Central Information Commissioner Wants MPLADS Fund Data in Public Domain; Deems MPs as Public Authorities
The central information commission (CIC) has recently recommended that all parliamentary parties and MPs (members of Parliament) should be answerable and accountable for funds of MPLADS (members of Parliament local area development scheme) and must make every aspect of this information public on their respective official websites.
 
Prof Sridhar Acharyulu, the central information commissioner who gave an order on 15 September 2018, has said that every MP is a public authority as per an earlier CIC decision in 2009. He has challenged the political parties to contest if each of their MPs is not a public authority. He has stated “the Commission recommends that all the parliamentary parties or any of their representatives submit, if they so desire, their written contentions, if they believe that their parliamentary board/party is not a public authority under the RTI Act, and justify the same before 9 October 2018.”
 
CIC has also directed the National Informatics Centre to incorporate on the official website of each MP, a software provision to upload an application for recommendation of works under MPLADS, the progress of work and the detailed final report with all the beneficiaries and the assets created and, more importantly, make it accessible to the common-man. 
 
This, the commissioner remarked, would enhance the dignity of an already transparent institute - the Parliament - and prevent corruption in MPLADS as apprehended by various committees, besides saving thousands of crores of rupees of public money every year. This citizen-empowering CIC order is a sequel to an RTI (Right to Information) application filed by one Ram Gopal Dixit on 26  September 2016 seeking information/ certified copies of relevant documents on works recommended by his Lok Sabha MP Rajesh Diwakar of Hathras Lok Sabha constituency.  
 
Mr Dixit sought the following information from the ministries of railways (MoR) and of statistics & programme implementation (MOSPI):
  • Agencies through whom the works were executed and payments made;
  • Physical status/progress of works recommended in this constituency,
  • MPLADS fund utilisation and status of works recommended and executed in the North Eastern Railway region, such as roads/railway stations, etc;-
 
The CPIO (central public information officer) of MoSPI did not provide him with any information regarding the railways department; instead, he forwarded his application to the MPLADS division of the Lok Sabha secretariat.
 
This was irrelevant as this division maintains records of the overall statistics and cannot give specific information that Mr Dixit asked for - namely, information about MP Rajesh Diwakar’s constituency. 
 
He was told that the vital information on the works that his MP had selected were held exclusively by the MP himself, and the MP alone would know why he left his quota unspent. 
 
The CPIO of MoSPI further informed Mr Dixit that it received data only of the overall distribution of MPLADS funds;, but category-wise utilisation into data of every welfare area was only maintained only by the district authority and not by their ministry. 
 
Aggrieved by the information denied to him, Mr Dixit filed his second appeal with the CIC saying, “the government of India has created a website for the Indian Parliament, allocating a page for each parliamentarian. There the Honourable Member of Parliament, Mr. Rajesh Kumar since 2014, has generously shared even his personal details like date of birth, names of family members, address and email id etc. The same page should have contained details of the MPLADS works in his constituency. ‘’
 
Prof Sridhar Acharyulu, in his 15 September 2018, order explained why MPLAD funds should be made transparent by stating that:  “the MoSIP in its recent report (August 2018) revealed that Rs12,000 crore of MPLADs (funds) was unspent. In February 2018, funds allotted but unspent stood at Rs4,773.13 crore while 2,920 instalments of Rs2.5 crore were yet to be released, resulting in a total backlog of Rs12,073.13 crore. These problems can be fixed by making every process of the works transparent. It is reported that a year after they took office, 298 of 542 members of the 16th (present) Lok Sabha have not spent a single rupee from the Rs5 crore corpus.’’
 
The commissioner further observed:  “A look at the latest statistics reveals the truth. The details of the works (names, location, beneficiaries, payments etc) in each constituency and as per the MP are not available. Out of the total fund entitlement of Rs2,725 crore (Lok Sabha) only Rs1,412.5 crore was released by the government and out of Rs1,225 crore (Rajya Sabha) only Rs594 crore was released.” 
 
The commissioner also mentioned in his order that, the question of whether an MP is a public authority under the RTI Act, was deliberated upon by a bench of commissioner Wazahat Habibullah and IC (information commissioner) Shailesh Gandhi in Girish Chandra Mishra vs Smt Sonia Gandhi, on 10 December  2009. It was contended that with the specific authorities conferred by the Constitution, each individual MP should be regarded as public authority under the RTI Act.
 
