Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Freeing up Free Education for Children

Kalol taluka in Panchmahals district belongs to one of the less developed parts of vibrant Gujarat. Panchmahals is home to fairly large sized communities of adivasis who have not benefitted from the economic development that has made the Patels and the Shahs well known across American and European business houses. Additionally, several hundred of families belonging to the minority community live below the poverty line (BPL). Schools are run by the government where education is provided free of cost up to matriculation level. Even those schools run by private trusts but
aided by the state government are required not to charge tuition or any kind of fees from students.

Last December, 3–4 students approached Aslambhai a resident of Kalol with a complaint. They said they were being pressurised by their teachers every month to pay money as fees. The demands varied from Rs.10/- to Rs.35/-. If the students did not pay up teachers would turn up at their homes to collect the money. However no receipt was issued against such fee payments. This School is managed by a private trust but receives aid from the State Government. Aslambhai visited the Principal of the high school to enquire why the teachers charged fees from students. The Principal assured him that they had the power to collect whatever fees they wanted at any time.

Aslambhai had learnt about the Right to Information Act (RTI Act) recently. He knew that any private body substantially funded by the government was a deemed public authority under the RTI Act and was duty bound to give information on request. Aslambhai drafted an information request and submitted it to the Principal of the high school demanding to know –
1) How much fees can be legitimately collected from students?

2) For what purposes can the high school collect fees from students?

3) Copies of circulars or government orders giving details of the above information.

The Principal was taken aback when he received the information request. He requested Aslambhai to visit his office to discuss the application. He assured Aslambhai that no such fees would be collected from those students who had complained to him. Aslambhai was not content with this assurance. He insisted that the Principal give him a reply in writing that the school did not have any authority to collect any fees except fees for computer classes which the trust had begun at its own expense. The students of this school are happy now because their teachers are no longer demanding any fees from them. Aslambhai believes that RTI works for those who once found themselves powerless before the powerful. He plans to tell as many people as possible in his taluka about the RTI Act.

*{Aslambhai is one of 30 men and women in Panchmahals district, Gujarat trained by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative to use the RTI Act in 2005} ***

RTI activists are very critical, but I welcome that

My role as a the CIC is very new and challenging, with major responsibilities. This is an unchartered, virgin territory and is being closely watched by activists and the media. The RTI Act is very important to the country because, not only is India a full blown democracy but it is an intense democracy, thanks to the Panchayati Raj and now because of the RTI. You ask for any information and you can get it now.

Complete Interview with Chief IC

Sunday, February 26, 2006

When Bhagat Singh inspires, take up the pen

Rang De Basanti, the Aamir Khan-starrer that made patriotism hip and happening and became a rage among today's youth, could well have had a different script.

Original script: Out to avenge the death of their dear friend who died in an MiG crash caused by faulty parts that were part of a defence scam perpetrated by the defence minister, a handful of Delhi University boys are inspired by Bhagat Singh and Chandrashekhar Azad - whose roles they play in a documentary - to kill the minister himself. They are then gunned down by security forces.

The alternative: The friends invoke the Right to Information Act and get all relevant papers regarding the defence deal. They make the papers public and a nationwide outcry leads to the defence minister's ouster. The government, that tried to shield the minister, loses the confidence of the nation that hands it a shameful loss in the elections. A death is avenged, without bloodshed, and the friends go around the country making people aware of the Act.

Complete Article

Friday, February 24, 2006

Info commission to be set up soon: Manipur CM

Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh today informed the state Assembly that Right to Information Commission will be set up soon. Mr Singh said the government was committed to enforcing the Right to Information Act in the state. He was replying to a question raised by Dr Nimaichand Luwang during the question hour.

Complete Article

RTI: A boon for property matters

This Act proves to be a great windfall for the property industry as the building related documents which could not be procured easily from the government departments like Taluk office, Corporation office, sub-registrar office, Survey Department, Assistant Commissioner’s Office etc, can now be got, studied and verified well in advance before embarking on any project.

This Act is a blessing in disguise for the citizens of the nation. If used properly, this may act as a weapon to bring down the corruption level to a naught. Needless to say, corruption is rampant in our country, especially, government departments and municipal corporations. It is a known fact that unless the officials are bribed, nothing works. Right from the lowest level to the top level officials, the bribe gets distributed and then only the work may progress without any hindrance.

Complete Article

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

PIL On Proper Implementation of RTI Act in Bihar

Bihar Pradesh Congress Committee (BPCC) leader Prem Chandra Mishra has filed a public interest petition in Patna High Court seeking direction to the Bihar government for proper implementation of Right to Information Act in the state.

