For the 5th Time in the Past 6 Years, Post of Central Chief Information Commissioner Is Vacant Again
Is it a case of no lessons learnt or deliberate attempt to scuttle the Right to Information (RTI) Act? Once again, with the retirement of chief central information commissioner (CCIC) Bimal Julka on the 27th August, the post of the chief information commissioner (CIC) in Delhi has fallen vacant and once again neither the directives of the department of personnel and training (DoPT) in starting the process of selecting the next CIC, three months before retirement, nor the Supreme Court’s order in 2019 to make appointments transparent and within the time schedule, is being heeded.
 
Besides Mr Julka’s vacancy, which has just rendered the central information commission headless, four posts of information commissioners (ICs) are also vacant in the CIC. Anjali Bharadwaj, member of the Satark Nagrik Sangathan, which is campaigning over this issue and even sought judicial intervention in the highest judicial body of the country, states, “Currently more than 35,000 appeals and complaints are pending in the commission, resulting in citizens having to wait for months, even years for their cases to be disposed, thereby frustrating peoples’ right to know.’’
 
In fact, since 2014, when the Modi government took over, there has been dilly-dallying over prompt appointment of ICs, leading to several vacancies in the CIC in New Delhi as well in various state information commissions. The basic mandatory clauses of releasing advertisement to call for applications to these posts, three months before the retirement of any CCIC, CIC or IC and to ensure that the search and selection committees zero in on the candidate, have been flouted.  (Read: Since May 2014, CICs or ICs Have Been Appointed Only When Directed by the Courts)
 
Rues Ms Bharadwaj, “Since May 2014, not a single commissioner of the CIC has been appointed without citizens having to approach courts. The failure of the government to make timely appointments of commissioners is a flagrant violation of the directions of the Supreme Court. In its February 2019 judgment, the apex court had categorically stated that if the CIC does not have a Chief Information Commissioner or the required strength of commissioners, it adversely affects the functioning of the RTI Act and “may even amount to negating the very purpose for which this Act came into force.” 
 
To ensure timely appointments, the court had directed that the process of selection should commence prior to the vacancy arising. Further, the judgement notes, “The petitioners are right in their submissions that there have been undue delays in filling up of these vacancies. We expect that the vacancies shall be filled up, in future, well in time.” (Judgment in WPC 436 of 2018- Anjali Bhardwaj & Ors Vs Union of India & Ors.).
 
The Central government has also faltered in the transparency aspect in the appointment of CICs. In its December 2019 order as well as in its earlier order of February 2019, the Supreme Court directed the government to ensure transparency in the process of appointment by disclosing the names of the members of the search committee and complying with the earlier directions regarding timely and transparent appointments to the CIC. It had made it mandatory to:
 
disclosure of the agenda and minutes of the search and selection committee meetings
 
criteria adopted by the search committee for shortlisting candidates
 
the advertisement issued for the vacancies
 
the list of applicants, notification of appointments, file notings and correspondence related to appointments.
 
However, only skeletal information has been uploaded in the public domain.
 
Says Ms Bharadwaj, “The repeated failure to appoint the chief and other commissioners of the CIC in a timely manner appears to be a deliberate attempt by the government to undermine the RTI Act & frustrate peoples' ability to seek information to hold the government accountable.’’
 
Writes research scholar and programme coordinator of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), Venkatesh Nayak, in The Leaflet, “While NDA’s promise of minimum government is laudable, when institutions like the information commissions are weakened then the governance will also get minimised and turn the Constitution’s vision of rule of law into a distant dream.” 
 
Mr Nayak feels that as per the 2019 Supreme Court guidelines, the government must complete forthwith the process of filling up the vacancies in the CIC which was initiated last month. The search committee headed by the cabinet secretary and the selection committee headed by the prime minister must identify well-qualified candidates to recommend to the President of India for an appointment without any further delay.
 
Earlier story: 
 
 
 
(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 Reveals: Pakistan Flouted Ceasefire 8,571 Times at the Borders from January 2018 to July 2020
    Six civilians were injured after an unprovoked ceasefire violation by Pakistan in the first week of August this year, along the line of control (LoC) in the Tangdhar Sector of Kupwara.
     