 
Inadequate information on MP Rajesh Diwakar’s official website
 
The data related to the cumulative expenditure of MPLADS funds for the period 2014-2019 for the constituency of Hathras during the tenure of Mr. Rajesh Kumar Diwakar as Member of Parliament available at https://www.mplads.gov.in/MPLADS/UploadedFiles/HTML/16ls/lsstat24.htm is:
 
 
The figures speak for themselves, states the CIC:
  • Out of the entitlement of Rs25 crore, MP Rajesh Kumar Diwaker (Hathras) has recommended works of Rs17.38 crore. This means, 80.5% of the released amount is spent and the balance unspent amount is Rs4.12 crore.
  • People of his constituency, including this appellant, have every right to know the progress of these works, payments made, reasons for not spending the amount, etc. The commission hopes that Mr Diwakar will understand his duty and honour the commitment made by his party BJP to transparency, and publish the MPLADS works details on his page, regularly update them and explain the figures given above, in discharge of his obligation towards the people of Hathras constituency. It is legitimately expected from the parliamentary board of the BJP to take steps to make all their MPs, especially the MP in this case, accountable and answerable to provide such information. 
 
 
The following are the detailed directions/recommendations of CIC order of 15 September 2018.
 
The Commission directs the CPIOs of the offices of secretary general Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha to place this CIC order on MPLADS before the speaker of Lok Sabha and the chairman of Rajya Sabha, to facilitate appropriate action. The Commission recommends that these two personalities holding high positions in the most important constitutional estate: the central legislature (parliament) to consider:
 
a) To provide the necessary legal frame for the MPLADS, with specific duties and  compulsory transparency obligations, definitions of breach of duties, prescribing rules and regulations, besides imposing liabilities for dereliction of those duties and breach of rules and regulations; which may include prohibition of certain acts such as:  
i. assets claimed to have been created under MPLADS not traceable,
ii. spending MPLADS funds for private works of MP,
iii. recommending funds to ineligible agencies,
iv. diversion of funds to private trusts,
v. works recommended under MPLADS which benefit the MP or his relatives, and
vi. breach of any norms laid down for recommending works. 
 
b) This legal frame may also ideally list out the obligations of MPs such as:
i. duty to inform every year, number of applications received, works recommended, works rejected with reasons, progress of works, details of beneficiaries, and a comprehensive report on MPLADS works after the completion of the MP’s term , to the chairman of Rajya Sabha or the speaker of Lok Sabha, respectively, and to the office of the parliament;
ii. duty to inform the voters seeking such details through RTI Act and generally; 
iii. duty of the parliamentary party to post the details on their pages in official websites and on the webpages of the MP such as https://www.india.gov.in/my-government/indian-parliament/
 
c) To ensure compliance of transparency obligations by the parliamentary parties of various original political parties, having presence of multiple members in the parliament, under section 2(h) of the RTI Act, and direct the office machinery of the parliament to provide the necessary secretarial assistance to fulfil their obligations under the RTI Act.
 
d) To direct the office machinery in coordination with National Informatics Centre to incorporate on each page of the MP’s official website a software provision to upload an application for the recommendation of works under MPLADS; which could be either recommended; or rejected with reasons in a time bound manner, online; and on recommendation of such work, its progress from time to time shall be reported on the same page; and detailed final report with all beneficiaries and assets created be filed on completion of the work; and more importantly; such a page shall be accessible to the common-man, officers concerned and the parliament. This will enhance the dignity of the already transparent institution—the parliament, and prevent corruption in MPLADS as apprehended by various committees as mentioned above, besides saving thousands of crores of rupees of public money every year.  
 
e) To take the necessary initiative to develop a code of conduct as has been rightly recommended by the chairman of Rajya Sabha and the vice president of India, in his wisdom to cover ethics in MPLADS. 
  • The commission recommends that the ministry of parliamentary affairs render the necessary assistance to the chairman of Rajya Sabha and the speaker to develop a legal frame for MPLADS as mentioned above and to make all parliamentary parties and MPs answerable and accountable for MPLADS funds as public authorities under the RTI Act to prevent MPLADS irregularities.
     
