Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Diet allowance of indoor patients to be increased

The state Cabinet on Tuesday okayed a proposal to increase the amount of diet allowance to every indoor patient of every category of government hospitals from Rs 25 per patient to Rs 50 per patient. A proposal to set up separate State Scheduled Caste/Schedule Tribe Commissions on the pattern of the National Commissions for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes was also approved by the cabinet. It also okayed the draft of Bihar Right to Information (Amendment) Rules 2009. An applicant will now have to file separate application to get information on different matters. He will get only one information on one application. The Cabinet also sanctioned a compensation of Rs 1 lakh each to all the 16 farmers killed at Amausi village in Khagaria district on October 1 this year in a massacre.
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Not enough information - Awareness, implementation RTI's weak point

Eighty per cent of the rural population and 55 per cent of the urban populationin India are not aware of the Right to Information, or RTI, Act. Half of the public information officers are not trained in implementing the act. Only one in four persons seeking information gets it. These are the findings of three assessment reports released recently.

The reports—one of them sponsored by the Central government—call for strengthening the act and point out bottlenecks that severely hamper its implementation. They come at a time when the government is trying to dilute the four-year-old act by proposing controversial amendments.

One report was prepared by global consultancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) hired by the Department of Personnel and Training that coordinates personnel matters for the Central government. rti advocacy groups objected to the selection of PwC, saying it is linked to controversial water privatization projects and the Rs 7,000-crore Satyam scam. They launched their own study and released its executive summary in August. The third report, released on October 22, was prepared by the Public Cause Research Foundation in Delhi, which researches and disseminates information on governance. Activists' initial suspicion of the PwC study notwithstanding, all audits have reported similar findings.
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RTI activist Shekhar Singh being considered for CIC post

Prominent Right to Information (RTI) activist Shekhar Singh is among the persons being considered for the post of chief information commissioner (CIC), government sources said here. “Shekhar Singh is one of the prominent RTI activists and his name is among the top two names being considered for the post,” a senior government official told IANS.

Sources said the other person being considered is a senior bureaucrat from Madhya Pradesh and the decision to select the CIC is expected to be taken by the end of this week. The present CIC Wajahat Habibullah quit the post last month to head the
information commission of Jammu and Kashmir on Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s request.

Singh is founder member of the National Campaign For People’s Right To Information (NCPRI), India, a movement working towards making government and society more transparent and accountable.
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Monday, November 16, 2009

Decisions of PCMC bodies now posted online

Citizens in Pimpri-Chinchwad can now access online the decisions taken by the standing commitee and the general body (GB) of the municipal corporation. The Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation's (PCMC) facility will allow the public to easily access information about draft policies and development programmes to be implemented. The information is available on the civic body's website, pcmcindia.gov.in. Incidentally, the Pune Municipal Corporation began a similar practice a few months ago.

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As govt plans to amend RTI, protests grow louder

With the government's tacit acceptance of the fact that amendments to Right to Information Act (RTI) were on the agenda, activists are planning to step up protests and garner support from political parties. On Saturday, DoPT secretary Shantanu Consul admitted that the government was deliberating on amendments to the Act even as he assured activists that the changes would only be finalised after a public consultation.

National Campaign for People's Right to Information (NCPRI) member and RTI activist Nikhil Dey said that even as it waited for the government's draft version, organisations were working to gather support at state level. "We will be organising state level agitations to resist changes to the Act and also petition political parties to take public position against amendments,'' Dey said. He added that the "threat'' to changes in the legislation were very real but the battle was far from over.

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Public debate to precede amendments to RTI: Chavan

Department of Personnel and Training Minister Prithviraj Chavan on Monday assured RTI activists of initiating a public debate before going ahead with amendments to the Right to Information Act. Allaying widespread fears among the public, the minister at a late evening meeting with a delegation of RTI activists said the amendments would not be used to emasculate the transparency law which has since its inception in 2005 given citizens across the country a liberal peek into government functioning. Though Chavan obviously did not deny the department’s intentions to go ahead with the amendments, he added that as of now no Bill had formally been drafted on the proposed changes in the Act.

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Comply with RTI provisions

Detailed discussion took place at a seminar organized by municipal corporation (MC) to make its officers aware of the ambit of Right To Information (RTI) Act on Monday. In the seminar that was organized following orders of state information commission (SIC), MC officers said people had been harassing them on pretext of RTI.

According to information, in a case filed by RTI activist Rohit Sabharwal, state information commissioner Surinder Singh had asserted that the pendency of cases brought out was alarmingly high. It seemed no efforts were being made by the PIO/APIOs and first appellate authority of MC to deal with pending RTI applications. He had directed MC commissioner AK Sinha to take necessary action to organize a seminar for training PIOs, APIOs and first appellant authority of MC with the help of NGOs, adding that compliance of orders be intimated to the commission within a month.

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Despite CIC's order, no RTI office for Advani till date

Disregarding the directions of the CIC, the Lok Sabha Secretariat has not helped in setting-up the RTI office for the Leader of Opposition despite repeated letters from L K Advani’s office urging it to treat the matter as “Top Priority.” “The Lok Sabha secretariat must provide all necessary assistance to the office of Leader of Opposition to ensure establishment of an office in accordance with ...the RTI Act 2005,” Advani’s secretary Deepak Chopra said in the letter written to Secretary General Lok Sabha on November 3 - about a month after the directive from CIC.

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UP RTI chief fined for professional misconduct

The UP chief information commissioner, Ranjit Singh Pankaj has been penalised by Allahabad high court. The court has slapped a fine of Rs 50,000 on Singh for "misleading the court and extending favours to a lessee involved in illegal mining" during his previous tenure as the mining secretary in the state government. The court took a strict view of the role of Pankaj as the mining secretary and directed him to submit Rs 50,000 as fine to the registrar general of the high court from his salary through bank draft within four weeks for "concealing facts, telling lies" and favouring the wrong man instead of taking action against him.

