Defamation case against BMC officer for calling activists blackmailers and extortionists
Most people in power and powerful institutions dislike Right to Information (RTI) Act since it exposes corruption and arbitrariness. Consequently, a strong lie and myth has been created of calling RTI users and activists’ as misusers, extortionists and blackmailers. Almost everyone who uses RTI regularly and challenges illegalities or mistakes is deprecated in this manner.
 
Many Information Commissions are gleefully quoting and repeating this anti-democratic statement: "The Act should not be allowed to be misused or abused, to become a tool to obstruct the national development and integration, or to destroy the peace, tranquillity and harmony among its citizens. Nor should it be converted into a tool of oppression or intimidation of honest officials striving to do their duty."  
 
This statement may be justified if it was used for terrorists. 
 
A former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court has said there should be a limit to RTI, but levelling such a charge at citizens using their fundamental right is unacceptable. It shows a poor understanding of democracy. 
 
The RTI is a fundamental right as part of the freedom of expression guaranteed under Article 19 (1) (a), and yet Information Commissions and government officials use such deprecatory words for the use of a fundamental right. If this trend continues even our freedom of speech and of the media will be questioned. This big lie is being propagated very actively and even builders and corrupt officers find this a useful stick to demean citizens using their fundamental right to information. 
 
Now one citizen Pankaj Vijay Pandey has taken courage to challenge this Gobbelsian falsehood. Feeling suffocated by many RTI applications and complaints by citizens drawing attention to illegal constructions and buildings, Devendra Jain, an Assistant Commissioner at Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) or BrihanMumbai Municipal Corp (BMC) -  sent a complaint about 77 such persons to the police! 
 
He claimed they were 'professional complainants' blackmailing poor officers and owners of illegal buildings! There was evidently a cozy relationship, which was being disturbed. 
 
Mr Pandey has now filed a defamation suit against Mr Jain. The Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate has recorded that a prima facie case has been made out and has directed issue of process under section 500 of Indian Penal Code (IPC). This should act as a warning to many people in power who demean RTI users. Hopefully, more RTI users will follow Pankaj Pandey's example. 
 
The Section 500 of IPC says, "Whoever defames another shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both."  
 
Here is the order issued by the Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate...
 
 
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    COMMENTS

    GLN Prasad

    3 years ago

    What about the comments of a Governor who called RTI applicants as Terrorists ?
    No hue and cry when one IPS officer who tried to confront with Governor was sent back to Rajastan.

    An opportunity to research Right to Information (RTI) implementation
    While many activists have been lamenting the lack of seriousness about making Right to Information (RTI) effective, here is some good news for activists and those passionate about the extraordinary empowerment that this statute has provided. 
     
    The Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) has invited applications for field research on compliance of Section-4 by Public Authority, study of effectiveness of First Appeal Process and providing policy based on the contents of RTI applications and First Appeals.  The idea is to understand the success or constraints of implementation of the RTI Act. Hopefully, this detailed research, which is done with the benefit of a government grant will help activists advocate improvement in the implementation of the act ver the long run. 
     
    The RTI Fellowship 2016 is open for researchers in the field of media, journalism, civil society organisations and RTI trainers. The last date of application is 8th of November and the age limits is 40 years. The fellowships are for the the duration of three months from 15th December, 2016 to 15th March, 2017. 
     
    This is not the first time that such fellowships have been offered. In 2011, RTI Fellows - Shobha S V, Shibani Ghosh, Sowmya Sivakumar and Nishikanta Mohapatra had submitted a detailed report in the level of awareness of the people on RTI in the rural areas. The study researched the achievements of the people through the use of RTI with a focus on how women have used RTI in rural and urban areas. Their study also covered the role of Information Commissions in implementation of the RTI Act. An important conclusion, from my point of view was this: `` The proper implementation of the RTI Act is dependent on several factors – training and generation of awareness about the Act and its ambit in government officials and amongst citizens; change in the mindset of the ‘information-holders’; increased suo moto disclosure of information; resources to respond to information requests in a timely fashion; strict action for violation of the provisions of the Act; protection for ‘whistleblowers’; efficiency and effectiveness of the appellate mechanisms provided under the Act.’’  Unfortunately, recent attacks on whistleblowers are proof that the findings have yet to be acted upon by the government. 
     
    Activists intersted in reading the detailed report can access it here. This will also help potential applicants  to understand what is required from fellows who are selected under the grant. 
     