  • The commission directs Rakesh Kumar, secretary (PG) and CPIO, railways department to collect information related to works recommended under MPLADS by Rajesh Kumar Diwakar MP for the season 2016-17, details of implementing agencies and MPLADS fund utilisation on point number 3 of the RTI application and provide the same to the appellant within 30 days from the receipt of this order
    .
  • The state governments and their nodal district authorities are under the jurisdiction of the state information commissions; hence, apparently the CIC has no authority to direct them on these issues. But the information sought by the appellant is related to MPLADS work for which the respondent MoSPI from Centre has released funds, and such information is supposed to be disclosed by the authorities on their own as per Section 4(1)(b) of the RTI Act. Non-compliance of section 4 obligations will amount to a serious dereliction of the RTI Act.
     
  • The concerned officials of ministry of railways are liable for denying the information, for this kind of a reply without typing the name of the officer, for drafting in English in response to a Hindi application and using abbreviations without expansion, amount to deliberate denial of information. The commission records its admonition for such dereliction of duty.
     
  • The commission recommends all the parliamentary parties or any of their representatives to submit, if they desire, their written contentions, if they believe that their parliamentary board/party is not a public authority under the RTI Act, to justify the same before 9 October 2018.
     
  • The commission requires under section 19(8)(a)(iii) of the RTI Act, the public authority (the ministry of statistics and program implementation) to make the necessary changes to publish MP-wise, constituency wise and work-wise details, with names of beneficiaries, and reasons for delay, if any, after duly procuring from the concerned district administration and ensure its voluntary disclosure under section 4. The case is posted for compliance by MoR, MoSPI, on 9 October 2018 at 2.30pm. 
 
(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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Since May 2014, CICs or ICs Have Been Appointed Only When Directed by the Courts  
Ever since the Narendra Modi government has come to power on 26 May 2014, the appointments of Central and state chief information commissioners (CICs) as well as information commissioners (ICs) have been hard to come by. And when they have come, it is only after legal interventions by several Right to Information (RTI) activists in the High Courts and the Supreme Court.
 
The latest petition in April 2018, was filed by Anjali Bharadwaj, Commodore Lokesh Batra (retd) and Arita Johri in the Supreme Court, appealing for filling up four vacant posts of information commissioners and four more that would become vacant by December 2018. Ms Bharadwaj stated in her petition that, “for securing the fundamental right of citizens to access information from public authorities” it was essential that these crucial appointments are made in time. The petition specifically prayed, “for a direction for immediate filling of posts of information commissioners in the CICs and in the various state information commissions (SICs).” The said appointments must be made transparent in accordance with the judgements of the Supreme Court of India.
 
However, over the past four years, there has been dilly-dallying over prompt appointment of information commissioners, leading to several vacancies in the Central Information Commission in New Delhi as well in various state information commissions. The basic mandatory clauses of releasing the advertisement to call for applications of these posts, three months before the retirement of any CCIC, CIC or IC and ensure that the Search and Selection Committees zero in on the candidate, have been flouted. The latest SC petition of April 2018 prays for this very vital aspect of the RTI Act.
 
To make matter worse, in the affidavit submitted by Ranbir Singh, under secretary of the department of personnel and training (DoPT), on 28 August 2018, in response to the above petition, has brazenly submitted that “it is hard to confine to a particular time frame,’’ for the appointment of CICs and ICs.
 
Further qualifying why the process of these appointments should not be transparent, Mr Singh submits in the Supreme Court on 28th August, that,  “it has not been a practice to disclose the list of short-listed candidates prior to the completion of the selection process or to seek adverse information on the short-listed candidates from the public. The Search and Selection Committees evolve their own method of obtaining relevant information in respect of various candidates. However, it would not be conducive to publish such details in the manner sought, no such practice is followed in any other equivalent high-level appointments of the government.’’ 
 
Counters Commodore Batra, noted RTI activist and petitioner, “I feel on every account the DoPT’s affidavit could be challenged. In the past, the names of applicants were made available and file inspection was allowed at every stage, even before selection or shortlisting of candidates. Going by the Namit Sharma order, the advertisement for CIC and IC appointments is to be issued three months prior to the post falling vacant.” 
 