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Mayor has 3 cars, civic chief reveals more abuse of power

Nagpur Municipal Corporation, that pleads lack of funds for virtually everything, does not mind splurging citizens' money on official vehicles of mayor, municipal commissioner, civic officials and office bearers, often against the rules. The shocking facts was revealed in answer to a Right to Information (RTI) query filed by N L Sawarkar, general secretary of Jansamasya Nivaran Sangharsh Samiti, recently. Citing funds crunch, the NMC has also effected steep hike in water and property taxes and tried to fleece citizens by making licences mandatory for shop owners, hawkers and hospitals. It often blames its poor financial condition for absence of such basic works like repairing pot-holes and providing toilet for citizens.

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4 vital files missing at Chennai state office

Four crucial files related to land reclassification have gone missing from the office of Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA), prompting the Tamil Nadu Information Commission to act on it following an RTI application.

The commission, noting that no action had yet been taken against the custodian of the missing records, ordered a probe on October 16 and sought action within six weeks. This, after repeated efforts by a city resident since early last year failed to gain him access to the four files, following which he filed a complaint before the commission about the CMDA's "deliberate refusal".

It was on January 12, 2008, that A Sethu filed an RTI application seeking six CMDA files on land reclassification, wanting to inspect them and take their copies. As the CMDA responded with only two files, he appealed six weeks later for the four others.

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Saturday, November 14, 2009

Villagers, activists up in arms over proposed RTI changes

Kheema Ram, a 40-year-old farmer from Rajasthan who exposed a number of corrupt practices through his more than 350 RTI applications is against any amendments in the Act. Ram, hailing from Rajsamund district, travelled all the way to Delhi along with fellow villagers on Saturday to protest against the proposed amendments in the RTI Act which may take out some categories of information from the Act's ambit.

"The discussed amendments will take out the 'Atma' of the act. We will be at the mercy of the public information officer for extracting even the most relevant information. They can reject our applications, saying its `frivolous', if the changes materialise,'' he said.

Ram's views find resonance among a cross section of intellectuals, social workers, politicians, farmers and RTI activists. Opposing the proposal to "weaken'' the Act, people from 10 states across the country gathered at Jantar Mantar on Saturday for a day long dharna.

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Amendments to RTI Act on the anvil

The Department of Personnel and Training (Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievance and Pensions) has admitted that the government is considering amendments to the Right to Information Act, 2005. The admission, which came at a meeting between RTI activists and DoPT Secretary Shantanu Consul on Saturday, ended the suspense over whether or not the government was contemplating amendments to the RTI.

Speculation in this regard started following a meeting that the DoPT had with Information Officers on October 14 where a proposal for the amendments was formally put on the table. However, the government refused to confirm or deny the move, leading to a growing anxiety in RTI circles.

Significantly, Mr. Consul assured the delegation led by Aruna Roy of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI), that the amendments will only be introduced after hearing the views and objections of civil society groups. He said the department would initiate a “transparent and consultative process,” including putting up the draft amendments on the DoPT website, to enable public and civil society participation in their implementation. Mr. Consul also said the amendments would not go through if civil society groups were able to convince the government that they were not necessary, and the purpose for which they were being considered could be met in other ways.

Earlier in the day, hundreds of activists from the NCPRI and other organisations gathered at Jantar Mantar to warn the government against tinkering with the RTI
Act, 2005.

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Mohali councillor alleges scam in MC sanitation contract, seeks Vigilance probe

The contract for undertaking sanitation work in Mohali for the year 2008-09 has come under the scanner as even several months after the expiry of the previous year’s contract, no new contract has been awarded yet. Alleging a scam of at least Rs 75 lakh in the total contract amount of Rs 1.5 crore, several elected municipal councillors of the Opposition group in the Mohali Municipal Council (MC) have sought a probe by the Punjab Vigilance Bureau and immediate dissolution of the present civic body for ensuring a free and fair inquiry. Councillor Kuljit Singh Bedi, who is also a local Congress leader, has accused MC president Rajinder Singh Rana and officials concerned of being hand in glove with the contractor, causing huge losses to the MC besides leaving the sanitation condition deplorable in the city.

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Gohil alleges Rs 500-crore scam in boribund work, demands CBI probe

The Leader of the Opposition in the state Assembly, Shaktisinh Gohil, has demanded a CBI inquiry into what he calls “boribund scam” by the state government to the tune of Rs 500 crore. Gohil has also called for a White Paper on the location of 2.65 lakh boribunds (temporary check dams) built since 2006 when the scheme was first launched.

Speaking to media persons at the Circuit House Annexe on Friday, Gohil said he will write to the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India for a probe into the alleged misappropriation of the public money received as assistance from the Centre for rural asset creation programme under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme.

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85 RTI applications pending with Saurashtra University

In all 85 applications, filed under Right to Information Act (RTI), remain pending with Saurashtra University for replies. According to university sources, of the applications, 60 RTI applications are pending with the registrar and 25 with the vice-chancellor, while there is no response on 30 applications pending with second appeal officer in Gandhinagar. "Saurashtra University receives about 60 RTI applications every month. Most of the applications seek information regarding examination, tie-ups with other institutions and permission for new colleges," said an official from the university.

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NCPRI Convention on the RTI to be held in Hyderabad from November 30

On behalf of NCPRI, we would like to invite you to participate in the RTI Convention to be held in Hyderabad from November 30-December 2, 2009.

The first day of the convention has a focus on Youth, RTI and Democracy. In the following two days, 1st and 2nd December the Southern regional convention on the RTI will begin with plenaries and thematic workshops conducted by experts to discuss more closely the utility and relevance of RTI with regard to cases of human rights,
employment, politics, environment and so on; as well as share experiences. The Hyderabad Central University has kindly offered its premises for the occasion.

