Maharashtra CM dilly-dallies on filling up key state information commission posts. In a reply to Central Information Commissioner’s letter to the state CM, the latter replied that “he would keep the matter in his mind”, and it still remains there without any action
Key posts in the Maharashtra information commission have not been filled by the state government even though there were around 22,000 pending Right to Information (RTI) as of November 2011, according to Shailesh Gandhi, India’s Central Information Commissioner. He further adds that if citizens and activists in the state are not all alert and voice their protest against this callous attitude of the Maharashtra, the RTI Act will die a natural death in the state, with other states following Maharashtra’s lead in killing the RTI Act.
Mr Gandhi had pointed this out in his letter in November last year to the state chief minister Prithviraj Chavan to take up the mater urgently as without key officers at the helm of the state information commission, RTI applications in the state may not be even looked into. The CM had replied that “he would keep the matter in mind”. But months have gone and the matter still remains in the Mr Chavan’s mind.
Here is the letter...
12 November 2011
Shri Prithviraj Chavan,
Government of Maharashtra
Hon’ble Shri Chavan,
I am writing this letter to you, to draw your attention to a serious problem facing the implementation of RTI in Maharashtra. Presently, there are no Information Commissioners for Mumbai and Konkan. The pendency is mounting and if urgent steps are not taken, RTI will suffer a grievous blow, from which it may not be able to recover. I understand that most cases are taking around a year to be decided. By inaction and allowing pendencies to mount, RTI could become dysfunctional and the aam admi in whose name we undertake most activities will stop using this important tool. I am aware of your personal commitment to transparency and RTI, and urge you to please ensure that information commissioners for Mumbai and Konkan are appointed urgently through a transparent process.
It would be a good idea to publish a proposed process and get public reactions and suggestions before finalizing it. It is necessary that the process of selection of information commissioners should be made accountable and transparent. I am briefly outlining what such a process could be:
Various commissions are the checks and balances of our democracy. If appropriate people are appointed, these important institutions would help in delivering democracy to citizens. It may be prudent to select most commissioners who are below 60 years in age. It is also necessary that Commissioners deliver adequate number of decisions and are accountable to people. Information commissioners are not delivering at an adequate pace to meet the requirement. Whereas it is possible to adjudicate 5000 cases in a year—as I have demonstrated—most commissioners are adjudicating less than 50% of this. Those appointed as information commissioners must undertake to deliver an account of their job to the citizens.
Hoping for a positive response, and thanking you in anticipation,
Why did the PMO try a defence that was bound to be exposed within an hour?
Not telling the truth is equal to lying. Not telling the whole truth is also a form of lying. What do you call editing a letter to present a wrong picture that makes you look pure as driven snow?
In my book, that is the worst form of lying and this is what the Prime minister’s Office (PMO) has to done protect the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) government in the coal scandal, which looks ten times as bad as the second generation (2G) scam.
The Times of India has reported two days ago that a draft report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) had uncovered a Rs10.7 lakh crore scandal in the allocation of coal mining blocks to private and public sector companies. The CAG said if the government had auctioned the blocks, this huge amount would not have accrued as unintended benefits to the companies.
The next day, the PMO released parts of a letter from the CAG, Vinod Rai, to the PM on the Times of the India report. The key sentence, plucked out of context, stressed in the PMO’s press release read as follows:
“….Pursuant to clarification provided by the ministry (of coal) in exit conferences held on 9 February 2012 and 9th March, we have changed our thinking….”
Please note the dots in front of and after the sentence, which indicate that the sentence has been excerpted from Mr Rai’s letter.
The Times of India published the full text of Mr Rai’s letter which gives the correct picture and pins the lie of the PMO.
An earlier draft of the CAG report has used the phrase “windfall gain” while referring to the advantage gained by the companies to whom the coal blocks were allocated.