He also adds that, “after 2014 no one from the civil society was shortlisted. The biggest concern is that ever since the Modi government has come to power, we have had to battle it out in the courts for appointment of CICs and ICs.”
 
Also even at the crucial juncture of finalising the candidates by the appointed committees, political intervention has made some of these appointments in clear violation of the norms set by the RTI Act.
 
Sushma Swaraj had intervened, pushing her own candidates who were not in the short-listed list. Supporting the stance of activists, in  the Delhi High Court order of 9 April  2015, the judge observed  that  “We have heard the learned counsel for both the parties. Having regard to the undisputed fact that the non-appointment of the chief information commissioner has virtually frustrated the very purpose of the Right to Information Act, 2005, we are of the view that it is necessary for this court to monitor the steps that are being taken for filling up the vacancies in question so as to ensure that all the vacancies are filled up within a timeframe.”
 
While we await further order by SC, the following is dateline fact sheet of the appointments of the Chief IC/IC’s in CIC after Delhi HC and SC orders since 26 May 2014:
 
 28 February 2014: 293 applications received for the post of information commissioners after DoPT published the advertisement  
 
28 April 2014: Committee met the search committee, shortlisted applicants and recommended panels for consideration of the selection committee  
 
22 May 2014: Rajeev Mathur elevated to the post of chief information commissioner. Because of his promotion another post of information commissioner fell vacant. (By now vacant posts of IC rise to 03) 
 
16 July 2014: A fresh advertisement was issued for the post of IC. 260 applications were received. Counting the earlier 293 application, a total of 553 applications were received
 
22 August 2014: Chief information commissioner Rajeev Mathur completed his tenure. Chief IC post fell vacant.  (For the first time in the history of RTI Act being in place in 2005, the CIC went headless without an administrative head.) Vacant Posts in CIC comprised one Chief IC and 3 ICs 
 
24 October 2014: Advertisement for the post of Chief IC was published on the website of DoPT. 203 applications were received
 
16 December 2015: Search committee meets for the first time to shortlist applicants for the roles of the chief information commissioner and information commissioners respectively
 
6 February 2015: Search committee meets for the second time to shortlist applicants for the roles of the chief information commissioner and information commissioners respectively
 
8 April 2015: Public interest litigation (PIL) filed by RK Jain, Commodore Lokesh K Batra and Subhash Agarwal was admitted in Delhi HC.  The petition against the Central government reads that the three Central information commissioner posts have been vacant since August 2014.
 
9 April 2015: DoPT submits an affidavit that explains in detail the steps taken by the government to fill the vacancies in the CIC. After hearing both the parties, the Bench of the Delhi HC made the following observation “We have heard the learned counsel for both the parties. Having regard to the undisputed fact that the non-appointment of the chief information commissioner has virtually frustrated the very purpose of the Right to Information Act, 2005, we are of the view that it is necessary for this court to monitor the steps that are being taken for filling up the vacancies in question so as to ensure that all the vacancies are filled up within a timeframe.”
 
27 April 2015: Search committee meets to shortlist applicants. Selection will supposedly be made after inputs from the respective cadre controlling authority and the intelligence bureau are received.
 
11 May 2015: Hearing of the case was held in WP(C) 3386/2015.  At the request of the counsel the next hearing was scheduled for 21 May 2015.
 
21 May 2015: Hearing held on case WP(C) 3386/2015. Arguments of both sides were heard and judgment was reserved.
 
10 June 2015: After the CIC remained headless for nearly 10 months; Vijay Sharma, the senior-most IC took over charge of chief IC for his remaining tenure of a little over five months. Vacancy of one IC arose but it was nullified due to the appointment of Sudhir Bhargava as IC. Vacant posts of ICs in the CIC remained three.
 
9 September 2015: A fresh advertisement was issued for the post of IC.  In view of the development in the case due to the government issuing a fresh advertisement, a fresh application was filed by the petitioners and they informed the High Court that the government has appointed the senior most information commissioner and in addition appointed only one more information commissioner – Sudhir Bhargav. The number of vacancies for IC posts still remains at three.
 