The Convention will be a great opportunity for all of us to share our experiences on the Right to Information. Since representatives of various campaigns and groups working on the RTI from across the country will participate in this Convention, it will also work as a platform for all of us to network with like-minded groups and
individuals and take our work forward. In the past year, the issue of amendments to the RTI Act has cropped up time and again. Lately, the 'rumours' have taken more definite shape with both the President and the Prime Minister declaring their intent to bring in amendments. We look upon this meet as an opportunity to also develop concrete strategies to oppose any change to the RTI legislation. We hope you and representatives from your campaign, group and or organisation can join us for the Convention.

For more information please contact via email at ncpri(dot)india(at)gmail(dot)com

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Gopalaswami letter: Seek CEC opinion, says CIC

The CIC has directed the President's Secretariat to seek the opinion of Chief Election Commissioner Naveen Chawla before disclosing the letter written by his predecessor, R Gopalaswami, to the President about Chawla's alleged "partisan" functioning. The Secretariat had earlier rejected an RTI request from S C Agrawal, who had sought a copy of the letter, saying its disclosure would be an invasion of privacy. On November 9, Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah upheld earlier decisions by both the CPIO and Appellate Authority, saying "the information sought is third party and held in confidence by the President".

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Judges independence should be safegaurded: Attorney General G E Vahavati

The Supreme Court told the Delhi High Court that rights of Judiciary should be safeguarded while seeking any query under the Right To Information Act. Attorney General G E Vahanvati, who was arguing a case relating to the disclosure of Judges assets under the RTI Act, told the court, `There is no doubt that the public has a right to know but at the same time, what about the rights and privileges granted to the judges?' The Judiciary's rights should also be protected and proper safeguards should be made so that the information sought is not misused, Mr Vahanvati contended.
The information which is within the control of a public authority should be given under the Right To Information (RTI) Act but, at the same time, the consideration of independence of judiciary should be kept in mind, he said. A bench comprising Chief Justice A P Shah, Justices S Muralidhar and Vikramjit Sen heard the arguments of an appeal filed by the Supreme Court registry challenging the Delhi High Court's Single Judge order, which states that office of the Chief Justice of India (CJI) comes within the purview of the RTI Act.

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Friday, November 13, 2009

No GHG emissions study before building dam in HP: Govt to CIC

The ministry of environment and forests had given clearance to construction of Renuka Dam in Himachal Pradesh without studying a crucial parameter -- the emission of Green House Gases from its reservoir. The data from studies in similar projects in the past showed negligible methane emissions and hence the environment impact study and green house gas emissions from this reservoir had been dispensed off with, the ministry admitted before the Central Information Commission where a plea by activists came up for hearing recently. Activist Subodh Abidi of Jan Ekta Samiti, Himachal Pradesh had questioned why the study had been ignored while giving clearance to the project which is under construction in the state.

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Delhi High Court reserves order on whether CJI's office comes under

The Delhi High Court reserved its verdict on an appeal filed by the Supreme Court challenging its order which had held that office of Chief Justice of India comes within the purview of Right to Information Act and details of judges' assets should be revealed. A full bench comprising Chief Justice A P Shah and Justices S Muralidhar and Vikramjeet Sen reserved its order after two days of arguments. Appearing for the Supreme Court registry, Attorney General Goolam E Vahanvati contended the resolution regarding assets declaration by judges was non-statutory, non-binding and it could not force a judge to declare assets to the Chief Justice.

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

State launches helpline to file RTI complaint

Yet another first in India from Bihar has come to make the Right to Information (RTI), Act, people friendly. This pertains to launching of a new helpline, by using which people can file complaints against the government officials who harass them for seeking information using the RTI tool. CM Nitish Kumar dedicated the helpline (0612-2219435) for public use here on Thursday during a programme organised by state information commission (SIC), Bihar, to felicitate the performing public information officers (PIOs). The CM himself made the first complaint using the helpline against Rajnagar block supply officer in Madhubani district.

"The CM secretariat has received complaint from one Dhirendra Mahto of Karaiya Panchayat in which the complainant claimed that an FIR was lodged against him with the Rajnagar police station in August this year after he tried to seek some information about public distribution system from the the block supply officer," Nitish informed the person attending the call on the newly launched helpline and asked the call attendant to inform his secretary about the action taken. He immediately got a complaint number (0001).

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IITs told to reveal candidate details

The Central Information Commission has ordered the IITs to disclose most details of candidates who sat the 2009 entrance examination, rejecting the institutes' argument that revealing candidates' names would be a breach of their privacy. India's apex watchdog for the Right to Information Act has ordered the IITs to reveal the names, addresses, pin codes and marks of all students who appeared in the Joint Entrance Examination this year. In its November 6 order, the commission asked IIT Guwahati, the chief organiser among the IITs of the 2009 examination, to disclose by November 25 the information sought by the appellant. The order follows efforts by the IIT to withhold information on candidates who appeared in the 2009 JEE despite earlier orders mandating the release of similar data on IIT candidates over the past three years. The order is significant because a similar disclosure in 2006 revealed discrepancies between cutoff marks used by the IITs that year and the cutoffs arrived at by using the formula the institutes claimed to have used.

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Yeddyurappa spends Rs 1.7 crore to redo home

An RTI reply has revealed that Yeddyurappa has been equally committed to improving his own living quarters. He spent a staggering Rs 1.7 crore to renovate his bungalow, Rs 35 lakh of which went into redoing his bedroom. Going by the current austerity norms for politicians, Yeddyurappa's generous spend is unlikely to make him a role model.

This is how the bill for doing up Yeddurappa's residence on Devaraj Urs Road (Race Course) adds up: Renovation and fittings of the master bedroom cost Rs 34.55 lakh. This includes toilet works and interiors at Rs 10 lakh, marble flooring at Rs 10 lakh, a false ceiling and wall designs at Rs 4.40 lakh and Rs 10.15 lakh for gypsum board and wall panelling.

