RTI Judgement Series
RTI Judgement Series: PIOs at PMO and MEA clueless about information

The CIC remarked that it was a sad reflection on two of the most important offices in India if the knowledge of where the information is held is not available in both places. This is the 172nd in a series of important judgements given by former Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi that can be used or quoted in an RTI application

The Central Information Commission (CIC), while allowing an appeal, directed the Public Information Officers (PIOs) at the Prime Minister's Officer (PMO) and Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) to provide information about selection of media, expenses during the PM's foreign tour to BRICS Summit and Kazakhstan. The PIO at PMO simply forwarded the Right to Information (RTI) application to MEA, despite having available on its records the information sought by the applicant.

 

While giving the judgement on 13 December 2011, Shailesh Gandhi, the then Central Information Commissioner said, "If a government does not know where its information lies on such important matters it should be a cause of concern to everyone. The PIO of MEA is directed to transfer the relevant queries back to PIO of PMO. The PIO of PMO is directed to provide the information as per the available records to the appellant".

 

Gurgaon (Haryana) resident Aseem Takyar, on 18 April 2011, sought from the PIO information regarding selection process and expenses incurred for media persons during the Prime Minister's foreign tour to BRICS Summit and Kazakhstan. Here is the information he sought and the reply provided by the PIO under the RTI Act...

 

1. For the sake of transparency, provide information containing copies of all noting, decisions, and correspondences take place for choosing and ultimately selecting 'media persons' to accompany, Prime Minister of India recent official foreign tours for 'BRICS' Summit and 'Kazakhstan'.   

PIO's reply—The selection of media representatives, who accompany the Prime Minister on his foreign tours, is undertaken by the Prime Minister's Office (PMO). XP Division (i.e. External Publicity Division) of the Ministry makes necessary logistical arrangements and also takes care of briefing the journalists.

 

2. Provide information as to what basis particular organisation and which empowered to finalise the whether any nomination solicited from media persons were short listed section or ministry of Government of above process. Who makes the necessary arrangement for the media?

PIO's reply—The selection of media representatives, who accompany the Prime Minister on his foreign tours, is undertaken by the Prime Minister's Office. XP Division of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) makes necessary logistical arrangements and also takes care of briefing the journalists.

 

3. Provide information regarding particulars of each media person accompanied both tours and cost of traveling, accommodation and other facilities, if any, for media persons, provided by which particular department.         

PIO's reply—XP Division of the Ministry extends necessary facilitation to the media and takes care of briefings to ensure suitable coverage. Facilitation includes procurement of visas, media accreditation in host country, establishment of media centres, arranging hotel accommodation (paid for by journalists) and media briefings. The journalists travel on the VVIP flight, and they are not required to bear any travel cost. A list of the media persons accompanying Prime Minister on the twin visits to BRICS Summit and Kazakhstan is enclosed at Annexure.

         

Not satisfied with the PIO's reply, Takyar filed his first appeal. In his order, the First Appellate Authority (FAA), said, "The CPIO of the Ministry of External Affairs had responded to the applicant's letter of 18 March 2011 vide his letter no.RTI/551/361/2011 dated 3 June 2011 forwarding the information available with the Ministry of External Affairs. I am satisfied that the CPIO has forwarded the information requested by the applicant that is available with this Ministry".

 

Citing unsatisfactory reply from the PIO and FAA order, Takyar, the appellant approached the CIC with his second appeal.

 

During the hearing before Mr Gandhi, the then CIC, the PIO stated that the RTI application was originally filed with PMO, which was transferred to the MEA. This implies that the PMO did not hold the information and that the information is held by MEA.

 

The PIO of MEA categorically stated that he held some of the information, which has been provided to the appellant and the balance information should be with the PMO.

 

Mr Gandhi said, "The Bench feels that it is a sad reflection on two of the most important offices in India if the knowledge of where the information is held is not available in both places."

 

While allowing the appeal, he then directed the PIO of MEA to transfer the RTI Application back to the PMO mentioning the points on which points information would be with PMO. The PIO at PMO was directed to provide the information as per the available records to the Appellant as per the provisions of the RTI Act.  