The relevant part of Mr Rai’s letter to the PMO (this part was left out of the press release) says: “The words ‘windfall gain’ were reproduced in our earlier draft as they were used by the joint secretary/secretary, ministry of coal in their notings. Pursuant to clarification provided by the ministry in exit conferences on 9.2.2012 and 9.3.2012, we have changed our thinking on the expression as in many cases the profits have not even begun to accrue.”
The PMO’s press release gives a clear impression that the CAG has said in the letter that it has changed its thinking on the whole issue of ‘Coalgate’.
But the CAG’s letter says it has changed its thinking only on the phrase “windfall gain”. It says nothing about changing its mind on the whole issue
Liar, liar, pants on fire, as the children’s song goes. And is the prime minister’s nose getting longer, like Pinocchio’s nose in the fairy tale?
No one can understand why the PMO was so amateurish and tried a defence that was bound to be exposed within hours. Is not the prime minister surrounded with intelligent people?
A bit of history needs to be recalled.US president Richard Nixon was impeached solely because he told a lot of lies during the Watergate scandal.
And I must tell you what a wag said yesterday about Coalgate. “Not even toothpaste can remove the coal dust from the UPA’s face”.
(R Vijayaraghavan has been a professional journalist for more than four decades, specialising in finance, business and politics. He conceived and helped to launch Business Line, the financial daily of The Hindu group. He can be contacted at [email protected].)
The former managing director of Konkan Railways feels that there is a strong lobby of bureaucrats who are hand-in-glove with multinational companies in order to get hold of the ACD technology, which is an exclusive patented product of the Railways.
Rajaram Bojji, former managing director of Konkan Railway, never got a chance to implement his revolutionary, indigenous, and government owned anti-collision device (ACD) technology in the Indian Railways. Over the past three-four Rail Budgets, the ministers, including Mamata Banerjee had mentioned about ACDs but nothing much has happened. And this year, it was not even mentioned in the Budget by ousted railway minister Dinesh Trivedi.
In addition, there was statement by the Railways that said the ACD technology does not suit Indian conditions. There are ongoing efforts to buy expensive and unproven technologies from abroad. Peeved off by the derailing of an exclusive patented product of the Railways, Mr Rajaram has written a letter to Chief Justice of the Supreme Court requesting his urgent intervention in the matter. Here is the letter...
Hon'ble Chief Justice of Supreme Court,
May I submit a prayer for your consideration and action as your Honour may deem fit, in the name of those innocent lives lost in train collisions with another train or with vehicles at level crossing gates, purely in public interest and in the interest of the young engineers and scientists of India, who love their nation!
Deaths of hundreds of passengers in train collisions, forced ministry of railways to invest and develop India’s own Anti-collision device technology, because international technologies do not provides solutions for many a peculiar situation when such collisions occur on a railway network.
In 2003 the technology got approved after extensive trials and proving tests for spread over five years and finally cleared for large scale implementation on NF Railway. The results on such a large network were evaluated and confirmed that the technology indeed meets the safety standards prescribed by the ministry, by the ministry themselves. The entire development process followed well laid down international standards for such non-signal but efficient in protecting against collision product.
But it did not have a western country’s certificate, because it is our own Indian product. In the world even today there is no product which can compare with the performance levels of ACD as developed and implemented in 2004-05.
National Geographic conducted a simple confidence test on the technology, by asking the inventor to stand between two colliding trains, and see if he would be saved by the ACD technology. They monitored the loco driver so that he does not apply brakes. Of course the challenge was taken, and the technology performed as promised. This is now a world wide circulated event.
But ministry of railways, after proving the product in 2005, on NF railway, suddenly put the deployment of ACD on all other zonal railways, even though they did go to Parliament and promised to implement, and got allocations too.
The ministry further tried changed the specifications for ACD and restarted the research and development effort—only to block wide use of ACD in 2010.
Strangely, people were getting killed, but still giving some vague reasons, the ministry remained indifferent.
Again when large number of passengers got killed in 2010-2011 in train collisions, instead of using own developed solution, hectic efforts to get imported technology at 10 times the indigenous technology were initiated.
Then suddenly in 2012, an arbitrary statement was made that ACD technology does not suit Indian Railways, but western certified technology alone will be adopted at 10 times the cost.
