Journalist Vishwas Waghmode Demonstrates the ‘How-to Use Section 4’ of RTI Successfully
It is not merely the provision of inspecting files under Section 4 of the Right to Information (RTI) Act that spurs young journalist, Vishwas Waghmode, to use it prolifically to get his news stories. It is also the added strategy of staying in the good books of the public information officers (PIOs), respecting their position as government officers and being patient with them, that marks his success of consistently procuring quality information.
 
Waghmode, the principal correspondent of The Indian Express, Mumbai, who covers the Mantralaya beat, won the coveted RTI award 2018, last week from the Pune based NGO `Sajag Nagarik Manch’. In his two-year stint with The Indian Express, he has used the RTI a whopping 100 times, most of them being the inspection of files under Section 4 of the RTI Act; a handful of them, RTI applications under Section 6 of the RTI Act.
 
Waghmode, who was inclined to use RTI at the DNA newspaper, which was his first job, stated that his enthusiasm to use RTI met with lukewarm response from his seniors. However, The Indian Express gave him the right kind of environment to pursue it. 
 
At the outset, he invoked Section 6 of the RTI Act to procure information on the number of tree transplantations in Mumbai. It took one year and five months to get the information. States Waghmode, ``Finally when I was called to the office to get the required information, it is the PIO of the BMC’s garden department who said that I would have got the information much earlier if I had inspected files under Section 4 of the RTI Act. She explained that she was already burdened with too much work and culling this information together from different zones was an onerous task for her, but a visitor going through the files and requesting for specific photostat copies makes her job easier.’’
 
That spurred Waghmode to study Section 4 in-depth to understand the kind of information he can get and quickly – the mainstay for a journalist who always has a challenging deadline. He says he also studied Section 8 very carefully so that he does not waste his time inspecting files only to be told that the information falls outside the ambit of the RTI Act.
 
Regarding using diplomacy to get information, Waghmode says, ``I realised that most of the PIOs feel it an additional burden to reply to the Section 6 RTI applications, so I ease their burden when I scrutinise the documents and ask for only the specific pages I require.
 
I begin by telling that I don’t want information right away – I shall go through the documents, and if relevant, I may ask for some photostat copies. That makes them feel relaxed.’’
 
Another strategy that Waghmode adopts is that he gives 10-15 days’ buffer for doing inspection of files. Says he, ``Some of the PIOs feel they lose the power of being a boss and have to stoop down to citizens for RTI requisitions. So, some of them give an excuse of being too busy if I request them for inspection of files. I maintain my calm and ask them when next. They will say, after two days and then again after two days. However, being in the Mantralaya every day it is not a big deal for me to pursue the matter. This convinces them that I’m going to keep coming back and they agree to show the documents. So, not breathing down their neck helps.’’ 
 
Early this week, Waghmode scripted a success story, when the Maharashtra government issued a (general resolution (GR) on 7 March 2019, directing every public authority to form internal committees (IC) based on the Vishakha guidelines for sexual harassment cases in the workplace. The Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, mandates that all places of employment with 10 or more employees should have a functioning IC. 
 
Waghmode triggered this GR when his RTI query in February 2019 revealed that the chief minister’s office does not have an IC, nor does any other minister’s office. To his query under RTI, the date of establishment of the IC in CMO’s office, the PIO of the CM’s secretariat stated in his reply that the general administration department (GAD) is responsible for issuing the directives. Waghmode then invoked RTI in the GAD  too whose PIO replied that there are hardly any women working in the ministry offices and those that do, are on contract. 
 
This was a serious issue, and Wagmode ably spun a news story based on the callous attitude of the state government concerning women’s safety by not appointing ICs for the last five years.
 
On 7th March, the GR was released, and the CMO has promptly formed its IC comprising an undersecretary, and five members include two desk officers from GAD, two desk officers from CMO and a non-governmental member. All offices of ministries of the state government have been asked to follow suit. 
 
Waghmode’s RTI inspection of files regarding the near Rs.3,000 crore Chhatrapati Shivaji Memorial in the sea revealed that to cut the costs the height of the statue has been lowered, and the length of the sword increased to ensure that its height remains the same! This young reporter has also followed up his denial of information request of State government’s MoU agreement copies with various private companies. 
 