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19 citizens in line for best RTI user award

A cloth trader's Right to Information (RTI) application started a nationwide debate on the declaration of assets by judges while a professor forced the Indian Institutes of Technology to disclose the details of their selection procedure. The two are among 19 finalists shortlisted for RTI Awards in the citizens category. The 19 were shortlisted out of a total of 1,130 nominations received in this category. Two from among the 19 would win the awards to be given away Dec 1. The first national RTI awards have been constituted by the Public Cause Research Foundation (PCRF).

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Information not at the cost of judiciary's independence: Apex court

The Supreme Court Thursday contended that information which is within the control of a public authority should be given under the Right To Information (RTI) act but, at the same time, the consideration of independence of judiciary should be kept in mind.
Arguing before a three judge bench of the Delhi High Court comprising Chief Justice Ajit Prakash Shah, Justice S. Muralidhar and Justice Vikramjit Sen, Attorney General G.E. Vahanvati said: “Public right to know is fine but on the same hand, it should also be seen that such rights are not infringing on the independence of the judiciary.” The court was hearing an appeal filed by the Supreme Court challenging the Delhi High Court’s single bench order that states that office of the Chief Justice of India (CJI) comes within the ambit of RTI act. “RTI and information are two different things and should not be mixed. In fact, there is a twin test as one is information held by a public authority and the other is information under the control of public authority,” Vahanvati said.

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Microsoft initiative helps people seek info under RTI

Software giant Microsoft has joined hands with three Gujarat-based welfare organisations to give IT training to people who don’t have access to technology, mainly computers. The American company, through its division Microsoft Community Affairs, has tied up with Aga Khan Foundation, Mahila Sewa Trust and Saath Charitable Trust. One of the key objectives of the initiative, called ‘Project Jyoti’, is to teach people how to obtain information under the RTI Act.

“We have set up Community Technology Learning Centres (CTLCs) across the state to provide technological support to people living in rural areas,” Vikas Goswami, who leads Microsoft’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes, said. Goswami said that each centre had been set up keeping in mind the needs of its region. The IT coordinator of Aga Khan Foundation, Shiji Abraham, said that CTLCs had enabled people in rural areas to seek information under the RTI Act. “There is little awareness on RTI in rural areas. However, Microsoft’s initiative is helping people obtain a lot of information under the act.” Abraham said.

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Tahsildar fined Rs 25,000 for giving wrong answers of RTI query

The state information commission has imposed a fine of Rs 25,000 on a tahsildar in Vandavasi, Tiruvannamalai district, for providing incorrect information about the disbursement of old-age pension in his taluk. As T Retna Pandian, an activist, had not got the information he sought under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, he filed an appeal before the state commission. State chief information commissioner S Ramakrishnan and information commissioner G Ramakrishnan, in their order, said, "The collector of Tiruvannamalai will levy the maximum penalty of Rs 25,000, which has become leviable on the Public Information Officer (special tahsildar), remit it in the government account and report the fact to the commission within four weeks of this order." The commission also ordered the collector to depute a senior officer to provide correct information to Pandian, general secretary of 5th Pillar India, a Chennai-based NGO.

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CIC wants Chawla view on disclosing Gopalaswami's letter

The Central Information Commission (CIC) directed the Presidents' Office to seek the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Naveen Chawla's opinion on disclosing a letter his predecessor R. Gopalaswami wrote to President Pratibha Patil regarding Chawla's alleged 'partisan' functioning. The decision came on an application filed by Right to Information (RTI) activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal who sought a copy of Gopalaswami's letter. The President's Secretariat had rejected Agrawal's plea stating that the disclosure would amount to invasion of privacy, after which the applicant filed an appeal with the CIC.

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‘Reveal file notings on Kalam’s letter on Padma awards’

The Central Information Commission (CIC) Wednesday directed the President’s Secretariat to give ‘file notings’ related to a letter former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam wrote in 2004 expressing displeasure over some persons listed for Padma awards.
The commission asked the President’s Office to delete all references to individuals and discussion of their merits and demerits from the notings. In 2004, Kalam had written a ’secret’ note to the then prime minister A.B. Vajpayee expressing displeasure over some persons listed for the Padma awards. Right to Information (RTI) activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal had asked for a copy of the “complete file notings made at Rashtrapati Bhavan” on the subject.

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RTI Manch seeks transparency in appointing commissioner

Even as the state information commission is in the process of appointing a second information commissioner, there is growing discontent among rights organisations against the alleged secrecy being maintained by the government in the matter. A highly-placed official with the Information Commission said that the state government is looking for at least one information commissioner for assisting the state information commissioner in discharging his duties.

The West Bengal RTI Manch today appealed to Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi to intervene and see that applications for the post are invited through advertisements so that citizens can either nominate a candidate or express their objections. “The Information Commission is responsible for furthering the cause of transparency in governance. If the appointment of the information commissioner is shrouded in secrecy, it would undermine his authority,” read the letter addressed to the Governor by the RTI Manch.

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RTI harassment: Nitish asks DGP, Chief Secy to probe

Four days after an Indian Express report on the alleged framing of false cases against RTI applicants in Bihar, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has asked the Chief Secretary and Director General of Police to look into the cases and initiate departmental proceedings against information officers if they are found guilty of "harassing" RTI applicants.

Nitish, who called a meeting of Chief Secretary Anup Mukherjee, DGP Anand Shankar, as well as principal secretaries and senior police officers, asked Mukherjee and Shankar to ensure that RTI applicants were not harassed. Asking the DGP to "identity errant information officers", he also instructed the Chief Secretary to initiate departmental inquiries against those found guilty.

