Right to Information
Use RTI to inspect schools in your city

JOSH, along with National Commission for Protection of Child’s Rights, invoked the RTI Act to inspect documents as well as infrastructural facilities in government and government-aided schools in Delhi

We keep reading about government schools lacking infrastructure, staff facilities, poorly implemented mid-day meal schemes and poor execution of distribution of school books and uniforms. Now, you can exercise your right to inspect any government or government-aided school to ensure if school children are receiving facilities as per the Right to Education (RTE) Act.
 

Delhi leads in this unique social audit of schools, thanks to dynamic youngsters of JOSH (Joint Operation for Social Help) who along with the National Commission for Protection of Child’s Rights (NCPCR), campaigned for public inspection of government and government-aided schools.

 

JOSH joined NCPCR to conduct social auditing in June 2011. This meant visiting schools for physical inspection of infrastructure and records in the school office. Representatives of the two organisations were shocked to note that they were not being allowed to enter the school premises. Some of them said that “only parents are allowed and not NGOs”. So, JOSH members requested some parents to conduct inspection but they too were denied entry.

 

Saurabh Sharma, member of JOSH then decided to invoke RTI (Right to Information) Act for which he sought advice from RTI experts. He was told that inspection of school records and facilities comes under the suo moto disclosure under Section 4 of the RTI Act. Hence, he need not file a RTI application but should straightway send an official complaint to the Central Information Commissioner (CIC) seeking suo moto disclosure. This in turn would facilitate citizens to conduct inspection or NGOs to conduct social audits.

 

Accordingly, Mr Sharma and his colleague Aheli Chowdhury sent an official complaint to CIC Shailesh Gandhi on 8 June 2011 requesting him that citizens be allowed inspection in schools of the following documents that come under suo moto disclosure of Section 4 of the RTI Act:

   Admission records

   Students’ attendance records

   Teachers’ attendance records

   Budget allocations, sanction issued and expenditure incurred

   Expenditure on educational tours, mid-day meals, VKS/SMC, sanitation, and CEP

   records of disbursements made to students on account of scholarships, uniforms, books,    and all other incentives given under any scheme

   Copies of circulars/notifications/orders received from the Directorate of Education & other departments/authorities from time to time

   Various registers like inspection register, visitor register, movement register

 

They also stated in their complaint, that, “as the education department and the Government of Delhi runs and maintain a large number of schools in the city, they should have all the mandated information mentioned in Section 4, in hard copy at the school premise for the benefit of the beneficiary community. This will be of immense help for them in ensuring transparency and accountability of the functioning of schools.”
 

On 29 July 2011, CIC Shailesh Gandhi ordered the schools that all the documents asked for by the JOSH members should be immediately be opened for public scrutiny. In order that the school is not time and again disturbed for such public scrutiny which may throw its routine work out of gear, it ordered that:  “All schools of the department will have the above noted documents/registers available for inspection by citizens on last working day of each month, from 8am to 10am and 2pm to 4pm for the first and second shift schools, respectively. This information, regarding inspection timings shall be available on the notice boards of all schools.”

 

The order also said that: “The Director (Education), GNCTD, shall send a consolidated report of compliance of the above directions to this Commission by 15 September 2011. The report may be sent to [email protected], with a copy to the complainant.”

 

However, since the CIC order mentioned only school records, the additional director of education (schools) gave an order on 28 October 2011, stating that, “no inspection of the infrastructural facilities has been ordered by any authority and any NGOs or any other person is not to be allowed to carry out any inspection or interactions without the prior authorization of the department.” States Mr Sharma, “this obviously meant that you cannot check any school records since you would not be allowed to enter the school premises. This order was passed after one round of inspection of 60 schools by 15 NGOs who helped in this effort along with JOSH and NCPCR, and CIC Shailesh Gandhi’s decision. The report was highlighted in the media, embarrassing the government authorities. It was found that all of them without exception did not adhere to the physical infrastructural and staff facilities dictated by the RTE Act. Ironically, schools in HRD minister Kapil Sibal’s constituency were also poorly equipped.

 

So, Mr Sharma knocked the doors of CIC Annapurna Dixit against the order of the additional director of education (schools) which came under her jurisdiction.  He sought the inclusion of the words “inspection of infrastructural facilities” to be brought under the ambit of school inspection. On 11 March 2012, Ms Dixit gave the following order: “I therefore am reasonably certain that right to inspect the work being undertaken/completed by schools (i.e. infrastructural facilities provided by schools including  water and sanitation facilities, boundary wall, classrooms and teaching facilities within the classrooms and  mid-day meals, (the inspection of which is required to verify that the facilities do exist) and that they adhere to the prescribed such inspection should be allowed to common citizens. 

 

“Be that as it may, it is felt that such physical verification of infrastructural facilities is definitely required to be undertaken in the larger interest of school-going children.

 

“I therefore direct the Directorate of Education to quash the earlier circular and to issue a fresh circular clearly giving lists of both records and the physical facilities which can be inspected by any citizen under RTI as also the dates/timings when such inspections can be carried out. The information seeker shall, however, not be free to question the school authorities about inconsistency/infirmities/inadequacies, if any, found in the inspected records or work, at the time of inspection. For this, the information seeker may approach the public authority for information while following the due course of law.”

 

These trend-setting CIC decisions have a direct impact to government and government-aided schools in every corner of India, which have to be accountable and transparent. It also gives fillip to organisations like the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) to ensure that schools function as per the stringent RTE norms.

