Short Shrift to SC Order; Babus Emerge as Information Commissioners in Opaque Process
The transparency law, called the Right to Information Act (RTI), after much hammering by the Supreme Court has, just been gifted with a chief central information commissioner, Sudhir Bhargava, an information commissioner until now in the CIC and four information commissioners—Vanaja N. Sarna (the only lady), formerly, chief of the Central Board of Excise and Customs; Yashwardhan Kumar Sinha, former High Commissioner of India to the United Kingdom; Suresh Chandra, former Union law secretary and Neeraj Kumar Gupta, secretary in the department of investment and public asset management, in the most opaque manner.
 
These posts had remained vacant for several months and have been finally filled up and only after a public interest litigation (PIL) case was filed in the Supreme Court. However, directives given by the SC to put up on the website the names of the search committee which was looking out for candidates and applicants as well as the shortlisted ones for these posts, have been violated. When this writer checked the department of personnel and training (DoPT) website on the 3rd January, at 2.20pm, no details had been put up until then. This means, the candidates were secretly chosen from the cosy babus’ basket wherein retired babus often lie, awaiting rehabilitation to such posts.
 
Anjali Bharadwaj, one of the petitioners, vehemently states, “It appears that in contravention of the SC order, no information about the search committee, names of short-listed candidates or the short-listing criteria have been uploaded. Further, no information about the meetings of the selection committee is available on the website.”
 
States Commodore Lokesh Batra, her co-petitioner, “The violation of the orders of the Supreme Court by the government means that appointments of commissioners to the transparency watchdog have been shrouded in complete secrecy. The lack of transparency is especially worrying given that the government had issued defective advertisements for inviting applications for the posts of information commissioners and the chief. The advertisements did not specify the tenure and salaries of commissioners, even though these are defined in the RTI Act.’’
 
Prof Sridhar Acharyulu, former CIC, one of the few non-bureaucrats who did a splendid job during his five year tenure, is also up in arms and has written a letter to the members of the search committee with cc to the President of India. He states in the letter,  “Why all the four chosen only from the bureaucracy? Couldn’t the search committee find even one eminent person from the fields of law, social service, media, journalism, science and technology, as mandated by Section 12(5) of Right to Information Act? There should be at least one from each of these fields and the chief information commission should be one of them in rotation to rebut the criticism that the information commissions are being filled with retired bureaucrats. The governments should understand that ‘administration’ is only one of the fields and not the only one, specifically mandated in the RTI Act for both Central and state commissions.’’
 
Just to recall, Prof Acharyulu provides the following reference:
 
  • A bench of Justices AK Sikri, S Abdul Nazeer and R Subhash Reddy asked the Centre to put on the website details of search committee for CIC and ICs. 
  • Additional Solicitor General informed the court that a total of 65 applications had come for the post of CIC and 280 applications had been received for the post of four ICs in the Central Information Commission.
  • It was also informed that after these posts are filled up, notification would be issued for inviting applications for the remaining posts of ICs.
  •  Prashanth Bhushan had raised an objection to the absence of the term of the office of the CICs in the notification calling for applications for these posts. It is an important legal question. Because the notification does not mention the term and status, many eminent persons might have not opted to even apply, which naturally shrinks the scope of the right persons from getting into the transparency body. 
  • With the danger of amendment to RTI Act looming large, only those who are ready to take a position subordinate to the Centre, might have applied..
 
He further adds,  “The rationale for seeking transparency in the process of appointment is to ensure that there is no arbitrariness in the appointment process and the most appropriate candidates from diverse backgrounds, as laid down in the RTI Act, are appointed as information commissioners. Further, disclosure of information about the short-listed candidates enables members of the public to inform the selection committee of any significant adverse information they may have about them in terms of their appropriateness as commissioners. If appointments to the CIC have been finalised without proper transparency, the entire purpose of the SC order directing disclosure of information to enable public scrutiny stands defeated.’’
 
However, the government cares a hoot! The RTI Act has suffered a hard blow. No doubt, the government is uncomfortable with non-bureaucratic information commissioners like Shailesh Gandhi, Prof Sridhar Acharyulu and Vijay Kuvalekar who were dynamic and understood the pulse of this citizen-friendly Act.
 
