In your interest.
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No beating about the bush.
Kateekal Sankaranarayanan is the Governor of Maharashtra as well as that of Goa. While an activist in Goa has procured information under the RTI Act from the office of the Governor of Maharashtra, he has been declined information in Goa’s Raj Bhavan. Can things get any stranger?
In January 2011, Goa-based RTI (Right to Information) activist, Aries Rodrigues, demanded information under the RTI Act regarding President Pratibha Patil’s controversial four-day visit to Goa which was declared as a ‘private visit’ via a press release issued by the Governor’s office in Goa. (At that time, Dr SS Sidhu was the Governor of Goa. In September 2011, he was replaced by Kateekal Sankaranarayanan who holds the posts of Governor, both in Goa and Maharashtra).
Mr Rodrigues was denied information stating that the Goa Governor’s office does not come under the purview of the RTI Act. So, Mr Rodrigues demanded the same information from the office of the Governor of Maharashtra where Mr Sankaranarayanan was, and still is, the Governor. Lo and behold, he was given the information which confirmed that the President was indeed on an official visit to Goa and not on a private one as claimed by the Goa Governor’s office, for which the Goa government spent Rs14.81 lakh from taxpayers’ money.
Mr Rodrigues told Moneylife, “Rs3,20,250 was spent on lodging & boarding in Cidade de Goa for members of Ms Patil’s entourage; Rs1,29,915 for other such members who were put up in Goa International Centre; Rs,6,23,188 was spent on vehicles hired from GTDC (Goa Tourism Development Corporation); Rs2,01,220 was spent on lunch for the President at Tax Exotica at Benaulim; Rs1,19,999 was spent by Chief Minister Digambar Kamat who hosted a lunch in her honour at Cidade de Goa; Rs20,000 was spent on boat rides and jet ski rides and Rs4,400 on flowers. Why was this then officially pronounced as a ‘private’ visit by the Raj Bhavan in Goa?”
Incidentally, the President of India’s office is also under the RTI Act but in Goa, Governors have sought legal intervention to claim that they do not come under the RTI Act. Last week, when stalwart RTI activist Aruna Roy visited Goa for a public lecture, she reiterated, “When the Maharashtra Governor comes under RTI, how can the Goa Governor be an exception? The situation is obviously wrong. Even the President of India is covered by the Act.”
Mr Rodrigues has been campaigning against the Governors’ stance of claiming to be out of the RTI Act. The Governor is an authority established or constituted under the Constitution and therefore is declared as a ‘Public Authority’ under Section 2(h) of the RTI Act and so he cannot hide behind Article (361) of the Indian Constitution which does not make him answerable to any court or performance of his office, say experts. However, Mr Rodrigues has been fighting a relentless battle to bring Goa’s Raj Bhavan under the purview of the RTI Act.
On 29 November 2010, Mr Rodrigues had sought information from the Goa Raj Bhavan under RTI, details of action taken on the complaints made by him to the Governor of Goa against Advocate General of Goa, Subodh Kantak. He had also sought copies of file notings and correspondence pertaining to the processing of his complaints against the Advocate General.
On 30th November, just a day later, the Goa Raj Bhavan refused to furnish the
On 21st December, Mr Rodrigues filed a complaint against the Raj Bhavan with the State Information Commission. On 22 December 2010, the State Information Commission sent a notice directing the then Governor Dr SS Sidhu to personally appear before the state chief information commissioner on 4 January 2011.
On 23rd December, Mr Rodrigues filed a caveat before the Goa Bench of the Bombay High Court against Governor Dr SS Sidhu, anticipating that he might move the High Court against the notice issued to him by the Goa State Information Commission (GSIC) directing him to personally appear before the GSIC in connection with a complaint filed against him for not complying with the RTI Act.
On 31 March 2011, Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) Motilal Keny held that the Governor is a ‘Public Authority’ and should furnish information sought by Mr Rodrigues.
On 22 April 2011, Governor of Goa Dr SS Sidhu took his battle against the RTI Act to the Bombay High Court at Goa. The Bench of the Bombay High Court in August 2011 comprising Justice DG Karnik and Justice FM Reis heard the Raj Bhavan’s petition for over four days and has reserved the Judgment.
RTI activist and leading Advocate Satish Sonak said, “Their petition in the High Court also states that since Goa has only one State Chief Information Commissioner and the other post of State Information Commissioner is vacant, the CIC’s order of Governor being a Public Authority is not valid—the two-member Bench commission would be considered a full quorum. This is ridiculous, as it is not the peoples’ fault if the government has not filled up the vacancy. Also, there are several states having a single post of state information commission and their decisions are tantamount to a full-fledged Bench.”
Goa Governor Mr K Sankaranarayanan, like his predecessor Dr SS Sidhu, has refused to comply with the RTI Act (although his Raj Bhavan in Maharashtra comes under the RTI), as was evident in the information sought by Mr Rodrigues regarding details of total expenditure incurred in 2011 of the Goa Governor’s official and unofficial visits out of Goa.
States Mr Rodrigues, “It is strange how Governor Mr Sankaranarayanan who as Governor of Maharashtra is complying with the RTI Act, was strangely claiming that in Goa that he is not a Public Authority. It is inconceivable that the same person was taking a different stand as Governor in two States.”
In 2007, Pune-based school teacher Anagha Bagul had asked under RTI Act, details of the then Governor of Maharashtra SM Krishna’s visits outside the State between December 2004 and November 2006. She was denied information, so she went into first appeal to the Appellate Authority which allowed her the information. The Additional Comptroller of the Governor’s office provided her the information. It showed that Mr Krishna was out of Maharashtra for 200 days, mostly for private visits to Bengaluru and other southern states. His visits included weddings, classical dance shows, funerals and sports meetings. It included 31visits to Bengaluru where he had served as chief minister and had taken his wife along on 26 out of 67 such tours. He had also visited the Tirupati temple in Andhra Pradesh besides VIP weddings in Delhi. Stung by this revelation, Mr Krishna had publicly declared that he would henceforth foot his own bills for personal visits.
Ms Bagul said she was curious to know how public money is utilised by people serving the highest Government offices.
Goa seems to be smitten by legal interventions when it comes to the issue of the RTI Act. During my recent visit, I was surprised to note that Public Information Officers (PIOs) and Appellate Authorities often take the help of lawyers for first and second appeal hearings under the RTI Act, which incidentally is illegal.
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife. She is also an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She can be reached at [email protected]).