As CBI Books Top Brass of Mumbai Airport for Fraud, CIC’s Volte Face Shields Them on Accountability
Last week, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) booked the chairman of the GVK group of companies, GVK Reddy and his son, Sanjay Reddy, managing director of the Mumbai International Airport Ltd (MIAL) for financial fraud to the tune of Rs705 crore, in the running of the airport, thus emphasising that such public-private partnerships must be transparent in their functioning, as they get 'substantial' aid or collaboration from the government and are answerable to the public under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
 
Ironically, a sustained RTI campaign by Pune-based RTI activist Sanjay Shirodkar, since April 2008, to bring MIAL as a public authority under the Act, bore fruit in 2011 when chief information commissioner (CIC) Sushma Singh ordered that MIAL is a public authority under the RTI Act. MIAL is in joint venture with the Airports Authority of India (AAI) for upgradation and maintenance of the Mumbai airport.
 
Curiously though, nine years later, on 18 May 2020, CIC Suresh Chandra reversed Ms Singh’s order stating that it is NOT a public authority. It is interesting to recall that, after the 2011 CIC order, MIAL went to the Delhi High Court to contest the claim that it is a public authority under the RTI Act. However, Delhi High Court sent the petition back to the CIC in 2019. Nine years later, after the CIC order, on 18 May 2020, CIC Mr Chandra orders that it is a private entity! Now, if this is not a rude joke on the public, then what is?
 
Mr Shirodkar, who is frustrated with the alleged nexus between government authorities and private parties, reeking in his view, of 'crony capitalism’, states, "it is so discouraging and shocking that information commissioners are so far apart in their connotation of what constitutes a `public authority’? How can a CIC, nine years later overturn an order which is clear as crystal on why his colleague previously declared it as a public authority? Now, with the CBI raid, it becomes even more crucial that we need RTI to demand transparency and accountability from MIAL. Instead, I have been slapped with tarikh pe tarikh for nine years and the CIC in May 2020 slams the door on my face."
 
Shirodkar had requested the following information under the RTI Act:
  • As per Airports Authority of India notification (File No. AAA/PERS/EDPA/Reg/2002) who is the “Competent Authority” at CSIA-Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, Mumbai-400099.
  • As per notification (File No. AAA/PERS/EDPA/Reg/2002)and mentioned in Section 18 of it, please provide a copy of policy guideline/government resolution/notification regarding parking or waiting of any vehicle of carriage within the airports and civil enclaves at CSIA-Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, Mumbai-400099.
  • Policy guideline/government resolution/notification, if any exemption given under Section 18 of Airports Authority of India notification (File No. AAA/PERS/EDPA/Reg/2002) to any one by the 'Competent Authority' at CSIA-Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, Mumbai-400099.
 
The MIAL official replied that it was not a public authority and that the RTI Act was not applicable to that organisation. Mr Shirodkar filed several RTI applications since 2008 and finally filed a second appeal. The CIC order by Sushma Singh in her order of 30 May 2011 ordered that: "we find no hesitancy in declaring MIAL as a public authority under clauses (d) and (i) respectively, of section 2(h) of the RTI Act. MIAL shall appoint a CPIO and FAA within 30 days of the receipt of this order and shall also fulfil the mandate of section 4(1) disclosure as mandated under the RTI Act, within 2 months of the receipt of this order.”
 
Aggrieved by the order, MIAL filed an appeal before the Delhi High Court. The Delhi High Court in its order of 17 May 2019 observed that: "…impugned order is set aside and the matter is remanded back to the CIC for a fresh consideration of the issue whether MIAL is a public authority within the meaning of section 2(h) of the Act. While doing so, CIC shall hear the respondent herein as well. The issue being of importance, it shall be appropriate that the same is decided as expeditiously as possible, but within a period of three months as an outer limit. It is made clear that this court has not expressed itself on the merit of the issue, which shall be considered by the CIC.”
 
