5 Panchayat Secretaries of Madhya Pradesh Slapped with Rs1.25 Lakh Penalty by IC for Denying Information under RTI Act
Early this week, Rahul Singh, the information commissioner (IC) of Madhya Pradesh, slapped a penalty of Rs25,000 each on five panchayat secretaries for deliberately not disseminating information sought by the RTI (Right to Information Act) applicant way back in 2017. He simultaneously ordered the director of panchayat and rural development of the state to conduct training programmes on the RTI Act (in line with Section 19(8)(a)(5) of the RTI Act) through webinars on Zoom and Google Meet for panchayat secretaries.
 
In what can be termed as a sterling example of utmost transparency, the dynamic journalist turned IC Rahul Singh has posted the video of his second appeal hearings on the social media. The RTI applicant and the respective PIOs (public information officers) and FAAs (first appellate authorities) were connected through WhatsApp of their mobile phones. Here is the video link https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=3456710864457321&id=219344112838215&sfnsn=mo
 
A sample of the IC hearing by Mr Singh speaks much about his passion and a sensible attitude towards his job. 
 
He first asked the FAA Mr Meena the reason behind the inordinate pendency of the RTI application for a good three years. Mr Meena replied that he took charge as FAA on 22nd and on the 23rd he got this first appeal hearing. Then he got to know that the PIO had conducted the first appeal on his own, keeping the FAA in the dark. When Mr Singh asked him what action he took, he said he has initiated a departmental inquiry against the PIO as well as another officer who claimed that information asked of an employee could not be given as the person was not employed here at all. (The truth is otherwise).
 
IC Mr Singh then took the PIO DB Singh to task, asking him how he could have told such an untruth and have illegally played the role of an FAA? The PIO fumbled saying that an administrative officer (Sthapana Prabhari) provided him with wrong information. To that, IC Mr Singh stated that, “I don’t want such an irresponsible PIO in the entire state. Besides, you cannot play the role of a mere post office. You need to apply your mind when you receive an RTI application. The Supreme Court has directed that it is the duty of the PIO to give information.”
 
Her further made known to PIO Mr Singh that, “you will retire one day and realise that you may be given the same information. Perhaps that day is not very far and then you will know why this law has been made. It has been made to ensure transparency and stop corruption in public offices and to ensure public accountability. What have you done as per the law in your role as a PIO?”
 
IC Mr Singh then questioned PIO Mr Singh saying, “Why shouldn’t you be penalised? In future you don’t do this and I will ensure that you don’t. This case should not have come to me in the first place. You will remember this for keeping the FAA in the dark. I don’t know about your office, but the state information commission is surely taking action.” He was penalised Rs25,000.
 
RTI applicant Amir Ulla Khan had filed an RTI application on 10 October, 2017, seeking information from various gram panchayats of Madhya Pradesh on the list of beneficiaries for toilets and residential homes under various government schemes comprising Indira Awas Yojana, Mukhyamantri Yojana, Van Kutir Yojana and Pradhan Mantri Yojana for the period between 1 January 2013 and 10 October 2017. He also sought information of the list of beneficiaries under Kapildhara Yojna which provides wells to villagers and details of MNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act). 
 
In one of the cases, the RTI applicant had sought his father’s details of employment, after his retirement. In a strange course of events, PIO TP Singh played the self-styled role of  FAA also and again denied information. He kept the FAA in the dark allegedly to hide information. After RTI applicant Mr Khan filed his second appeal with the SIC, the latter ordered the FAA to take action against the PIO. The FAA issued a show-cause notice on 22 January 2018 to the PIO. The PIO in turn replied that he had no knowledge of the provisions of the Right to Information Act, 2005. Reprimanding the incompetency of PIOs, IC Mr Singh observed that the information which was to have been provided within 30 days, was actually provided after three years. 
 
In a press note released by the SIC office, it states, “Rahul Singh in his order observed that the panchayat secretaries have no knowledge of information displayed on the panchayat websites and MNREGA website under section 4 of the RTI Act, 2005 and later fail to dispense such information to the public. 90% of panchayat secretaries working in the state are unaware of the law which was made to divulge information to the citizens of India. This eventually creates a backlog in the information commission.”
 
The press note also states, “Rahul Singh also observed that, information related to the fund given for development of the village and construction work are stashed away from the public. This later promotes corruption as it happened in the Rewa’s Swakradhan scam. Rahul Singh, information commissioner, believes that the development of villages will happen only when the system becomes transparent with the implementation of the provisions of the Right to Information Act, 2005.”
 
(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 and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.) 
 
