HC Raps Maharashtra for Dilly-dallying on RTI Second Appeals, Orders Online Hearings
In a twin victory for citizens campaigning vigorously through online RTI Katta, leading to their filing two public interest litigations (PIL) with the Bombay High Court to direct all public authorities in Maharashtra to adopt an appropriate online video conferencing platform for conducting hearings of cases in their respective departments as well as for second appeals under the RTI Act, the High Court has come down heavily on the state government for its negligent attitude in conducting online hearings.
 
The orders were passed early this week.
 
In one of the two PILs, the High Court said it was 'surprised' to know that during the period of six months after the lock-down was announced, the state did not consider it appropriate to provide for hearing through virtual platform and  was  still praying for some more time to make the system operational. HC has given the state government three weeks’ time to file a reply to the state government and the state information commission (SIC). 
 
As for the other PIL regarding online hearing of second appeals under the RTI Act within the 45-day deadline, the Bombay High Court has directed the state government to give a reply in a week’s time as its representative needed more time to make the online video platform 'operational', particularly due to shortage of three information commissioners, making it difficult to conduct online second appeal hearings efficiently.
 
Ms Shastri, additional government pleader, cut a sorry figure of governance when she pleaded that, “the government of Maharashtra is inclined to adopt an appropriate online video conferencing platform for conducting hearing of quasi-judicial or administrative proceedings; however, the procedure may take some time as a meeting will have to be convened with the concerned departments including the finance department and that necessary guidelines and directions would be issued to all the public authorities thereafter.’’ She mentioned though that “some of the authorities are already conducting the hearings through video conferencing.’’
 
The HC also mentioned in its order regarding online video platform for all public authorities in Maharashtra that,  “Quite reluctantly, we adjourn the hearing of this PIIL petition for three weeks, as prayed for by Ms Shastri,’’ and hoped that “on the returnable date, she would apprise us regarding the steps taken by the government and thereby not leave any room for complaint to be voiced by the petitioner.” 
 
As for the PIL regarding the second appeal online hearings under the RTI Act within 45 days of receiving the second appeal, the High Court has made the department of general administration (GAD) as respondent no 2 due to three of the eight information commissioners, not being yet appointed because of which Ms Shastri had mentioned that it would take more time to make online hearings fully operational.
 
Before the PIL,  the petitioners (citizen activists under the umbrella of the RTI Katta) had served a legal notice to the state government through its chief secretary, urging it to issue appropriate guidelines and directions to all the public authorities (PAs) in the state of Maharashtra to resume at the earliest, all the hearing proceedings conducted by them under the respective statute (Acts) applicable to the concerned PAs, by adopting an appropriate online video conferencing platform as the government of Maharashtra may deem fit. However, no reply came by to this legal notice. 
 
Similarly, this citizen forum had also sent another legal notice to the state chief information commission (SCIC), against the backdrop of more than 58,000 second appeals and complaints pending before it and so it sometimes takes more than a year for the commission to dispose of the case. The legal notice demanded that the citizens be informed about the detailed roadmap that the SCIC has charted for complying with the precedents laid down by the Calcutta High Court and Karnataka High Court, whereby the second appeal and complaints filed before it are disposed within 45 days from the date.  To this the SCIC had given an unconvincing reply, hence they knocked at the doors of the Bombay High Court.
 
The citizen activists include RTI Katta founder and activist Vijay Kumbhar, former CIC Shailesh Gandhi and activists Bhaskar Prabhu, Vivek Velankar, Jugal Rathi and Mohammed Afzal.
 
(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

    sanyalgs276005

    1 week ago

    Very bold decision by IC

    On 350th RTI Katta, Citizens Urged To Demand Placing of All RTI-related Information in Public Domain
    “While the implementation of the RTI Act is rightly credited to the relentless crusade by noted activists around the country, citizens now have a responsibility to put pressure on the government for suo motu disclosures by every public authority, in order to completely eliminate the need for filing RTI applications,” said Prithiviraj Chavan, former chief minister of Maharashtra and former Union minister of department of personnel & training (DoPT), who was in-charge of RTI (Right to Information) Act, in his address  as the chief guest at the 350th RTI Katta online meeting. He said that the dilution manifests glaringly in the way the autonomy of information commissioners has been 'reduced.’
     
