Avalanche of Applications To Use, Defend, Protect RTI but Denial of Information Continues
As many as 375 Right to Information (RTI) applications have been filed in the past four months with public authorities of Aadhaar, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), police stations (where crimes of hate and mob lynching have been registered), mining and the judiciary, to prove, hearteningly, the point that citizens are not going to be cowed down by regressive amendments to the Right to Information Act.
 
An initiative of the National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information (NCPRI), was to collaborate with other peoples’ collectives to launch the "Use RTI, Demand Accountability" campaign on 1 August 2019.
 
States Rakshita Swamy, member of NCPRI, "By coordinating the filing of RTIs at different locations across the country and collectively tracking government responses, the UseRTI campaign will give strength and support to lakhs of RTI applicants in villages, towns and districts across India. The collective filing of applications on a range of issues will counter the rhetoric of this government that all publicly relevant information is already being proactively disclosed and the need for the RTI is diminishing.’’
 
Presented below is a capsule of the RTIs filed so far and the information/denials received:
 
Aadhaar and Welfare:
 
  • UIDAI:  A set of RTIs were filed by Rethink Aadhaar (A non-partisan campaign concerned about the Unique Identification or Aadhaar project) to track the modalities of its widening scope and to verify the claims UIDAI makes on the impact of Aadhaar on reducing corruption. However, information on the names of those corporations that used to have the licence to use Aadhaar-based e-KYC services and had their licences cancelled, was denied. The basis of that denial was the need for the government to protect the commercial confidence of these corporations. To challenge the UIDAI’s claim that Aadhaar has reduced leakages in the public distribution system (PDS) and other welfare programmes, another RTI asking for exact numbers of fake or duplicate ration cards, Jan Dhan accounts and PAN cards was filed. The UIDAI and its representatives have quoted these figures at various forums including in the Supreme Court when the linking of Aadhaar to welfare was challenged. However, the UIDAI deflected the query and responded by simply stating that this information was in the domain of various implementing agencies and ministries. 

 

  • PDS: Of the 42 hunger-related deaths since 2017, 25 have been linked to Aadhaar where people with ration cards were unable to access the PDS because of Aadhaar authentication failures amongst other issues. Although, the Supreme Court in its Aadhaar judgement has clearly stated that no beneficiaries should be deprived of their rightful entitlement for want of Aadhaar, large-scale exclusions have been reported in Rajasthan and Odisha. 
 
An RTI application was filed by the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, with the department of food and public distribution, asking for a month-wise count of the number of ration cards on which authentication was tried at least once during the month but the beneficiary did not receive her entitlement for the year 2018-19. While the department has started publishing useful reports on beneficiaries who were given their entitlements through a 'manual override' in spite of failure in biometric authentication, but information on how many are denied entitlements because of failed transactions by Aadhaar or non-Aadhaar means 'is not available and maintained'. The government maintains no records, and therefore no responsibility, for the numbers of beneficiaries whose biometric authentication failed and for whom no 'manual override' was initiated, depriving them of their most basic legal entitlement to food security. 
 
 NREGA
 
After two media reports stated that the ministry of rural development (MoRD) was considering proposals from states asking for permission to use machines (instead of human labour and banned under the law), an RTI plea was filed by NREGA Sangharsh Morcha. The ministry has now gone on record to say that “no requests to relax the rules on the use of machinery have been received in the ministry from the State governments of Andhra, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh.”
 
Also, the government claims that from 2017-18 onwards, 90% of the NREGA wage payments have been made on time, i.e., within 15 days of completion of work. This is despite independent studies and researchers pointing out that this figure is closer to 30%. Another RTI application was filed asking the ministry for the number of transactions in which payments of wages were made to workers beyond the statutory period of 15 days.  The ministry’s response only directs the applicant towards an existing report which does not inform citizens of the full extent of the delay. 
 
Hate Crimes and Lynching
 
Data shows that of the spate of close to 250 incidents of hate crimes, between 2009 and 2018, about 90% have taken place since 2014. 
 
