Over 5.5 lakh RTI applications were filed in Maharashtra in 2010, but the number of appeals were lower, according to the official annual report. Last week, activists discussed with state information commissioners the ways to make RTI more vibrant and effective
A total 5.5 lakh RTI applications were submitted to various government departments in Maharashtra in 2010, confirming the state's pre-eminent position in the use of the Right to Information and public activism. According to the annual report of the chief information commissioner Vilas Patil, of the total applications, 59,000 (or about 10%) went into first appeals. However, the number of second appeals declined from 23,000 in 2009 to 19,000 in 2010.
These numbers are encouraging. But there are issues to be sorted out to ensure effective use of the Right to Information (RTI) Act. Some of these issues were brought up at a meeting of the state information commissioners with regular RTI users, held at the office of the State Information Commission at Mantralaya on Friday.
RTI users, activists of the Mahiti Adhikar Manch and Maharashtra RTI Council, yesterday appealed to the seven information commissioners who were present at the meeting along with the chief commissioner to "enforce" on public authorities to suo moto disclose information on their websites, which is mandatory under Section 4 of the RTI Act.
In response to this plea, Mr Patil said he had sent a circular to about 350 public authorities across the state, in December 2010, directing them to do this by 31 January 2011. But he reported, sounding quite helpless, "About 60% of the public authorities have not even replied to me. What am I supposed to do? I suggest that RTI activists take up this matter with the chief secretary to ensure its implementation.''
Bhaskar Prabhu, convener of Mahiti Adhikar Manch and Maharashtra RTI Council, suggested that since YASHADA (the Yashwantrao Chavan Academy of Development Administration) had already worked out a format that facilitates monitoring of public authorities regarding suo moto disclosure under Section 4 of the Act, the information commission should use that to keep tab on them.
Navin Kumar, information commissioner for the Konkan Region, suggested that since there was a shortage of manpower, outsourcing to NGOs was a possibility. "Since the state commission has already drawn out a list of the 60% of those public authorities who have defied this rule, citizen groups could file RTI applications on each one of them, and file a complaint with the information commissioners, and we ensure you action."
Aurangabad information commissioner DB Deshpande said, "There are many instances of public authorities having followed this rule and having made their functioning transparent, like MSEDCL (Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company), PMC (Pune Municipal Corporation) and the University of Mumbai. The archaic system of punishment will not help.'' Activist Vijay Kumbhar suggested that if strong action is taken, like "issuing summons or levying penalty", public authorities would be motivated to adhere to Section 4.
On reducing pendency and hastening disposal of second appeals, Mr Kumar suggested that all ten posts of information commissioners should be filled, which means that three more officials should be added to the seven, currently. The average clearance of cases is around 300 per month. Activists lamented that "more than increasing the number of commissioners, the state should provide each information commissioner with full-fledged 'relevant' staff, in order to increase efficiency of disposing appeals." Mr Patil confessed that funds or manpower do not come by very easily.
Pune division state information commissioner Vijay Kuvlekar is said to have succeeded in reducing pendency, with a novel exercise to bringing the applicant and the appellate authority/PIO together on a one-on-one basis, to try and sort out the issue at that level. Of the 300 appeals, 200 were solved by mutual consent. Mr Kuvlekar suggested this could be one of the ways in reducing pendency. However, this line of action was unreasonably criticised by various quarters.
Mr Patil confessed that "most of the second appeals did not adhere to the norms of the RTI Act and were irrelevant. Many of them gave multiple appeals on the same issue, but we are compelled to go through each appeal, which wastes our time." Mr Kuvlekar pointed out that of the 2,700 appeals, 900 appeals belonged to 60 individuals. Mr Patil said that "in Maharashtra much of the information is being successfully given by the public information officers and the first appellate authority. We have not received complaints about documents under the Adarsh case, etc." He says information commissioners are left with a large number of trash appeals.