 

CENTRAL INFORMATION COMMISSION

 

Decision No. CIC/SG/A/2011/002605/16276

http://rti.india.gov.in/cic_decisions/CIC_SG_A_2011_002605_16276_M_72217.pdf

Appeal No. CIC/SG/A/2011/002605

 

Appellant                                            : Aseem Takyar,

                                                            Udyog Vihar, Gurgaon, Haryana.

                  

Respondent                                        : Manish Chauhan

                                                           Public Information Officer & Director (RTI)

                                                            Ministry of External Affairs

                                                            619- Akbar Bhawan

                                                            Chanakyapuri

                                                            New Delhi-110021

User

GM crops-Part2: The myth about food security

The hype for promoting GM is that it increases food security. India produced bumper stocks of food grains, all without GM, yet 200 million people are hungry. GM will not address the issues of poverty, poor storage and corruption, which deprive the poor of food. This is the second part of a three-part series|

GM and food security:
GM is now encountering consumer resistance to its further expansion in most of the developed world. Given its huge profitability for companies who own or license patented GM seeds, there is enormous pressure for introducing GM crops in the developing world. In India, field trials and commercial release is being sought for as many as 17 GM crops. This includes food crops like rice, wheat, jowar, sorghum, groundnut, corn, potato, tomato, cabbage, cauliflower, okra, brinjal, mustard, watermelon, papaya and sugarcane.
 

The Technical Expert Committee (TEC) majority report observes that GM crops are mainly used for oil or animal feed elsewhere and states, “…Nowhere are Bt trans-genics being widely consumed in large amounts for any major food crop that is directly used for human consumption. The TEC could not find any compelling reason for India to be the first to do so”.
 

The hype for promoting GM is that it increases food security, whereas the truth is that GM has nothing to do with food security. India produced bumper stocks of food grains, all without GM, yet 200 million people are hungry even though buffer food stocks are two and a half times the official requirement. Food grains have rotted or been siphoned out of an inefficient and corrupt Public Distribution System (PDS), whose leakages have been estimated at 45%. The Agriculture Minister himself estimates food wastages cost Rs4500 million. Technology, GM or otherwise, is not the answer for this.
 

Even in countries where GM has been widely adopted, such as in the US, the food insecurity in 1995 was 12% (before the introduction of GM crops) and rose to 15% in 2011. In Paraguay, though nearly 65 % of the land is under GM, hunger has increased from 12.6% in 2004-06 to 25.5% in 2010-12. It is essential to question the unsubstantiated hype that GM will contribute to food security and look at the real causes of food insecurity. GM will not address the issues of poverty, poor storage and corruption, which deprive the poor of food. Nor does it provide the most effective way to increase production. A United Nations 2011 press release on its report “Agro-ecology and the right to food” states that: “Small-scale farmers can double food production within 10 years in critical regions by using ecological methods.” Such agro-ecological methods are also safer from an environmental and health perspective.  
 

GM effects on health and environment: The hype is that GM foods are safe because US citizens have been eating them since 1996 and nobody has dropped dead because of GM food consumption. The truth is that GM food was approved in that country without any mandatory labeling as it was deemed to be ‘substantially equivalent’ to non-GM food. Michael Taylor, was the deputy commissioner for Policy at the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). He later became vice-president of Monsanto and is again back as deputy commissioner for Foods at USFDA. This is just one of the many examples of the revolving door in the US between GM regulators and GM corporates. Without labeling, it is impossible to pinpoint impacts and liability.
 

US consumers are now demanding it and GM corporates are strenuously resisting it. While it may take decades to prove the link between GM and illness, as happened for tobacco, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine has stated. “There is more than a casual association between GM foods and adverse health effects ... Multiple animal studies show significant immune dysregulation, including upregulation of cytokines (protein molecules involved in immune responses) associated with asthma, allergy, and inflammation”. 
 

In their critical review on “Health risks of genetically modified foods 2009”, A Dona and IS Arvanitoyannis of the Dept of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology, University of Athens, states that “Most studies with GM foods indicate that they may cause hepatic, pancreatic, renal and reproductive effects and may alter haematological (blood), biochemical, and immunologic parameters, the significance of which remains to be solved with chronic toxicity studies”.
 