    Accusing the present central government of  'dismantling the RTI Act,' and 'strangulating information,’ Mr Chavan drew attention to the secrecy surrounding the PM Cares Fund and the Rafale case as unfortunate examples, stating,  “not giving information has become a habit with the government and it is bent on strangulating information. In the Rafale case, not only did the government deny information under RTI, but it also opposed the formation of a joint parliamentary committee as it would have been bound by the rules to give information even if it didn’t do so under RTI. A joint parliamentary committee is like a mini Parliament and is another route to transparency. However, this was also denied.’’
     
     
    Information being power, Mr Chavan said that citizens should not have to write RTI applications anymore. Stating that “RTI is an interim step towards transparency.” 
     
    The former chief minister of Maharashtra also rued that the onus to procure information falls on the citizens as they have to go through the exercise of filing RTI applications. Instead, it is high time they got information without asking for it as the respondents are the trustees of public money and for that the government should place all information in the public domain. 
     
    Mr Chavan also regretted that “In India a government officer is called a government servant and that’s the reason why he thinks his allegiance is towards his political masters. In contrast, in the UK, he is called a public servant and so he is automatically answerable to the public.’’ 
     
    He admonished the mindset of most information commissioners, who were former bureaucrats and continue to carry the mindset of 'pleasing their masters.’ 
     
    Mr Chavan has himself used RTI several times but was appalled at the rejections that he had received. He reiterated that it was thanks to the then national advisory council’s president Sonia Gandhi’s efforts that the Congress implemented the historic RTI Act, thereby nullifying the Official Secrets Act of the British Raj. 
     
    Mr Chavan confessed that, even at that time, there was a lot of opposition from politicians of all parties including Congress because of which “time was wasted in bringing RTI earlier,’’ but he thanked noted activists like Aruna Roy, Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal for their firebrand activism because of which “the government realised that it can’t falter on the issue.  Thereafter too, they prevailed upon the government for proposing to delete file notings and the government had to withdraw this amendment.’’
     
    The RTI Katta Rolls On
     
     
    The unique citizen initiative by Pune-based RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar, of holding the RTI Katta every Sunday at a prominent public garden in Pune reached its historic 350th week last Sunday. What’s commendable is that the RTI Katta smoothly rolled over from the public garden on to the Zoom platform. Thus, the campaigns that were steered there, which included the controversial and mega DSK scam amongst others, have become stronger through the online Katta. Several petitions and legal notices have been sent to various state government authorities for appointment of information commissioners, for online hearings of second appeals and for more transparency in public authorities under the RTI Act.
     
    Mr Kumbhar on the 350th RTI Katta anniversary stated,  “An RTI Katta in a public garden which is accessible to the common man was the urgent need of the hour. Until then, all conferences and events relating to the RTI were held in posh hotels and public halls, thus depriving the common of being armed with information and guidance to use the RTI. Therefore, I formed the RTI Katta which is a forum for anyone who wants to express his thoughts and problems. We do not work on behalf of the participants here but encourage them to use RTI by guiding them. As a result, so many people who were fighting shy of facing government officers have developed the courage to meet these officers in their offices and get their issues sorted out.’’
     
    More power to this RTI Katta, a unique mass movement in the country.
     
     
    (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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    m.prabhu.shankar

    1 month ago

    Excellent Excellent.

    RTI Activists Sign Petition Seeking Uploading of Covid Information on Government Websites
    Despite COVID-19 being a singular and colossal public health disaster directly affecting crores of citizens, public authorities are not abiding by the suo moto disclosures under Section 4 of the Right to Information (RTI) Act and give such excuses as its PIOs (principal information officers) are on COVID duty, when a citizen seeks information through an RTI application regarding various aspects of COVID management by the respective governments and municipal authorities.
     
    What’s worse is that despite the ministry of health and family welfare (MoHFW) having appointed Saranga Dhar Nayak, deputy secretary as a nodal officer on 15 June 2020 for ensuring that every public authority concerned would upload information related to COVID management on its website, there has been no seriousness about transparency in this public healthcare management.
     