Regarding digitalisation and computerisation of the State Information Commission's website, Mr Kuvlekar suggested a public-private partnership in which no money will be involved, but citizens and citizen groups come forward to undertake the digitalisation work. Mr Patil confessed that a sanction of Rs18 lakh to upgrade the website is still pending with the state government.
The two-hour interaction session concluded with the information commissioners agreeing to take up the compliance with Section 4 as top priority, with the help of citizens' groups, and towards having a full strength of ten information commissioners.
Group of ministers increases diesel price by Rs3 a litre, kerosene by Rs2 and domestic LPG by Rs50 a cylinder. Government also reduces excise duty on diesel from Rs4.60 a litre to Rs2 litre
New Delhi: The government on Friday hiked the price of diesel by Rs3 a litre, kerosene Rs2 a litre and cooking gas by a steep Rs50 a cylinder, seeking to raise Rs21,000 crore, but slashed customs and excise duties on petroleum products to give up Rs49,000 crore annually. The hike comes into effect from midnight tonight.
The Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM), headed by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, met today and took this decision, which oil minister S Jaipal Reddy said was done to cut down on the burgeoning under-recovery of oil marketing companies. The under-recoveries which stood at Rs1,71,140 crore will now come down by Rs21,000 crore.
Petrol prices that were increased by Rs5 a litre about a month back, were left unchanged today, reports PTI.
Mr Reddy told a news conference that the price of diesel would be raised by Rs3 a litre, the price of kerosene supplied through the public distribution system by Rs2 per litre and domestic LPG by Rs50 a cylinder. He described the increase as "very modest and minimal".
Explaining details of the duty restructuring, Mr Reddy said the meeting decided on elimination of 5% customs duty on crude oil and all petroleum products , that will result in a revenue loss of Rs26,000 crore for the government for the full fiscal year.
The excise duty on diesel has been reduced from Rs4.60 a litre to Rs2 a litre which will entail a revenue loss of Rs23,000 crore during 2011-12. He said it could not be cut any further as the special excise duty and the additional excise duty have been earmarked for the central road fund and the educational cess. On both these accounts, the government will incur a loss of Rs49,000 crore.
The latest price hike would lead to an increase in inflation by around 50 basis points, said D K Joshi, chief economist, Crisil. Inflation now is hovering at around 9%. The government last increased the price of kerosene by Rs3 litre a year ago.
Kerala, said to be the country’s most literate state, is flooded with numerous ‘get-rich-quick’ or ‘earn-huge-return’ schemes offered by money swindlers. While the state director general of police has admitted noticing frauds amounting to over Rs1,000 crore, the worrying factor is that even a few policemen have been found to be involved in these MLM schemes
Following the hue and cry from a number of investors, the Kerala police has started investigations into several multi-level marketing (MLM) companies, two prominent names among these being Tycoon Empire International Ltd and Bizarre group of companies, and has arrested some of the promoters. Many of these cases have inter-state ramifications and have been handed over to the Crime Branch in Kerala.
Media reports have quoted Jacob Punnose, director general of police (DGP), Kerala, as saying that these investigations would be completed within five to six months. Chennai-based Tycoon Empire International had collected Rs370 crore from 50,000 investors, while Bizarre group collected Rs55 crore from depositors. Besides these two names, one other MLM company cheated people of around Rs300 crore. It operated 14 accounts in a private bank, using false names and addresses, and the Kerala police will report this to the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), he said.
Earlier this month, the Kerala police arrested Abdul Arshad, managing director of Kochi-based Bizarre group, which has allegedly duped about 1.65 lakh people in Kerala alone. According to reports, Bizarre (which is created from the initial letters of Bold, Intelligent, Zealous, Ambitious, Responsible, Rich and Efficient) collected about Rs55 crore from one lakh investors through a money circulation scheme, and over Rs53 crore from 65,000 people as investment in the company's super market chain. Sulthan Bathery police has so far arrested 15 people associated with Bizzare, including its executive director, PT Kunjumuhammed, and seven business promoters.
