In your interest.
Online Personal Finance Magazine
No beating about the bush.
Its now mandatory for government servants to declare their assets annually. Section 4 of the RTI Act mandated transparency only in terms of their salary and compensation. Strangely, the new rules have not been pubicised
Section 4 of the Right to Information (RTI) Act mandates that salaries and compensation packages of government servants including officers from Indian Administrative Service/ Indian Police Service (IAS/IPS) cadre, be put up on the website of the relevant public authority. The notification issued last week by the Department of Personnel & Training (DOPT) should come as a shock for government employees who have been amassing wealth, beyond their means. They will need to declare their assets by September this year and then by March or July, every year.
Every government employee is now required to file his annual returns pertaining to assets and liabilities, along with that of his wife and children, on a newly drafted declaration form. The notification is a sequel to the Lokpal and Lokayukta Act, 2013. The rules are termed as Public Servants (Furnishing of Information and Annual Return of Assets and Liabilities and the Limits for Exemption of Assets in Filing Returns) Rules, 2014.
As per the notification by the DoPT, this declaration has to be made by every government servant over and above other declarations as per his/ her services rules.
Section 3 (2) states...
(1) Every public servant shall make a declaration of his assets and liabilities under sub-section (1) of section 44 in the format specified in Appendix-1, along with information required under sub-section (2) or as the case may be, sub-section (3) and the annual return under sub-section (4) of section 44 in Forms I to IV specified in Appendix-II.
Every public servant shall file declaration, information or return, as the case may be, regarding his assets and liabilities as on the 31st of March every year, to the competent authority as referred to in clause (c) of sub-section (1) of section 2 on or before the 31st of July of that year.
Provided that the public servants who have filed declarations, information and annual returns of property under the provisions of the rules applicable to such public servants shall file the revised declarations, information or as the case may be, annual returns as on the 1st day of August 2014, to the competent authority on or before the 15th day of September, 2014.
The exemption clause is: “(4) minimum value of assets which competent authority may exempt from furnishing of information - …..if the value of such asset does not exceed four months basic pay of the public servant or Rs2 lakh, whichever is higher.’’
While this notification is the ultimate step towards transparency, Venkatesh Nayak, research scholar and activist, who has been working on matters about laws relating to transparency states that, this notification is deliberately not being made public and publicized. He says “According to the text of the gazette notification of the Rules, it was to be published in the Official Gazette on 14 July 2014. However this set of Rules has not been uploaded either in the Ordinary Gazette Section or the Extraordinary Gazette Section of the E-gazette website of govt of India (GoI). These Rules do not come up under the 'What's New' Segment of DoPT's website either. Instead, it is tucked away in the Circular Portal of GoI, which is password protected. However, readers may access it through Google by keying in the complete title of the Rules.”
The notification is of prime importance, considering that RTI applicants used to be stonewalled when they filed applications to procure information on disproportionate assets of government servants. Some of them used to file second appeals, while some Information Commissions ordered disclosure of information contained in the immovable property returns submitted by civil servants every year, others rejected the request upholding the official's right to privacy.
“In at least one case, an RTI activist in southern India who sought such information about a senior level officer, had to be provided armed security as the request snowballed into a public altercation between the two,” Nayak said.
Who else does the notification cover?
As per Nayak’s study these Rules cover every public servant. He says, “The Lokpal Act covers all categories of public servants in Section 14. These include the Prime Minister, Union Ministers, Members of Parliament, civil servants, employees and managers of public sector undertakings, universities, boards, trusts and societies or autonomous bodies wholly or partly financed by the Central Government and any organisation which receives foreign contribution of more than Rs10 lakh per year ($16,950 where 1$= Rs59) under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, 2010 (FCRA).
Does PM come under this notification?
According to Nayak, the Prime Minister is the competent authority for receiving declarations of assets and liabilities of the Union Ministers as per the Code of Conduct adopted first in 1964 and revised later in 1992 (4th attachment). “This Code does not require the Prime Minister to disclose his/ her assets to anybody. However, Section 44 read with Section 14 of the Lokpal Act, requires the Prime Minister also to publicly declare his/ her assets. So the Government will have to notify who the competent authority shall be to receive the PM's first declaration and subsequent annual returns under this Act and make them accessible to the public. Perhaps it should be the President as he alone is higher in the executive hierarchy to the PM. GoI must issue a clarification on this issue. It is not clear if the templates notified by the DoPT are intended for the use of 'public servants' other than 'civil servants',” he added.
