RTI: 8 Years after the CIC Order, Delhi Govt Publishes Details of Tree Felling
An order by the chief information commissioner (CIC) to upload information on every tree felling drive in Delhi, since September 2011, has at last been implemented in 2018, with the Delhi government uploading the details on its website recently, revealing that 1,12,169 trees have been cut from 2005 to 2017. 
 
The information is available on the website (https://tinyurl.com/ybsyw2t4)
 
The given information is comprehensive and includes such other aspects like how to apply for tree felling permissions, the number of permissions applied for along with the names of the applicants and so on.
 
Besides the CIC order, it was thanks to advocate Aditya N Prasad who pursued this CIC order and in 2017 filed a petition in the Delhi High Court seeking compliance of the CIC order.
 
Initially, in 2011, a second appeal was filed by Delhi resident Saurabh Sharma, member of the Joint Operation for Social Help, a non-government organization (NGO). 
 
He appealed that the details of the provisions of the Delhi Preservation of Trees Act be published on the website of the department. 
 
Mr Sharma wrote in his complaint to the CIC that, “Section 4 of the RTI Act, envisages suo moto disclosures by all public authorities. The forest department, Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (India) (GNCTD) deals with the Delhi Tree Preservation Act. If any tree has to be felled, an application has to be moved with the tree officer, and if the tree officer does not respond within 60 days then the permission is deemed to have been granted. Further if there is a request for felling from the same area on more than two occasions, then no permission shall be granted. This process is quite unclear. Furthermore, there is a tree helpline for complaints against tree felling. The details of all these may please be put up on their website, for the general public and for effective monitoring.”
 
Shailesh Gandhi, in his decision on 5 August 2011 as CIC had ordered the Delhi government to upload the following information from time to time, form 1 September 2011, on its website:
1) Details of permissions given for felling and pruning trees, together with the details of applicants, the number of trees, locations, the status of the application and detailed reasons for approval or rejection of the same. This shall be done for all applications received after 1 September 2011.
 
2) Details of complaints received on the tree helpline, together with the details of the number of trees threatened/ cut, location(s), the status of the complaint and status of prosecution undertaken till the date of final disposal. This shall be done for all complaints received after 1 September 2011.
 
 3) The department shall also publish details regarding monitoring done, if any, for effective implementation of the directions of the High Court of Delhi in the matter of Kalpavriksh vs Union of India & Others W.P. (C) 1772/2007, with regard to the de-concretisation carried out by various civic agencies. All documents and correspondences done with the civic agencies in this regard shall be published on the website. 
 
4) The department shall also publish on the website the projects/studies/surveys undertaken, if any, regarding biodiversity in the neighbourhood parks. All civic agencies carrying out any construction work shall also display, along with the monetary costs and details of the project, the environmental cost, indicating the number of trees being felled.
 
Based on Mr Sharma’s complaint, the CIC issued a notice dated 23 February 2011 to the additional principal chief conservator of forests, GNCTD, to provide information on the total number of applications received by the department, seeking permission felling/cutting trees in the year 2009-10 and the total number of complaints received by the department on the tree helpline in the year 2009-10. But CIC did not receive a reply.
 
CIC Mr Gandhi observed the following in his detailed order: 
  • In the landmark judgement of MC Mehta vs Union of India, the scope of Article 21, which deals with the right to life was enlarged and the right to human health and healthy environment along with the right to enjoyment of pollution-free water and air for full enjoyment of life were incorporated in its ambit. Right to clean environment was also comprehended as a right under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.
  • In the United Nations conference on the human environment, known as the Stockholm Declaration of 1972, one of the principles enunciated at the convention is that the natural resources of the earth, including air, water, land, flora and fauna and specific representative samples of natural ecosystems must be safeguarded for the benefit of present and future generations through careful planning and management as appropriate.
  • In the 1992 United Nations conference on environment and development (UNCED), held at Rio De Janiero, it was resolved that ‘environmental issues are best handled with the participation of all concerned citizens, at the relevant level. At the national level, each individual shall have appropriate access to information concerning the environment that is held by public authorities, including information on hazardous materials and activities in their communities, and the opportunity to participate in the decision-making processes’.
 