(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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Supreme Court gives a dressing down to States that have not appointed Information Commissioners; must fall in line by 22nd Jan
There is now hope that several contentious issue related to the Right to Information (RTI) Act and appointments of information commissions will be resolved in January 2019. Issues pending before the Supreme Court (SC) through a public interest litigation (PIL) include —  the inordinate delay in appointing the Chief Central Information Commissioner (CCIC), Information Commissioners (ICs) at the centre and various States, opaqueness in selecting ICS, violation of rules regarding the status and salary of these appointments. 
 
The PIL, which was filed in April 2018 by activists Anjali Bharadwaj, Amrita Johri and Commodore Lokesh Batra (retd), received a boost during the 13th December hearing we have reported already.   
 
On that day, the Supreme Court directed the central government to make the appointments transparent by putting up the names of the search committee, the names of the shortlisted candidates and their selection criteria. It also slammed various States that have been dilly-dallying over this issue and asked them to fall in line before the next hearing scheduled for 22nd January, 2019.
 
While various states provided reasons for the delay, the SC issued specific orders in each case as detailed below.  
 
Karnataka: An affidavit filed on behalf of the Karnataka government mentioned that there is only one vacancy of the State Information Commissioner (SIO), which had been advertised. However, in the meantime, the Karnataka High Court had stayed the appointment process. 
 
The SC has not issued any further orders in this case.
 
Maharashtra: In the affidavit on behalf of the Maharashtra government mentions that post of State Chief Information Commissioner (SCIC) has already been filled. It also detailed various steps taken to fill the post of State Information Commissioner (SIC) and assured that the appointment would happen soon. It is further admitted that two post of SIC have fallen vacant now and advertisements for filling those vacancies will be published within four weeks. 
 
SC Order: Asks Maharashtra government to disclose details on its website as was directed in the case of Union of India.
 
West Bengal: Counsel on behalf of the state said that the SCIC has already been appointed; one SIC is already in place and one more SIC has been appointed. This means that one SCIC and two SICs are holding office at the moment. The RTI Act provides for the appointment of up to 10 SICs. The state’s counsel was not sure as to whether the entire work can be dealt with by only one SCIC and two SICs. 
 
SC asked the West Bengal government to file an affidavit within two weeks stating the requirement of SICs. It also asked for information on RTI applications filed and well as number of appeals pending before SICs and details of pendency. 
 
Andhra Pradesh: Counsel for the state handed over an affidavit on 12 December 2018, which said that three persons have been appointed as SIC. It is also said that although the post of SCIC was advertised, nobody could be appointed and it is not decided to issue a fresh advertisement. The advertisement for the post of SCIC was issued on 24 August 2018 applications were accepted until 10 October 2018. Thirty-one applications were received and a Selection Committee meeting was proposed to be held soon. It expects that the SCIC shall be appointed within a month after the selection meeting. It further said that M Ravi Kumar, the SIC, is holding charge as SCIC so that the Commission may function. 
 
SC order: Asked the state to file an affidavit on the lines of that sought from the West Bengal government before the next date of listing. It shall also disclose details on the government website. 
 
Telangana: The state did not comply with the SC order to file an affidavit and pleaded inability to do so on account of elections to the state legislative assembly, whose results were announced on 11 December 2018. 
 
SC order: The state was granted its request for two weeks' time to file an affidavit. The affidavit must indicate how many SICs are functioning, how many posts are required and disclose the steps taken to fill up these posts. Telangana has already decided not to fill up ten posts of SIO, so the court has asked for justification of the decision in an affidavit on the lines of the one directed to be filed by West Bengal.
 
Odisha: The Odisha government has earlier filed an affidavit to the effect that the State has decided to allow the Information Commission to function with one SCIC and three SIC. It stated that SCIC and two SICs are already in place and and advertisement will be issued shortly for the one remaining post. Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the petitioners submitted that there is huge pendency before the Odisha Information Commission and there is no justification to have only three Information Commissioners. 
 
SC order: The Odisha government has been asked to file an affidavit on the lines directed to the West Bengal government before the next date of listing, including putting up information on the commission’s website.
 
Gujarat: The counsel for Gujarat said she has received information from the State only two days ago and will file an affidavit within a week. However, she orally informed the court that based on information received, Gujarat has one post of SCIC and four SIC. Of these, the SCIC and one SIC are functioning, the three vacancies for SICs have been advertised, applications received and the process of filling up vacancies is before Selection Committee. 
 
SC order: The court expects the selection process to be completed at the earliest, preferably before the next hearing. Details will be disclosed on the website in line with directions issued to the union government.
 