Certainly, citizens would be looking forward to details of assets of government servants coming out in the public domain. Moneylife had recently carried a story on the disproportionate assets of Pune’s Divisional Commissioner Prabhakar Deshmukh. No action has been taken on this yet. He continues in his position and there are thousands of such cases all over India. Will the scenario change?
The Bombay High Court, while rejecting the action plan for raising of suburban railway station platforms as submitted by Central as well as Western Railway, has set a deadline of 31 March 2015. The Railways do not seem to be making enough efforts to devise ways to meet the challenge. This two part article suggests how it can be done
About 75 lakh rail trips are completed daily on the Mumbai Suburban Railway System. The peak hour densities are most un-envious, reaching 16 people per square meter, as recently as three years ago. This was when the conversion of 9-coach rakes to 12-coach rakes was midway to completion and the number of trips had grown to 70 lakhs from 60 lakhs in early 2000 when Mumbai Urban Transport Project (MUTP) was conceived and implementation. Such high densities in the door bays of the electric multiple units (EMUs) has been the cause of injuries and fatalities from falling off trains or getting hit by posts between tracks, signal posts, signages and overhead cables.
Fatalities have been occurring due to commuters or trespassers crossing tracks or walking along them. There have also been injuries and fatalities due to people slipping into the gap between the platform edge and the coach floor, despite the fact that the coach floor overlaps the platform edge by 70 mm to 100 mm. This class of injuries or fatalities are, however, less than 10% of the total injuries or fatalities occurring on the Mumbai suburban railway system. The fatality figures had reached a little above 4,000 per year just a few years back. The Railways have been making efforts to address the issue, but sadly these efforts have only been forced due to public interest litigations (PILs).
The PIL by Dr Sarosh Mehta in 2001 followed by Samir Zaveri, himself a victim of a rail accident, in 2008, have resulted in Court directives to make the Railways address these issues. There is another PIL by the India Centre for Human Rights and Law (ICHRL) in 2007, that seeks to make Railways, suburban and main line, accessible to persons with disabilities (PwD). In response to PILs of 2007, a Court Committee was formed comprising not only members from Technical, Operational and Passenger Services sections of Railways, but also two PwD and four technical experts from the petitioner’s side. The Railways' response to this committee has been lukewarm.
However, subsequent to the spate of accidents involving passengers falling in the gap between the platform and the coach, the Court set in motion a suo-motu PIL in January 2014. It entrusted the responsibility for enabling Railway Suburban operations to be safer, to the committee formed under the PIL of 2007.
The problem was, that while the level of coach floors was about 1,200mm high from the top of the rail, the platform levels officially ranged between 760mm and 840mm, thus leaving a vertical gap ranging between 360mm and 440mm. This is adequate for anyone to slip in and suffer an accident. To address this problem, about five years back in 2009, Western Railways on their own had sought from the Railway Board that raise the platform levels to 920mm. But apparently, the Railway Board had other more pressing work than to look into this proposal.
In response to the suo-moto PIL of 2014, the Railways pressed the Railway Board and the Research Design and Standards Organisation (RDSO), to see whether the 920mm platform height can be cleared for implementation. Tests were carried out around the end of February 2014. The RDSO report was then presented to the Committee and the Committee recommended that it would be safer to raise the level to 900mm rather than 920mm.
The Court then sought an action plan for raising the platform heights to this level, and the action plans were presented by both, CR and WR. The WR stated that they can raise only 32 platforms by 31 October 2015, 16 platforms by July 2016 and 97 platforms by July 2017, provided, funds are allocated for the latter two right now, or else they would take 24 months and 36 months from the date of release of funds. The CR seemed to be more optimistic and said they would raise 24 platforms by 31 May 2015. The Court directed both the Railways in their Order dated 2 July 2014 that this be done by 31 March 2015 and in any case definitely before 31 July 2015.