Mr Shirodkar had argued that,
  • 50% of shareholding by the MIAL constitutes substantial funding;
  • Stamp duty worth Rs250 crore waived off by the government of Maharashtra along with land and infrastructure of 2000 acres worth more than Rs80,000 crore in Mumbai given on Rs100 per year (lease premium), amounted to 'substantial funding';
  • AAI being the 26% of active partner in this JV had shirked the responsibility answering to public questions under the RTI Act; that for many years, AAI claiming to be the owner of Mumbai Airport property always passed the buck to its lessee i.e., MIAL on questions asked pertaining to owner’s land and infrastructure under RTI Act;
  • That the MIAL was an agent or instrumentality of the state and therefore, 'State' within the meaning of Article 12 of the Constitution of India; that the statutory functions performed by the AAI were enumerated in section 12 of the Airports Authority of India Act, 1994;
  • That the monies payable by the lessee, i.e., MIAL to AAI, were public monies and public funds; that MIAL was performing public functions in public interest; that the MIAL was a part and parcel of the ministry of civil aviation and all the details pertaining to the JV of AAI and MIAL should have been in the public domain i.e., in the website of the ministry of civil aviation in compliance with Section 4(1)(b) of the RTI Act.
 
The MIAL, though, insisted that it was incorporated under the provisions of the Companies Act, 1956 in the year 2006 as a special purpose vehicle to undertake the operation, management and development of the Mumbai airport. Private participants own 74% of the equity share capital and majority management rights in MIAL and the rest 26% of the equity share capital is held by the Airport Authority of India.
 
Surprisingly, CIC Suresh Chandra in his 18 May 2020 order stated that MIAL is not a 'public authority’ and Mr Shirodkar should try and get information from the Airport Authority of India (AAI) or from the ministry of civil aviation.  The CIC blamed the delay on the COVID-19 crisis as one of the reasons!
 
CIC Chandra’ order states: "The Commission, after studying the facts and circumstances of the case, hearing both parties and perusal of records, feels that MIAL is not a ‘public authority ‘under S. 2 (h) of the RTI Act, 2005. We are also of the view that it may be open to the complainant to seek information through public authority for MIAL i.e. AAI or the ministry of civil aviation as the case may be. That being so, the complaint of the complainant is unfounded and the same is rejected. The Commission puts it on record that it could not meet the timelines provided by the Hon’ble High Court due to the reasons including Constitution of Bench, nonappearance of parties and COVID-19 which were procedural and beyond the Commission’s powers."
 
So, clearly, the vested interests of industry lobbies who collaborate with the government and make a good deal out of public funds and infrastructure are protected while the common citizen is pushed against the wall, for demanding transparency of a public project!
 
(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

    Ramesh Popat

    4 weeks ago

    OMG! Great by VD!

    m.prabhu.shankar

    4 weeks ago

    Theives in the disguise of private entrepreneurs / Companies.

    jjain782

    4 weeks ago

    This shows that justice has not been delayed only it has been clearly denied
    Question is what todo many of us can't wait for another 12 years so surrender

    glnprasad52

    4 weeks ago

    Sorry, without a large nexus, such issues can not be performed by a few individuals. Abuse of power is common in India. This is just a tip of the iceberg and who knows as to what emerges after a decade investigation by CBI? They can make and unmake anything as they like.

    S.SuchindranathAiyer

    1 month ago

    As I have long maintained, the Nehruvian Construct of “Ceasar’s wife” which excuses those in Government employ from all accountability, exemplified by the so called “Judiciary” and down to the recent Modi “Anti Corruption” Law which criminalizes the victims of extortion (the so called “bribe Giver”) rather than the extortionist who abuses State Power for personal pelf, pleasure, and perversions has created a Government sans Governance which sells India and Indians to anybody who is inclined and willing to pay,

    With over 50,000 Second Appeals Pending in Maharashtra, Citizens Urge CM To Fill up CIC Posts, Step up Their Number
    Considering the large number of pending second appeals in the Maharashtra State Information Commission, the Supreme Court (SC) in its 15 February 2019 order had observed that the SIC (state information commission)  should function at its full strength of 11 commissioners (chief and 10 information commissioners). However, one of the petitioners Anjali Bharadwaj had pointed out to the SC that the state government had failed to make appointments. 
     
    Over a year after SC slammed the Maharashtra government, currently the SIC is functioning with only five commissioners even as more than 50,000 appeals or complaints are still pending. This, despite the state government having assured the SC that it would take necessary action.
     
    Speaking to Moneylife last fortnight, Sumit Mullick, state chief information commissioner (SCIC) of Maharashtra, has stated that he is rigorously pursuing with the state government to fill up information commissioners’ vacancies and create three additional ones. Although, the SIC has begun online second appeal hearings from the first week of June, thanks to citizens’ online campaign, he had stated that the need to augment the number of information commissioners is very critical for disposing of second appeals.
     