In 2018, the Supreme Court issued directives to state governments to curb the 'menace of mob lynching' by implementing preventive and remedial measures such as setting up fast track courts and special task forces, issue directives to police stations in 'sensitive areas' and review incidents and related orders in periodic meetings. 
 
Over 300 RTI applications were filed by young lawyers with the Centre for Equity Studies, with the district collectors, DGPs and chief secretaries of five states, namely, Bihar, Haryana, Rajasthan, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh. 
 
The responses received so far reveal that local administration has not responded with adequate seriousness. While some authorities have simply transferred the RTI queries to other departments, others have refused to provide any evidence of concrete steps taken to curb hate crimes such as minutes of meeting or even orders issued by the director general of police. Replies to the RTIs are still being received and we will continue to systematically track each response by district.  
 
Mining
 
RTIs were filed by Environics Trust to access details on the number of mines, workers employed in mines, illegal mines, show cause notices issued to companies with mining leases for non-compliance of norms, forest land acquired for mining amongst other details. The RTIs exposed this government’s utter disregard of the law and its responsibility to regulate and monitor mining activities in the country. 
 
RTI applications revealed that the government does not collect information on even the total number of workers engaged in mines across the country. How will the government regulate the welfare of mine workers and ensure that they work in conditions that are considered safe when they do not even know the number of mine workers in the country? 
 
The government responded to a question on an RTI application that it does not collate information on the number of illegal mines in the country, whereas the same government as of 2016-17 had reported that there are 96,089 illegal mines operating in the country in response to a Parliamentary question. The Justice Shah Committee had also shown the massive scale of illegalities in mining amounting to Rs59,000 crore in its 2015 report. The response also revealed that government has no data on the number and location of closed mines. 
 
Judiciary
 
There has been reason for the RTI community to celebrate when the Supreme Court declared that the office of the chief justice of India will come under the scope of the RTI and that transparency has no bearing on the independence of an institution. 
 
RTI applications filed by the Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Judicial Reform before the judgement came out, seeking information about complaints received against judges, action taken under the in-house mechanism and action taken thereafter by the chief justice of India, were faced with denial citing various provisos including the need to respect the privacy of the people concerned. Hopefully this will change.
 
States Rakshita, “We will continue to file and track responses to these RTIs and appeals through this campaign over the next several months and will periodically publish the status of key RTIs through such press releases. We will also post a tracker and the actual RTIs and responses on a website in the coming month so that citizens and groups can collectively monitor and share the details of their RTIs with us.”
 
(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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    NDDB Continues to Dodge RTI Cites Sub-Judice Case to Ignore Govt Advice
    Although the government has advised the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) to subject itself and its subsidiaries to the RBI Act, it continues to dodge the transparency law. 
     
    It was in this year, vide letters dated 10th July and 11 July 2019 that NDDB was asked to submit itself to the Rright to Information (RTI) Act. But the dairy cooperative claimed that applicability of the law to it is sub-judice because of litigation pending before Division Bench of the Delhi High Court in the case of its subsidiary Mother Dairy Fruit and Vegetable Pvt Ltd (MDFVPL). 
     
    Using long drawn litigation, delays and appeals has been a trick adopted by several organisations that are heavily funded by the government or in regulatory roles to avoid the statute. 
     
    The matter came up in the Rajya Sabha on 29 November 2019 in response to a question by Prof Manoj Kumar Jha (unstarred question No. 1375),  asking whether NDDB has accepted advice of Government to extend provisions of RTI Act?
     
    The minister of state for fisheries, animal husbandry and dairying, Dr Sanjeev Kumar Balyan provided this information to the house. It is curious why the government is shying away from issuing a directive to NDDB to fall in line. 
     
    NDDB further stated that it could only consider the ministry’s advice after the issue of applicability of RTI Act to MDFVPL was decided. The matter is listed for discussion in NDDB Board’s agenda in the next meeting, the reply in Rajya Sabha shows.
     
