RTI, CEC and Political Parties
In response to a query under Right to Information RTI) Act, from Pune-based Vihar Durve, the Public Information Officer (PIO) of the Central Election Commission (CEC) said: “The requisite information is not available in the Commission. This is related to political parties and they are out of the purview of the RTI. They may submit information of donation/amount collected through electoral bonds in their contribution report for the financial year 2017-18 in the Election commission of India (ECI) for which the due date is 30 September 2018.”
 
Earlier in June 2013, the Central Information Commission (CIC) in a decision had declared that six major political parties are ‘public authorities’ as defined in the RTI Act since they receive ‘substantial funding’ from the government. 
 
All ‘public authorities’ fall in the ambit of the Right to Information Act and are obliged to provide information sought by citizens using RTI. These six parties for whom a specific order has been given are Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Indian National Congress (Congress), Communist Party of India (Marxist)-CPI(M), Communist Party of India (CPI), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). 
 
These parties should have followed the statutory order of the CIC. If for some reasons they felt the CIC decision was wrong, they should have approached the courts. Unfortunately they decided to defy this order without giving any legal justification. In a democracy, following the rule of law means following statutory orders. If major institutions chose to defy them, democracy becomes weaker and if this is done too often, democracy and the rule of law would wither away. 
 
As far as the CEC is concerned, he has no jurisdiction in the matter of whether any institution is a public authority or not. If they had the information, they should have provided it. Since they claim that the returns of the political parties are due on September 2018, the PIO should have transferred the RTI application to the political parties within five days as per the requirement of Section 6 (3) of the Act. Instead of acting in consonance with the law the CEC chose to refuse the information and refused to transfer the application to the political parties claiming that the parties are out of the purview of the RTI Act. This is an illegal action and usurpation of the powers of the CIC. One may have been tempted to dismiss this as an act of ignorance by the PIO. But the First Appellate Authority Senior Principal Secretary KF Wilfred agreed with this illegal order of the PIO! 
 
It is bad enough that the political parties are not following a statutory order. But for the ECI to try and provide legitimacy to this illegal action is unacceptable. It would be really good if at least one these parties declared that they would follow the directive of the CIC and start providing information. They would stand out from the flock and further the cause of transparency and accountability. There would electoral gains as well if parties chose to demonstrate that they respect the law and also are willing to be transparent. RTI only requires information on record to be given and there are ten exemptions to safeguard legitimate interests. I would like to point out that the Indian Army also is in the ambit of RTI and there has not been a single instance of the nation’s security having suffered because of this. The exemptions in the law to disclosure are an adequate safeguard for legitimate interests. 
 
The CEC should reprimand its PIO and First Appellate Authority and transfer the RTI applications to the political parties.
 
 
 
(Shailesh Gandhi served as Central Information Commissioner under the RTI Act, 2005, during 18 September 2008 to 6 July 2012. He is a graduate in Civil Engineering from IIT-Bombay. Before becoming a full time RTI activist in 2003, he sold his packaging business. In 2008, he was conferred the Nani Palkhivala Memorial Award for civil liberties.
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    Rajasthan Patrika journalist denied PF; CIC asks Jaipur EPFO office for prompt action
    In a recent order, the Central Information Commission (CIC) has ordered the regional office of Jaipur’s Provident Fund office to examine whether all journalists of Rajasthan Patrika Pvt Ltd, eligible for provident fund, have been denied the amount, like Arun Kumar Bhati, who has not received PF for three years as his contribution as well as that of the newspaper were not deposited with Employees Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO). 
     
    Journalist Arun Kumar Bhati, who worked for Rajasthan Patrika used Right to Information (RTI) to find out whether contributions from his employer were credited in his PF account between 2013 and 2016. The Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) replied that it was indeed credited and the appellate authority upheld the information given by the CPIO. However, Bhati went into second appeal on the basis of wrong and misleading information provided to him.
     
    Bhati, at the recent CIC hearing, through video conferencing, stated that he worked in Rajasthan Patrika from 2013 to 2016 but the employer did not credit his contribution and employer’s matching contribution into his PF account for those three years. The CPIO did not give any information regarding this non-crediting of PF contribution, stated Bhati, but instead gave information about contributions for an irrelevant period, which he did not ask for. 
     
    CPIO GN Chawla of EPFO regional office stated during the hearing that no PF account of Bhati was found for 2013 to 2016. However, after Bhati’s RTI application, he said he had initiated proceedings against Rajasthan Patrika under Section 7-A of the Employees’ Provident Funds and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952. He informed that, during the inquiry, it was clear that Bhati had worked for this newspaper organisation, had a PF account and was eligible for PF payment. Hence, a proper action has been initiated on this matter.
     