    Unlike in other states, the posts of information commissioners in Maharashtra have been created as per geographical zones. Thus, IC posts have been created for Mumbai, Brihanmumbai, Konkan, Nashik, Amaravati, Pune, Nagpur and Aurangabad. Of these, the posts of Pune, Nashik and Aurangabad are pending for the past many months. All the present ICs would be retiring between 11 and 21 months’ time and as we all know time runs fast. 
     
    Last week, a group of RTI activists and prominent citizens, including former CIC Shailesh Gandhi, former bureaucrats Mahesh Zagade and Pralhad Kachare, RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar who steered this campaign through the online RTI Katta and several other activists of Maharashtra, took up this issue seriously and dashed off a letter to Maharashtra’s chief minister Uddhav Thackeray, urging him to fill up the vacancies and create additional posts with utmost urgency. 
     
    Their contention is that, "in the State of Maharashtra this sunshine law has been losing its shine day by day, at an alarming rate and it is imperative that it be corrected immediately as it is due to a huge number of 2nd appeals and complaints,  pending before the Maharashtra State Information Commission (MSIC)."
     
    The letter states: "Unlike the Central (Government’s) Information Commission and any of the state (government’s) information commissions across all the other states in India, the state of Maharashtra has adopted a unique geographical bench-wise allocation system whereby the position of an individual information commissioner has been dedicatedly allocated with respect to each revenue division namely, Mumbai, Brihanmumbai, Konkan, Nashik, Amaravati, Pune, Nagpur and Aurangabad. And presently, for a long time now, out of these aforesaid eight constituted information commission benches, the position of three benches namely, Pune, Nashik and Aurangabad bench are vacant.
     
     "The following table summarises the present grim situation:
     
     
    "The following table depicts the geographical bench-wise pendency of second appeals and complaints before the MSIC:
     
    (Source: MSIC Website Period: As on February 2020)
     
     
    "The following table depicts the present status of the existing Maharashtra State Information Commissioners including their being saddled with the burden of an additional charge:
     
    (N.B: In the following table the Acronym CIC stands for Chief Information Commissioner and IC stands for Information Commissioner)
     
    Sr. Name of the Commissioner Position Present Charge Additional Charge About to Retire in Months
     
     
    The letter also reminds the CM that delivery of services to citizens cannot be compromised due to the COVID-19 crisis. They write: "Also, the Hon’ble Supreme Court in suo motu writ (Civil) No. 5/2020 vide its order dated: 6  April, 2020 has expressed that “The challenges occasioned by the outbreak of COVID-19 have to be addressed while preserving the constitutional commitment to ensuring the delivery of and access to justice to those who seek it.”
     
     
    (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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    RTI Researcher Forces Health Ministry to Issue List of COVID-19 Hospitals, Name a Nodal Officer
    The cynicism we hear so often about the RTI Act being ineffective, is thankfully almost always countered by an effective use of this transparency law by citizens, for the larger public good.
     
    One such recent example is that of compelling the union health ministry to disclose information on designated COVID-19 hospitals and treatment centers across the country, so as to help people quickly identify hospitals if they have to rush their near and dear ones, who may show symptoms of this deadly pandemic.
     
    Venkatesh Nayak, RTI research scholar and programme coordinator of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), decided to take up this critical issue because he stated that, ``After learning from media reports and friends that COVID infected people were having difficulties finding the locations of the designated COVID hospitals, I rummaged through ministry of health and family welfare (MOHFW)'s website and its newly set up COVID resource page for a consolidated list of such hospitals.  I found none.’’
     
    So, he filed an RTI Application under Section 7 of the RTI Act as, it is information that directly concerns the life and liberty of individuals across the country and hence must be given within 48 hours. He requested that the information he asked for be uploaded on the MoHFW website within 48 hours of receipt of his request.
     
