Right to Information
RTI activists falsely accused, assaulted

While the government at one end time and again attempts to deflate the Sunshine Act, at the other end harassment to RTI activists too never ceases

Deliberately under-staffing State Information Commissions (SICs); PIOs citing Section 8 with unfailing regularity as an excuse not to part with information; assaulting RTI activists; tarnishing their reputation are some of the ways being sought to deflate the RTI (Right to Information) Act. 

Case I: Pankti Jog is a prominent member of the Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel (MAGP), an Ahmedabad based RTI organisation, renowned for its helpline service that has facilitated thousands in the state to file RTI applications and get guidance in RTI related matters. MAGP’s mobile van service that spreads RTI awareness in villages has also helped in RTI literacy in the state.

Last week, she was accused of indirectly having terrorist links, as per the submission made by the Public Information Officer (PIO) of the Department of Forest & Environment to the State Information Commission. 

States Pankti, “`In one of my RTI applications filed with the Department Of Forest And Environment way back in 2009, I had sought copies of its communication with the ministry of environment and forest regarding permission given to a multi-national company for the expansion of its pipelines which would cut through the reserved forests of the treasured marine national park in Jamnagar district.  I was surprised at the submission made by the PIO to the State Information Commission that, “if information is given to Pankti Jog then it could land in the hands of a terrorist, thus the info cannot be given.” Due to delay in reply, Pankti had filed a second appeal with the SIC which had asked the PIO to give reasons for not providing information.

According to Pankti, the PIO who denied her information for nearly two years argued before the SIC last week that blasts and terrorist attacks occured due to sensitive information made available to terrorists. Pankti, who amplified this unjustified stand taken by the PIO, went viral on email stating that, “I think I have to tell the government …my name is Pankti and I am not a terrorist…” The result? The PIO retracted his statement. The matter will come for hearing before the SIC early next week.

However, it is important to understand that information relating to a powerful MNC was kept in abeyance for nearly two years. This particular issue relates to the expansion of a pipeline belonging to Essar the group which is to cut through the marine national park, to facilitate expansion of the pipeline but it would mean disturbing the reserved forest area. Hence, Pankti had also filed a petition in the Gujarat High Court besides filing a RTI Application.

The RTI application dates back to 28 April 2009. The information sought was: “a certified copy of the report submitted by the committee for the use of forest land by Essar Bulk Terminal in Jamnagar; certified copy of the letter/communication to director, environment, sent by the ministry of environment and forests regarding Coastal Regulation Zone Clearance for the proposed jetties and sea water intake and effluent release facility for the thermal power project of Essar Power Gujarat (EPGL) of Salaya creek at Jamnagar district and; certified copy of the study reports done by National Institute of Oceanography Goa on Marine Environment Management & Strategies for Gulf of Kutch.”

States Pankti, The communication between state and central government plays a key role in making us understand the permissions given to the MNC and whether environmental laws are being violated. However, in the garb of ‘security’, the entire information was denied to me. The government has the right to withhold information pertaining to sensitive coastal security, and can give me partial information. Instead, the PIO and the Appellate Authority (AA) raised questions about my locus standi in the project area and also argued there is no public interest in this issue. It is unfortunate and shameful that the PIO of the department of forest & environment at Gandhinagar is more interested in protecting the vested interest of a MNC rather than protecting environment.”

 Case 2: In Hardoi, UP, IITian and RTI activist beaten up

This incident is not directly related to a RTI application but is about a young IIT student and a budding RTI activist who works tirelessly for RTI applicants and wants to remain anonymous. He files RTI applications on their behalf. His name is Sangh Priya Rahul, a third year student of IIT Kharagpur and one of the managers of the unique organisation ‘RTI Anonymous.’ (www.getup4change.org).

RTI Anonymous is run by a group of young technologists from the USA and India and was born after the brutal killing of RTI activist Shehla Masood. The website states: “`We are concerned that many of our fellow citizens who have filed RTI applications have been routinely targeted and eliminated by vested interests. We just can’t let this continue” and hence have taken it upon themselves to file RTI application on behalf of citizens who are afraid to come out in the open.