    In fact, hundreds of families residing in several villages along the LoC suffer physical injuries, fatalities and loss of property due to Pakistan’s continuous ceasefire violations and it’s just gotten worse in the past two and a half years.
     
    As per the information received by Jammu-based RTI activist Raman Sharma from the ministry of home affairs (MHA), there have been 8,571 ceasefire violations from 1 January 2018 to 31 July 2020. This, Mr Sharma says, amounts to nearly 10 ceasefire violations every single day. 
     
    The information provided by the office of director, security (J & K Wing) of MHA, also states that during the past two and a half years, at least 119 Indians lost their lives. These included the lives of 63 civilians and 56 security force personnel. Besides, 308 civilians and 300 security force personnel were injured.
     
    According to Mr Sharma, “The reply that I received from MHA through my RTI application also discloses that as compared to year 2010, the aggression incidents by Pakistan at the border in Jammu and Kashmir in the year 2019 increased around 50 times and till July 2020 further increased 60 times. Whereas in 2010, there were only 70 such incidents and in year 2019, 3,479 such incidents are reported, 2,952 incidents of ceasefire violations have been recorded till July-2020.’’
     
    The RTI reply further reveals that in the decade of 2010-2020, Pakistan violated the peace pact on borders at least 11,572 times and resorted to cross-border fire in Jammu and Kashmir, killing 240 Indians that includes 122 civilians and 118 security force personnel. The firing also injured 673 civilians and 594 SF personnel. 
     
    States Mr Sharma, “Every year the cross border shelling incidents by Pakistan are increasing. In year 2010, only 70 such incidents were reported that killed two civilians and five SF personnel whereas in year 2019 the number of Pakistan’s unprovoked shelling incidents increased around 50 times as 3479 incidents were reported that caused the killing of 18 civilians and 19 security personnel in cross border shelling. This year till July, 2952 cross border shelling claimed lives of 15 civilians, besides 38 others injured and also causing death of 8 Jawans and injuring 62 others.’’
     
    As per this RTI information, five lakh rupees of ex-gratia cash relief is given to the family members in case of death or to the victim of more than 50% disability. Compensation for housing damages,   crop and livestock losses, stay at relief camps and displacement, to those affected by cross border firings are also reimbursed by the Central government. As per the National Disaster Response Fund, compensation of Rs.50,000 is provided for loss of domestic animals. Besides, government of Jammu and Kashmir also gives relief to person injured as per the extent rules.
     
    Mr Sharma had sought the following information in his online RTI application to the ministry of home affairs:
     
    1. Kindly provide district wise detail of total Indian citizens who were killed in cross border shelling on LoC & International border area of Jammu & Kashmir between 01 Jan 2010 till date (July 2020).
     
    2. Kindly provide district wise detail of total number of Indian citizens who were injured in cross border shelling on LoC & International border area of Jammu & Kashmir between 01 Jan 2010 to till date.
     
    3. Kindly provide district wise detail of total number of cease fire violations committed by Pakistan on LoC & international border areas of Jammu & Kashmir between 01 Jan 2010 and July 2020.
     
    4. As per policy, provide details of ex gratia, compensation being given by central government for loss of each civilian’s life in cross border shelling from Pakistan side in J & K.
     
    5. Also provide certified copy of such policy, rule as mentioned in point no 4 of this RTI plea.
     
    6. Kindly provide district wise detail of total Indian security force personnel martyred in cross border shelling on LoC & international border area of Jammu & Kashmir between 01 Jan 2010 to till date.
     
    7. Kindly provide district wise detail of total Indian security force personnel injured in cross border shelling on LoC & international border area of Jammu & Kashmir between 01 Jan 2010 to till date.
     
    (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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    Kolhapur Defies NGT on Panchganga Flood-lines, Sets Perilous Precedent for Other Cities Too
    In 2019, a right to information (RTI) query revealed that Kolhapur floods were caused due to 1,250 acres of red and blue flood-line area, which is a no-development zone, being used for construction activity along the banks of the Panchganga River. This led to the National Green Tribunal (Delhi) ordering the irrigation department to ear-mark the flood-lines as per the 2018 survey carried out by the water conservation department; but it did only a partial job.
     
