Union Health Ministry Honours RTI: Shares All Updates on Corona Virus; Kerala Follows Suit
It is official now! India has now enforced the Disaster Management Act and the Epidemic Act, 1897 meant to provide for the better prevention of the spread of dangerous epidemic diseases, with the pandemic Corona virus engulfing India, with 75 having tested positive, at the last count, spread over several States.
 
The website of the Union health ministry https://www.mohfw.gov.in/ has admirably opened up a page dedicated to COVID-19, even before you go to its homepage, listing comprehensive details of various aspects of the virus. Besides listing the number of positive cases of the Corona virus in various States and a helpline, it has provided comprehensive information on 25 points.
 
 
Information on the pandemic virus fits into the category of large public interest and also comes under the suo motu disclosures under Section 4 of the RTI Act by public authorities. The information available therein falls in its sub-sections V, VI and XIV, which include (v) the rules, regulations, instructions, manuals and records, held by it or under its control; (vi) a statement of the categories of documents that are held by it or under its control; (xiv) details in respect of the information, available to or held by it, reduced in an electronic form and; all relevant facts while formulating important policies or announcing the decisions which affect the public.
 
The Union health ministry is quickly updating the number of passengers screened at airports; total number of confirmed COVID 2019 cases across India ; State/UT wise list of COVID 19 confirmed cases of Indian and foreign nationals; updating travel advisory as and when. 
 
 
It has also uploaded the decision making processes like invoking powers under the Disaster Management Act 2005; decisions of high level group of ministers meeting to review the current status and actions for prevention and management of COVID 19; advisory on mass gatherings; updating visa and travel restrictions issued by the bureau of immigration (BOI) after meeting of group of ministers (GoM) from time to time.
 
Admirably, for the dissemination of information on the virus to various age groups, it has uploaded a comic book for children titled KIDS, VAAYU & CORONA, to provide correct information about COVID-19 and this is making the rounds through WhatsApp groups.
 
 
Other information includes: advisory for exemptions to mark biometric attendance; discharge policy for suspected or confirmed Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) cases; and a series of documents which are guidelines for prevention and control aimed at health officials and the medical fraternity.
 
Do see the website for guidelines on use of masks by public as it has stated that only those with cough and cold need to use them while people are buying and wearing them out of fear. 
 
 
The website also has guidelines for home quarantine; standard operating procedure (SOP) for COVID-19 management- international cruise ships at major Indian ports and correspondence of cabinet secretary, all government of India ministries on COVID-19 management.
 
It is heartening to note that for once, the deadly pandemic has spurred a public authority to be transparent. However, much needs to be done by the health departments of various States. For example, Maharashtra’s health department website –www.arogya.maharashtra.gov.in - is simply pathetic in this regard. 
 
In a typo, which says Govid 19 Guidelines, it has just uploaded a huge document.
 
 
Considering it has the third largest cases amongst all States, it needs to do much more. In stark contrast, the Kerala government’s health department website - http://dhs.kerala.gov.in/ - is filled with information, as vast as the Union ministry’s health website. It has provided comprehensive information in English and Malayalam.
 
Could the CIC and SCIC’s pitch in by sending circulars to Central and State governments to follow along the lines of the Union health ministry and Kerala? It’s the urgent need of the hour as this pandemic is affecting every citizen in some form or the other. 
 
(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

    yerramr

    3 weeks ago

    Now untouchables are sacred, lest beware Covid-19!!

    shankar_1979

    3 weeks ago

    Excellent compilation and honest reporting. There is a sinister trend among several media companies to tarnish the Indian government's efforts to handle this pandemic. However, Moneylife team, your journalistic standards are as high as ever. Keep up the good work.

    glnprasad52

    3 weeks ago

    Never seen this war room strategy and commitment from various levels. Good administration and timely policies.

    No registration fee cut for women candidates in NEET: RTI
    While women candidates in India can avail fifty per cent concession for applying in Indian Institute of Technology Joint Entrance Examination (IIT-JEE) Mains, they do not get any cut in registration fees for National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET), revealed a Right to Information (RTI) query.
     
    According to the reply to the query filed by Neemuch-based activist Chandra Shekhar Gaur, application fee for candidates aspiring for NEET 2020, is Rs 1,500 irrespective of the gender, while in IIT-JEE Mains, application fees for B.E./B.Tech or B.Arch or B.Planning is Rs 650 for boys and Rs 325 for girls under general category and Rs 325 for both boys and girls under SC/ST/PWD and Transgender categories.
     