    As of now, the question of RTI applicability to NDDB and its subsidiaries has been upheld by the Central Information Commission’s order of 15 April 2011, followed by a decision by a single-judge Bench of the Delhi High Court (HC). An appeal was filed before the Division Bench of the Delhi HC which is pending. This same strategy has been adopted by several other organisations who fulfill a quasi-regulatory function. 
     
    When asked whether department of animal husbandry and dairying (DAHD) has received a resolution of NDDB approving contribution of Rs200 crore towards equity of its subsidiary NDDB Dairy Services, Dr Balyan, the minister replied affirmatively saying the information was received. 
     
    Prof Jha also sought details of equity and resources transferred by NDDB to originally incorporated NDDB Dairy Services Pvt Ltd, which had previous approval of government under section 43(1) of NDDB Act. Dr Balyan revealed that as per Section 43(2)(a) of NDDB Act, 1987, NDDB has contributed Rs200 crore as equity to the NDDB Dairy Services.
     
    Prof Jha also probed whether NDDB re-incorporated NDDB Dairy Services Pvt Ltd with change of name without pre-approval from government under section 43 of NDDB Act. 
     
    Dr Balyan stated that the NDDB has informed that the central government conveyed its approval on 3 August 2009 for formation of a wholly owned subsidiary company of NDDB for implementing NDDB’s development objectives relating to productivity improvement and cooperative effort in terms of the resolution passed in the 89th meeting of the board of directors of NDDB held on 28 January 2009. 
     
    NDDB has further stated that in the agenda note of the board meeting it was clearly mentioned that “Since the objective of the proposed subsidiary is developmental in nature, after formation, the company will, at an appropriate stage take steps to convert itself into a not for profit company under Section 25 of the Companies Act, 1956”. 
     
    As a result, the company was initially incorporated as NDDB Dairy Services Pvt Ltd on 12 October 2009 and license was issued to it under section 25 of the Companies Act, 1956 on 10 March 2010. The company received fresh certificate of incorporation on 26 March 2010 with the change of name as NDDB Dairy Services (as a not for profit company).
     
    Earlier Moneylife had reported about the propensity of NDDB to set up numerous subsidiaries and quickly cause them to vanish through a closure or amalgamation or often without an explanation.
     
    We had also highlighted how NDDB paid Rs200 crore to its subsidiary NDDB Dairy Services, a private company, to employ its retired executives at same package. 
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    MP’s Information Commissioner Rahul Singh Creating a Flutter with His Use of Twitter & WhatsApp for RTI
    While most information commissioners and Central and state chief information commissioners are hanging on to the government babu system of functioning, journalist turned information commissioner of Madhya Pradesh, Rahul Singh is creating waves as he interacts with appellants of second appeals as well as RTI applicants in general, through Twitter and WhatsApp ever since his appointment in February 2019.
     
    For example, that is on 28th November, an RTI applicant Sudhir Singh Baghel through his Twitter handle @sudhirsinghbag6 tweeted that: “I submitted RTI in Govt HS school Jhabua to give my father's attendance information but the Principal refused to give information.” 
     
    He tagged Rahul Singh’s Twitter handle @rahulreports.
     
    Promptly, he received a Twitter reply from the information commissioner.
     
     
    On 27th November, one Rahul Pandey, RTI applicant tweeted that, `` Sir please help me Mujhe bhi Suchna nhi diii gyi Sbse pehle mene SDM office sirmour me unse patra ki suchna mangi toh unhone 3 month pe jabab diya aur bola dene ka prabdhan nhi h  Firr Appeal ki toh wha se bhi nhi mili please help me sir appliciant  ( Shivkumar pandey) Rewa MP’’ (I also have not been given the information.Translated it means: First I asked the SDM officer of Sirmour for some information which he did not give up to three months and then said there is no provision to supply me with the information. First Appellate Authority too declined the information.)
     
