US presidential polls: Obama shows some mettle

Like a boxer who is roughed up by the underdog in the first round and comes out swinging in the second and third round, President Obama hit back in both the second and third debates

Like a boxer who is roughed up by the underdog in the first round and comes out swinging in the second and third round, President Obama hit back in both the second and third debates. The second debate was moderated by Candy Crowley of CNN and the third debate was moderated by Bob Schieffer of CBC.


Luckily for President Obama he got on assist at the beginning of the second debate when Candy Crowley made a fact check in favour of President Obama on whether he had talked about the attack in Benghazi being caused by terrorists in his speech in the Rose Garden the day after the attack after consulting her computer. Candy Crowley said yes that President Obama had indeed said it when Governor Romney challenged the assertion. This was actually quite surprising as the initial reaction of the Obama administration was to blame the violence stemming from the anti-Mohammed film for the attack. Further Candy Crowley’s call was also surprising because as she said later she was present at the Rose Garden ceremony where the President made those comments. She later tried to defend herself by saying that Romney used the wrong word—Candy Crowley should have known better. 


This gave a wind to President Obama on which he sailed for the next two debates. Candy Crowley’s call was doubtful at best and was taken out of context. Had she corrected President Obama about his statement in the Rose Garden at that early stage, it is quite possible that the course of the debate could have changed. It is also quite possible that President Obama may have regained his footing .That is now histories call but I am sure that 50% of Americans think it was the wrong call.


But President Obama was thereafter quite comfortable in the town hall format and made an effort to court the women’s vote which was found to be slipping away after the first debate. He pointed out that he was instrumental in the equal pay act for the sexes and that is where the Governor is trying to burnish his credentials with women got caught in a verbal faux pas. He said that when he was the Governor of Massachusetts he had asked the women’s groups for names of women and had gotten binders full of women and that had helped him to choose candidates for positions in his administration .This comment immediately went viral to show somehow that Romney does not respect women but in this political season Romney just can’t get the words right. There was also plenty of aggression in display as President Obama seemed to over compensate for sleepwalking through the first debate. But the Governor held his own and the debate was widely perceived to be a narrow victory for Obama.


The third debate was on foreign policy and President Obama really came out swinging as he accused the Governor of changing his position all the time. He sought to teach a lesson to Mitt Romney when the latter complained that there were less ships than at any time after 1916. Obama said, “Yes and there are less horses and less bayonets and also Governor there are quite different type of ships, there are aircraft carriers and there are nuclear submarines.”That was really a put down.


Similarly he came back when the Governor accused the President of visiting several countries in the Middle East in his first trip but not Israel and the President said, “I went to Israel when I was a candidate but did not go there with a fundraiser”.


In an interesting reversal of roles the Governor talked almost passionately about nation building abroad (he does not want to do it in America) and drew a titter from the crowd when he said that his deficit-cutting plan was on the website. President Obama also provided that America’s military spending was more than the next ten nations combined. Both candidates tried to bring in domestic policy as often as possible. But the Governor tried to tone down the rhetoric. Even on Libya the Governor did not push this case too hard.


It seemed that both sides would be satisfied with a draw and that is what it turned out to be with 62% saying in a CNN poll that Obama would be a strong leader and 60% saying that about Mitt Romney. 


But the polls are getting closer by the day and in the swing states like Florida and Ohio the race is tightening and getting within the Governor’s reach.


Were the ninety minutes of the first Presidential debate ninety minutes that will change America?


(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.)


Are PIOs, FAAs and citizens strangulating RTI Act in Maharashtra?

 About 80% of the Public Information Officers and First Appellate Authorities are ignorant of their duties with citizens adding to the confusion reveals the annual report of Maharashtra State Information Commission

Despite the number of Right to Information (RTI) applications increasing over one lakh since 2010, accounting to 6.5 lakh RTI applications in 2011 and despite 6.1 lakh RTI applications having been replied to, the Maharashtra State Information Commission’s (SIC) annual report has hit hard at the abysmal knowledge and performance by PIOs (Public Information Officers) and misuse by citizens of the RTI Act.


Coming down heavily on the PIOs and the FAAs (First Appellate Authorities), the SCIC annual report, recently released; states that 80% of them are ignorant of their duties under the RTI Act. Qualifying the reasons for  the pending appeals in the SIC, the report states: “unsatisfactory performance by PIOs and FAAs and the trend of public authorities to deliberately appoint junior officers as PIOs and FAAs, thus shrugging off their responsibility of proper implementation of the RTI Act is very worrisome.”