    However, according to the RTI response, there is a concession in NEET under general category for Economically weaker section (EWS), OBC-NCL (Other Backward Classes-Non Creamy Layer). For the entrance exam in India, students who wish to study undergraduate medical courses and dental courses in government or private medical colleges and dental colleges in India, have to pay Rs 1400. Fees for NEET applicants under categories -- SC/ST/PWD and Transgender is Rs 800. 
     
    The query also found that the agency that conducts both NEET and IIT-JEE Mains is the National Testing Agency (NTA) but it follows a different protocol when it comes to giving concessions to the women candidates for these two exams. 
     
    According to the RTI reply, 9,34,828 candidates have registered for the IIT-JEE for 2020 and totalling NEET candidates count is under process. The RTI sought reason for difference in provisions for women candidates for both the entrance exams. 
     
    In the response of the query, NTA replied that the role of the agency was limited only to conduct the entrance exams and declaring the results and its work is based on directions given by the Directorate General of Health Services, Ministry of Health and Family welfare and National Medical Commission for NEET. 
     
    For IIT JEE, the agency is responsible to conduct test and handover the results to Joint Seat Allocation Authority (JoSAA) and Central Seat Allocation Board. 
     
    The NTA conducts Joint Entrance Exam as per the directions given by JEE Apex Board. 
     
    The responses to the RTI query were provided by Binod Kumar Sahu, Joint Director (Admin), National Testing Agency. 
     
    An NEET PG aspirant in Ujjain, Dr Pooja Verma, told IANS "Yes Rs 1,500 is huge. When the government can give concessions to women in application fees for other entrance exam, they must make provisions for giving concession in NEET too. I know many friends who could not give a second attempt to the NEET because they could not afford a second attempt." 
     
    Dr Priyanka Ratnakar, an MBBS final year student and NEET aspirant from Madhya Pradesh seconds the thought, saying "Sometimes it becomes difficult for women to go for a second attempt given that the application fees for NEET is too high as compared to IIT-JEE. Women candidates must be given fee concession in applying for NEET as given in many entrance tests. Women not only deal with the entrance exams pressure but there are other societal pressures too."
     
    However, when IANS tried contacting NTA, no one responded.
     
    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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    Ashok Khemka Wants To Have Open Day for File Inspections under Section 4, in Haryana, Like in Pune
    Every Monday, the Pune Municipal Corp (PMC) allows citizens to inspect files from any department between 3pm to 5pm. They can visit any department, access files and also get photo copies of the documents under section 4 of the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
     
    Highly impressed by this initiative, IAS officer Ashok Khemka, who at present is principal secretary in Haryana, wants to have open days for citizens for inspecting files in that state too. 
     
    Speaking at the annual RTI awards function organised by Sajag Nagrik Manch in Pune, Mr Khemka stated that such ‘open days’ would drastically reduce the number of RTI applications filed under Section 6 of the RTI Act which is a time-consuming method. 
     
    “I will also write to the Haryana government as well as the Central Government, to have such open days at all public authorities across India including Mantralayas of every State,” he said. 
     
     
    According to Mr Khemka, this would reduce the time that it takes when you file RTI application under Section 6 of the RTI Act. 
     
    He says, “Democracy shows up once in five years when you cast your vote but RTI demands government accountability every single day. However, information is effective only when you get it immediately and inspection of files under Section 4 is a powerful way to do so.” 
     
    He also lamented the role of the Central and state information commissioners who have large pendency, thus denying a citizen his rightful information within a time period.  He stated that an inordinate delay in providing information to a citizen makes it irrelevant and frustrating. 
     
    Mr Khemka, says, “While the public information officers (PIOs) provide information due to fear of being penalised, the first and second appellate authorities do not feel it binding on themselves to give information as they have not been made accountable through penalty.
     
    "Appellate Authorities are senior officers and they should be more responsible for giving information. In Haryana, the second appeals are disposed in six to nine months but in the central information commissions, the pendency is up to two to three years. Since there is no one to pull them up, the FAAs and ICs have no accountability.’’ 
     