He was compelled to file the second appeal with the State chief information commission,  as the concerned PIO insisted that it would compromise commercial interests and that these MoUs are in a fiduciary relationship.  In some cases, the PIO has blindly given him the file to inspect, only to be embarrassed at Waghmode’s news story that revealed inconvenient news. 
 
Another of Waghmode’s tips to journalists and citizens who invoke RTI is to seek expert help when you are frustrated with denial of information. 
 
According to Waghmode, inspection of files under Section 4 of the RTI Act is a useful tool to procure information quickly, but a friendly, instead of a hostile approach to the PIOs is the key. Hope this young journalist is a trendsetter for others in his fraternity.
 
The Sajag Nagarik Manch, founded by RTI activists Vivek Velankar and Jugal Rathi, works towards transparency for good governance. Besides holding daily RTI clinics and weekly public lectures, the NGO has instituted the annual RTI award for those who are pursuing it effectively and with dogged determination. The award to Waghmode was given away by Dilip Dharurkar, state information commissioner, Aurangabad and Nagpur division. He too is a former journalist.
 

(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

VASANT KULKARNI

2 weeks ago

EXCELLENT WORK, WAGHMODEJI.LET GENERAL PUBLIC FOLLOW IT TO MAKE THE USE OF RTI MORE EFFECTIVE.

Harish

2 weeks ago

Good work by Shri Waghmode!

Adani Win 5 Airports; What about Accountability of PPP Model?
Last week, the Adani group won rights to operate, manage and develop airports of Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Lucknow, Thiruvananthapuram and Mangalore by offering highest per-passenger fee (PPF),  which is paid by the developer to the Airport Authority of India (AAI) of the relevant state. Moreover, unlike the Delhi and Mumbai airports, wherein the GMR and the GVK groups have entered into a 74:26 joint venture (JV) with AAI and have to share profits, the Adani group will be handed over the airports completely for itself for 50 years under the public- private partnership (PPP) model.
 
This, once again, brings up the question of transparency of the PPP projects wherein any private agency should be counted as a government agency once it enters PPP venture and, hence, comes under the ambit of the Right to Information (RTI) Act. 
 
This is because the Section 2 (h) of the RTI Act states that any private body that is `substantially financed’ by the government is considered as 'public authority' under the RTI Act. In most of the PPP projects, the private agency is leased out sprawling land spread over hundreds of acres of government land and also enjoys various exemptions and concessions. Hence, RTI activists have been continuously fighting against the secrecy maintained by the PPPs. The homepage of the website www.ppp.gov.in, quoting the World Bank states that presently India has close to 1,500 PPP projects in various stages of implementation!
 
However, PPPs have refused to reply RTI queries. A pertinent case in point is that of the Mumbai International Airport Ltd (MIAL) which has continuously stone-walled queries under the RTI Act, since 2011. 
 
Pune-based RTI activist, Sanjay Shirodkar, is giving a relentless fight since 2008 and achieved a brief success when the then chief information commissioner (CIC) Shailesh Gandhi gave an order stating that the Central government has a large stake in MIAL. Not only does the AAI own 26% of the paid-up share capital of MIAL (which can never be reduced but only be increased) but MIAL also has to give  38.7% of its gross revenue (quite apart from the down payment made by way of consideration for the grant of lease) to the AAI.
 
Hence, the CIC order of 30 May 2011 declared MIAL as public authority under the RTI Act, as also other such PPP projects that are substantially funded. Thereafter, MIAL went to the Delhi High Court in 2011 and the matter is still pending.
 
Mr Shirodkar, continuing his battle to get answers to some pertinent information sought by him from MIAL (Mumbai Airport), DIAL (Delhi Airport), BIAL (Bangaluru Airport), HIAL (Hyderabad Airport) and CIAL (Cochin Airport), filed another RTI application addressed to the AAI head quarters, New Delhi on  29 September 2018 but is yet to get a reply. His requisition in the RTI application was as follows:
 