    Here is the reply, he received from the information commissioner…
     
     
    Rahul Singh’s Twitter handle is @rahulreports (old habits die hard!) and though he has only 3,517 followers as of now, his active interaction through it, is a novel and soothing experience for RTI applicants, who Singh believes are often distressed due to the dereliction in duty by many public information officers (PIOs). 
     
     
    Known to be a credible bi-lingual television journalist with two decades of experience, he has indeed taken his job of information commissioner sincerely and seriously as did Vijay Kuvalekar, former Pune information commissioner and a senior journalist of Maharashtra. While Mr Kuvalekar brought in orders with intelligent interpretations of the RTI Act that benefited the common man, journalist Singh has moved out from the physical space of his office by entering/interacting through cyberspace and making RTI applicants aware of the rules of the RTI Act. 
     
     
    Rahul Singh is the former assistant executive editor and national editor of News 18 regional channel network in Delhi. He also did stints in India Today- Aaj Tak, Times Now, Zee News, Sahara Samay, ETV-News18, Free Press Journal. 
     
    One of the news reports states that, ``he is one of few journalists in India who has expertise and experience in handling national as well regional news channel content across the country. He comes with multi-state experience across Delhi-NCR, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Odisha, West Bengal, Karnataka, Assam & Northeast states.” 
     
    Mr Singh is not new to the RTI subject as he has been using it extensively in his journalism career, one of them being the 2005 Padarvada mass grave story from Gujarat for Sahara Samay. 
     
     
    Recently, he issued a show cause notice to the forest department of MP when RTI applicant Virendra Singh Parihar’s request for information way back in January 2017 on details of plantations of 50 lakh saplings amongst other related information, was  not answered. In the show cause notice, he asked as to why a Rs25,000 penalty should not be slammed on the forest department. 
     
     
    With the trend of information commissioners coming from the field of bureaucracy, who are used to red tapism, officers like Rahul Singh and Vijay Kuvlekar from the media have shown vision with their understanding of quickness of addressing RTI applications. 
     
     
    Prof Sridhar Acharyulu, former Central information commissioner, who came from a law background was asked in an interview to Moneylife: “What according to you should be the ratio of retired government officers becoming CIC and independent private individuals?” 
     
     He had replied, “My suggestion is you just act according to the law. What does the RTI Act say?  Look up Section 12(5). It gives eight fields of social life. Appoint one from each field and the remaining you may please appoint as per your choice. There should not be more than one bureaucrat whether it is Central or state commission.” 
     
    “I am not opposing the appointment of former government officers; they must be appointed as they are experienced and they know how the administration runs. If they are committed to people then they can do wonders; if they are committed to the government, then they will do blunders. They have to choose, whether they want to create wonders or make blunders.” 
     
    “If the government appoints majority of information commissioners from the field of the people which is the intention of the RTI Act, which is also the intention of the people who wrote the draft and NGOs who struggled and organized movements for that purpose; the government must implement it and see the wonders of RTI. And so long as you do not do so, you'll face blunders. That’s what we are facing,’’ Prof Acharyulu had said.
     
    (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

    gcmbinty

    3 months ago

    I fully and wholeheartedly support the journalists like Rahul Singh on the RTI Benches coming to the rescue of complainants. The names of the derelict bureaucrats and others in the ranks dealing with providing RTI to the complainants should be put on the shame list besides imposing the penalty of Rs.25,000 and recovered their personal salaries. Such news must be given wide publicity.

    Next, I would suggest and request all the Congress Ruled States leaders to give top priority to the implementation of RTI Act in taking care as the RTI is their own baby and must not be allowed to suffer the indignity at the hands of Opposition, and prove they are honest at least in intentions.

    Harish

    3 months ago

    We need more Commissioners like Shri Rahul Singh.

    Nakul Kumar Reddy

    3 months ago

    File case against them ,iam ready to sign in any paper .

    REPLY

    BR

    In Reply to Nakul Kumar Reddy 3 months ago

    Would you please clarify what case must be filed against whom & why? Why must you sign Any paper?

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