins. All sorts of variables and unknowns are in play and nobody is confident.

 

America is on a knife’s edge and the direction of the country for the next four years is an issue. Americans are feeling hopeful, nervous, optimistic and pessimistic all at once. It feels like America is at crossroads as the world watches with baited breath.

 

(Harsh Desai has done his BA in Political Science from St Xavier's College & Elphinstone College, Bombay and has done his Master's in Law from Columbia University in the city of New York. He is a practicing advocate at the Bombay High Court.)

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Moneylife RTI Workshop: “RTI brings about better governance”, says Shailesh Gandhi—former CIC

The 134th seminar of Moneylife Foundation and the 9th on the Right to Information (RTI) Act focussed on the understanding of the key provisions of the RTI Act and how to file effective applications with important dos and don’ts to ensure your queries are answered

Moneylife Foundation has conducted a series of events and workshops in the past to empower its members to use the RTI (Right to Information) Act effectively. Each of the events has received a tremendous response. Shailesh Gandhi, a former Central Information Commissioner (CIC), who has conducted a workshop for Moneylife Foundation in the past, (Read here: How to use the RTI Effectively: RTI may get choked, says CIC) will be conducting a series of workshop for Moneylife Foundation Members. Today was the first such programme. This being structured for beginners, received a huge response and the Moneylife Knowledge centre was packed to capacity.
 

Mr Gandhi gave the participants the overview of the RTI Act, how it originated and where it can be used. He took the members through the important sections of the RTI Act in detail. Transparency is what is lacking in today’s system said Mr Gandhi, and it’s in our hands to pull information and point out misappropriations, because without good governance we cannot function.  With regard to the kind of information that can be sought, Mr Gandhi emphasised that all information that is available as a record in any tangible form can be provided. Therefore before filing an application individuals should review if the information they are seeking will be available as a record. As far as seeking information is considered, only citizens of India can apply under the RTI Act. However, in certain states this section is misused as the information officers as they ask for proof of citizenship which is hard to provide as very few individuals have passports, etc, and the application is rejected.
 

“No one talks about the suo moto disclosures of Section 4,” say Mr Gandhi. Section 4 of the RTI Act speaks about the computerisation of information, sadly as this is not a rule not as many public offices are following it. Mr Gandhi laments that this section will remain a dream unless we the citizens demand that public offices should put up information in computerised form.
 

The only sections under which the information sought can be refused are Section 8 and Section 9 of the RTI Act, explained Mr Gandhi. The RTI Act lists special instances where the authorities are exempt from disclosing information. Section 8 of the Act for the exemption from disclosure of information is used as a lame excuse not to provide information. There have been many examples where the citizen has got the information he or she asked for, which has been earlier denied to him by the Public Information Officer (PIO) or Appellate Authority, under the pretext of Section 8. For, when the citizen pursued the matter by appealing to the Central or State Information Commissioner, he or she invariably received the information. In other cases, the Information Commissioner also denied the information, so the citizen appealed to the high court and won the case, as the judge directed the information commission to provide information. Mr Gandhi explained this section in detail and offered advice how one can phrase their queries in such a way that the information cannot be rejected under this section.
 

Mr Gandhi elaborated on Section 8 (1) j, under which a number of cases are rejected. This states that personal information which has no relationship to any public activity will not be given. However, this is for personal information of individuals and information pertaining to institutions and corporations cannot be refused. Here is where Mr Gandhi mentioned that income tax paid by individuals should be disclosed. By doing this it would take us one more step closer to transparency and transparency would help change the country.
 

Mr Gandhi also explained to the audience the section on complaints and second appeals and how should one go about it. A few pointers that Mr Gandhi gave to the members of Moneylife Foundation are:
 

  • — Identify a purpose for seeking information. Though it is not mandatory to disclose one’s purpose, but individually one should define a purpose.
     
  • — Once one has identified a purpose then what information is sought, s/he should be put it down in a concise and specific manner. It should not be vague and a reasonable timeline should be given and most importantly whether the information sought will be available on record.
     
  • — The application should be addressed to the right department. If not done, it would create unnecessary delays.
     
  • — RTI should be sent preferably through Speed Post, by this you get an acknowledgement that the PIO has received it.
     

The next session on RTI is for advanced RTI users. This session is for those who have already filed multiple RTI applications and need to understand how to navigate the appeals process all the way to the CIC hearings.
 

For more information on RTI workshops, click here.

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