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    COMMENTS

    raviforjustice

    2 months ago

    It is truly said that when a dog bites a man it is no news but when a man bites a dog it is news. So now, when RTI Act completes 15 years, we are having to report defaulting PIOs being punished by a CIC. Isn't that itself telling on the sordid state of our information commissions?

    Good to know that Rahul Singh, the CIC, is a journalist. I know of an RTI activist, probably the only one, who got an opportunity to enforce the law as an IC at the Central Information Commission. I had the misfortune of one of my second appeals being decided by him. Not any complicated subject. Just the status of 4 of my appeals pending with the CIC. Even the first appellate authority had directed the PIO to provide the information which was not complied with. Shailesh Gandhi disposed of the 2nd appeal asserting that all available information has been provided.

    So curiosity having gotten better of me, I just browsed the MP SIC website. I find A K Shukla is the CIC and Rahul Singh is the junior most IC, going by the order of the photos posted there. Next, I looked for the decisions. I couldn't find any decisions of A L Shukla for 2020. I could see the list for Rahul Singh with 14 decisions. The decision at Ser 14 was in A-4788/SIC/REWA/2017 and dated 2020-01-06 00:00:00.

    Meenal Mamdani

    2 months ago

    Social media can be useful. This CIC's exemplary action should be shared with all the people who work hard to file RTIs and use the information to expose corruption in govt.

    Perhaps an advertisement in a prominent newspaper in Bhopal will make the citizens of MP aware that they have a dedicated officer working for them.

    We are quick to make a hue and cry about errors/offences, let us now give publicity to the honest, hardworking employees.

    HC Raps Maharashtra for Dilly-dallying on RTI Second Appeals, Orders Online Hearings
    In a twin victory for citizens campaigning vigorously through online RTI Katta, leading to their filing two public interest litigations (PIL) with the Bombay High Court to direct all public authorities in Maharashtra to adopt an appropriate online video conferencing platform for conducting hearings of cases in their respective departments as well as for second appeals under the RTI Act, the High Court has come down heavily on the state government for its negligent attitude in conducting online hearings.
     
    The orders were passed early this week.
     
    In one of the two PILs, the High Court said it was 'surprised' to know that during the period of six months after the lock-down was announced, the state did not consider it appropriate to provide for hearing through virtual platform and  was  still praying for some more time to make the system operational. HC has given the state government three weeks’ time to file a reply to the state government and the state information commission (SIC). 
     
    As for the other PIL regarding online hearing of second appeals under the RTI Act within the 45-day deadline, the Bombay High Court has directed the state government to give a reply in a week’s time as its representative needed more time to make the online video platform 'operational', particularly due to shortage of three information commissioners, making it difficult to conduct online second appeal hearings efficiently.
     
    Ms Shastri, additional government pleader, cut a sorry figure of governance when she pleaded that, “the government of Maharashtra is inclined to adopt an appropriate online video conferencing platform for conducting hearing of quasi-judicial or administrative proceedings; however, the procedure may take some time as a meeting will have to be convened with the concerned departments including the finance department and that necessary guidelines and directions would be issued to all the public authorities thereafter.’’ She mentioned though that “some of the authorities are already conducting the hearings through video conferencing.’’
     
    The HC also mentioned in its order regarding online video platform for all public authorities in Maharashtra that,  “Quite reluctantly, we adjourn the hearing of this PIIL petition for three weeks, as prayed for by Ms Shastri,’’ and hoped that “on the returnable date, she would apprise us regarding the steps taken by the government and thereby not leave any room for complaint to be voiced by the petitioner.” 
     
    As for the PIL regarding the second appeal online hearings under the RTI Act within 45 days of receiving the second appeal, the High Court has made the department of general administration (GAD) as respondent no 2 due to three of the eight information commissioners, not being yet appointed because of which Ms Shastri had mentioned that it would take more time to make online hearings fully operational.
     
    Before the PIL,  the petitioners (citizen activists under the umbrella of the RTI Katta) had served a legal notice to the state government through its chief secretary, urging it to issue appropriate guidelines and directions to all the public authorities (PAs) in the state of Maharashtra to resume at the earliest, all the hearing proceedings conducted by them under the respective statute (Acts) applicable to the concerned PAs, by adopting an appropriate online video conferencing platform as the government of Maharashtra may deem fit. However, no reply came by to this legal notice. 
     
    Similarly, this citizen forum had also sent another legal notice to the state chief information commission (SCIC), against the backdrop of more than 58,000 second appeals and complaints pending before it and so it sometimes takes more than a year for the commission to dispose of the case. The legal notice demanded that the citizens be informed about the detailed roadmap that the SCIC has charted for complying with the precedents laid down by the Calcutta High Court and Karnataka High Court, whereby the second appeal and complaints filed before it are disposed within 45 days from the date.  To this the SCIC had given an unconvincing reply, hence they knocked at the doors of the Bombay High Court.
     