    In fact, it was thanks to the RTI scholar and activist Venkatesh Nayak who filed multiple RTIs and finally filed a second appeal with the chief information commissioner (CIC), that the nodal officer was appointed. The CIC ordered the secretary, MoHFW early June 2020 “to designate an officer of an appropriate seniority as a nodal officer to examine the matter and suo moto disclose the information sought in the RTI application on the website of the public authority within a period of 15 days from the date of receipt of this order in the larger public interest.” That’s how the nodal officer was appointed but he does not seem to have achieved the objective. We had reported the matter here.
     
    Last weekend, leading RTI activists and former bureaucrats discussed the issue of unavailability of information regarding COVID management in Maharashtra and have filed a formal complaint with Sumit Malik, Maharashtra’s state chief information commissioner (SCIC). 
     
    The complaint states that a random survey of the websites of the Sassoon Hospital, Pune Municipal Corporation, Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation, Pune’s Divisional Commisisonerate, Pune Collectorate and Maharashtra state’s health department shows that apart from public awareness information on the websites, there is no other crucial information that has been uploaded. This attempt to scuttle transparency is a serious issue considering that several crores of rupees are being spent to counter the COVID crisis. And despite these costs, citizens are provided poor quality treatment leading even to deaths due to haphazard service offered by the respective local self-government authorities.
     
    Hence, activists under the RTI Katta forum have requested the SCIC to direct all public authorities in the state to upload information from 1 January 2020 regarding expenditure of goods and even services/e-services related to COVID management such as buying of furniture, beds, oxygen cylinder, PPE (personal protection equipment) kits, masks ventilators, medicines and so on for treatment. This information should include uploading of copies of government and technical sanctions; copies of documents/bills/sanctions of various stages of expenditure; copies of e-tenders and specifications of the products bought as well as e-services; any other documents relating to expenditure and  their tabulation.
     
    The forum members in their complaint have reminded the SCIC that implementation of the suo moto disclosures under Section 4 of the RTI Act is extremely poor in the state and now it has to step up as it a national health emergency. The forum in its letter also reminded the SCIC that when it is the issue of `life and liberty’ as is the case now in this pandemic, under Section 7 of the RTI Act, the public authority is duty bound to upload the information for public view within 48 hours.
     
    States Mahesh Zagade, who has also signed the petition, “Despite the Epidemic Act and the National Disaster Management Act which has empowered the administration, it has been apathetic towards transparency in COVID information and the system has broken down. The officers have lost all sensitivity to human fatalities. RTI can’t be used post-event as PIOs are busy with health emergency work and hence it is the duty of the head of the public authority concerned to upload all information regarding COVID management.’’
     
    RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar states, “The Jumbo COVID Centre located in the College of Engineering grounds in Pune is a stark example of such apathy. Despite Rs100 crore spent on the centre, there aren’t enough beds and oxygen cylinders to save patients and several of them have died due to such negligence. Shockingly, a private company, just one month old, was awarded a tender to buy 800 cots within 24 hours. Obviously, that has not been possible and so the centre runs with just one-third of the beds. Not enough doctors and nurses are available there. Who’s responsible for such preventable deaths? Shouldn’t there be an FIR filed against the authority concerned? That is why it is essential to get information about every aspect of this centre. This is just to give you an example of why public disclosures in these pandemic times is of great importance.’’
     
    Other RTI activists who have signed this complaint are: Shailesh Gandhi, Pralhad Kachare, Bhaskar Prabhu, Jugal Rathi and Mohammad Afzal.
     
    (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

    Ramesh Popat

    1 month ago

    Like Duryodhana in Mahabharat, Govt says, we know everything,
    but can't implement ( very valid compulsion)!

    s5rwav

    1 month ago

    NBA is Voluntary Organization that is Not Accountable to Anyone and Allows Unwarranted TV Broadcasts in India. I am Babubhai Vaghela from Ahmedabad. Thanks. https://www.livelaw.in/top-stories/do-you-watch-tv-sc-asks-news-broadcasters-associationnba-calls-it-toothless-163161

    s5rwav

    1 month ago

    Superb 😄😄

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