24 September 2015: The case was re-notified.
 
9 October 2015: Arguments were heard all over again. Order was reserved again.
 
6 November 2015: Delhi HC pronounces judgment summarising the entire proceedings of all hearing starting 8th April. In its order the HC gave the government six weeks’ time to complete the appointment. In its order it mentioned:  “In these circumstances, instead of setting aside the Notification dated 9 September 2015, we consider it appropriate to issue the following directions: 
 
 (i) The selection process that has already been commenced vide Notifications dated 25 February 2014 and 16 July 2014 shall be finalised within six weeks from today and the three vacancies of information commissioners existing as of today (W.P.(C) No.3386/2015) shall be  filled up amongst the 553 applications that were received in response to the two said notifications. 
 
(ii) The selection process pursuant to the circular dated 9 September 2015 shall be confined for selection and appointment of the chief information commissioner in the vacancy that would arise w.e.f. 2 December 2015 and one information commissioner which is likely to arise w.e.f. 2 December 2015.’
 
Government filed a special leave petition (SLP) 34495/2015 against the order of the Delhi HC.
 
1 December 2015: Having served for just about five months chief IC Vijai Sharma completes his tenure. The Central information commission (CIC) goes headless again for the second time in 18 months. Number of vacant positions is now 4 (3 IC and 1 Chief IC).  
 
16 December 2015: The Supreme Court admitted the SLP. The case was listed for hearing on 4 January 2016.
 
2 January 2016: After the CIC remained headless for a little over a month; Shri Radha Krishna Mathur assumed charge of chief IC.
 
4 January 2016: Upon hearing the counsel, the case was listed for hearing on 8 January 2016. Arguments were heard on both sides. The SC gave the government 6 weeks’ time to ensure all vacant posts are filled up.
 
25 February 2016: ICs, namely, Bimal Julka, DP Sinha and Amitava Bhattacharya assumed their duties of ICs.
 
26 February 2016: The government informs the apex court that its direction has been complied with. The petitioners did not dispute the counsel. 
 
September 2016: Central government invited applications for the post of two information commissioners of CIC vide their circular/communication dated 2 September 2016 in anticipation of the vacancies occurring in December 2016 and February 2017. However, till date none of the vacancies have been filled. 
 
December 2016: Central information commissioner MA Khan Yusufi finished his term and retired. Until end of 2016, CIC was functioning at full strength of 1 Chief and 10 information commissioners. In February 2017, CIC Basant Seth retired, after which two vacancies arose in the CIC.
 
June 2017: Petitioners were signatories to a letter by the National Campaign of Peoples’ Right to Information addressed to the prime minister urging him to fill the vacancies in the central information commission by appointing information commissioners.
 
September 2017:  CIC Sharat Sabharwal finished his term and retired. Three vacancies arose in the CIC. 
 
January 2018: Central information commissioner Manjula Prasher finished her term and retired. Four vacancies arose in the CIC. 
 
April 2018: Backlogs of more than 23,500 appeals and complaints are pending before the Central information commission. The CIC website shows that even appeals and complaints filed in 2016 are currently pending for disposal by the commission. A public interest litigation is filed in the Supreme Court by Anjali Bharadwaj, Commodore Lokesh Batra (retd) and Arita Johri.
 
July 2018: the Supreme Court directs DoPT to fill up the vacancies.
 
August 2018: DoPT submits affidavit.
 
(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

Liju Oommen

2 weeks ago

How do you ensure that none of the scams under your watch are caught? Very simple. Just ensure that the policemen who catch the scamsters/criminals are not appointed at all in the first place. Thats how the modi govt keeps up its facade of a clean govt.

1,420 Central Acts repealed by Modi government: RTI response
Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government at the Centre has done away with 1,420 laws, considered "redundant and obsolete", in the past four years, a reply to a query under the RTI Act has revealed.
 
As per the information provided by the Public Information Officer (PIO) of the Legislative Department to Lucknow-based activist Nutan Thakur, 1,420 Central laws have been repealed since 2014.
 
The information says that initially 35 Acts were repealed through the Repealing and Amending Act, 2015. This was followed by 90 Acts being repealed in 2015 itself and 1,050 Acts in 2016.
 
In 2017, 245 Acts were repealed.
 
The reply to the RTI reveals that the Acts were repealed on the basis of a report by the Law Commission and a two-member committee constituted by the Prime Minister's Office, along with comments from various ministries and departments.
 
Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article.

 

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COMMENTS

Deepak Narain

4 weeks ago

I wish you had given names of prominent Acts repealed.

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