  • Please provide a true copy for a till date list of assets of AAI demolished / disposed of by MIAL, DIAL, BIAL, HIAL and CIAL in connection with modernisation of all the said airports. Please provide list of assets with valuation.
  • Please provide a true copy for a till date list of fixed assets of AAI sold off by MIAL, DIAL, BIAL, HIAL and CIAL in connection with modernisation of all the said airports. Please provide list of assets with valuation.
  • Please provide a true copy for a till date list of various income/revenue shared by MIAL, DIAL, BIAL, HIAL and CIAL to AAI.
  • Please provide a true copy for a till date list of various payments given to MIAL, DIAL, BIAL, HIAL and CIAL by AAI.
  • Please provide a true copy for a till date list of pay and allowances, retirement and voluntary retirement scheme (VRS) cost for employees who have not opted for absorption, in terms of agreement paid by MIAL, DIAL, BIAL, HIAL and CIAL to AAI.
  • Please provide a true copy for a till date list of amounts to be received from sundry debtors from MIAL, DIAL, BIAL, HIAL and CIAL to AAI.
  • Please provide a true copy for a till date list of amounts to be given towards sundry creditors to MIAL, DIAL, BIAL, HIAL and CIAL by AAI.
  • Please provide a true copy of till date year wise development fees collected by MIAL, DIAL, BIAL, HIAL and CIAL.
  • Please provide a true copy of till date year wise marketing fund, property tax and electricity revenue generated by MIAL, DIAL, BIAL, HIAL and CIAL.
  • Please provide a true copy of latest demand cum show cause notice issued by service tax department to MIAL, DIAL, BIAL, HIAL and CIAL. 
  • Please provide a true copy of till date cost expended on the said project.
  • Please provide a true copy of estimate abstract summary.
  • Please provide a true copy of till date details on infra loan/ financial assistance taken to execute the said project.
  • Please provide a true copy of final completion certificate issued by respective special planning authority for the said project.
  • Please provide a true copy on details of till date amount / charges to be paid to slum rehabilitation authority, GoM.
  • Please provide a true copy of details on till date foreign direct investments pumped in and through which route?
  • Please provide a true copy for list of audits done by AAI or MoCA or AERA or accountant general or CAG or any competent authority for the said project.     
 
Mr Shirodkar says, “There is no definition mentioned anywhere in the Right to Information Act, 2005 about substantial funding. Since MIAL is saying that 51% is their definition of substantial funding then stamp duty worth Rs.250 crore waived off by the government of Maharashtra, land and infrastructure of 2002 acres worth more than one lakh crore of rupees given on Rs100/year (lease premium) is our definition of substantial funding to this MIAL PPP. As a result RTI is applicable. Moreover, Mumbai International Airport Private Limited is now appearing as Mumbai International Airport Limited (this name is mentioned in their submission)."
 
This 'LIMITED' word itself suggests that they are no more a ‘Private’ entity.
 
He further says, ``AAI being the 26% active partner in this JV, also shirked the responsibility of answering public questions under RTI. In the last many years I have seen AAI, despite being the owner of Mumbai Airport property, always passed the buck to its lessee (MIAL) on information relating to owner’s land and infrastructure.
 
“In one of the seminars conducted by Monyelife Foundation, a Mumbai-based not-for-profit organisation, on the effective use of RTI, a CIC revealed that to avoid disclosure of information, sought under the RTI Act, PPPs have even gone to the length of stating that their documents were lost. Such statements amount to giving away national property or tax payers’ money for ever. It also reveals how PPPs deliberately want to stonewall the information. In the interest of the nation and complete transparency in the dealing of such PPP project, we demand complete disclosure of information by them under the RTI Act.’’
 
Public Auditing Guidelines on Public Private Partnerships (PPP) in Infrastructure Project published by C&AG in 2009 and Shirodkar’s analysis:
 
Definition of PPP:
 
1.2.1 United Nations defines public private partnerships as, “innovative methods used by the public sector to contract with the private sector who bring their capital and their ability to deliver projects on time and to budget, while the public sector retains the responsibility to provide these services to the public in a way that benefits the public and delivers economic development and improvement in the quality of life.” 
 
Shirodkar: So, when it is all meant for the public then where is the question of hiding it from the Right to Information Act, 2005 or not disclosing any information to the public/citizen?
1.2.2 According to the secretariat for the committee on infrastructure, government of India, a “Public Private Partnership (PPP) Project means a project based on a contract or concession agreement between a government or statutory entity on the one side and a private sector company on the other side, for delivering an infrastructure service on payment of user charges”.
 