Apparently, the General Manager of WR made a press statement recently, saying that the target set by the Court is close to impossible even if full funds were made available today.
I believe one has to think out-of-the-box, to meet challenges and I feel that this target can be achieved. How this can be done will be tackled in the second part of this two-part series.
So far, the Railways have been thinking of raising the platform with the edge at a distance of 1,670mm – 1,680mm from the centerline of tracks, as specified in Indian Railway Schedule of Dimensions (IR-SoD-2004), the bible for all dimensional constraints for railway construction details. With coach widths of 3,560mm at floor level, the coach edge will be 1,780mm from the track centerline which means there would be an overlap of 100mm over the edge of platform.
The out-of-the-box solution would be to raise the platform to about 1,200mm to enable near level boarding or alighting. This will also enable PwDs on wheelchairs to board the coach or alight from it independently and with ease, without any help.
Part Two of this article will discuss the details of ideas for near level boarding and alighting and how that can be achieved before 31 July 2015.
(Sudhir Badami an IIT Bombay graduate in Civil & Structural Engineering, is a Transportation Analyst. He is on Government of Maharashtra’s Steering Committee on BRTS for Mumbai and Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority’s Technical Advisory Committee on BRTS for Mumbai. He is also member of Research & MIS Committee of Unified Mumbai Metropolitan Transport Authority. He was member of Bombay High Court appointed erstwhile Road Monitoring Committee (2006-07). He is member of the Committee Constituted by the Bombay High Court for making the Railways, especially the Suburban Railways System Friendly towards Persons with Disability.)
Child rape cases have jumped 336% in the past 10 years
Younger children, aged between 5-12 years, including boys and girls, are facing more abuse, both physical as well as sexual, and there is an urgent need to safeguard these children and also severely punish child abusers and rapists, says Bangalore-based Children's Rights Initiative for Shared Parenting (CRISP).
CRISP, citing data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), said, every 20 minutes, somewhere in India a woman is raped. While crimes against woman have increased by 1.7% since 2010, over the past 10 years, number of rape cases involving child has jumped 336%, it added.
Talking about the reluctance in addressing child abuse, CRISP said, "No one wants to believe that anyone would do something that terrible to a child, so there’s an unwillingness to recognise just how pervasive child abuse is. In spite of our collective denial, we all may know a family where sexual abuse is taking place or may know a sexual predator. In the majority of cases, children never tell anyone what has happened to them. Why? Because it doesn’t feel safe to tell. Since talking about sex is taboo in Indian society, this problem gets complicated even more."
"There are many types of child sexual abuse, from inappropriate touching, fondling, voyeurism, exposure to pornography, to full forced intercourse and sadistic acts. Victims may be infants as young as two months, although the average age of child sexual abuse victims is nine. It happens in every socio-economic class, every ethnic community, and among all races," it added.
In a statement, CRISP said, "India adopted a policy on Children in 1974 which guarantees children the right to protection from abuse, the right to protection from exploitation, the right to protection from neglect. In spite of this, various governments have failed miserably in safeguarding the interests of children who constitute 40% of Indian population because they are not vote banks!"
CRISP has demanded the government to strictly implement the 'Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act' that was passed in the Parliament in 2012. The non-governmental organisation (NGO) has also demanded.
1. Make sex education compulsory, with a focus to educate on what constitutes abuse, for High school level in all private and government schools in the state.
2. No school management should force parents to sign papers compromising their child's safety in exchange for seats. Make schools fully accountable for child safety during school hours, including the travel to & from the school and management has to ensure due diligence on staff and teachers.
3. Open child helpline to report abuse in all major areas of the city & schools to train children how to use helpline facilities without revealing name or identity of the victim and their family.
4. Set up special courts to complete trial of child abuse cases within 6 months and ensure all cases of child abuse is reported in the police station & CWC.
5. To form a separate union ministry for children & de-link the present women and child development ministry since women rights and child rights are totally different and thus children are not the priority.
6. Initiate social and familial reforms to reinforce joint family system so that grand-parents play a more pro-active role in upbringing and care of children, ensuring love and safety, and reduce dependency on hired maids.
7. Promote shared parenting in children coming from the broken homes so that the children gets guidance from father to have proper guidance & to prevent potential rapist citizens.