The CIC also observed that, “The object of the Act is to provide for the preservation of trees in the state by regulating the felling of trees and for the plantation of adequate number of trees to restore ecological balance and other matters connected therewith. This law is necessary to prevent ecological disturbance and to maintain ecological balance. The ecological balance has been disturbed due to indiscriminate felling of large numbers of trees in the rural and urban areas due to the growing pace of urbanisation, industrialisation and increasing population, which has led to erratic rainfall, recurring famines and floods, soil erosion, etc. Moneylife contacted Mr Gandhi for his comments on how his eight year old order has been implemented now. He says, “Most RTI users show little enthusiasm to ensure implementation. RTI activists should obtain orders from commissions on important matters and then ensure implementation by following Aditya Prasad's lead.”
 
Mr Gandhi adds, “Section 18 (1)(f) of the RTI act mandates that it is the duty of the Commission to receive and inquire into a complaint from any person, in respect of any other matter relating to requesting or obtaining access to records under this Act. This is an extremely powerful and significant provision, which must be used by citizens and commissions to get suo moto disclosure of information. I had issued over a hundred orders under this, and had tried to monitor implementation of some of them.”
 
“I congratulate advocate Aditya Prasad who has shown the commitment of pursuing the implementation. It is an irony that now the CIC refuses to even register a complaint unless an RTI application is first made to a public information officer (PIO). By such regressive behaviour it has reduced its authority. Ratnakar Gaikwad, former CIC of Maharashtra had also given some landmark orders on my complaints,’’  he added.
 
Some of the important provisions of the Delhi Preservation of Trees Act, 1994, are:-
 
“Section (9): Procedure for obtaining permission to fell, cut, remove or dispose of, a tree.-
1. Any person desiring to fell or remove or otherwise dispose of, by any means, a tree, shall make an application to the concerned tree officer for permission and such application shall be accompanied by attested copies of such documents as may be prescribed in support of ownership over the land, the number and kind of trees to be cut, their girth measure at a height of 1.85 metres from ground level and the reasons therefore, copy of sajra showing clearly the site and khasra numbers of the property.
 
2. On receipt of the application, the tree officer may, after inspecting the tree and holding such enquiry as he may deem necessary, either grant permission in whole or in part or for reasons to be recorded in writing, or refuse permission.
 
Provided that such permission may not be refused if the tree:-
i. is dead, diseased or wind fallen; or
ii. is silviculturally mature, provided it does not occur on a steep slope; or
iii. constitutes a danger to life or property or
iv. constitutes obstruction to traffic; or
v. is substantially damaged or destroyed by fire, lightening, rain or other natural
causes ;or
vi. is required in rural areas to be cut with a view to appropriating the wood or leaves thereof or any part thereof for bona fide use for fuel, fodder, agricultural implements, or other domestic use.
 
3. The tree officer shall give his decision within sixty days from the date of receipt of the application: Provided that no permission shall be granted to any person from the same area on more than two occasions during the same year, subject to a maximum area of one hectare at a time.
 
4. If the tree officer fails to communicate his permission on request within the period specified under sub-section (3), the permission referred to in section 8 shall be deemed to have been granted.
 
5. Every permission granted under this Act shall be in such form and subject to such conditions, including taking of security for ensuring regeneration of the area and replanting of trees or otherwise, as may be prescribed.
 
Section 10. Obligation to plant trees: Every person, who is granted permission under this Act to fell or dispose of any tree, shall be bound to plant such number and kind of trees in the area from which the tree is felled or disposed of by him under such permission as may be directed by the tree officer: provided that the tree officer may, for reasons to be recorded in writing , permit lesser number of trees to be planted or trees to be planted in any different area or exempt any person from the obligation to plant or tend any tree.
 