Shirodkar:: MIAL is the perfect project based on this definition. When everything is owned by the govt of India and MIAL is just acting on behalf of the govt of India then where is the question of hiding from Right to Information Act, 2005 or not disclosing any information to the public and the taxpayer?
1.2.7 PPP infrastructure projects typically involve transfer of public assets, delegation of government authority for recovery of user charges, private control of monopolistic services and sharing of risks and contingent liabilities by the government. Protection of user interests and the need to secure value for public money, as such, demand a more rigorous treatment of these projects.” 
 
Shirodkar: So, if everything is in the public Interest then where is the question of hiding from Right to Information Act, 2005 or not disclosing any information to the public and the taxpayer?
 
(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

Jayaram M

2 weeks ago

It is a continuing rip off, abrogation of laws standing in the way of crony capitalism + political funding. As a sometime air traveler, now; is it not in the interest of the "public", to have a lower passenger fee rather than a higher one - especially when air traffic is perhaps growing by a rate of 18 ~ 22 % YOY ? RTI has been consistently been buried, perhaps, literally, in some cases.

S Balakrishnan

3 weeks ago

Ppp assets are cheap govt giveaways.
The fabulous enrichment not of cos but individuals controlling cos in ppp projects thro land,franchises when the same money could have accrued to govt dwarfs all corruption in brazenness and the staggering amounts involved.

AAR

3 weeks ago

People have to spend a lot of time, energy and money to get information under RTI act. Just like Court process, RTI process causes delay and this delay favours the wrong doers.

Only 920 MBBS seats added in 5 years against 10,000 approved: RTI
Only 920 MBBS (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) seats have been added in the government medical colleges against the approved 10,000, in the last five years, reveals an RTI.
 
According to the RTI filed by Chandra Shekhar Gaur, a resident of Madhya Pradesh, the government has approved 36 medical colleges for adding 2,615 MBBS seats in Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, MP, Odisha, Punjab, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand, West Bengal, Manipur and Karnataka. 
 
It also released Rs 685 crore in 2015-18 for 12 states for increasing the number of MBBS seats.
 
In Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan, only 50 new seats each have been added against the approved 150 and 350 seats, respectively, In Karnataka, 350 seats have been created against the approved 550, the RTI revealed.
 
In states like Jharkhand, MP, Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand, West Bengal and Manipur not a single seat has been added.
 
According to the RTI, 450 seats were to be created in MP. But even after sanction of Rs 108 crore in three years for the four government-owned medical colleges, not a single seat has been added.
 
In Tamil Nadu, too, over Rs 82 crore has been released by the Centre to add 345 seats. But the seat count remains the same.
 
States like Odisha (200 seats), Gujarat (170 seats) and Punjab (100 seats) have upgraded their medical colleges and increased the requisite number of MBBS seats.
 
In 2014, a cabinet committee of the UPA government had approved the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare's proposal relating to the Centre-sponsored scheme for upgradation of government medical colleges and increasing the number of MBBS seats.
 
It was also announced that Rs 10,000 crore would be invested for increasing the MBBS seats. Of this, the Centre was to contribute Rs 7,500 crore and states/UTs Rs 2,500 crore.
 
The funding pattern was to be 90:10 between the central and the state governments for northeastern states and the special category states. The ratio of 70:30 was decided for other states.
 
Creation of one MBBS seat cost around Rs 1.20 crore, according to the cabinet committee in 2014.
 
Again in 2018, the cabinet approved the proposal for adding 10,000 under-graduate seats by 2020-21 and 8,058 post-graduate seats -- 4,058 in the first phase by 2018-19 and 4,000 in the second phase by 2020-21.
 
"I had filed the RTI in March 2018 and got the response this month. It was necessary to know the status of medical seats in the country. The government keeps on coming up with new schemes, but how many are implemented? My attempt through the RTI was to expose this," Gaur, an RTI activist, told IANS.
 
Gaur also noted since the doctor-patient ratio is poor in India and private medical colleges are expensive, the government should focus on increasing MBBS seats in the government-run medical colleges.
 
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

Simpson.D.

3 weeks ago

Single seat does not allotment in the efficient area Tamil nadu and hills place of India. Political wise, decrease power of any roleing party.

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