Last week, police also registered cases against Bizarre and Tycoon Empire International. They were to find that one of their colleagues, a sub-inspector, was acting as chief executive of the Bizarre group. Police are now searching for KT Gopinath, the sub-inspector from Thrissure Armed Reserve Force who is absconding.
Bizarre would collect Rs14,250-Rs5,500 as membership charges and Rs8,750 for 8,000 shares in the company's super market. It promised to give discount cards worth Rs10,000 for buying goods from its stores. Bizzare officials created an image that the company was doing good business, by claiming that it aimed to enter the real estate and hospitals segments, and that it even planned to list on the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE). However, the Bizarre management could not keep its promises and investors began to register complaints against it, which led to the arrest of top officials.
According to a blogger, Kerala is flooded with numerous MLM schemes that are duping gullible people across the state. The netizen says, "The interesting fact is that most of these (MLM) companies are headquartered outside Kerala, but the number of agents in those areas is almost nil. Obviously, Kerala is becoming the easy place to trap people in these scams."
Take the example of Tycoon Empire International. The company's owners are from Chennai, but it has promoters from Kerala. According to media reports, the Kozhikode police has intensified investigations into alleged money swindling to the tune of Rs370 crore by Tycoon. Police said the company had collected money under the pretext of products, and that its claims to be an ISO certified company are false.
"The company, in its latest bid to regain the faith of investors, claimed to have ISO certification, but it turned out to be false. The Geneva-based organisation has denied issuing ISO certificate to Tycoon," PP Sadanandan, deputy superintendent of police, was quoted as saying.
Tycoon offered Rs10,000 per month, besides a commission for enrolling new members, to anyone who could invest Rs1 lakh. According to media reports, most of the people duped by Tycoon are from Payyoli and Vadakara regions and Palakkad and Thrissure districts of Kerala. A majority of those duped are police personnel, government employees and teachers.
In other case, police arrested three officials of Verizon Builders, another money circulating company. According to police, they were running an MLM scheme in the name of Verizon Builders and Developers Ltd and Encode Financial Services Pvt Ltd for the past three years. They would collect Rs6,000, including Rs5,000 as membership fee and Rs1000 as share in the business, under the pretext of real estate investment. In addition, the members were promised Rs1,000 for every pair of new joiners they brought with them. Besides real estate investment, Verizon also offered products like insurance and ULIPs.
The MLM companies not only targeted residents from Kerala, but also trapped people from overseas, especially people employed in Gulf countries. In the case of Apple A Day Properties, also an MLM company, after numerous complaints, Kerala chief minister Oommen Chandy conducted a video-conference with victims from Gulf countries. The company has cheated people in the state to the tune of over Rs100 crore, under the pretext of real estate projects and buying flats. Last week, Apple A Day Properties' promoters, Saju Kadavilan and Rajiv Kumar Cheruvara surrendered, and they are in police custody till 30 June 2011.
Other companies who have cheated gullible people in Kerala include names like Nano Excel, UniPay2u, RMP, Visarev. The case of Nano Excel is very interesting. While the company has allegedly looted Keralites of over Rs100 crore, the company has itself complained of cheating by one of its directors. On 16 April 2011, Nano Excel issued a notice informing its distributors to stay away from the director, saying "This is to inform that Patrick Thomas who was director in the company is terminated due to mis-appropriation of funds and management administration. Those distributors still in communication with him, personally or officially, do so at their own risk. We now have our new administration team in our headquarters New Delhi, streamlining all defaults of Patrick Thomas executed so far, and our new administration will be a promising team to service you better from now ,sorry for the inconvenience."
The Kerala police has also warned hotels, restaurants and convention centres across the state, not to allow money-chain companies to hold any meetings on their premises.
Moneylife has consistently warned people about MLM scams, and yet finds the 'get-rich-quick' frauds spreading across the spectrum, from millionaires to the penniless and from the uneducated to the highly qualified. The Kerala example underlines the desperate need to spread financial literacy across the country.