(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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Not a rupee spent on PM's maternity scheme in Uttar Pradesh: RTI reply
This, despite the fact that UP got the largest sanctioned amount of over Rs 336 crore from a total of Rs 2,049 crore in 2017-18 approved by the central government for 29 states and seven Union Territories, the query filed by IANS under the Right To Information (RTI) revealed.
 
According to the reply by the Women and Child Development (WCD) Ministry, only 184 women have enrolled in UP for the Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY) since its inception in January 2017 up to August 2018 -- out of 44 lakh women enrolled across the country in 717 districts.
 
While the number of beneficiaries stand at more than 34 lakh across the country, not a single woman in Uttar Pradesh has received payment under the maternity scheme, the RTI reply showed.
 
According to a NITI Aayog report of 2016, Uttar Pradesh has the second highest fertility rate (children per woman) of 3.1 after Bihar which has a fertility rate of 3.3. The ideal fertility rate as mentioned by the central government is 2.4. 
 
The Health Ministry's data released in July this year on Total Fertility Rate (TFR) further elaborates that 11 districts like Bahraich, Sitapur, Hardoi, Shahjahanpur, Banda, Gonda, Etah, Balrampur, among others, have a fertility rate of 4.
 
According to the fact sheet, 19 districts in UP have a TFR between 3.5 and 4, while 28 have a TFR of between 3 and 3.5.
 
The RTI further revealed that apart from Uttar Pradesh, Punjab has low enrollment of only 7 women while the beneficiaries are a mere 5. The state was allocated Rs 46.49 crore.
 
West Bengal has the highest number of women enrolled in the scheme -- 6.8 lakh -- of which more than 5 lakh lactating and first time mothers have benefited. The centre sanctioned Rs 102 crore for the state.
 
According to the WCD Ministry, the cost-sharing ratio for the maternity benefit programme between the centre and states and those UTs with a legislature is 60:40. The centre shares 90 per cent of the programme for the northeastern and Himalayan states and provides the full amount for UTs without legislature.
 
However, as per the government, Aadhaar is mandatory for women who wants to get enrolled for the maternity scheme. Also, states and UTs have been asked to maintain an Escrow Account for the scheme to pay out, thus avoiding parking of the funds with them.
 
Currently, the scheme is being implemented through the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) platform under the WCD or Social welfare state departments, barring a few states like Andhra Pradesh, Chandigarh, Meghalaya, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, where it is looked after by the health department.
 
The RTI reply noted that in Tamil Nadu, there has not been a single enrolment under the PMMVY scheme and therefore there are no beneficiaries as the state operates a similar maternity benefit scheme. However, the Centre released more than Rs 120 crore to the state in 2017-18.
 
Initially launched as the Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahyog Yojana (IGMSY) in 2010 under the UPA-II government, the scheme was renamed Pradhan Mantri Matritva Vandana Yojana (PMMVY) after Modi announced its pan-India implementation in all districts of the country during a New Year's Eve speech on December 31, 2016. 
 
Under the scheme, eligible beneficiaries get Rs 5,000 after delivery of a child in an institution like a hospital and the remaining cash incentive of Rs 1,000 is given as maternity benefit under the Janani Suraksha Yojana (JSY) for a Rs 6,000.
 
Applicable to women aged above 19 for the first birth, the scheme provides partial compensation to women for the wage-loss during birth and child care and provides conditions for safe delivery and good nutrition and feeding practices, according to the information availableon the scheme. 
 
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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CIC asks Finance Ministry, RBI To Publish Details of Loan Defaulters of over Rs50 Crore
Central information commissioner (CIC), Prof Sridhar Acharyulu has directed the finance ministry, the ministry of statistics & implementation and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to make public, the names of those bank loan defaulters whose unpaid loans amount to Rs50 crore and above.
 
This order is a sequel to the information sought by an RTI (Right to Information) applicant who was refused information by the central public information officer (CPIO) of the ministry of labour & employment. The RTI applicant had sought information on two issues. One was directly related to the labour & welfare ministry comprising information on employment guarantee schemes. The second related to the names of loan defaulters of Rs50 crore and above which the ministry has nothing to do with, but it was the duty of the CPIO to forward the RTI application to the relevant public authorities—in this case, the ministries of finance and of statistics and implementation and the RBI. 
 