Mr Mishra, chief spokesperson of the state congress, said the petition had raised the issue of corruption in different departments of the government.

Complete Article

RTI in Meghalaya

The State government of Meghalaya has attempted to put in place mechanisms for implementation of the Right to Information Act 2005. All government depts. have appointed PIOs and APIOs. Lists of these are available on the state web site. With regard to suo moto declarations, most depts have provided substantial information that is also available on the web site, but the information provided is not complete.

A one man state Information Commission has been supposedly set up last year, with Mr. G P Wahlang, IAS, currently serving as the Commissioner and Secretary Agriculture, as the Chief Information Commissioner. With regard to rules, the state has decided to adopt the central rules. The Dept of Information and Public Relations is the nodal agency in the state for RTI related matters, and they have also set up a help line number for RTI related queries. Our experience of filing questions has been that the PIOs and other officers are helpful and prompt. At the behest of the movement, depts are redirecting questions to the concerned depts on their own and the same is intimated to the person filing the question.

The Meghalaya Right to Information Movement filed two sets of questions on the day the act came into being. One was with regard to the implementation of the Mid Day Meal Scheme in the State and the other on the construction work related to the beautification of a part of the Police Bazar in Shillong city, the declared expenditure of which was a whooping 5 crores! Questions related to the Mid Day Meal Scheme, were filed in several dept simultaneously, to enable us to cross check information. The depts were Education, Food & Civil Supplies and C & RD. We found that this strategy is useful in detecting if the depts provide all the information or not. The experience with questioning about the Mid Day Meal was encouraging. We had a public hearing where the Commissioner & Secy. Education also attended together with all her officers. The Teachers union and other Civil Society groups were also present. Post the hearing, public assurances have been made that attention will be given for better implementation and additional resources have been earmarked for the same. We will however have to do a survey in March – April and subsequent months to see if these assurances have been honoured. For this hearing, local newspapers were also instrumental in ensuring its success by providing space to share the findings of the survey that we had conducted and also widely publicizing about the hearing.

We are yet to conduct a hearing about the construction related work of
Police Bazar – the findings of which indicate a close nexus of politicians, bureaucrats and contractors who may have links to the underground. We are trying to work out a strategy for the hearing to be effective while also ensuring some level of safety to the persons who were involved in putting forward the questions and analysing the data that was made available. We would like suggestions for this and would be glad if members of the NCPRI can participate in this particular hearing.

Questions have also been filed to the Health Dept, and the response is awaited. People from villages have also filed questions from the very
beginning. Some of the questions were with regard to the SSA scheme, Megh AIDS Control Society etc As a movement we are using every platform possible to raise awareness about the Act. We have been doing several radio and TV progs and conducted programmes for NGOs such as North East Network, Association of Catholic Elders etc. We have also compiled a FAQ about RTI that we have shared with friends across the North East. Together with a representative from the MKSS, a Meghalaya Right To Information Member took part in a meeting of the Bodo Students Union and Assam Students Union to discuss about RTI. Such sharing is also taking place today with Media persons in Guwahati.

While the Meghalaya Right To Information Movement is happy that the
government has been a little better than the neighbouring governments of Assam (where there has been no attempt to put in place PIOs etc) and Arunachal (where the prescribed fee for obtaining information related to tenders and contracts is Rs. 500!) and while realizing that much of the proactiveness has come as a result of the existence of an RTI movement in the state, there are several concerns.

1. Our greatest concern is the non assumption of office of the Chief
Information Commissioner. While the govt. declared the setting up of the commission, there doesn't seem to be an office and the information commissioner is now refusing to answer queries or talk to the press.
Apparently the person is waiting to retire, and earlier informed us that he was waiting for clearance from Delhi for his resignation so he can assume office.
2. We are also concerned of having a one man commission. We have expressed the need of having a minimum of three persons in the commission
3. With regard to Suo moto declaration, we are concerned that information is only available on the internet, which is inaccessible to many. Depts. are also not putting up information on notice boards etc. Moreover, understandably, the govt. is not publicizing the existence of the Act enough.
4. It is difficult to locate PIOs and APIOs – only one dept has clearly put up a sign board indicating where to find the PIO.

-National Campaign for People's Right to Information

Monday, February 20, 2006

RTI impact!

Do you know why the high security Arthur road jail in Mumbai allowed its dangerous inmates to use moblie phones to extort money and carry on with their illegal activities using their phones freely?

The news about this has been appearing in the media regularly. There appears to be complicity of a high order to ensure that jammers to stop these were not installed. On 25 October, 2001 IG Prisons put a proposal to install jammers in Arthur Road jail, to prevent the use of mobile phones for a cost of Rs. 6,01,736.