On the other hand, regulators, who clear GM crops, emphasise that there are no proven health risks. Those who question their safety, point out that US regulators do not mandate independent long-term studies but rely on industry studies. These are of only 90 days on rats, which is equivalent to 10 to 15 years of a human lifespan and too short to show organ damage or cancer. One of the first long term studies (two years on rats) by French professor Gilles-Eric Seralini, at the Committee for Research & Independent Information on Genetic Engineering (CRIIGEN), showed that incidence of tumours and mortality were several fold higher for rats fed GM herbicide tolerant maize and its related herbicide than for the control group. The study has been criticised by some scientists and supported by others, but certainly reinforces the need for long-term independent research before GM approvals and the need for post release monitoring.
 

The TEC of the Supreme Court has recorded that the Ministry of Agriculture has admitted that segregation of GM and non GM food will not be feasible in India. This would effectively impinge on the rights of consumers to GM free food, at a time when the safety of GM food and any overwhelming need for it are yet far from being conclusively established. This apart, reports (Charles Benbrook and others) point to the fact that herbicide use has increased significantly in the US after it adopted GM corn, soybeans and cotton, whereas US insecticide use has decreased only slightly but is still high compared to European countries,  which do not use GM crops. These studies negate the claim that GM reduces pesticide use.
 

Similarly, though the hype is that there is no environmental damage, the truth is that there are almost 200 studies pointing to possible adverse impacts on soil microbes, agriculturally beneficial species such as pollinators and pest controllers, unintended gene transfer, imbalances developing due to GM resistant pests and plants. Extracts of all these studies are available over here. There is often a lack of understanding of the difference between technology and ecology. The effects of the former are limited and the technological applications can be halted or corrected as evidence of harm emerges. Ecological processes consist of highly complex inter-relationships, and any major intervention in living ecosystems may take time to manifest and are virtually impossible to predict, control or reverse.    
 

In the absence of conclusive proof of safety, the Precautionary Principle embodied in the United Nations Rio Declaration needs to be adopted. This is all the more necessary in view of the fact that GM has not yet shown significant benefits that make it worth incurring these risks. It is significant that introduction of new GM crops in the US is languishing and that most other countries have either rejected or severely restricted GM. India would be wise to move with equal caution. 
 

You may want to read..

GM crops-Part 1: The truth about genetically modified foods

 

(Dilnavaz Variava has been involved with the environmental movement in India for close to 40 years. She has held many roles, including CEO of WWF-India, Vice-President of the Bombay Natural History Society-BNHS, and on several apex committees of the Govt of India. Since about 10 years, ever since she was asked to Chair the Working Group on the Ecological Foundations for Sustainable Agriculture for a Govt of Maharashtra Expert Group on Agriculture,  she has been closely involved with this subject. She is  Honorary Convener of the Consumer Group of the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture- ASHA)

User

The story of filing online RTI is only getting happier

After several weeks of disgust over political parties trying to slip out of the RTI Act, good news beckons for citizens in India and abroad who want to file RTI online

Do you want to seek information under Right to Information (RTI) about public distribution of grains or demand a copy of your answer sheet in your Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) examination or seek details about a water conservation project of a gram panchayat, at the click of the mouse? Now, the Department of Food Supplies and Distribution, UPSC and the Ministry of Panchayati Raj—in fact 37 ministries or departments of the central government—have opened up the facility to file RTI online (see PDF at end of this piece for the list of the 37 ministries/ departments). The circular issued by the Department of Personnel & Training (DoPT) under the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances & Pensions, on 30 July 2013, had claimed that by August 2013, all ministries and central government departments would have the online RTI filing facility. But that is yet to materialise. Despite this convenience that will further strengthen and make the use of RTI easy, there has been no awareness of the programs by the government.
 

In order that the Central Public Information Officers (CPIOs) and Appellate Authorities (AA) who are the first contact points for RTI applicants, the circular recommended that, “It is again requested that training to all the CPIOs and First Appellate Authorities (FAAs) may be provided by the concerned Ministry/ Department, through the officials trained by DoPT or National Informatics Centre (NIC). If required, further training can be provided by DoPT or NIC, on the request of the concerned Ministry/ Department. User name/ password to all the CPIOs and FAAs are to be provided by RTI Nodal Officers of the concerned Ministry/ Department. It is imperative that the RTI Nodal Officers update the details of CPIOs/ FAAs in the system and issue user name and password to them at the earliest.’’
 