Last week, Rahul visited his home town Harnoi in Uttar Pradesh (UP) for a short holiday and decided to renew his driving license. When he approached the window where they click a computerized photograph of the applicant, he was asked to pay a bribe of Rs100. Rahul refused saying there’s no such rule. The RTO official at the window insisted he part with Rs100 as everyone else does so. To this, Rahul stated that he would file a RTI application to find out irregularities being done at the RTO. He also asked all the applicants who had come there to seek driving licenses, not to pay the Rs100. 

At this point, says Rahul, “about 20 RTO officers physically assaulted me and I was left bleeding. As I lay on the ground, I was asked again whether I was ready to pay the bribe. When I refused again, I was mercilessly kicked by the officers.’’ In the meanwhile, Rahul had turned on the voice mail of his cell phone and recorded their demand for bribe. You can listen to this on the YouTube.

Thereafter, Rahul visited the police station to register an FIR against the RTO officers but the police refused to lodge an FIR. After local media coverage, the FIR was filed. Says Rahul, “my fight for corruption has become stronger.”

In the meanwhile, Anand Sharma, one of the founders of RTI Anonymous is campaigning for Rahul, urging citizens to sign the online petition, in order to pressurize local officials to take action against the culprits.

Here’s how Anand has used social networking site and technology to campaign from overseas:

A Facebook Welcome page (Justice for Sangh Priya Rahul) has been created 

A webpage has been created that updates news and progress of the case

An online petition has been created. Says Anand, “every time people click and ‘sign’ this petition, an email will be sent to the official email address of the following four people. The idea is flood them with a deluge of emails and hopefully, that will gain their attention

a) RK Saxena(OSD to the state governor )

b) RC.Misra (secretary - personnel) MOP&PG, New Delhi

c) Director, Dept of I&P.R(Govt of Uttar Pradesh) 

d) Uttar Pradesh Lokayaukta

Also, a video of Rahul has been uploaded on YouTube. The 1.56 minute video describes the entire sequence of events by Rahul himself

(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife. She is also 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. She can be reached at [email protected])

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COMMENTS

R Nandy

5 years ago

Rahul was not beaten up because he is a RTI activist.He was beaten up for
opposing corruption.RTI is a relatively new act but people were also earlier
assaulted/killed for filing/fighting cases against interested parties.This
only points to a deeper mailase of impunity in our country,were the high
and the mightly get away with anything.I don't see any permanent solution unless the general law and order situation improves.With the current law and order scenario a proper whistleblower/witness protection can't also be implemented.

The only saving grace is that the corrupt also are not so well organised and have limited geographical/political influence.

REPLY

P M Ravindran

In Reply to R Nandy 5 years ago

So long as the ICs and judges are corrupt it doesn't matter whether anybody else is corrupt or organised. The law stands dumped!

Umang

5 years ago

I am based in US, there are many people like me who can file RTI from here, we can in turn email the documents or upload it. No local people can target us here for filing RTIs.

REPLY

P M Ravindran

In Reply to Umang 5 years ago

So nice of you. But practically difficult, isn't it?

Kumar Shastri

In Reply to Umang 5 years ago

Will definitely keep you posted,thanks..Most of the govt depts are yet to have the online filing in place.

Kumar shastri

5 years ago

Good case study of RTI and its implementation in our country. Much needs to be done,the act on paper looks rosy but in actual terms not much of help to the citizens of this country. More teeth needed to the act. In the present form,more whistle blowers will be trashed by goons. What use of a act,which is more of a threat than a security.

REPLY

P M Ravindran

In Reply to Kumar shastri 5 years ago

While it can always be argued that the Act requires more teeth, the problem is that whatever teeth is already available is not being used at all. The failure to impose the mandatory penalties under Sec 20 the Act is blatant subversion of the law and the information commissioners have to be punished for treason. Sec 19 of the RTI Act even provides for compensating the applicant/appellant.

Kumar Shastri

In Reply to P M Ravindran 5 years ago

Agree with your comments made,now the question is how are we going to enforce the same,this is where a effective and a strong Lokpal / Lokayukta would have done wonders.From my personal experience with the G.H.M.C of Hyderabad, you ask one information and they give you irrelevant information. This is done willfully or on purpose i presume.