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Play citizen-friendly role, PIOs told

Right to Information will bring a revolutionary change in the democratic system if public information officers (PIOs) play a pro-active and citizenfriendly role. Speaking to district PIOs in an interactive programme through GRAMSAT today, Chief Information Commissioner DN Padhi said the objective of RTI is to provide a transparent, accountable and corruption-free administration. There is no provision of punishment for misutilisation of RTI Act.

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RTI flaws Bangalore University seat allocation

Bangalore University (BU) authorities might claim that the recent counselling for various PG courses was transparent. But it appears to be far from truth. Sameena Taj, who scored 75.25 per cent in Bio-chemistry, was initially given a ranking of 234, which was then lowered to 261. Asked for explanation, officials said that after the first list was announced, BU called for correction from students and later published the final list, says her father Mohammed Iqbal who learned of it after filing an RTI. The reply to the RTI said there are 363 seats for MSc in Biochemistry. As per the Karnataka Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribes and other Backward Classes (recruitment etc. reservation) Rule, 1990, 50 per cent of the seats are to be reserved for general category, 15 per cent for SC, three per cent for ST, four per cent for Cat-I, 15 per cent to Cat-2A, four per cent to Cat-2b, four per cent to 3A and five per cent to 3B category. However, the RTI revealed that BU clearly violated this rule while distributing the seats.

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Monday, November 09, 2009

Officials implicating info seekers to be punished

Taking serious note of the people being victimised by officials for seeking information under RTI Act, CM Nitish Kumar on Monday issued instruction to top officials to take strict and quick action against the erring officials. At a high-level meeting, Nitish directed the senior officials to identify the government servants accused of implicating information seekers in false cases and ensure that they are also penalized. He said for the information seekers who have been implicated in false cases a helpline should be started. To begin with, this helpline will be started from the Jankari call centres and later on a separate telephone number be made available to the victims and this facility be publicised for the common people.

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Rights panel focus on RTI chinks

The resident of Pir Maker village in Saran district, Birendra Kumar Sah, 40, can neither walk straight nor can he use his hands to fire a revolver. But, the man was forced to go into hiding when police set out to arrest him for a case involving murder and arms loot. Birendra's sin was that he sought information about a proposed appointment of 50 teachers from officials concerned under the Right to Information Act.

Birendra and several others like him today gathered at the people's court, organised by the Hum Log Trust and Bihar Right to Information Forum, bodies fighting for the cause of information seekers under the RTI. The people's court brought to the fore as many as 49 cases of harassment of citizens all across the state for seeking information under the RTI.

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Cabinet ministers spent Rs 300 crore on travels in last 3 yrs

Cabinet ministers in the first term of the UPA government have spent more than Rs 300 crore on their foreign and domestic travels in the last three years. The data provided by the Cabinet Secretariat shows more than Rs 137 crore were spent by ministers of cabinet rank on the foreign travels between fiscal 2006-07 and 2008-09 with highest in the year 2007-08 when more than Rs 115 crore were spent by them on such travels. Surprisingly, the expenses incurred on the domestic travels of cabinet ministers during the period were more than the amount spent on their visits abroad. There were about 30 ministers of the cabinet rank during the first term of the UPA government.

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Education dept says all institutes covered under RTI Act

The next time any educational institute, especially a non-aided one, refuses to reveal information stating that the Right to Information Act (RTI) does not apply to them, go ahead and file an RTI plea. Education department officials have clarified that the RTI Act does apply to such institutes and even cited a 2008 government resolution to back their claim. On being asked by Pune Mirror, V M Gaikwad, assistant director of education department for Pune region, said, “According to the government rule, it is
mandatory for all educational institutes to provide information under the RTI Act.”

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400 files missing in fisheries dept

An inspection of the records of the fisheries department by a right to information (RTI) activist appears to have landed the authorities in trouble. It has revealed that as many as 405 files, pertaining to the fishermen welfare fund, are missing in the office of the assistant director (marine) in Ponneri. It also found a mismatch of signatures of about 500 beneficiaries of the fund. M Thuyamurthy of Tondiarpet, a retired superintendent of the department, in July and October this year perused records of the national fishermen relief and welfare fund in which a fisherman can get Rs 600 as assistance in the offseason every year. It was also revealed that 405 files pertaining to the 2000-2006 period had gone missing.

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Occupying double government bungalows

According to the RTI response received from CPWD, three dignitaries are occupying additional government-bungalows in New Delhi. Additional bungalows occupied by two of these personalities are Lok Sabha Speaker Smt Meira Kumar at 6 Krishna Menon Marg, and Union Health Minister Gulam Nabi Azad at 5 South Avenue. Apart from these, bungalow-number 12 at Teen Murti Lane is allotted in name of Rajya Sabha Chairman. But CPWD-list does not clarify if this bungalow continues to be occupied by former Chairman of Rajya Sabha Bhaironsingh Shekhawat against whom eviction-process was initiated, or it is an additional bungalow now allotted to present Chairman.

With even Supreme Court finding it difficult to fill vacancies of judges at the Apex Court because of shortage of bungalows, it is unfair to allow additional bungalows in addition to spacious ones already allotted to persons holding elite postings. These dignitaries should vacate additional bungalows at their own rather than initiation of any eviction-process. Government should also ensure that additional bungalows may never be allowed in future.

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Court to hear plea on appointment of information commissioner

The Delhi High Court is likely to hear Monday a plea seeking transparency in the appointment of a new chief information commissioner of the Central Information Commission (CIC) and urging that bureaucrats should not be first choice for the post as "an essential safeguard". The petition was filed by Krishna Rao and six others demanding that the government advertise the post of CIC chief widely and give equal opportunity for submitting candidatures to those who are eligible.

The petition filed last week through advocate A. Rasheed Quereshi submitted that "the function of Information Commissioner is to act as transparency of public administration, so appointment of those who have held key positions and high offices in the public administration violates the principles of natural justice and creates a constant threat of conflict of interest."