After that there were 32 stages for this proposal during the following four years, with no sign of the jammers.

I made a RTI application asking about this scandalous criminal delay/conspiracy on 20 December, 2005, asking for details of the movement of the papers in this case. On 26 December,2005 the IG was asked to place the order for the jammers. On 10 January, 2006 the jammers were installed! The final price? -Rs. 7 lacs.

Did Right To Information stop the merry-go-round of over four years and force the Govt. to act in twenty days?

Citizens across the Country will use RTI increasingly to monitor and force the Government to act and bring about good governance. Citizens have been empowered, and they will use it effectively.

shailesh gandhi

Haryana govt to display information officers names

The Haryana government has directed all departments to display prominently on their notice boards, both at headquarters and the field level, the details of officers who have been appointed as Public Information Officers, Assistant Public Information Officers and First Apellate Authorities under the Right to Information Act,2005.

While stating this here today, an official spokesman said that the format the of application for seeking information under the Act should also be displayed alongwith the details of the fee required to be deposited.

He said that most of the departments had already appointed Public Information Officers, Assistant Public Information Officers and First Appellate Authorities under the Right to Information Act.

Complete Article

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Central Information Commission faces flak

Former Ambassador to Portugal Madhu Bhaduri says the commission misplaced her file against the Delhi Development Authority, forcing her to start the process all over again.

"The Commission is in a mess. I was shocked, there is no professional competence, nobody knows law. It has violated principles of natural justice. I got to know of the decision on my appeal only through the press," said Bhaduri.

Complete Article

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Right to know has Transport Dept on its toes

From policy decisions to permits, these are just some of the applications under the Right to Information (RTI) Act that land up at the Transport Department every day. And according to Virendra Kumar, Joint Commissioner, State Transport Authority, most of the applications are related to personal grievances— especially licensing and registration

Complete Article

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Use RTI Act to end corruption: CVC

Describing the Right to Information Act as a potent weapon, Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) P Shankar exhorted the citizens to make use of it to eradicate corruption and ensure that officials and politicians delivered value to the money paid by way of taxes.

Complete Article

Right to Info extends to file notings too

While the Government of India always maintained that file notings cannot be disclosed under the Right to Information Act, the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) has turned these arguments on its head by ruling that public have every right to access file notings if it involved public interest

Complete Article

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Citizens invoke RTI to know why roads in Solapur are bad

The Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC), which has undertaken the road construction and road junction improvement under the Solapur Integrated Road Development Project (IRDP) with a two-phased budget of Rs 91.50 crore, has come under fire.

The three member expert committee has suggested a detailed audit of work and asked the MSRDC not to issue completion of work certificate until the contractors give proof that the work has been done as per standard specifications

Complete Article

RTI Act to empower people, ensure good governance: DGP

Emphasizing the importance of the Right to Information Act (RTI) in the empowerment of the people, Director General of Police, Gopal Sharma today said that it would ensure efficient and transparent governance in Jammu and Kashmir.

Complete Article

Apex Court registry rapped by RTI ombudsman

In another major advance for citizens using the Right to Information Act (RTI) to battle red tape, the Central Information Commission has upbraided the Supreme Court registry for its apparent reluctance in information sharing.
Acting on an appeal filed by Delhi resident Subhash Chandra Agarwal, Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah and Information Commissioner Padma Balasubramaniam overruled a decision of the Apex Court Registrar (Administration) turning down his plea for greater information relating to a case.

Complete Article

Thursday, February 09, 2006

CIC's moment of shame - "Examinees not entitled to answer paper copies"

In a decision that will have a considerable impact on the extent of the application of the Right to Information Act (RTI), the Central Information Commission has held that examinees are not entitled to a copy of their evaluated answer papers under the Act.

The Central Information Commissioners deciding the case, Padma Balasubramanian and O.P. Kejariwal, held that when answer papers are evaluated the authority conducting the examination and the examiners evaluating the answer papers stand in a fiduciary relationship with each other, thus requiring confidentiality in the manner and method of evaluation. They held that the RTI Act renders information available to a person in his fiduciary relationship is exempt from the Act unless the Central Information Commission is satisfied that the larger public interest warrants the disclosure of such information.

Complete Article

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

You can get information even without the "form"

Although the right to information is mandatory, many citizens claim that application forms that government departments ask for is hindering the process. In response to a complaint filed by a slum dweller who lost his home, the Information Commission has ordered government departments that forms are not mandatory. Any piece of paper or even an oral complaint is enough to give a citizen access to information.