Next is under staffing issue, in my state of Andhra Pradesh, the Information Commissioner has not been given the adequate manpower to do his job effectively, and hence the functioning is hampered. And the political parties take pride in competing with one and other saying that they were the ones to get the RTI act. They have brought it and left it ,there ends the matter.

P M Ravindran

In Reply to Kumar Shastri 5 years ago

I shall still refute this argument about shortage of staff. If an IC has been provided one clerk that should suffice. It is for the IC to go through the complaint (practically less than 1 minute!) and 2nd appeal (may be about 5 minutes!) and decide what should be done. If the info sought is disclosable it needs just a one line order to the PIO to provide the info and another line can be added to provide reasons why the penalty should not be imposed. In fact these can be printed forms where only the name and address of the PIO has to be filled in. Copy of this should be sent to the complainant/appellant also. Then mark it in his official dairy to ensure compliance.

Instead of this what we find is that these idiots/traitors are indulging is all gimmicks, wasting public money, time and finally subverting the law itself. And all of them, to cover up their reprehensible conduct, have the clerks copy the contents of the application, response of the PIO, 1st appeal, response of the FAA in the order and then add their own two sentences as the final order!

P M Ravindran

5 years ago

Please, for heavens sake, do not spread the misinformation about understaffing the information commissions. It is blatant subversion of the law that is happening in almost all the commissions. All the information that has been provided under the RTI Act and even those that have been denied speak volumes for the treacherous nature of our public servants including those in the judiciary. Either Anna or maoists should succeed to bring these thugs, scoundrels and traitors in our offices of governance!

Costa Concordia capsizing— and how it impacts India...

How did the Costa Concordia simply keel over and capsize so quickly after being breached? Slightly deeper waters and she would have simply gone down, with no trace on the surface. Half exposed, she is going to be like that for a long time now, as a daily reminder to an industry slow on pro-active steps for better ships

As a leading provider of maritime workers to the world, not just technical but now increasingly in the hospitality and catering part of matters maritime too, the sinking of the Italian passenger liner ‘Costa Concordia’ impacts India in more ways than just the 300-odd Indian families whose bread-winners worked onboard what turns out to be a case of alleged criminal activity by a master and his complete set of navigating and other officers onboard. Variously being referred to as ‘grounding’ or ‘accident’, it is clear to all that this was an episode which was the result of a top-down failure of any form of responsible behaviour, from the owners and operators ashore to the junior-most officer onboard.
 
Not just the captain. In other words, if the captain was doing something, which was criminal to the point of being insane, then there were enough alternates available to counter such activities. In the so-called “good old days” the concept of being a “crack skipper” did not mean that the ‘Old Man’ was a psycho, but to be frank, it was close enough. And as long as they got the job done, some eccentricities were not just tolerated, but often treated as virtues. A life at sea is not easy, simple as that and the special breed of men and women needed have to be given latitude. It is even tougher on passenger ships, where the cargo tends to be far more demanding, since it is on two feet.
 
Going too close to rocks or shoals for sight-seeing, however, is not part of it. Certainly, there were navigators in the old days, present company included, who would venture to go close to Dieo Garcia to see if they could ‘spook’ the Americans into launching aircraft to chase them away, or head right next to Krakatova to take photographs of the volcano, or, most commonly, hug the Portuguese Coast when in the Atlantic so that the Goans on board could get a glimpse—but even then, in cargo ships with far less windage and certainly lesser potential loss of lives, the distance away from any features was in miles, not metres.
 
The Costa Concordia tried to get to within 150-200 metres of a known shoal. It was over 300 metres long, 35 metres wide, and even trying to turn away from the rocks would bring it closer, because the stern would swing into the turn towards the rocks, even before the bow would swing away—that is the nature of ships. Add uncertain winds close to shore, the natural attraction of land masses and ships, and a novice sailor on a dinghy would stay clear.
 
But then again, the bigger question is, what were the other people doing while this master apparently took actions which were not just stupid but criminal?
 