    The citizen activists include RTI Katta founder and activist Vijay Kumbhar, former CIC Shailesh Gandhi and activists Bhaskar Prabhu, Vivek Velankar, Jugal Rathi and Mohammed Afzal.
     
    (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 and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.) 
     
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    sanyalgs276005

    1 month ago

    Very bold decision by IC

    On 350th RTI Katta, Citizens Urged To Demand Placing of All RTI-related Information in Public Domain
    “While the implementation of the RTI Act is rightly credited to the relentless crusade by noted activists around the country, citizens now have a responsibility to put pressure on the government for suo motu disclosures by every public authority, in order to completely eliminate the need for filing RTI applications,” said Prithiviraj Chavan, former chief minister of Maharashtra and former Union minister of department of personnel & training (DoPT), who was in-charge of RTI (Right to Information) Act, in his address  as the chief guest at the 350th RTI Katta online meeting. He said that the dilution manifests glaringly in the way the autonomy of information commissioners has been 'reduced.’
     
    Accusing the present central government of  'dismantling the RTI Act,' and 'strangulating information,’ Mr Chavan drew attention to the secrecy surrounding the PM Cares Fund and the Rafale case as unfortunate examples, stating,  “not giving information has become a habit with the government and it is bent on strangulating information. In the Rafale case, not only did the government deny information under RTI, but it also opposed the formation of a joint parliamentary committee as it would have been bound by the rules to give information even if it didn’t do so under RTI. A joint parliamentary committee is like a mini Parliament and is another route to transparency. However, this was also denied.’’
     
     
    Information being power, Mr Chavan said that citizens should not have to write RTI applications anymore. Stating that “RTI is an interim step towards transparency.” 
     
    The former chief minister of Maharashtra also rued that the onus to procure information falls on the citizens as they have to go through the exercise of filing RTI applications. Instead, it is high time they got information without asking for it as the respondents are the trustees of public money and for that the government should place all information in the public domain. 
     
    Mr Chavan also regretted that “In India a government officer is called a government servant and that’s the reason why he thinks his allegiance is towards his political masters. In contrast, in the UK, he is called a public servant and so he is automatically answerable to the public.’’ 
     
    He admonished the mindset of most information commissioners, who were former bureaucrats and continue to carry the mindset of 'pleasing their masters.’ 
     
    Mr Chavan has himself used RTI several times but was appalled at the rejections that he had received. He reiterated that it was thanks to the then national advisory council’s president Sonia Gandhi’s efforts that the Congress implemented the historic RTI Act, thereby nullifying the Official Secrets Act of the British Raj. 
     
    Mr Chavan confessed that, even at that time, there was a lot of opposition from politicians of all parties including Congress because of which “time was wasted in bringing RTI earlier,’’ but he thanked noted activists like Aruna Roy, Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal for their firebrand activism because of which “the government realised that it can’t falter on the issue.  Thereafter too, they prevailed upon the government for proposing to delete file notings and the government had to withdraw this amendment.’’
     
    The RTI Katta Rolls On
     
     
    The unique citizen initiative by Pune-based RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar, of holding the RTI Katta every Sunday at a prominent public garden in Pune reached its historic 350th week last Sunday. What’s commendable is that the RTI Katta smoothly rolled over from the public garden on to the Zoom platform. Thus, the campaigns that were steered there, which included the controversial and mega DSK scam amongst others, have become stronger through the online Katta. Several petitions and legal notices have been sent to various state government authorities for appointment of information commissioners, for online hearings of second appeals and for more transparency in public authorities under the RTI Act.
     
    Mr Kumbhar on the 350th RTI Katta anniversary stated,  “An RTI Katta in a public garden which is accessible to the common man was the urgent need of the hour. Until then, all conferences and events relating to the RTI were held in posh hotels and public halls, thus depriving the common of being armed with information and guidance to use the RTI. Therefore, I formed the RTI Katta which is a forum for anyone who wants to express his thoughts and problems. We do not work on behalf of the participants here but encourage them to use RTI by guiding them. As a result, so many people who were fighting shy of facing government officers have developed the courage to meet these officers in their offices and get their issues sorted out.’’
     
    More power to this RTI Katta, a unique mass movement in the country.
     
     
    (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 and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)
     

     

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    m.prabhu.shankar

    2 months ago

    Excellent Excellent.

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