The report has also slammed public authorities for “poor record keeping” thanks to files not being maintained as per norms set by the government. This it says has resulted in delay in disseminating information or not providing information at all, under RTI. The SCIC Report demands strict action against officers who do not maintain documents as per the Maharashtra Public Records Act, 2005, and has recommended police action against them. The SCIC, in its report, has urgently directed all public authorities to: “preserve records in a proper manner through classification of files as per official norms; in cases where documents are not found (an excuse often given by PIOs to RTI applicants) the Maharashtra Public Records Act 2005 should be implemented, a police complaint should be registered against the officers and necessary action should be taken against them.”


The report adds that, “many PIOs/FAAs do not implement the CIC decisions and do not record the reason for having not replied to the RTI applicant within the time frame or delaying the decision in first appeal.”


Lauding the Information Commissions for disposing off 16,211 second appeals from the total 22,339 appeals received, despite shortage of Information Commissioners. The annual report though rues that only 65% of the staff appointments are filled up, contributing to the sluggishness of the RTI movement in Maharashtra. It has recommended that 81,369 PIOs, 54,327 APIOs and 23,161 FAAs are required for full capacity working of RTI.


Mumbai, Pune and Aurangabad lead in the number of second appeals received. Nearly Rs1.5 crore (Rs1,43,09,738 to be precise) had been the RTI application fee collection for 2011. BPL beneficiaries who filed RTI applications amount to Rs13,959.

The SIC report has not spared RTI applicants who flood RTI queries in large numbers in Maharashtra. Some of the observations regarding citizens who invoke RTI are: “too many issues are addressed in a single RTI application; a single individual sometimes files too many RTI applications and misuse of BPL facility of free information through improvisation.” This has resulted in RTI being misrepresented and it has encouraged the corrupt officers gaining ground by denying or dodging information, says SCIC.


Observing that despite six years of RTI (the annual report is of 2011), the report observes that: “citizens ask queries which are not related to RTI; instead of seeking copies of documents, they expect action from the officers; one RTI application sometimes ask for voluminous information from across the state which becomes cumbersome for the PIO; asking for additional information in the first and second appeal, which is over and above their original RTI application; continuously seeking information on the same issue; not attaching the mandatory court fee stamp along with the RTI application thus increasing the work of the PIO.”


The SCIC report also observed once again that poor implementation of pro-active disclosures under Section 4 of the RTI Act and therefore it has made several efforts to direct public authorities to suo motu upload information on their respective websites. This would make citizens aware of the information of that particular public authority and would drastically reduce the number of RTI applications, filed by citizens. It has reminded government departments of the Section 3 of the Maharashtra Public Records Act, 2005, which comes down heavily on officers who do not maintain proper records or who give the excuse of ‘missing’ files.


RTI activist and researcher Krishnaraj Rao states: “Public Information Officers sometime falsely say that the file or document sought by you has been destroyed or disposed of. However, they cannot support this statement with evidence. Now you can use the Public Records Act & Rules to demand evidence or to expose improper and unlawful disposal.”


He further states: “Central Public Records Act, 1993, (Section 9) and Maharashtra Public Records Act, 2005, (Sec 8) lay down strict terms & conditions, and procedure to be followed before destroying any government document. Public Records Rule No 9 (of both Centre & State) says that no public record shall be destroyed without being recorded, reviewed and properly documented. Public Records Act Sec 10 (Maharashtra Sec 9) states that improper destruction, defacement, etc is punishable with five years’ imprisonment and Rs10,000 fine.


By demanding details of the procedure by which this document or file was supposedly disposed of, you can create pressure on government departments to disclose information.”


However, the final question is, why don’t the Information Commissioners slam penalty on the PIOs and ensure that the amount it recovered from them? And what can the SCIC do to ensure that public authorities appoint PIOs and FAAs who are not too junior? On the citizen’s side, can NGOs and RTI activists help in enlightening RTI applicants on being focused in asking information?


(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. She can be reached at [email protected].)


Gadkari, Virbhadra face corruption allegations

BJP president Gadkari and Congress leader Birbhadra Singh are at the centre of corruption allegations that came as a severe embarrassment to both the parties

New Delhi: Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) President Nitin Gadkari and Congress leader Virbhadra Singh were on Tuesday at the centre of corruption allegations that came as a severe embarrassment to both the parties, reports PTI.


As details tumbled out of the alleged dubious funding for a company run by Gadkari, Corporate Affairs Minister M Veerappa Moily promised a probe into it.