While the ministry can take such complex technical decision, commonsense dictates, the ministry should be able to explain what is the extra protection that the new technology will give to the passengers as compared to ACD?
If the western technology has better confidence levels because it has western certificate, then at least it should do better than ACD, is a question any one should ask and answer.
By design the ACD provides safety in the entire network of railway, but the western technology, which is promoted, protects less than 10% of network!
In fact it cannot compare at all with ACD in providing safety network—the ministry should publish a comparative chart for the public, when they want to spend ten time more to get one-tenth of protection afforded by ACD.
Then confidence level. The ministry tried to justify that the western imported one is more reliable because it has their certification. If so, then the member of the Railway Board who had the courage to arbitrarily condemn the ACD because he lacks confidence in ACD, should demonstrate his confidence, by conducting similar experiment as done National Geographic, for ACD. That means the officer should stand between tow colliding trains fitted with the imported technology. When one is spending ten times more, in midsection, let him demonstrate this expensive technology meets the safety requirement of Indian Railways. The ACD of India certainly has proven many times in many areas of testing. But not the western technology.
1. Is the individual officer technically misleading the ministry, knowing fully well the facts to favour foreign imports at such high costs, while people are dying on tracks, even though we have the solution is ready, and cleared by the Parliament, criminally culpable for the loss of lives or not? It is not one life, more than 500 lives lost since 2005, which is preventable.
2. What made the ministry to mislead the nation, saying on one hand they are taking steps to implement over all zonal railways and then internally block the process? They too are criminally accountable for loss of lives.
3. How and why inferior technology from west is favoured without comparable tests as compared to ACD?
4. ACD is a product into which more than 1000 engineer-years of effort has been put in, making an impact on world scene, which attracted National Geographic and World Intellectual property Office Geneva too to take note. Now arbitrarily the ministry of railways dumping without giving any justification sends a wrong message to Indian engineers and technologists. However well you perform and get recognised even by respected foreign agencies, but still, even an inferior product from foreign country and costing many orders more, is preferred by the Government of India. Is this what we want?
5. What is the lacunae that is discovered suddenly in one year, while the entire development effort involved continuous guidance and direction form the full Railway Board, not one Board, but starting from 2000 to 2004 the various Boards, extended technical committees, RDSO, even TUV Rhineland Germany, Lloyd’s UK, Electronics testing lab of the government of India were all involved to the full satisfaction of all the stakeholders, and no short cut was adopted at any stage in proving the product. It is matter of facts—all test sheets jointly signed by all concerned. Then how come without any provocation, merely to favour imports, an announcement is made ACD is not suitable? Is the ministry accountable to the Parliament? Are they not required to give cogent explanation?
6. The least one expects is the technical member who spearheaded to condemn ACD from his seat in Railway Board, in favour of "superior" by his definition, western technology should now be able to undergo the same test National Geographic conducted with ACD, but this time with trains fitted with the western technology, which he professes.
Saying it is all technical and so we need not look in to this may not be acceptable by those who lost lives and those likely lose again while the railway ministry is in such self-denial mode.
Personally I have nothing to gain whether ACD is implemented or not. The rights are all with the government, as assigned by me. It is not one man’s work. Thousands of engineer-years both public and private produced this product, making our country proud.
It is indeed a very sad day for India, if with all the checks and balances provided in India’s governance, we keep killing people even after the ministry has completed development of solution, but allow one or two officers in own ministry to sabotage national interest, by making the Ministry look like a fool for having invested and developed successfully own solution and then dump it in favour of a very inferior solution at many orders higher cost, not serving the stated purpose of safety too!
I wonder how justice can remain mute, if passengers’ lives are wantonly sacrificed by those who are responsible for safety of the passengers, after assuring the Parliament too, that they have successfully developed Indian solution and would take quick remedial steps.
Hope India and Indian engineers get justice, your Honour!
M Tech. IRSE (Retd), FIE, FNAE, AMASCE
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