Consider the following:

 
# Even basic cargo ships are now equipped with data loggers that send live reports on a variety of parameters to shipping company offices ashore. It is SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) to keep a 24x7 watch on the progress of the assets afloat, multi-million dollars worth of ship, cargo and lives onboard. Just one of many reasons—the risk of environmental pollution due to leakage of oil, and the liabilities that follow—keeps people on board on their toes, aware that their every move is not just being tracked for analysis ashore, but also watched and listened to in real time. These parameters include status in live feed on aspects such as navigation, engine, performance, weather routing, even rest hours of crew working on board. Anything even whispered on the bridge or engine room can and is heard ashore.
 
# It is far more stringent on passenger ships. The days when a master of a ship was the last word on what happened on a ship have vanished quite some time back. A deviation from a course laid out, especially landwards into dangerous waters, would typically raise alarms and escalations at a variety of levels onboard and ashore. Analysing by hind-sight is always 20/20, but in this case, there is no way that such a violent deviation to within metres of an island would not have required an escalation to a person ashore with authority over the master. Such a person or persons is known as a DPA (Designated Person Ashore) and every ship afloat has to have more than one, so that action, if required, can be guided also from ashore.
 
# That such alarms on board and ashore were not recognised or responded to can only imply that either the whole lot of the people involved were celebrating a late night, on a Friday, or that this was done with full complicity of all involved. It can also be conjectured that the famous “over-ride” switches came into play, but not only on the ship—this would have happened ashore also. If there is a case that voice and data transmission from a ship is disconnected, then that gives rise to an even higher level of response and accountability. To blame only the master on board in such a case would again be incorrect—there are people ashore whose job it is to see that such  direct violations do not occur.
 
# And finally, most importantly, it is a basic rule of Bridge Team Management, or any form of relationship between senior and junior officers on board, that a junior officer is given the full liberty to escalate or even in some cases countermand an order that is so obviously dangerous. The days when a master could browbeat a junior officer are over—even the junior-most officer on the bridge or crew member on lookout or helm duties, or even the catering person making coffee, has the authority to pick up one of many sat-phones on board and call the DPA directly, to inform him that he can see the porch lights of the houses they are passing, so close are they to the coast.  This authority, the right to call the DPA on 24x7 basis using the ship’s communication gear if required, is printed and pasted all over the ship including in every mess-room and alleyway on every ship.
 
So how then, does this impact India?
 
The now not so recent phenomenon of piracy in and around the Horn of Africa leading to a total revamp on ocean routings in the Arabian Sea has brought ships on international passages unrelated to India to within miles of the Indian coast. There is the most obvious risk of ocean-going ships of all sorts not familiar with Indian coastal waters coming far too close.
 
But more than that, other issues impacting India in context with a far-away sinking are:
 
# Higher insurance premiums which shall be spread across all the fleets of the world as a direct result of the huge claims that shall certainly be raised on the Costa Concordia and their insurers and then their re-insurers. Liabilities on western fleets are much higher and the insurance industry, in its wisdom and no doubt with lesser resistance, is known to spread the downside to the rest of the non-complaining world. Alert readers may recall how the aviation industry globally paid for September 11—similar or even bigger aviation-related disasters in the developing world have never raised such huge bills for the rest of the world to carry.
 
# Disquieting reports on the issue of language unfamiliarity with the Indian crew on board are surfacing through the grapevine, as well as issues of their certification and documentation, which are both not surprising. The saloon and catering crew is also supposed to be trained in basic life-saving and fire-fighting as well as passenger ship safety and crowd management techniques. The reality, as is well known, is something different. A walk to the Shipping Master’s office at Ballard Estate in Mumbai will provide an inkling of how similar it is to the RTOs and passport offices in this context. It is also a fact that Italian maritime certification also leaves a lot to be desired.
 
# A further increase in certification of safety required on board passenger ships, which will impact the already depleted fleet of passenger ships available to us in India for coastal, coast-to-island and inter-island ferries. This is in addition to the ships required for riverine movement of passengers. Viewed in isolation, this is good from the single point objective of safety, but in reality it spells even more delays. The truth on connectivity by sea of India’s islands is pathetic, if not worse, and this episode will further alienate our islands.
 
Bigger passenger ship and ferry disasters take place in Asian and African waters frequently. Hundreds of lives are lost and often this does not spark more than passing attention and one reason is simply because those ships are often more than decrepit. The other reasons are too racist to mention here.
 