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Law Ministry has no details of Moily's travel expenses

The Law Ministry has claimed it has no information about Union Law Minister Veerappa Moily's travel outside Delhi and the expenses incurred on them. "No information is available with this branch secretariat on the travel of the law minister and the purpose of the travel and the total cost incurred during the travel and stay," the ministry said in its reply to a RTI application. "No information is available with this branch secretariat about the list of assets and the bank balances of Moily," it said.

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PU serves third reminder for money to RTI applicant

Panjab University served a third reminder to the student who had sought information under the RTI Act to some 19 queries to deposit around Rs 12 lakh at the earliest, failing which, it said, legal action would be taken against him. Applicant Varun Malik, an LLM student of the university, had received another reminder on Wednesday, asking him to deposit the amount for more than 6 lakh pages, the cost of xeroxing being Rs 2 per page. “In the two reminders served to me, university authorities claimed that photocopying was under process, however the recent one claims that more than 6 lakh pages have been photostated already,” said Varun, “officials said they can’t show documents unless he came with a receipt of the amount to be deposited. These are tactics being played by the university to discourage me from seeking information.”

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RTI helps ITI students find out about stipend delay

The Right to Information (RTI) Act helped students of Industrial Training Institute (ITI), Amreli find out why their annual stipend is not being given. According to details, Vishal Parmar, 20, a student who passed out of the ITI filed an RTI application to know why students eligible for government stipend had not been getting it since 2007. While ITI officials say the stipend will be given soon, Parmar feels if they are delayed they are of no use. "Most students who opt for courses in ITIs are from socio-economically backward classes and want to get into jobs as soon as the courses are over," he says.

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Thursday, November 05, 2009

Three officials in line for best information officer award

A government official in Dehradun, another in Mahbubnagar in Andhra Pradesh and a police official in Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh have aided transparency in governance by providing complete and satisfactory information in all Right to Information (RTI) applications received by them. The three have been shortlisted for awards.

A study conducted by Public Cause Research Foundation (PCRF), which instituted the first RTI national awards, has shortlisted the three government officials for awards in the Best Public Information Officer category. Two of the officers would be the final winners of the awards to be given away Dec 1.

The government officials are Lalit Narayan Mishra and S. Raja Sekhar, and the police official is Superintendent of Police Atul Fulzele.

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EVM info can't be revealed under RTI Act: HC

The Delhi High Court has held that information stored in Electronic Voting Machine(EVM) cannot be made public under the RTI Act. Justice Sanjiv Khanna set aside the order of the Central Information Commission which had asked the Election Commission to reveal information in EVM to an information seeker under the transparency law.

"Right to information is an important right. At the same time, maintaining secrecy and confidentiality of the ballot papers is also an equally valuable right," the court said. The Court passed the order on a petition filed by the Election Commission
challenging the CIC's order which had directed it to provide information pertaining to which were noted down from electronic voting machines.

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BMRCL told to furnish information by KCIC

The Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Limited (BMRCL), which was avoiding giving information under the Right to Information Act, has been directed by the Karnataka Information Commission (KIC) to give details sought by an applicant. Former Mayor P R Ramesh had sought information from the BMRCL regarding the detailed project report, agreement, escalation of prices, mode of payment and utilisation certificate and the tender document. In reply, the BMRCL considered Ramesh as ‘Third party’ and decided not to give information pertaining to ‘commercial confidentiality’ under section 8(1)D of the Act.

After getting a negative response, Ramesh appealed to the KIC against the BMRCL’s decision and sought the Commission’s intervention in getting the desired information. Hearing the case, the Chief Information Commission K K Mishra rejected BMRCL’s argument that the information sought by Ramesh comes under commercial confidentiality. He also directed the BMRCL to give information by Nov 16.

Bangalore, Nov 4,Deccan Herald News Service

Activists approach Delhi HC seeking transparent CIC selection

The issue of transparency in the selection of Chief Information Commissioner will come up before the Delhi high court tomorrow when a petition filed by a group of activists is taken up. In their petition, they have said the post should be advertised, criteria for the same should be publicised and "transparent, non-discriminatory screening procedures" should be adopted in the selection of CIC.

The activists are demanding transparency in the "closed-door" selection process which is done by a committee comprising the prime minister, Leader of the Opposition and a Union minister nominated by the PM. "The supreme court has stated that people selected for the quasi-judicial posts should have judicial or quasi-judicial background. The post of CIC is of same nature but there is no one from judiciary in the commission leave aside the Chief Information Commissioner. As a result, we are getting some absurd decisions," Krishnaraj Rao, one of the petitioners told PTI.

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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

MC fails to keep its word on updating website

The municipal corporation authorities have failed to adhere to the directions of the State Information Commission (SIC) to update its website by November 3 for better dissemination of information, but in a face-saving exercise it has uploaded some of the pages on its existing website, which are again full of discrepancies.

While hearing a plea filed by social activist Hitender Jain regarding lack of proper dissemination of information under Section 4(1)-B of the Right To Information (RTI) Act, State Information Commissioner Lieutenant General (Retd) PK Grover had asked MC officers to comply with the norms and put information in preview of the Act on the website. Though the MC officers had asked for three months, the commissioner had directed them to take four months and complete it by November 3. But the civic body authorities, in the habit of delaying matters of public importance, once again failed to update the website by the fixed date. However, in a face-saving exercise, the MC tried to update some of the pages but that too with a lot of discrepancies. The names of the officers who have left the civic body are still figuring the website. Similarly, no vital information regarding the ongoing projects and schemes of the civic body are there whereas the site is full of names of the clubs, hospitals and other institutions, which has perturbed RTI activists.

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Unsafe passage to school

Supreme court directives and periodic drives against unregistered vehicles by RTO have failed to ensure safe transportation for schoolchildren. The drivers of school buses frequently break traffic rules and are found to be overspeeding without any fear of the consequences. Despite the ongoing traffic month, school vans fitted with LPG cylinders and those overloading are openly flouting the norms but the traffic police seems to be oblivious of the fact.