    Expectations from the applicant:
     
    The DoPT circular states: ``The proposal should clearly indicate the output that will be delivered at the end of the fellowship. It could be in the nature of a monograph of say 10,000 words which is ready for publication or features /news stories /investigative stories that could be printed / published as a journalistic piece in national / international media or in the case of professionals from the field of audio-video media, it could even be short video films or stories. The copyright of the research output will vest in Government of India who may publish the research output and /or may use it in any other way for the purpose of strengthening the working of the RTI regime in the country. GOI may, however, upon request, permit the Fellow to use the output for publication etc., if government itself does not publish / make use of the output within one year.The research fellow is expected to
     
    Details of the four Fellowships:
     
    Suggested Areas of Study and Research Output: RTI fellowships would be granted for researching any of following three themes relating to RTI with the objective of contributing towards better understanding of the successes of RTI and/ or constraints in its implementation and how implementation of the Act could be strengthened?
     
    (I) Study of compliance of Section-4 by Public Authority (1 Fellowship to be awarded)
     
    (II) Study of effectiveness of First Appeal Process (1 Fellowship to be awarded); and
     
    (III) Providing policy addressing based on the contents of RTI applications/ft appeals (2 Fellowships to be awarded)
     
    Compensation:
     
    Each selected Fellow will receive a total stipend of Rs2.00 lakh (subject to tax deduction at source) including a grant of upto Rs50,000 for books, research material, travel, printing, production of creatives etc on production of actual bills. No other remuneration including stay/ accommodation will be admissible.
     
    The applications may be submitted as per the guidelines for RTI fellowship, 2016 (copy enclosed) at the following address; Room No.281, Under Secretary (IR), DOPT, North Block, New Delhi-110001 3. The last date for receiving fellowship applications is 7thNovember, 2016. Applications received upto 5:30 PM, 7 th November, 2016 only will be considered. Five sets of the application with enclosures in the enclosed proforma may be sent by post to Under Secretary (IR), Department of Personnel and Training, Government of India, North Block, New Delhi- 110001.
     
    It will be good if meritorious candidates apply for this fellowship in order that the reality check of RTI Act is more comprehensive and credible.
     
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    COMMENTS

    GLN Prasad

    3 years ago

    Whether one needs a research and expenditure to that extent, such period is required when feed back from citizens can be more helpful ?
    That means DOPT is itself not in a position to handle this small task. Highly deplorable.

    Chief Minister agrees to fill up vacancies and make Maharashtra information commission functional
    Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis responds to former Central Information Commissioner (CIC) Mr Shailesh Gandhi  in less than 24 hours, assuring him that the "Government is (in the) process of filling all these vacancies”. Mr Shailesh Gandhi, former CIC had written a public letter the Chief Minister (CM) pointing to the fact that the RTI Act in Maharashtra is being systematically weakened by the failure to fill vacancies of public information officers (PIOs). 
     
    Here is what Mr Gandhi said in his letter:
     
    Dear Sir, 
     
    Maharashtra is probably the leader in the nation amongst States in RTI applications. We also have the dubious distinction of having the largest number of RTI users murdered. I might mention that nearly half the RTI applications have to be made since most government departments violate the transparency law in fulfilling their duties under Section 4 of the act. If they gave the information suo moto as mandated in the law citizens would not have to make half the applications. Apart from this are many decisions of all adjudicating bodies which do not decide RTI matters as per the  Statute passed by our parliament. You may be aware that the Indian RTI Act ranks amongst the top five in the world in terms of its provisions, but our nation ranks at number sixty six in implementation. 
     
    The purpose of this communication is to draw your attention to the fact that the Maharashtra Information Commission is being pushed into becoming dysfunctional and irrelevant due to carelessness by the government. The RTI Act envisages a maximum number of eleven information commissioners in a State. Our State had eight Information Commissioners, who were barely able to cope. Now we have only five commissioners. The State Commission has about 42,000 cases pending. And each year over 40,000 fresh cases are coming to the commission.  Across the nation most commissioners  dispose about 3,000 cases per year. The Maharashtra Commissioners dispose about 4,500 cases per year. Despite this, in some of the benches the pendency is over two years. Unless commissions dispose cases in less than three months, they will stop being able to service the average citizen. If vacancies are continued they will become like our courts, which have rendered dysfunctional because of vacancies. 
     
    Please take early action to select and appoint atleast five more information commissioners who have a predilection for transparency and an empathy and understanding of the RTI Act. RTI is a fundamental right of citizens, and the State has the duty to provide the required number of Information Commissioners. The Chief Information Commissioner has been trying to draw the attention to this problem and has sent four letters so far since August 2015.  At the centre all the vacant posts were filled after getting a Delhi High Court direction. I hope we will not require such a step in our State. RTI is the path to Swaraj, without which Suraj is not possible. I am attaching the latest plea of the Maharashtra Chief Information Commissioner. Please take urgent action in this matter.
     
    Thanking you,
     
    Yours sincerely
     
    Shailesh Gandhi
    former Central Information Commissioner
     
    The CM’s office responded to this letter. 
     
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    COMMENTS

    GLN Prasad

    3 years ago

    That means, some one should point out as to the other as to what is happening in the other's house and what to do ?

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