But ships like the Costa Concordia, amongst the biggest and costliest passenger ships that ever sailed the oceans, are not supposed to sink like this. Leave aside the human element, ship-design, especially recent passenger ship design, is supposed to take care of one major aspect not too many people are talking about.
 
And that is—how did the Costa Concordia simply keel over and capsize so quickly after being breached? Slightly deeper waters and she would have simply gone down, with no trace on the surface. Half exposed, she is going to be like that for a long time now, as a daily reminder to an industry slow on pro-active steps for better ships.
 
A lot of passenger ships in developed countries are now going to come on the block after this incident, because there is an inherent flaw in their design, which provokes such rapid flooding and then sinking. There is bound to be a major change in design, and that will include much stronger vertical segregation, as against the continuous decks so commonly seen nowadays on cruise ships of this sort.
 
And these old-design ships will land up, where else, but in our waters.
 
That’s the biggest risk we foresee.
 
(Veeresh Malik started and sold a couple of companies, is now back to his first love—writing. He is also involved actively in helping small and midsize family-run businesses re-invent themselves. Mr Malik had a career in the Merchant Navy which he left in 1983, qualifications in ship-broking and chartering, a love for travel, and an active participation in print and electronic media as an alternate core competency, all these and more.)

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COMMENTS

Pawan Duggirala

5 years ago

Good analysis sir. I was still on my Tobu cycle when you quit sea but I sincerely doubt shore monitoring "rest hours of crew working on board" is being done.Professional software (made by Class)available out there to calculate rest hour violations as per the latest regulations is not yet mature not to mention that it has become next to impossible to "manage" crew rest hour violations.

REPLY

malQ

In Reply to Pawan Duggirala 5 years ago

Pawan Duggirala ji, thank you for writing in, and your kind words. I think it is a question of time before the issue of rest hours and fatigue onboard is addressed seriously. On the other hand, living conditions onboard appear to be going from bad to worse too, and that will also have an effect.

rgds/VM

Pawan Duggirala

In Reply to malQ 5 years ago

Cant' agree less sir.Pls keep more such articles coming. There is a serious dearth of good quality journalism specific to the maritime industry especially journalism with a spine.

charles dass

5 years ago

i need a job in ship

charles dass

5 years ago

i need a job in ship

TCS Q3 net up 18.26% at Rs 2,802.77 crore

“Our customer-centric approach in the market and execution rigour on the ground enabled TCS to post a strong financial performance in this quarter. Growth has been broad-based, with all markets and all industries contributing substantially,” TCS CEO and MD N Chandrasekaran said

Mumbai: The country’s largest software services exporter Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) today reported an 18.26% jump in consolidated net profit to Rs2,802.77 crore for the quarter ended 31 December 2011, reports PTI.

In the year-ago period, the company had recorded a net profit of Rs2,301 crore, TCS said in a filing to the BSE.

The company’s total income stood at Rs13,203.99 crore in the reporting quarter, as against Rs9,663.35 crore in the corresponding year-ago period, translating into a growth of 36.63%.

“Our customer-centric approach in the market and execution rigour on the ground enabled TCS to post a strong financial performance in this quarter. Growth has been broad-based, with all markets and all industries contributing substantially,” TCS CEO and MD N Chandrasekaran said.

Among mature markets, Europe led the growth in TCS’ business, with an 18.1% sequential jump in revenues, followed by the US (13.3%) and UK (9.5%).

Latin America business saw significant expansion, with an 18.6% surge in revenues on a sequential basis, followed by India (14.8%) and the Asia-Pacific region (15.7%).

“We continue to focus on managing our operations optimally in the face of increased external volatility. We have increased our operating margins significantly by taking benefits of the growth, exchange movements and by keeping a strong focus on cost management,” TCS CFO S Mahalingam said.

The company added 18,907 (gross) and 11,981 (net) employees during the quarter, taking its total headcount to 2,26,751 employees as of 31 December 2011.

The rate of attrition fell to 12.8% during the quarter.

“Attrition continued to fall for the second quarter in a row to 12.8% as TCS remained the employer of choice in a dynamic market. We continue to hire in line with business demand trends,” TCS executive vice-president and global HR head Ajoy Mukherjee said.

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