    For the third time, last month, on 15 July 2020, the NGT has  ordered the irrigation department to finalise the red and blue lines along the Panchganga River at the earliest. However, looks like vested interests will continue to stall any such implementation, considering huge construction activity is at stake. 
     
    While last week, Kolhapur again faced a threat of floods, in the 2019 monsoons, 54 people had died, thousands of cattle were washed away and there was extensive damage of property and crops, due to the flooding of the Panchganga River in Kolhapur and Sangli districts.
     
    This overwhelmingly grim flood situation bears direct relation to the tampering of the red and blue flood-lines in the demarcation of the Panchganga River in the Kolhapur development plan. This was revealed when Pune-based activist Sarang Yadvadkar procured documents under RTI from the Kolhapur municipal corporation. 
     
     
    Before that, in 2015, in Mr Yadwadkar’s petition to the NGT to draw out flood-lines in flood-prone cities, towns and villages of Maharashtra, the NGT had ordered the water conservation department of the Maharashtra government to carry out red and blue flood-lines for such places that are flood-prone and to disallow any construction in an area 50 metres around them. 
     
    Thereafter, the issue got highlighted, when in 2018, a letter written by a Kolhapur-based scholar, Dr Balkrishna Shelar to NGT brought to its notice the unbridled development along the banks of the Panchganga River that ran through Kolhapur, because of which, floods are likely to create havoc in the city, in the event of excess rains. NGT suo motu converted it into a petition and ordered the water conservation department of the state government to carry out a fresh survey to demarcate new red and blue flood-lines due to the changing behaviour of rains as the 2005 flood-line demarcation was no more relevant. 
     
    This study, which was vetted by IIT, Mumbai, revealed that a whopping 1,250 acres of flood-line area on the banks of the Panchganga River are taboo for any construction activity. However, by then, several residential and commercial constructions had already come up.
     
     
    Alarmed by these new flood-line demarcations, the builder lobby through the Confederation of Real Estate Developers’ Associations of India (CREDAI), Kolhapur, wrote to the then chief minister (CM) Devendra Fadnavis on October 2018 (a copy of the letter was procured through RTI), pleading that the earlier flood lines which were drawn in 2005 in the development plan should be maintained and the ones demarcated in 2018 should be scrapped. Very promptly, the CM within a week’s time ordered that CREDAI’s appeal should be maintained. This has put a large population of Kolhapur and Sangli districts perennially under the threat of floods, every monsoon.
     
    When once again petitions were filed in April 2019 and then again after the horrendous floods of 2019, the tribunal, in November 2019 had directed the irrigation department to urgently complete the process of demarcation of the 'red’ and 'blue’ lines in the concerned areas of the Panchganga. It stated in its order: “The irrigation department may complete the process of demarcation of the 'red’ and 'blue’ lines within one month. Let a compliance report be furnished by the principal secretary, irrigation department by email at [email protected] within one month… the additional chief secretary, urban development may also file a report as already directed vide order dated 5 April 2019 failing which he may have to be required to remain present in person before the Tribunal.”
     
    During the NGT hearing on 15 July 2020,  the Kolhapur municipal corporation filed a report with the NGT stating:  “It is submitted that the blue and red line is not completely demarcated on the entire area. The area from Laxtirth to Dudhali approximately 1km and Kadamwadi to Gandhinagar approximately 2.5km, total around 3.5km length along the river is yet to be demarcated.’’
     
    The NGT has once again ordered that as “the demarcation of red/blue/green line is incomplete by the irrigation department, the KMC has sent letters to chief engineer, irrigation department and requested to finalise remaining part of blue and red line at the earliest.”
     
    However, the fact is, this year too, Kolhapur is vulnerable to floods and the question is: Even if the lines are demarcated, will the already constructed buildings be demolished or regularised, as is the trend with most municipal corporations? This case is important, as the havoc of construction activity is not confined only to Kolhapur and Sangli districts but even cities like Pune, Mumbai and every other urban area in Maharashtra state has fallen prey to it. Floods are invariably caused due to encroachment into the flood-line areas on the banks of the river. 
     
     
    (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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