    He also lamented the tradition of selecting retired government officers to the post of information commissioners, who are conditioned by their bureaucratic experience, which is harming the very soul of RTI.
    He said, these days, PIOs and APIOs too are finding ways to reject information in the garb of giving information. Mr Khemka said, “The PIOs and APIOs too audaciously deny information by citing just any section of the RTI, so that they are not accountable for refusal of information. In actuality, it is as good as rejecting information.’’ 
     
    “The Central Information Commissioners (CICs) too have killed the soul of the RTI Act as they are not doing their work honestly. They also cite arbitrary clauses in their orders, compelling the RTI applicant to go seek judicial intervention. This may take several years, and it then just becomes the determination of the person to get information, come what may,” the IAS officer added.
     
    Criticising the pendency of appeals, Mr Khemka stated “Information commissioners can easily dispose 100 second appeals in a day. There is no need of writing elaborate orders and citing court judgments and making a CIC order, complicated. The appellant wants to know only the operative part and for this the CIC order should be crisp and not more than a page. This would ensure quick disposals.’’
     
    Many a government decision is haphazard and RTI could expose that, but Mr Khemka lamented that it is practically impossible to get information from high government officials, going by his experience. Giving an example of how the government decisions are arbitrary, he cited an example of his use of RTI in the goods and services tax (GST) council. “The government stated that with the implementation of the GST, the cascading effect of taxes would end. I asked information under RTI on any study done as to how the cascading effect of taxes would end after implementation of GST and any study on the stalling of cascading effect of taxes before GST. The GST council replied that no such studies were carried out. Government decisions should be evidence based and not arbitrary,” he added.
     
    Government expenditure can be put to better use to enhance quality of life and human development if it is spent in a methodical and scientific manner. RTI can be used effectively for this purpose, he concluded.
     
    Balasaheb Subhedar, a young and courageous RTI activist from Osmanabad, received the prestigious RTI Award from the Sajag Nagrik Manch, established by RTI activists Vivek Velankar and Jugal Rathi in 2006. 
     
     
    Mr Subhedar’s tryst with RTI began when the Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Ltd (MSECDL) cut off his home electricity for not paying the bill. 
     
    Mr Subhedar had not paid the bill since MSEDCL had drastically overcharged him and refused to address his problem. This led to his RTI activism where his information in various government departments led to the exposure of scandals and action against various officials. 
     
    Mr Subhedar says, “I could have got back power to my house if I had paid money but since injustice was meted out to me, I thought it my right to fight it and RTI proved to be an effective tool. The RTI Act has empowered me and hence I can use it for my work for the good of the society,” he added. 
     
    (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

    bajaj3

    1 week ago

    Can this apply to HIMALAYA HOUSE COMPANY LTD., 79, Palton Road ( M.R.A. Marg), Mumbai 400001. They are unwilling to give information, (and inspection) but will not say it in writing.

    REPLY

    glnprasad52

    In Reply to bajaj3 1 week ago

    Whether HHCL is a public authority or the information is required from PMC? You can not get any information from any entity other than public authority and for that information that is available with PMC on HHCL, you may seek such an opportunity. If you are concerned with HHCL as flat purchaser, there are many ways you can get remedy under several acts.

    m.prabhu.shankar

    1 month ago

    Excellent

    ashwinmehtaindia

    1 month ago

    This facility should be available on Pan India Level basis to reduce paperwork load of PIO & respective departments.

    Meenal Mamdani

    1 month ago

    I wonder if this facility of PMC is well known to all Punekars. I have talked to several over the last couple of months and they were unaware of it.
    One has to be a dedicated, indefatigable RTI activist to remember this after one public announcement.
    Perhaps some of the print media could print this periodically, in bold on the front page as a public service.

    Ramesh Popat

    1 month ago

    Good if implemented pan India.

    glnprasad52

    1 month ago

    This is the first time I am hearing an open and bold statement from a working bureaucrat upholding the rights of citizens and with sharp criticism on the dilatory tactics of officials/commissions. I hope that designated officials at least read/study that one section relevant to them in RTI Act as many designated officials still deny information inventing their own exemptions not stipulated in RTI Act and applying as many exemptions as they like without justifying for applying that Subsection in sec.8 of RTI Act. Making FAAs not accountable is the main flaw in the section and the next flaw is giving discretion of penalty to COMMISSIONS, without making it mandatory for unlawful denials.

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