As per the CIC’s observation in his order, records show that the CPIO did not forward the RTI application to the appropriate ministry, which is mandatory under the RTI Act.
 
Sandeep Singh Jadoun, the RTI applicant, sought the following information from the ministry of labour & employment (which included information related to loan defaulters as well as employment schemes):
 
  • Number of willful defaulters (those who are unwilling to pay despite having the capacity to do so) of loans of Rs50 crore and above, advanced by banks and other financial institutions; with or without guarantees;
  • The names of guarantors, details of loans such as dates of sanction and default and details of non-performing assets (NPA) accounts;
  • The cost and investment of the projects for employment generating schemes initiated by the Central government between 2005 and 2018.
  • List of failed projects and projects, which only existed on paper and were never introduced on the floor, with which the ministry of labour and employment (MoLE) is concerned. 
 
The CPIO declined to provide the information, stating that since records pertaining to loan defaulters are not maintained by the MoLE, he had forwarded the RTI application to the finance ministry. As for the employment schemes, he told the CIC during the hearing last week, that all information regarding employment schemes launched by the government such as the Pradhan Mantri Rojgar Protsahan Yojana (PMRPY) was available on the website www.ncs.gov.in and at a toll-free number 1800-4251514, both of which are functional from Tuesdays to Sundays. 
 
However, the RTI applicant, Jadoun, argued that the information he was seeking was more elaborate in terms of details of costs and investments involved in the employment-generating projects and schemes launched since 2005. 
 
The officer responded that such information is available with the regional offices under the jurisdiction of the ministry of rural development, and the ministry of skill development and entrepreneurship. He also claimed to have forwarded the RTI application to other related ministries for more information. 
 
The CIC observed that the records show that the CPIO had not transferred the RTI application to the other public authorities. The CIC observed, “When the CPIO does not transfer an RTI request to the appropriate authority, it becomes his duty to collect the information and furnish it to the appellant. The CPIO dismissed the request saying “information was not maintained in the form sought”, which is neither a defence nor an exception. This is not recognised as an excuse to deny information under any of the provisions of RTI.”
 
Regarding the number of wilful loan defaulters of Rs50 crore and above, the CIC referred to several newspaper reports and stated that such information should be made public under Section 4 of the RTI Act. He writes in his order that this RTI applicant has given the opportunity to the ministry to upload the information as the public at large has the right to know the names of individuals who have been given loans above Rs50 crore. Similarly, it must share the names of those who have defaulted and if none have defaulted, it should say so in the public domain.
 
CIC further states in the order, “The question is, that when the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has authorised the banks to prepare the list of wilful defaulters of Rs25 lakh, and after ensuring that no genuine loan-taker’s name is published in the list of wilful defaulters, why not ensure publication of the details of wilful defaulters of Rs50 crore and above as sought by this appellant, to the nation to fulfil the right to information of the citizens? And why should the government of India, the ministries of finance and for statistics and program implementation and the RBI not reveal the action taken or contemplated to recover the loans from wilful defaulters beyond Rs50 crore, reasons for the failure, criminal actions initiated, or reasons for not initiating criminal actions etc to the people?’’
 
The CIC also pointed out that “Section 4(1) (c) of the RTI Act mandates to publish all relevant facts while formulating important policies or announcing the decisions which affect the public; section (d) says provide reasons for its administrative or quasi-judicial decisions to affected persons. What is the policy of the finance ministry, the ministry for statistics and program implementation and the RBI in dealing with the wilful defaulters of Rs50 crore and above?’’
 