In answer to a Right To Information application filed by parents' welfare association, it was revealed that only 259 buses are registered as school buses by the schools while 56 vehicles under contract carriage permit vehicles. However, going by unofficial estimates, there are about 500 private school cabs ferrying on the city roads. Out of these, the Maruti vans are the biggest offenders and RTO officials expressed their helplessness in putting a check on these as, "Maruti vans simply don't approach us to get registered as school vehicles.''

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Has Noida got RTI right ?

Right to Information Act activist alleges Noida Authority flouting the act, even as Noida cops take steps to use the law. Seems, the administration in Noida is playing hide and seek with the Right to Information Act. On one hand, the Noida Police invited RTI activist Commodore (Retd) Lokesh Batra to educate its officers about the law and to make its working more transparent. On the other hand, Commodore Batra alleges the Noida Authority is flouting the RTI Act openly.

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BMRCL told to furnish information

The Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Limited (BMRCL), which was avoiding giving information under the Right to Information Act, has been directed by the Karnataka Information Commission (KIC) to give details sought by an applicant. Former Mayor P R Ramesh had sought information from the BMRCL regarding the detailed project report, agreement, escalation of prices, mode of payment and utilisation certificate and the tender document. In reply, the BMRCL considered Ramesh as `Third party' and decided not to give information pertaining to `commercial confidentiality' under section 8(1)D of the Act.

After getting a negative response, Ramesh appealed to the KIC against the BMRCL's decision and sought the Commission's intervention in getting the desired information. Hearing the case, the Chief Information Commission K K Mishra rejected BMRCL's argument that the information sought by Ramesh comes under commercial confidentiality. He also directed the BMRCL to give information by Nov 16.

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6-man Puducherry cabinet spends Rs 36L on snacks

It's a small cabinet but with a healthy appetite and a penchant for entertaining guests quite liberally. A query under RTI has revealed that Puducherry chief minister V Vaithilingam and his five colleagues in the cabinet have spent more than Rs 36 lakh on tea, snacks and beverages while hosting visitors in their respective offices in the assembly in the eight months between September 2008 and April 2009.

Welfare minister M Kandasamy topped the list among the spenders by ordering tea, snacks, beverages and other food items for Rs 10.48 lakh between September 2008 and March 2009 for visitors, officials and elected members. Kandasamy was closely followed by the chief minister, whose office spent Rs 9.86 lakh from September 25, 2008 to April 30, 2009.

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Don't pry too much about PM's health: CIC

The CIC has allowed partial disclosure of information related to Prime Minister's healthbut held that all details cannot be revealed on grounds of national security and privacy. "The health and medical problems of present and former Prime Ministers, which already exist in the public domain due to extensive media coverage, like the recent cardiac surgery of the present Prime Minister, may be given," Information Commissioner Annapurna Dixit said on an RTI application.

However, citing reasons of national security, protection of individual's right to privacy and the fiduciary nature of information, the transparency watchdog was of the view thatrest of the information should be withheld. The decision came a month after Chief nformation Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah rejected a similar plea seeking details of ailments of present and former Prime Ministers.

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CJI, Supreme Court judges declare wealth, finally

Chief Justice of India K G Balakrishnan owns two homes in Kerala and drives a 2000 model Santro. These details of his wealth and those of 21 of his colleagues in the Supreme Court (SC) were put up "voluntarily" on the court website on Monday. The
revelation came after 12 years of resistance to the 1997 resolution — that all judges declare their assets — passed in a full court meeting, mounting public criticism and the decision of some high court judges to declare their assets in August. Subsequently, the SC had on August 26 announced its decision to do the same.
Only one more SC judge, H S Bedi, is yet to reveal his assets.

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Ludhiana NGO launches website on RTI

In order to make people aware of provisions and potentials of Right To Information (RTI) Act, a city-based NGO launched a website (www.rtiludhiana.com) on Monday.

Shri Paul Sharma, RTI activist and president of Ludhiana Welfare Organisation, said that the basic aim of the website was to make the people aware of the power of the Act so that they could contribute to making the system more transparent and accountable. Inaugurating the website in presence of a large number of RTI activists, HB Vittal from Andhra Pradesh said, ``We should use RTI against corruption without inhibition, but effort should also be made to ensure that it is not misused for vested interests.''

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Disposal of cases by KIC for the month of September 2009

Dear All,
The Stastics of disposal of cases for the month of September 2009 @ Karnatak Information Commission is given below for the information of the Activists:-

Cases pending at the end of August 09 is 6612
Number of Complaints and Appeals received during Sep 09 is 805
Number of Complaints & appeals disposed during Sep 09 is 758
Number of cases pending at the end of Sep 09 is 6659
Number of cases heard during Sep 09 is 1310
Appeals & Complaints pending less than 3 months is 3063
Appeals & Complaints pending more than 6 months is 3454
Appeals & Complaints pending more than 12 months is 142
Number of Commissioners at prsent 4

With regards,

Aamir for Kiran Bedi as watchdog body head

Kiran Bedi, retired director general of police and Magsaysay award winner, should be made the new chief information commissioner, a number of well-known personalities have said in letters sent to the prime minister. Heading the list is actor Aamir Khan, along with Magsaysay award winners Sandeep Pande and Arvind Kejriwal, apart from other noted social activists like Anna Hazare. The position fell vacant after Wajahat Habibullah resigned on October 21 to take charge of the newly formed Jammu and Kashmir Information Commission. "Should the government appoint someone else, we would be grateful if it were disclosed how that person was found more suitable than Kiran Bedi," the letters say.