Kerala: The counsel for Kerala stated that one SCIC and four SIC are functioning in the state. Five posts of SICs could not be filled due to some pending litigation filed before the Kerala High Court. No further order by SC.
 
Let us hope that 2019 is Happy New Year for the citizen-empowered and citizen-friendly RTI Act.
 
(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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Maharashtra Facilitates Inspection of Files. Here Is How To Do File Inspection under RTI
Recently, the Maharashtra government took an important step towards transparency through a government resolution (GR) which directs every public authority in the state to provide two hours, once a week, for citizens to walk into the government offices, for inspection of files under Section 4 of the RTI Act. However, even though citizens can demand to see documents under this provision, not many know how to go about it.
 
In order that such a useful and citizen-friendly initiative is not lost due to citizens’ inhibition or ignorance, here are some tips on how to be on top of the board.
 
Just to reiterate, inspection of files was pioneered in Pune way back in 2005 and followed thereafter by the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) in 2009, directing its public authorities to keep every Monday, between 3pm and 5pm, open for citizens to inspect files. At that time, even public information officers (PIOs) or heads of public authorities were not aware that it is not necessary for a citizen to write an application for inspection of files under Section 4 of the RTI Act. 
 
In fact, I remember when I met the secretary, environment in the Mantralaya  to inspect files regarding Dow Chemicals in 2010, despite my having sent him an email and an SMS (as I was coming to Mumbai from Pune), he asked me to write an application. I convinced him that I was not required to do so and the following note made by the late Prakash Kardaley and Vijay Kumbhar came in handy for me. (The secretary, environment then spoke to his legal cell about this provision in front of me and then asked his executive director to show me all the files pertaining to Dow Chemicals and directed him to give me any photo copies that I wanted).
 
Thus, when any citizen goes for file inspection, I would suggest you carry the following note which will be an eye-opener to the PIO, besides arming you with the required ammunition. Here it is:
 
1. Your kind attention is drawn to Section 4 of the Right to Information Act, 2005 under Chapter II on `Right to Information and Obligation of Public Authorities’.
 
2. As per the provision, it is obligatory for every public authority (including xxxxxx name the office you would be visiting) to publish certain categories of documents so as to make voluntary disclosure of information so that citizens have “minimum resort to the use of this Act to obtain information.”
 
3. Information covered by Section 4, in fact, should have been published on May 12, 2005 and disseminated widely in such form and manner which is easily accessible to the public and should have been updated at regular intervals later. 
 
4. It is further explained in the provision that 'disseminated' means making known or communicated the information to the public through notice boards, newspapers, public announcements, media broadcasts, the internet or any other means, including “inspection of offices of any public authority. " I am enclosing here the full text of Section 4 as adopted by the Parliament of India for your reference. 
 
5. I regret to bring to your notice that no information covered under this Section 4 has been disseminated yet by you, a public authority under the state government, through notice boards, newspapers, public announcements, media broadcasts and Internet. 
 
6. Nevertheless, citizens have a right to inspect these documents in the office of the public  authority, including the (xxxx name the office), as explicitly mentioned in the provision under Section 4. 
 
7. It may be noticed that a citizen desiring to inspect the documents containing information covered under Section 4 of the Right to Information Act, 2005, need not make any formal requisition under Section 6 of the Act because these documents should have already been published by the public authority (including xxx name the office) so that citizens have  “minimum resort to the use of this Act to obtain information.” 
 
8. Implementation of this provision of the Act (under Section 4) is the direct responsibility of the head of the public authority. In this specific instance, it is your direct responsibility as the municipal commissioner and the administrative head of the Pune Municipal Corporation. Hence this letter is addressed to you and not to any public information officer (PIO) since no formal requisition is needed to be filed, please note.
 
In case the public authority insists on a formal letter, then write it this way, says RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar:
 
VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: Intimation of inspection under Section 4 should be addressed to the top authority of the government department (meaning the municipal commissioner, if it is a municipal corporation) unlike an application under Section 6 which is addressed to the public information officer (PIO). 
 
                      Draft of intimation
 
To 
 
The Head of the Department
 
Subject – Intimation for inspection of files related to  xxxxxxxxxx
 
Dear Mr. Head of the Department
 
As per the circular sankirn2018/ pra.kra. 45/ karya 6, dated 26/11/2018, the government of Maharashtra has allowed inspection of files in every department. Please note that as per section 4 of the RTI act and as per the said circular there is no need to give any intimation for inspection of files in any public authority. However, being responsible citizens, we thought it preferable to intimate you beforehand. 
 