    The details which Nayak wanted uploaded on the website were:
     
    1) The district-wise number of hospitals and healthcare facilities called by any other name, designated as COVID-19 treatment centers as on date;
     
    2) The postal addresses and telephone numbers of the hospitals and healthcare facilities referred to above; 
     
    3) The criteria applied for determining whether or not a hospital or a healthcare facility should be designated as a COVID- 19 treatment center; 
     
    4) The district-wise names of hospitals and health care facilities whose designation as COVID-19 treatment centres has been withdrawn as on date; and
     
    5) The reasons for withdrawing the designation of every hospital and health care facility referred to at para no. 4 above.
     
    Quite predictably, the game of passing the buck began in right earnest; MoHFW's Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) transferred the RTI application to the directorate general of health services (DGHS) and the Indian council for medical research (ICMR). Neither of the public authorities sent Nayak any reply. 
     
    States Nayak, ``Six days later, DGHS transferred the RTI application back to the hospital section of MoHFW. A week later the CPIO of the hospital section transferred the RTI application to the PIOs of Safdarjung and Ram Manohar Lohia hospitals and Lady Hardinge Medical College (LHMC) and Associated Hospitals in Delhi. Another week later the PIO of LHMC sent the first reply to my RTI application directing me to look up MoHFW's website for the list of central institutions designated as COVID hospitals! He also stated that other information specified in the RTI application was not available with him.’’
     
    Nayak again sent a complaint on 20th May to the CIC, stating that his RTI application was being treated like a ping pong ball and information given to him from different sources was confusing. He wrote to the CIC that: ``The Press Information Bureau website uploaded an article written by the Union minister for information and broadcasting and environment and forests on 5 May 2020 where he mentioned the existence of at least 700 dedicated COVID hospitals and treatment centres.
     
    `` Next, I cited the record of the gist of the conversation of the Union minister for health and family welfare with representatives of the government of punjab- also uploaded on the PIB website on 13 May 2020 where the number of such facilities had grown considerably.
     
    The minister is reported to have said, "as of now 900 dedicated COVID hospitals with 1,79,882 beds (Isolation beds- 1,60,610 and ICU beds- 19,272) and 2,040 dedicated COVID health centres with 1,29,689 beds (isolation beds- 1,19,340 and ICU beds- 10,349) along with 8,708 quarantine centres and 5,577 COVID care centres with 4,93,101 beds are now available to combat COVID-19 in the country."
     
    So he argued to the CIC that neither minister could have mentioned these aggregate figures unless there was a list of such hospitals and treatment centres available with the respondent public authorities, particularly, the MoHF.’’
     
    CIC's Advisory to MoHFW
     
    The CIC conducted the hearing on 1 June 2020 through a WhatsApp call. Five CPIOs representing all the respondent public authorities including the hospitals to which Nayak’s RTI application was transferred, were also present. All of them denied that their units had a comprehensive list of hospitals and treatment centres designated for the purpose of treating COVID-19 infected patients. They pleaded ignorance about the source of information that the two union ministers mentioned in their write-up and meetings. 
     
    Expressing its displeasure at this state of affairs, the CIC advised MoHFW as follows:
     
    "...the commission advises the secretary, M/o H&FW to designate an officer of an appropriate seniority as a nodal officer to examine the matter and suo motu disclose the information sought in the RTI application on the website of the Public Authority within a period of 15 days from the date of receipt of this order in the larger public interest."
     
    Within ten days of the CIC's advisory, MoHFW has issued an order appointing  Saranga Dhar Nayak, deputy secretary in the ministry (and also a designated first appellate authority under the RTI Act) on 15th June.
     
    It may be recalled that Moneylife on 13 March 2020 had carried an article, appreciating the transparency of the union health ministry when the COVID-19 pandemic was relatively new in India. https://www.moneylife.in/article/union-health-ministry-honours-rti-shares-all-updates-on-corona-virus-kerala-follows-suit/59698.html
     
    Today, it has a lot of information on its website except the crucial one of guiding people to the appropriate COVID-19 hospitals and treatment centres. Let’s hope the nodal officer does the needful and fast! He was supposed to have uploaded today – that is, 25th June.
     
    (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

    tillan2k

    1 month ago

    we all know knowledge is power and money spinning devices. by with holding info predators want to make e money from information disclosers or by enclosing and disclosing for a price what more disgusting example may God CcoRONA bless them with visits

    REPLY

    honyakusha

    In Reply to tillan2k 1 month ago

    Today is 27th June and there is still nothing on the MOHFW website. Such an important issue needs to be taken up at the cabinet level. Petition collecting signatures?

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