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No beating about the bush.
Association for Democratic Reforms has filed a complaint to the Central Information Commission (CIC) to take action against Congress, BJP, CPI, CPI (M), NCP and BSP
Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), which along with right to information (RTI) activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal has been campaigning for the six national political parties to come under RTI, after having procured sensational documents under RTI Act pointing that these parties are ‘public authorities’. They are now asking the Central Information Commission (CIC) for action against these political parties since they have not abided by CIC’s 3 June 2013 verdict (CIC/SM/C/2011/001386 & 000838 dated 3 June 2013) of directing all these parties to appoint Public Information Officers (PIOs) within six weeks.
On 11 December 2013, ADR and Mr Agrawal filed a complaint against six national political parties, Indian National Congress (Congress), Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Communist Party of India (Marxist)-CPI(M), Communist Party of India (CPI), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).
Their press release stated: “Central Information Commission in its full-bench verdict dated 3 June 2013 had held that six national political parties INC, BJP, CPI, CPI(M), NCP and BSP were public authorities under the Right to Information Act, 2005. The Commission further directed the six political parties to appoint Public Information Officers (PIOs/CPIOs) within six weeks of the order, to respond to existing RTI queries within the next four weeks. The six parties have not complied with the CIC even after more than six months. By doing this political parties are defying the decision of a statutory authority. The CIC had given its decision of 3 June 2013, after several hearings of similar complaints filed by the ADR and the well-known RTI activist, Mr Agarwal. Earlier, Mr Agarwal had filed a complaint for non-compliance on 29 August 2013 after 12 weeks of the CIC decision. He also filed another complaint on 9 September 2013.”
It may be recalled that the CIC, in its decision had ruled that political parties should come under the ambit of RTI, considering that the Election Commission (EC) is the public authority, which plays a crucial role in bringing any political party into existence and its control over them, subsequently. It also took into account the fact that political parties are substantially funded by the government, thus making them, public authorities under Section 2 (h)(ii).
A full bench comprising Chief Information Commissioner Satyananda Mishra, Information Commissioners ML Sharma and Annapurna Dixit based their judgment on the following grounds:
Anil Bahirwal, one of the founders of ADR, said, “Non-compliance by the political parties is akin to contempt of court. Such nonconformity by these national parties can be precarious to our democracy and interest of the public at large.’’
Our earlier stories on this subject in Moneylife
Following strong protests from RTI activists and citizens, the Maharashtra SIC withdrawn his order the blocked access to building plans under the transparency law
Following strong protest by activist and citizens, the Maharashtra state chief information commissioner (SIC) has withdrawn his ‘controversial’ order on blocking access to building plans or other document (like interior plans) to anyone under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
RTI activists Shailesh Gandhi, who also served as Central Information Commissioner, and Bhaskar Prabhu had filed a complaint against the SIC order. They pointed out to Ratnakar Gaikwad, the SIC that his order was not as per the law and would lead to encouraging illegal building activities.
"After hearing our submissions Mr Gaikwad has very wisely decided to withdraw the controversial order. This is a very good action and must be complimented. It is in the spirit of the RTI Act," said Mr Gandhi in a statement.
The SIC, in his order on 26 September 2013 had directed all local bodies in the state not to disclose building plans or other document (like interior plans) to anyone under the RTI Act, citing security concerns.
The SIC issued the order using powers vested under Section 19(8)(c) and 25(5) of the RTI Act, which said, "All municipal corporations, municipalities in the state are directed not to provide building plans or other related documents of public buildings including government and semi-government offices, hotels, gymkhanas, hospitals, malls, IT and commercial buildings. Similarly, in case of private buildings, interior plans will not be provided under RTI unless it is proved that the information sought is in public interest."
The order came as shock to several RTI activists such as MR Gandhi (who served as Central Information Commissioner) and Mr Prabhu, who are working on placing all permissions granted, approval plans and concessions for several buildings on the website of BrihanMumbai Municipal Corp (BMC). Both, Gandhi and Prabhu are part of the BMC's technical advisory committee (TAC). The TAC was on the verge of ensuring suo moto disclosure of all building plans, and related documents by BMC.
RTI activist Anil Galgali, in a letter sent to Maharashtra governor K Shankarnarayan, chief minister Prithviraj Chavan and chief secretary Jayant Banthiya has questioned the issuance of the order by Gaikwad. "...the order is bad in law, without application of mind, illegal, unconstitutional and against the RTI Act. The Information Commissioner has to pass orders within the purview of RTI Act on a case which is presented before it. It has no powers to pass any general orders/law, which is vested with either the government or the Legislature," Galgali said.
According to the SIC, on 25 September 2013, Subhash Desai, member of legislative assembly (MLA) from Shiv Sena wrote to him about serious lapses committed by Public Information Officers (PIOs) while furnishing information about building plans and these PIOs are violating Sections 8 (a, d), 9 and 11 of the RTI Act. Mr Desai requested the SIC to instrct BMC, MHADA and MMRDA not to provide information about public places like government/semi-government building, hotels, gymkhanas, hospitals, malls, IT buildings and commercial buildings. "Since the Commission was also of the same opinion, an order was issued on 26 September 2013 under Section 19(8) and 25(5) of the RTI Act," Mr Gaikwad stated in his order issued on 4 December 2013.