    Central Information Commissioner Prof M Sridhar Acharyulu condemned the delay from the EPFO, who did not initiate any action until the second appeal came up for hearing.  He observed in his order: “The only core area of function and legal duty of EPFO is to protect the PF money and interests of the employees from the mischief of employers. When this journalist’s RTI application reflected the complaint of non-payment, the public authority should have acted immediately and the resultant information should have been given to him within 30 days or some more reasonably extended time with intimation. They have conveniently ignored this duty and left him with incomplete and irrelevant information within the first month.” 
     
    “The RTI Act was made to demand accountability, to make a public authority to act as per their statutory responsibility and to demand reasons for their inaction. Perhaps several journalists might have been deprived of their PF entitlements because of such non-crediting of the contributions into their respective PF accounts.’’ He ordered the CPIO to examine the fate of other such journalists working in Rajasthan Patrika.
     
    Prof Acharyulu, referring to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call to the public authorities to listen to suggestions of the people, observed in his order, “The EPFO should have listened to the problem reflected in the RTI application and acted upon immediately and should be uploaded on web portals of the concerned departments and ministries (http://pib.nic.in/newsite/ PrintRelease.aspx?relid=177045 ).”
     
    CIC has directed the CPIO to provide certified copies of the entire file regarding their investigation under section 7-A to the appellant before 23 May 2018, free of cost and also directed him to intimate the progress and final action, besides the possible time of crediting the PF amount to the applicant.
     
    He has also directed GN Chawla and the then CPIO as on date of the RTI application, (if he is not the CPIO), to show-cause why maximum penalty should not be imposed upon him for not furnishing the information sought.
     
    (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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    RTI on Modi's BA degree: Activists 'want to prevent wrong interpretation of Act'
    Three activists on Tuesday told the Delhi High Court that they want to prevent a wrong interpretation of Right to Information (RTI) Act while opposing Delhi University's action of rejection of an RTI application seeking inspection of records of students who had passed the BA degree exam in 1978, the year when, as per the university, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had also cleared the exam.
     
    The court was hearing a Delhi University plea filed last year seeking setting aside of Central Information Commission (CIC) order, saying the "impugned order, which is per se contrary to the Act, has far-reaching adverse consequences for DU and all universities in the country who hold degrees of crores of students in a fiduciary capacity".
     
    Three RTI activists -- Anjali Bhardwaj, Nikhil Dey and Amrita Johri -- who are connected with the National Campaign for People's Right to Information (NCPRI), told the court that through their intervention application, they wanted to prevent erroneous interpretation of the Right to Information Act.
     
    The activists have requested the court to dismiss the DU's plea, saying "non-disclosure of information related to marks and results awarded by the university along with details of the students would be significantly detrimental to public interest."
     
    The RTI was created to address issues of widespread fraud, corruption, malpractices, cheating and misrepresentation about one's qualifications, the petitioner said.
     
    They told the court that the issue related with access to information under the RTI Act involved wider public interest and the decision in the instant case was also likely to act as a precedent regarding access to information under the act.
     
    "It is the respectful submission of the applicants for intervention that the present petition was filed on an incorrect basis and based on incorrect interpretation of law and canvasses a position of law with respect to Section 8 and 11 that is contrary to the provisions of law and is also contrary to manner in which Delhi University itself treats such information presently," the petition said.
     
    The activists sought to bring to the notice of the court the critical importance of the act and in tackling large-scale fraud and corruption in terms of fake degrees or misrepresenting information about one's academic qualifications.
     
    The court has listed the matter for further hearing on August 23.
     
    On December 21, 2016, the CIC had ordered to make degrees public and rejected the contention of the Central Public Information Officer of the university that it was a third party personal information.
     
    The CIC had directed the university "to facilitate inspection of relevant register where complete information about result of all students who passed Bachelor of Arts, in year 1978 along with roll number, names of the students, father's name and marks obtained as available with the university and provide certified copy of the extract of relevant pages from the register, free of cost".
     
    RTI applicant Neeraj had sought to know from the university the total number of students who appeared for Bachelor of Arts in 1978, besides result of all students who appeared in the examination along with their roll number, name of the students with father's name, marks and result pass or failed.
     
    Denying the information, the Central Public Information Officer of the University had earlier responded that the information requested was treated as "personal information of the students concerned, the disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest".
     
    The issue of the 1978 DU degree records cropped up after Aam Aadmi Party raised questions about the degree of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, triggering a controversy, but the Delhi High Court had stayed the operation of CIC order.
     
    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

    Dayananda Kamath

    1 year ago

    Actually RTI Act was not required at all. It was introduced by callous politicians and babus just to show that they are doing something to correct their attitude in governance. The RTI gives you only Right to information, but not right information. By default it is being misused to settle scores than to improve governance, The real purpose for which it should have been used.

    REPLY

    MOHAN BHASKAR WAGH

    In Reply to Dayananda Kamath 1 year ago

    FULL INFORMATION MUST BE GIVEN TO CITIZENS

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