I intend to exercise my right as a citizen to inspect documents related to xxxxxx. I will visit your office on Monday xx/xx/2018. 
 
Thanking you
With Regards
 
Citizens must remember they are the custodian of most government files, except the ones under Section 8 of the RTI Act, says Kumbhar and, therefore:
 
As these files belongs to citizens and citizens are owners of these files they should not to feel awkward, guilty or hesitate to demand a file for inspection
 
Remember, once a citizen gives them the intimation, the citizen should not have to wait for a reply from the officer,  simply because a citizen has the right to inspect files during the designated working hours of the public authority. The intimation is just for the purpose of convenience and to avoid excuses by officials.
 
Once citizens have gone through the documents they can ask for the copies of the inspected documents. To obtain such copies, under section 6 of the RTI Act, one need not give an application. Merely giving a list of document on plain paper is enough. However, they need to pay the fees required for photocopying. 
 
 Text of Section 4 of the Right to Information Act, 2005
 
4. (1)    Every public authority shall
 
(a) maintain all its records duly catalogued and indexed in a manner and form which facilitates the right to information under this Act and ensure that all records that are appropriate to be computerised are, within a reasonable time and subject to availability of resources, computerised and connected through a network all over the country on different systems so that access to such records is facilitated;
 
(b) publish within one hundred and twenty days from the enactment of this Act,-
(i) the particulars of its organisation, functions and duties; 
(ii) the powers and duties of its officers and employees;
(iii) the procedure followed in the decision making process, including channels of supervision and accountability;
(iv) the norms set by it for the discharge of its functions;
(v) the rules, regulations, instructions, manuals and records, held by it or under its control or used by its employees for discharging its functions;
(vi) a statement of the categories of documents that are held by it or under its control;
(vii) the particulars of any arrangement that exists for consultation with, or representation by, the members of the public in relation to the formulation of its policy or implementation thereof;
(viii) a statement of the boards, councils, committees and other bodies consisting of two or more persons constituted as its part or for the purpose of its advise, and as to whether meetings of those boards, councils, committees and other bodies are open to the public, or the minutes 'of such meetings are accessible for public;
(ix) a directory of its officers and employees;
(x) the monthly remuneration received by each of its officers and employees, including the system of compensation as provided in its regulations;
(xi) the budget allocated to each of its agency, indicating the particulars of all plans, proposed expenditures and reports on disbursements made;
(xii) the manner of execution of subsidy programmes, including the amounts allocated and the details of beneficiaries of such programmes;
(xiii) particulars of recipients of concessions, permits or authorisations granted by it;
(xiv) details in respect of the information, available to or held by it, reduced in an electronic form;
(xv) the particulars of facilities available to citizens for obtaining information, including the working hours of a library or reading room, if maintained for public use;
(xvi) the names, designations and other particulars of the public  information officers; ,
(xvii) such other information as may be prescribed; and thereafter update these publications every year;
 
(c) publish all relevant facts while formulating important policies or announcing the decisions which affect public;
 
(d) provide reasons for its administrative or quasi judicial decisions to affected persons; 
 
(2) It shall be a constant endeavour of every public authority to take steps in accordance with the requirements of clause (b) of sub-section (1) to provide as much information suo motu to the public at regular intervals through various means of communications, including the internet, so that the public have minimum resort to the use of this Act to obtain information.
 
(3) For the purpose of sub-section (1), every piece of information shall be disseminated widely and in such form and manner which is easily accessible to the public.
 
(4) All materials shall be disseminated taking into consideration the cost, effectiveness, local language and the most effective method of communication in that local area and the information should be easily accessible, to the extent possible in electronic format with the central public information officer, or state public information officer, as the case may be, available fee or at such cost of the medium or the print cost price as may be prescribed.
 
Explanation: For the purposes of sub-sections (3) and (4), "disseminated" means making known or communicated the information to the public through notice boards, newspapers, public announcements, media broadcasts, the internet or any other means, including inspection of offices of any public authority.
 
(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

akshay_6900

5 months ago

Any GR or GO issued in the same regard in Andhra Pradesh or Telangana?

Ramesh Bajaj

6 months ago

Thank you for giving this info (to me).I am 71 and it will surely save a lot of my energy.

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