He, however, had cautioned public authorities to exercise adequate caution when demand for the plans of public utilities or buildings are made. He said, "Public authorities must consider if there is may be some danger to national security or public safety if these plans are given."
Welcoming the SIC's decision to withdraw the controversial order, Mr Gandhi said, "Citizens must point out mistakes to public servants who must be open to accepting citizens’ viewpoints. Together all of us must work to change and improve our governance. Public servants and citizens are not in an adversarial relationship. We should attempt to achieve our goal of a better Nation through cooperation".
While 3rd December is commemorated as World Disability Day, how many know that RTI could empower the disabled to know about various welfare schemes, grants, concessions and scholarships they are entitled to?
While the Right to Information (RTI) Act is being used as a powerful tool by many of us, there do not seem to be even a handful that uses it to empower persons with disabilities (PWD).
Mysore-based social activist Siddaraju who is associated with the National Federation of the Blind has been steering various campaigns by invoking RTI Act in his fight for justice of disabled people, particularly children. One of his campaigns led to the Mysore Police Commissioner reserving 10 parking spaces for the disabled. Bangalore-based Sakshi Trust has a handbook to guide the PWD to invoke the RTI Act.
The Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of India is the official who is in charge of the rights, welfare schemes and scholarships for the PWD. As per its website, “The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995, enlists facilities that persons with different types of disabilities would be entitled to; and the responsibilities and obligations which are placed on the Government of India, state governments, local bodies and establishments in this behalf. It broadly includes measures for prevention and early detection of disabilities, education, employment, social security, research and manpower development, barrier-free access and preferences and facilities that are available to such persons and the action which needs to be taken to avoid any discrimination against persons with disabilities.”
The RTI Act can be used to find out various schemes and scholarships applicable to the PWDs, under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment as well as at the state and municipal corporation levels. The RTI Act has provided assistance from the public information officer for a person who is sensorily disabled. Sec 7(4) states: “Where access to the record or a part thereof is required to be provided under this Act and the person to whom access is to be provided is sensorily disabled, the Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer, as the case may be, shall provide assistance to enable access to the information, including providing such assistance as may be appropriate for the inspection.’’
Anita Iyer, founder trustee of Ekansh Trust based in Pune, states that the main issues of concern are, “lack of education opportunities both at the primary and higher levels; lack of livelihood and employment opportunities; lack of physical access in buildings and; denial of access to most civil and political rights. This is because PWD are not seen as a powerful vote bank. Hence, they are marginalised and sidelined by the society. They should be made aware of the power of the RTI Act so that the government machinery would give more attention to the rights of the PWD under various schemes. More and more RTI activists and NGOs should come forward to help them in filing RTI.’’
The Office of the Chief Commissioner for PWD has provided an information handbook on the RTI Act 2005, on its website.
It states that:
• this Information Handbook has been prepared in pursuance of Section 4 of the Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act, 2005) to provide information in respect of powers, duties and functions of the Office of the Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities (Office of the CCPD) set up under the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 (PwD Act)
• to provide access to information under the control of Office of the Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities and to promote transparency and accountability in the working.
• To provide maximum information suo motu or sources thereof so that people have minimum resort to use of the RTI Act.
• This handbook is useful for the persons with disabilities, their guardians, Voluntary Organisations and individuals working in the field of disability and Central/State Government Organisations.
Bangalore based Sakshi Trust in association with ActionAid India has developed a guide for the PWDs to invoke the RTI Act. It includes “a step wise guide to drafting RTI applications and provides a useful tool to seek information by anyone concerned, an NGO, or even parents. The context of the RTI applications and interventions in this book are made from the perspective of specific issue that a citizen/ disabled person maybe concerned about.’’
The issues the book has addressed through sample RTI application forms pertain to:
• Getting a Disability Certificate
• Getting an allocation in Poverty Alleviation Schemes
• Ensuring barrier free access in Public spaces and offices
• Access to education and related services for PWDs
• Employment opportunities for the disabled
• Getting Assistive Devices
• Ensuring complaint is heard by the Commissioner for PWDs
For each of these issues, the guide book contains model RTI application have been developed that can help you solve the problem. For more information, visit: www.sakshitrust.org.
The guide book states the general reasons for the raw deal that PWDs get in our country:
(a) Lack of awareness and negative attitudes towards people with disability. Very often people with disability are seen as sick persons who need care and comfort
(b) No tradition of / or facilitation for people with disability forming political interest groups at various political levels
(c) Lack of awareness about the governmental administrative structures and how, they can be used by NGOs and people with disability in particular
(d) People employed in the Office of the Commissioner of disability themselves are not well versed in disability issues
(e) State Coordination Committees and State Executive Committees (as specified in the Disability Act of 95) are not yet set up in all states
(f) The strengthening of the disability movement is sorely required
(g) Only a few people with disability are represented in the administrative bodies set up by the Government
(h) Lack of platforms where people with disability represented in governmental committees can share experience with other disability groups, get support, advice and gather information about disability issues
The book states that, “Despite of the shortcomings and challenges stated, the PWD Act (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995: remains a unique opportunity to establish linkages between the administrative bodies and people with disability regarding political issues as well as rehabilitation.’’
The prolific use of RTI Act can further strengthen and make the PWD Act more meaningful and relevant.
(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”.)