As for Indians residing abroad, thanks to the persistent efforts of noted RTI activist Commodore Lokesh Batra (retd.) since last five years, now 2,639 public authorities in Indian missions abroad, are open for online RTI applications along with fees via e-IPO. They cover various central government departments and ministries. Batra is also campaigning for availability of e-IPO facility for those residing in India too.
 

States Batra, “I sent 130 emails to Indian Missions  between 19th to 24th August by searching their email ids in this link. As on 24 August 2013; I found 37 of the total 125 Missions (30%) have indicated e-IPO information on their website. During this process, I noticed the poor quality of information posted on RTI links on websites of majority of Missions. While many others have done a good job, searching RTI link within the website of Missions is itself is a job. I feel all of them should display the RTI link on HOME page of each Mission's website.’’
 

Following is a sample of the emails Batra sent, reflecting his relentless efforts towards making use of RTI, cyber savvy. This one is to the deputy chief of mission, Vietnam and crisply contains the backdrop of his campaign and its fruition:
 

From: Lokesh Batra [email protected]

To: Vietnam- Deputy Chief of Mission ; HOC ; Counsellor [email protected]

Cc: "[email protected]"

Sent: Friday, August 23, 2013 10:01 PM

Subject: Fm.Commodore Lokesh Batra: Creating awareness among ‘Indian Citizens’ abroad’ regarding facility of eIPO Payment of RTI Fee in FE, under RTI Act, 2005

 23 August 2013

 To,

The Central Public information Officers (CPIOs)

Indian Missions / Posts

 

 Sub: Creating awareness among ‘Indian Citizens’ abroad’ regarding facility of eIPO for Payment of RTI Fee in FE, under RTI Act, 2005

 

 Dear Madam/Sir,

 1. I am writing to draw your attention to the MOIA and MEA circular letters on the subject “Creating awareness among ‘Indian Citizens’ abroad’ regarding facility of eIPO for payment of RTI Fee in FE, under RTI Act, 2005”.

2. The details of two circular letters are as follow:

(a) MOIA circular letter F.NO.OI.11016/22/2013-FS dated 23 July 2013 and

(b) MEA circular letter No.RTI/558/01/2012 dated 02 August 2013.

3. The Government of India on 22 March 2013 had launched ‘Electronic Indian Postal Order’ (more known as e-IPO) to facilitate payment of RTI fee from abroad in FE by the Indian Citizens’ abroad.

4. Though it has been 05 months since the government facilitated e-IPO as mode of payment of RTI Fee by ‘Indian Citizens’ abroad’; I have not seen this information being disseminated on your mission’s website.

5. The website of Indian Embassy in Moscow has already included this information in their RTI link as below: http://www.indianembassy.ru/index.php/en/embassy/right-to-information  

6. I humbly request you to implement the directions contained in the MOIA and MEA circulars respectively, in letter and spirit. MOIA & MEA letters attached.

 

Yours’ Sincerely,

[Commodore Lokesh K Batra (Retd.)]

Social & RTI Activist

BringChangeNow

H-02, Sector-25, Jalvayu Vihar, Noida-201301, INDIA

 

Steered by Batra, hundreds of Indians living abroad had joined in his campaign. Unarguably, efforts for online RTI application and payment have been achieved single-handedly by Batra. For earlier stories, see these links:

2013 wakes up to online payment of RTI applications for Indians abroad

Near victory for Indians abroad for filing online RTI applications

 


 

SrNo

Mission

eIPO link

Remarks

1

Afghanistan

No

 

2

Algiers

No

 

3

Angola

No

 

4

Argentina

No

 

5

Armenia

No

 

6

Australia

No

 

7

Austria

No

 

8

Azerbaijan

Yes

(But no RTI Link)

9

Bahrain

No

 

10

Bangladesh

No

 

11

Belarus

No

 

12

Belgium

Yes

 

13

Bhutan

Yes

 

14

Botswana

 

No RTI Link seen

15

Brazil

No

 

16

Brunei Darussalam

No

 

17

Bulgaria

Yes

 

18

Cambodia

No

 

19

Canada

Yes

 

20

Chile

Yes

 

21

China

Yes

 

22

Colombia

Yes

 

23

Congo

No

 

24

Ivory Coast

No

No RTI Link seen

25

Croatia

Yes

 

26

Cuba

No

 