 

(Vinita Deshmukh is 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]

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SEBI has nearly 300 consent applications pending

Between 2007 and March 2012, SEBI received over Rs200 crore as settlement charges and disposed off more than 1,100 cases

New Delhi: Market regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) has nearly 300 applications from various entities pending with it for settlement of various probes through its 'consent' mechanism, an out-of-court-like procedure, reports PTI.

SEBI, which recently changed the contours of its consent procedure, has also rejected over 800 such settlement applications on different grounds since the mechanism was introduced in 2007.

As per the latest data provided by SEBI, it had 298 consent applications pending as on 31 March 2012. Since then, SEBI has passed an estimated ten consent orders, while a few new ones have also been received by it.

Under the consent mechanism, the entities being probed by SEBI pays 'settlement' charges, as also legal and administrative expenses, without admission or denial of charges.

The settlement charges thus collected are remitted to the Consolidated Fund of India.

The total amount received under the consent procedures so far has exceeded Rs200 crore, while SEBI has disposed off more than 1,100 cases through this mechanism so far.

Besides the payment of these charges, the settlement in 142 cases so far included penalties like debarment from dealing in securities market and suspension of certificate of registration for different periods.

Till March 2012, SEBI had approved 1,186 applications settling various kinds of enforcement actions. These include 75 consent applications where consent orders were passed by the Securities Appellate Tribunal (SAT) and the Supreme Court.

The number also includes 70 compounding applications where the compounding orders were passed by the respective criminal courts.

SEBI has also rejected 817 applications and declined to pass consent orders for various reasons, including the reason that the terms of settlement proposed by the applicants were not found adequate by the High Powered Advisory Committee of SEBI (HPAC).

Similarly, SEBI did not accept compounding proposals in 26 cases.

SEBI updated its board about the consent process and related statistics during its last meeting on 26th June.

Earlier in May this year, SEBI streamlined its consent procedure, which was first introduced in April 2007.

As per the new rules, certain defaults including insider trading, front running, failure to make an open offer, redress investor grievances and respond to the summons issued by SEBI have been excluded from the consent process.

The defaults falling in the category of fraudulent and unfair trade practices, which in the opinion of SEBI are very serious which could have caused substantial losses to the investors, would also not be consented.

Under the new rules, SEBI will not consider any consent application if any violation is committed within a period of two years from the date of any consent order.

However, if the applicant has already obtained more than two consent orders, no consent application shall be considered for three years.

SEBI has said that it would not entertain any consent application before completion of investigation or inspection.

In respect of proceedings pending before SEBI, it would not consider the applications filed after 60 days from the date of serving the show cause notice.

Besides, SEBI will now consider a minimum benchmark amount for each category of default and additional amounts will be taken into account for previous defaults/track record of the applicant.

Also, weightage would be given to the stage of the proceeding, nature of the default or violation, gravity of the charge and factors like volume traded, price impact, net-worth, profits made, nature of non-disclosure and its impact.

The consent terms would also include directives such as disgorgement of ill-gotten profits if necessary, while the settlement charges could be raised in serious cases and lowered if "the settlement amount is disproportionately higher considering the nature of violation."

Last year, a civil writ petition was filed in Delhi High Court challenging SEBI's consent mechanism. It was alleged that consent orders did not make a finding of any wrongdoing and did not contain any description of the facts alleged and hence prevent dissemination of very important information among investors.

After hearing the case, the court had passed an interim order, saying: "At this stage only order that can be passed is that depending upon the final outcome of the writ petition and in case the impugned scheme is quashed, appropriate orders can be passed in respect of those cases which have been dealt with by the respondent under the scheme."

Subsequently, the Attorney General of India was consulted in the matter, who suggested that SEBI might write to all applicants with pending applications to inform them that the settlement, if any, would be subject to the final outcome of the matter before the court.

Later, Midas Touch Investors Association also filed an application for impleadment as a party to the proceedings.

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Indian SMEs, South Africa to work on expanding small business base

India will share its experience in developing the SME sector to help it promote economic growth and job creation in South Africa

Johannesburg: More than 70 small and medium scale businesses from India will interact with the local industry in Johannesburg to help South Africa evolve a strong SMEs base to boost growth and job creation, while showcasing their products at the SAITEX exhibition, reports PTI.

India's Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) sector contributes 45% to the country's manufacturing output and 40% of the total exports. It employs over 60 million people.

Indian High Commissioner Virendra Gupta said that India will share its experience in developing the SME sector in South Africa to help it promote economic growth and job creation at the annual South African International Trade Exhibition (SAITEX) next week.

Addressing the media, Gupta said India would be a partner country at SAITEX this year, with the biggest-ever participation to show the kind of collaboration that was possible between India and the countries of Southern Africa which would also be at the expo.

"India will be the most prominent and most visible participant at SAITEX this year," Gupta said, adding that there had been robust trade between India and South Africa despite the economic downturn in recent years.

The trade between the two countries is around $10 billion and it is expected to reach $15 billion by 2015.

"I believe the need of the hour in South Africa is SME development, and I believe this is an area where the engagement between India and South Africa can be expanded considerably," he added.

The participating SMEs will showcase how that sector has helped India to diversify and broadbase the country's growth.

SMEs make it possible for people own businesses and generate real and effective empowerment, Gupta said.

They are also most effective for job creation, which is a pressing challenge and priority in South Africa, he added.

"We in India are ready to share our experience, both in terms of what kind of industrial activity and also policy frameworks need to be developed and our participation in SAITEX should go to underscore what the companies in those sectors can do here."

The Indian delegation will have a composite 500 square metre exhibit at the three-day expo, instead of scattered stalls through the huge venues in the past.

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