Complete Article

PIOs know little about right-to-know pleas

As per the Act, the departments have to submit a quarterly report on the applications to the Right to Information Commission. Four months after the launch, the State authorities are still struggling with non-availability of figures and details regarding the applications. Without this information, it is difficult to say what kind of information is being sought, and by whom. While the authorities describe this as teething problems, the Public Information Officers (PIOs) admit that lack of a proper system is the problem.

Complete Article

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Knowledge of RTI Act must to make empowered citizens: Shiela

Terming the Right To Information Act as a powerful tool to bring in greater transparency and accountability to the administration, Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit today said a proper knowledge of the Act would help people to become more empowered citizens.

The Right To Information Act is an important tool to bring governance in the realm of public thinking and thereby bring about a greater interface between people and the administration, the Chief Minister said after releasing a book 'Right to Know-A Hands Free Guide to The Right To Information Act'.

Complete Article

Babus enforcing law to give you power find a way to take it away

Mumbai, February 6: JUST five months old, India’s Right To Information (RTI) Act is supposed to let you cut through red tape and empower you to ask questions from your government through a simple form—at a cost of Rs 10.
Now, bureaucrats tasked with running the RTI in many organisations are managing to sling another ribbon around you, simply by insisting that you give them the Rs 10 only through a demand draft.

Complete Story

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Ex Law Commission chief finds serious flaws in Info Act

Pointing out to some of the provisions of the Right to Information Act running contrary to the spirit of the legislation itself, former Law Commission chairman and former Supreme Court judge Justice B P Jeevan Reddy said, however, that proper implementation of its provisions would yield good results.

Complete Article

Friday, February 03, 2006

Goa State Information Commissioner appointed

The state cabinet has approved the appointment of a Chief Information Commissioner to oversee the implementation of the Right to Information Act in Goa.Addressing the media persons here today after the cabinet meet at the secretariat, Chief Minister Pratapsinh Rane said former bureaucrat T Venkataratnam is likely to be appointed to the post.

Complete Article

TDR proposals on PMC website

In a step towards ensuring transparency and plugging irregularities in the Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) issue, the civic administration has decided to post all TDR applications and TDRs granted every month on its official website from February 28.

Section 4 of the RTI Act 2005 is for pro-active dissemination of information. Wherever particulars involve recipients of concession, permits or authorisation granted by it (means, any public authority), suo moto disclosure is mandatory. Since TDR is an authorisation by the PMC (a public authority), it falls under Section 4 and therefore the PMC is bound by transparency, which it is required to do by putting up this information on its website — one of the ways of making it known to the public.


Thursday, February 02, 2006

After activists, prisoner uses RTI to get manual on rules

After the Right to Information Act 2005 empowered people like us to seek information from government officials, a prisoner serving a life term at Yerawada Central Prison has used the Act to get the manual of Maharashtra Open Prison rules 1971. He wanted to know his rights and duties in prison. Pune Cantonment resident Raju Balkrishna Bhise was convicted on December 12, 1999.

Complete Article

Administrative Reforms Commission's RTI Questionnaire

The Administrative Reforms Commission (http://arc.gov.in ) is currently examining some of the key implementation issues re the RTI Act 2005. The Commission is holding consultations with the State Governments, Central and State Information Commissioners, NGOs and the media to garner their views on the subject.

They have published a RTI Questionnaire on their website, asking that people write in to the Commission with their recommendations on how some of the problems in bedding down the Act can be remedied.

Click Here to view the questionaire

The RTI Questionnaire may be sent to:

Administrative Reforms Commission
Government of India
2nd Floor, Vigyan Bhawan
Maulana Azad Road, New Delhi - 110011
Email: arcommission@nic.in
Tel: (011) 2302 2423

-Mandakini Devasher
Project Assistant
Right to Information Programme
Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Bonde report brings out construction flaws

THE S B Bonde report on the balcony collapse in the Ganga Tirth building in Sahakarnagar which killed three persons submitted to the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) on Tuesday has raised several queries on the quality of construction.

Right from the thickness of the slab and the steel bars, to the corrosion of the reinforcing steel bars, the report found that the construction did not come up to established standards.

The report was procured under the Right To Information Act 2005 by Pune Newsline.

Complete Article

Information Act to cover defence purchases: Pranab Mukherjee

The Government on Tuesday said all defence purchase files would be open to scrutiny under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. But the files would be made public after a contract has been concluded with the successful bidder. The files would not be made public while the procurement process was on, Mr. Mukherjee after inaugurating the Defence Expo here.

Complete Article

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