Earlier in February 2016, the Supreme Court directed RBI to furnish a list of the companies which are in default of loans in excess of Rs500 crore or whose loans have been restructured under corporate debts restructuring (CDR) scheme by banks and financial institutions. (Read: Supreme Court asks RBI to submit list of big defaulters)
 
Even in December 2015, the apex court, in a landmark judgement, has told the RBI that the banking regulator cannot withhold information citing 'fiduciary relations' under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. Hearing a set of transferred cases, a Division Bench of Justice MY Eqbal and Justice C Nagappan said, "From the past we have also come across financial institutions which have tried to defraud the public. These acts are neither in the best interests of the Country nor in the interests of citizens. To our surprise, the RBI as a Watch Dog should have been more dedicated towards disclosing information to the general public under the Right to Information Act. We also understand that the RBI cannot be put in a fix, by making it accountable to every action taken by it. However, in the instant case the RBI is accountable and as such it has to provide information to the information seekers under Section 10(1) of the RTI Act."
 
In most of the transferred cases, Shailesh Gandhi, former CIC, while directing the RBI to provide information sought by applicants, had rejected the central bank's contention of 'fiduciary relation' for denying information. 
 
Here is the link to the RTI Judgement Series based on orders passed by Mr Gandhi as CIC.
 
Why the information on loan defaulters above Rs50 crore should be made public: The CIC referred to the following news reports to qualify his order directing the finance ministry and the RBI to provide information on loan defaulters as asked by the RTI applicant:
 
 
  • After several bank officials were arrested in Rs11300 crore scam, involving the Punjab National Bank, the All India Bank Officers Confederation (AIBOC) (with a membership of three lakh officers) has posed a challenge to the Central government for the publication of the names of wilful defaulters of all banks. AIBOC asked why the RBI was hesitating to publish the list of such defaulters as Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi and why they were allowed to leave the country. AIBOC questioned banks; the way they are writing off loans of thousands of crores every year in favour of these corporates, which itself was major scam. AIBOC has alleged that the RBI and the government did not correct the system despite it being well known that SWIFT system has been used for frauds in the nineties.  (https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/bank-officers-union-challenges-govt-to-publish-names-of-defaulters-1175659-2018-02-23)
 
  • The apprehensions of AIBOC were proved by media’s analytical reports. One report last year says about 7,000 millionaires shifted their residence outside India, or changed their citizenship, leaving the banks, economy of the nation, public exchequer and public sector banks bleeding.
 
 
 
  • In April 2018 the Fugitive Economic Offenders Ordinance was passed. A committee headed by financial services secretary Rajiv Kumar, with representatives from the RBI, the ministries of home and external affairs, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has since recommended stopping willful defaulters with loans exceeding Rs50 crore from travelling overseas without prior approval.
 
  • In March, banks had been directed to seek the passport details of borrowers taking loans of Rs50 crore and more. The website reported that for the quarter ended June 30, 2018, as many as 3,385 suits were filed against defaulting companies that had willfully  defaulted on loans of Rs25 lakh and above - amounting to a whopping Rs57,523.90 crore. The finance ministry had also directed public sector banks (PSBs) to examine all NPA accounts of over Rs50 crore for possible fraud and accordingly report the cases to concerned investigating agencies, including CBI, ED and DRI, if any wrongdoing was detected.(https://www.businesstoday.in/current/economy-politics/-wilful defaulters-with-loans-over-rs-50-crore-from-foreign-travel/story/281122.html)
 
  • The RBI has issued a master circular regarding willful defaulters, on 30 June  2015. It says that pursuant to the instructions of the Central Vigilance Commission for collection of information on willful defaults of Rs25 lakh and above by RBI and dissemination to the reporting banks and financial institutions (FIs), a scheme was framed by RBI with effect from 1 April 1999 under which the banks and notified all India financial institutions were required to submit to RBI the details of the willful defaulters. This circular recommended criminal action by banks under Sections 403 to 415 of the Indian Penal Code, which deal with cheating. 
 
  • Ministry of corporate affairs had introduced the concept of a director identification number (DIN) with the insertion of Sections 266A to 266G in the Companies (Amendment) Act, 2006. In order to ensure that directors are correctly identified and in no case, persons whose names appear to be similar to the names of directors appearing in the list of willful defaulters, are wrongfully denied credit facilities on such grounds, banks / FIs have been advised to include the DIN as one of the fields in the data submitted by them to credit information companies.
 
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(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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