To add to the discomfiture of BJP, party MP Ram Jethmalani demanded Gadkari's resignation, asking him not to seek a second term as party President.


Media reports have raised questions over the source of funds for Purti Power and Sugar Ltd controlled by Gadkari.


Media investigations claim that major investments and large loans to Purti were made by a construction firm Ideal Road Builders (IRB) group, which had won contracts between 1995 and 1999, when Gadkari was PWD minister in Maharashtra.


Gadkari has denied the allegations and offered himself and his companies to any probe.


Moily said the Registrars of Companies will "definitely inquire into it... We have not ordered anything. It is all coming in the newspapers. Since it has come in public domain, we told our ministry to make some discreet inquiry to find out what exactly is the matter. Are there any violations of Companies Act?"


When asked by reporters whether the business dealings of Robert Vadra, the son-in-law of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi will also be scrutinised, he said the two issues were separate and there was no link between them.


However, BJP accused the government of being prejudiced and selective in its approach on the probe into corruption allegations.


BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman said the party endorses Gadkari's stand that he was open to any investigation by any competent authority and asked why Congress was running away from probing the allegations against ministers, like Virbhadra Singh, and Vadra.


Congress leader Digvijay Singh, who has been attacking Gadkari, on Tuesday wrote a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, seeking an investigation into the dealings of Gadkari's company.


"Gadkari has also said that he is open to a free and fair investigation. Being the National President of BJP, it is in the fitness of things that his case is properly investigated and he gets a fair opportunity to prove his innocence and clear his name," Digvijay Singh wrote in his letter.


Congress had its own quota of problems with Virbhadra Singh, who is top contender for the Chief Minister's post in Himachal Pradesh, being accused of forgery, money-laundering, bribe taking and income tax evasion.


BJP leader Arun Jaitley alleged that Singh had altered his income tax (IT) account books from 2008 onwards to show a forged, back-dated contract and a highly inflated income of around Rs6.5 Crore.


Singh, the former Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh, had recently come under the scanner following allegations that he had received payments from a steel company which had come to light after raids were conducted on the firm in 2010.


Singh brushed aside the allegations as false, fabricated and incorrect and threatened action against those behind the "malicious" campaign.


BJP's attack on Tuesday relates to a contract reportedly signed by Singh with one Vishambar Das giving his orchard for an annual payment of Rs10.5 Lakh.


BJP alleged that when the diaries of the steel company seized during the raid came out in the open, Singh entered into a back-dated contract with one Anand Chauhan to replace the earlier contract. The amount in the contract with Chauhan adds upto around Rs6.5 Crore over three years.


"This is a case of bribery, conversion of bribe money through money-laundering into real income, forgery by back-dating an agreement," Jaitley alleged, maintaining that this was not just a case of tax evasion.


Attacking Sonia Gandhi who criticised BJP on the issue of corruption, Jaitley said, "Had she known this, she would not have shared the stage with Singh. And if she knew and yet shared the stage, she should not have given a sermon on corruption."


Jaitley demanded probe by a Special Investigation Team comprising three honest police officers.


"This matter cannot be investigated by CBI due to its bad track record. Secondly, in the diaries, CBI is shown as a beneficiary," the BJP leader claimed.


Congress spokesperson Sandeep Dikshit suspected a conspiracy, saying the timing of charges is "questionable".


Pointing out that Himachal was witnessing campaign for the upcoming Assembly elections, he said, "there is far more politics than substance" in the allegations.


Lashing out at Jaitley for making the allegations, Virbhadra Singh said the "malicious" campaign against him is being carried out to divert his attention from the election campaign and create confusion in the minds of public ahead of election.


"The information carried out by a section of the media is factually incorrect and details are being put out to create confusion in the public, and even divert my attention from the election campaign," the Himachal Congress chief said.


Virbhadra Singh said, "the Assessment proceedings are still pending before the appropriate authority for scrutiny. I have not received any questionnaire in this matter from the authority concerned...if there is any query I will reply to everything."


Contending that "their (BJP's) ill-timed malicious campaign cannot replace facts and truth", he said, "I will take appropriate action against those who are involved in such malicious campaign against me after the elections are over."


Maintaining that people know him more than anybody else going by the 50 years of his public life, he said, "I want to tell those trying to defame me during these assembly elections that I leave to the public of Himachal Pradesh to decide my fate ? let the people judge me and let the IT department ask me whatever they wish to."


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