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Punjab varsity seeks Rs 12L for RTI reply

Chandigarh's Panjab University (PU) has asked an LLM student, Varun Malik, to pay a whopping Rs 12.22 lakh for replies that he had sought to 19 queries under the Right to Information Act. Malik alleged that PU asked him to pay through the nose to discourage him from seeking information that could blow the lid off various scams on the campus. The officials maintain that Malik has to pay the fee as RTI rules make it clear that the petitioner has to pay Rs 2 per page for the information sought. ``The information Malik has sought runs into more than 6 lakh pages,'' an official said. Malik is unconvinced. ``It's surprising that the information would run into so many pages,'' he said.

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RTI plea seeks Madhya Pradesh bureaucrats' property details

Madhya Pradesh's Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) has asked bureaucrats and police officials in the state to submit details of their property, officials said on Sunday. Acting on a petition by Choudhary Rakesh Singh, the deputy leader of opposition in the state assembly, demanding the officials file property returns of the last three years in public interest, CIC P.P. Tiwari last week ordered issuance of notices to Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and Indian Police Service (IPS) officers in the state.

"The state commission would issue notices to IPS and IAS officers including those posted in the state secretariat under section 19(4) of the Right to Information Act. Similar notices would be issued soon also to the police officers posted in police headquarters as directed by the CIC," an officer in the state information commission said. "Why should the bureaucrats be spared from making their assets public when even
politicians were being made to do so," Singh told.

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Meghalaya the top info provider

Meghalaya has topped the list of states and the Centre in providing information through the Right to Information Act, according to information commissioner G.P. Wahlang. He launched the Meghalaya Right to Information website today. Wahlang quoted the major findings on the implementation of the RTI Act, 2008, presented during the national convention held in New Delhi in mid-October. The Central Information Commission organised the convention. Wahlang said here today that Meghalaya, with a success rate of 82 per cent, ranked first in providing information, followed by the Centre with 81 per cent. The success rates decreased to nearly 29 per cent in the case of Karnataka and 23 per cent in Assam. While Maharashtra has 16,000 pending cases, the Central Information Commission has 7,000.
Meghalaya, however, had only three pending cases. According to Wahlang, the penalty imposed in cases deposed by the Commissions was as high as 83.3 per cent in case of Nagaland, 28.1 per cent in Arunachal Pradesh and in Meghalaya, it stood at 4.4 per cent.

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SIC to award info officers

Otherwise known for imposing fine on public information officers (PIOs) for their failure to part with information sought under the Right To Information (RTI) Act, the state information commission (SIC) has now decided to award the PIOs sincerely performing their duty. At the first such award ceremony, scheduled to be held next month, as many as nine PIOs would be given prizes by chief minister Nitish Kumar. While one PIO would get the first prize of Rs 20,000, three PIOs have been selected for the second prize of Rs 10,000 each and five PIOs for the third prize of Rs 5,000
each. They would also get a citation each.

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PIL demands CBI probe into faulty bullet proof vests

A PIL in Bombay High Court has demanded an inquiry by CBI or any other independent authority into the alleged lapse in the purchase of sub-standard bullet proof vests for Mumbai police as a result of which three top police officers were killed in 26/11attack. The PIL, based on information obtained through Right to Information Act, alleged 16 blatant violations of the rules during purchase of vests and said as a result of these lapses senior police officers Hemant Karkare, Ashok Kamate and Vijay
Salaskar were shot dead by terrorists.

"These bullet proof jackets were worn by the officers under the impression that they would fight the terrorists with adequate protection. However, when the terrorists fired at them the bullets pierced through the vests killing them," the PIL, filed by social activist Santosh Daundkar, alleged. The PIL further alleged that the government had not taken any action and instead gone all out to protect the delinquent officers. It will come up for hearing next week.

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CIC selection system farud: RTI activists

Shouldn't there be transparency in the selection of the person who will be in charge of ensuring transparency in governance on behalf of one billion Indians? This is the question posed by citizens and Right to Information (RTI) activists to the PM who has to select a new chief information commissioner (CIC). Wajahat Habibullah, a former bureaucrat who was appointed the first CIC in October 2005, resigned recently and is waiting to take over the job of the first chief state information commissioner of Jammu & Kashmir. He remains CIC till his successor is appointed.

The current method of appointment of the CIC and even SICs is based on insider-information, contacts and recommendations and is violative of Section 12 of the RTI Act of 2005 as the post is not advertised, say the city's RTI activists who met on Tuesday to devise protest strategies. Section 12(5) of the RTI Act states,"The CIC and the information commissioners under him shall be persons of eminence in public life with wide knowledge and experience in law, science and technology, social service, management, journalism, mass media or administration and governance.''

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RTI reveals BBMP elevated corridor is a Rs 3,000 cr ghost project

An RTI filed by Bangalore Mirror revealed that the much-touted Rs 3,000 crore North-South-East elevated corridor, meant to considerably ease the city’s traffic problems, doesn’t even have a detailed project report. Transport Minister R Ashok and Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) Commissioner Bharat Lal Meena have been repeatedly talking about a Rs 3,000 crore North-South-East Corridor (NSE) that doesn’t even exist on paper. The project got Bangaloreans excited as it was supposed to significantly reduce their daily traffic woes. The duo had in fact claimed that a detailed project report (DPR) has been readied and work would kickstart shortly. But the reality is different: No project report pertaining to the NSE Corridor has been prepared. Bangalore Mirror found this out by filing an application under the Right To Information (RTI) Act seeking a copy of the DPR.

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BJP questions donations to Congress by PSUs

Strongly objecting to two public sector firms paying political donations to the Congress party, BJP today said this violated all propriety and demanded action against the guilty. "The Congress and the two public sector companies MMTC and STC, whose names have figured in reports, should clarify their stand on this issue," senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley said. He said the details of these donations, which were reportedly obtained through an RTI application, should be furnished to the Income Tax Department and the Election Commission as well. "Any political party, before taking such donations from a PSU, should have thought ten times that this is completely against all propriety," Jaitley said.

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