27

Cyprus

Yes

 

28

Czech Republic

Yes

 

29

Denmark

No

 

30

Egypt

 

Website not opening

31

Ethiopia

No

 

32

Fiji

No

 

33

Finland

 

RTI link: Blank

34

France

Yes

 

35

Germany

Yes

 

36

Ghana

No

eIPO info under announcement

37

Greece

No

 

38

Guatemala

No

 

39

Guyana

No

 

40

Hungary

No

No RTI Link seen

41

Iceland

Yes

 

42

Indonesia

No

 

43

Iran

No

 

44

Iraq

 

Web Site link not available

45

Ireland

Yes

 

46

Israel

 

Website not opening

47

Italy

No

 

48

Jamaica

No

 

49

Japan

Yes

 

50

Jordan

No

 

51

Kazakhstan

No

 

52

Kenya

No

 

53

Korea (DPR)

 

Web Site link not available

54

Korea (ROK) Seoul

No

 

55

Kuwait

Yes

 

56

Kyrgyzstan

No

 

57

Laos

Yes

 

58

Lebanon

No

 

59

Libya

No

 

60

Madagascar

 

RTI Link still under construction

61

Malaysia

Yes

 

62

Maldives

Yes

 

63

Mali

Yes

 

64

Mauritius

No

 

65

Mexico

No

 

66

Mongolia

No

 

67

Morocco

No

 

68

Mozambique

No

 

69

Myanmar

No

 

70

Namibia

No

 

71

Nepal

No

No RTI Link seen

72

Netherlands

No

 

73

New Zealand

Yes

 

74

Niger

 

RTI Link has no Info

75

Nigeria

No

 

76

Norway

No

 

77

Oman

Yes

 

78

Pakistan

No

 

79

Palestine

No

 

80

Panama

No

 

81

Papua New Guinea

No

 

82

Peru

No

 

83

Philippines

No

 

84

Poland

No

 

85

Portugal

No

 

86

Qatar

No

 

87

Romania

Yes

 

88

Russia

Yes

 

89

Saudi Arabia

Yes

 

90

Senegal

 

Website not opening

91

Serbia

Yes

 

92

Seychelles

No

 

93

Singapore

Yes

 

94

Slovak Republic

Yes

At the bottom of RTI Link

95

Slovenia

No

 

96

South Africa

No

 

97

South Sudan

 

Web Site link not available

98

Spain

Yes

 

99

Sri Lanka

Yes

 

100

Sudan

No

 

101

Suriname

No

 

102

Sweden

Yes

 

103

Switzerland

 

Website not opening

104

Syria

No

 

105

Tajikistan

No

 

106

Tanzania

No

 

107

Thailand

Yes

 

108

Trinidad & Tobago

No

 

109

Tunisia

Yes

 

110

Turkey

Yes

 

111

Turkmenistan

 

Web Site link not available

112

Uganda

No

 

113

Ukraine

No

 

114

United Arab Emirates

No

 

115

United Kingdom

Yes

 

116

United States of America

Yes

 

117

UN-PMI (CD) Geneva

No

 

118

UN-PMI (Geneva)

No

 

119

UN-PMI (New York)

No

 

120

Uzbekistan

No

 

121

Venezuela

No

 

122

Vietnam

No

 

123

Yemen

No

No RTI Link seen

124

Zambia

No

No RTI Link seen

125

Zimbabwe

No

No RTI Link seen (Only RTI Act Link available)

Compiled by: Commodore Lokesh Batra (Retd.)

 

(Vinita Deshmukh is the consulting editor of Moneylife, 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 and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”)


 

User

COMMENTS

nagesh kini

4 years ago

Thanks Vinita for this vital piece of information that will go to make RTI applications much more simpler for the common man.
Sending the amendment to a Select Committee is just another way of putting it on the back burner - an exercise not to antagonize the educated voter who has been fed the info that RTI is a 'aam admi ke sath, congress ka hath' phenomenon!

nagesh kini

4 years ago

Thanks Vinita for this vital piece of information that will go to make RTI applications much more simpler for the common man.
Sending the amendment to a Select Committee is just another way of putting it on the back burner - an exercise not to antagonize the educated voter who has been fed the info that RTI is a 'aam admi ke sath, congress ka hath' phenomenon!

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