Sunday, October 31, 2010

Cops suspect arson in 2009 RTO fire

The fire at the Regional Transport Office (RTO) at Thane in 2009 was not an accident. This is what the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) suspects. On February 5, 2009, a fire burnt all records of details about two and four-wheeler vehicles registered with the RTO, including professional taxes paid by commercial vehicles. The police suspect foul play as the fire had mysteriously broken out 16 days after an Right to Information query sought details on vehicle registration and professional tax. ACB sources said a senior clerk, Gharat, has emerged as the key ‘coordinator’ in the scam which has been running for the past four years. They said the amount of the fraud is feared to be more than Rs 400 crore — at least Rs 100 crore every year.

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RTI activist exposes land scam involving IPS officers in Mumbai

Days after the Adarsh Nagar Cooperative Housing Society scam was exposed, yet another land scandal in Mumbai has now put Maharashtra's high and mighty in the dock.
The land allotted to Maharashtra cadre IPS officers in the posh Juhu area has been put to commercial use causing heavy loss of revenue to the exchequer. The matter was exposed following a Right to Information Act (RTI) application seeking details of IPS officers availing government quarters. When this prime land was allotted to senior IPS officers in 2003, it was under an agreement that it would not be sold again. It was meant strictly for service apartments and not for commercial purposes. The third condition was that these officers would not seek a government quarter as long as they were posted in Mumbai. But several high-profile police officers of the state threw all norms to the winds in leasing their houses for lakhs of rupees. When the issue reached courts, rulebooks were changed overnight to suit the influential IPS officers' lobby.

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Cases against police officers out of RTI ambit

Information pertaining to allegations and enquiry against any State police officer will not be provided even under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, according to a Government Order (GO) issued early this month. The State Government in its October 1 order, a copy of which is available with Express, has exempted 'Secret and Confidential Section' of the office of Director General of Police from the ambit of the RTI Act. But, the GO had not cited any details of the records coming under 'Secret and Confidential Section'. Talking to Express, a senior police official said the records pertaining to enquiry and allegations against any police official are secret and confidential records, and such information will not be furnished under RTI.

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Orissa RTI website bags best India eGov Award

The RTI website of the State has been awarded as the best user-friendly website in the Country. A high profile event for choosing best website in the country conducted by India eGov 2.0 in New Delhi on October 28 choose States RTI Central Mechanism (RTI CMM) as the best user-friendly website and conferred India eGov 2.0 Awards-2010.
The States RTI website is now connecting as many as 1800 offices and providing information to the people tirelessly. Speaking to the mediapersons here, Information and Public Relation Minister Prafulla Samal informed that the State's RTI CMM was selected by a grand jury consisting of eminent persons and headed by senior Director of IT of Ministry of Communication and IT Ashis Sanyal as the best from among 128 websites used by Government and public sector orgnisations. The Nodal Officer of RTI and Secretary of Department SN Tripathy said the State RTI Portal www.rtiorissa.gov.in presently serves the need of over 1800 offices. The website access the system ensuring compliance of the RTI Act, 2005. It also has public feedback as well as interactive mechanism to enable citizen to post online RTI applications and appeals to any public authority. The award was received by Dirctor, I and PR, BP Mohanty at the event ceremony held in New Delhi.

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RTO okays 140 vehicles in a day

The Regional Transport Office of Pune is on a high efficiency mode. In response to a Right to Information (RTI) application, the transport body has said that it has, on at least one occasion, issued fitness certificates to at least 140 vehicles on a day during an eight-hour shift. However, Shrikant Karve, an employee with a transport firm who sought the information, said that practically it is an impossible task. "There are more than 10 types of tests that need to be carried out before passing a vehicle. It is simply beyond understanding that how so many vehicles pass the test in such a limited time," said Karve.

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PCMC did not issue notices against errant builders

The Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation (PCMC) has not issued notices to any of the builders who haven't handed over free amenity space to the civic body as per the policy adopted in 2008 for allowing conversion of industrial land to residential. This was revealed in the reply given by PCMC's building permission department to a Right to Information Act application filed by Shiv Sena corporator Seema Savale on September 18.
The PCMC had adopted the policy in 2008 to allow builders to convert industrial land into residential by paying premium charges and giving 10 per cent of the land as amenity space free of cost to the civic body. As many as 17 builders have so far taken benefit of this scheme but only a few of them have handed over the amenity space to the civic body.

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Meenaxi Anand Chaudhry appointed Chief Information Commissioner of Haryana

Haryana Government has been appointed Meenaxi Anand Chaudhry as the Chief Information Commissioner of the state. Haryana Governor Friday administered the oath of office to Mrs Chaudhry in a simple ceremony at Haryana Raj Bhawan, Chandigarh. The Chief Minister, Bhupinder Singh Hooda and the Chief Secretary, Urvashi Gulati were also
present in the function. Chaudhry had retired from the post of Chief Secretary on April 30, 2006 and was later appointed as State Information Commissioner on May 9, 2006 and since then she had been serving on this post.

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RTI Logo & Portal Launched

The Minister of State for Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions Shri Prithviraj Chavan launched the Logo on RTI and the RTI portal today in the presence of Shri. A N. Tiwari, Chief Information Commission and Shri. Shantanu Consul, Secretary, DoPT. It is a simple and iconic logo depicting a sheet of paper with information on it, and the public authority – providing the information. This represents people’s empowerment through transfer and accountability in Governance. The logo’s shape and structure make it easy to remember, recall and replicate with minimal distortion.

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MM Ansari to Demit Office as IC on October 29

Information Commissioner M M Ansari, who was recently appointed to the three-member panel of interlocutors on Kashmir, will demit office on October 29 after a five-year stint with the transparency watchdog. An economist and education specialist, 58-year-old Ansari joined the Central Information Commission at the time of its inception in October, 2005. Ansari was Professor & Director, Hamdard University, 2004-05 before joining the Commission and held the position of Director of Distance Education Council,
Indira Gandhi National Open University for a period of three years. He also served as Senior Economist, the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI).

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Not following RTI Act costs ex-registrar Rs 10k

The Karnataka Information Commission (KIC) has slapped a penalty of Rs 10,000 on the vice-chancellor of Gulbarga Universiry, to be paid from his salary, for not giving information to a candidate under the Right to Information (RTI) Act that was sought when he was registrar. E T Puttiah, who was earlier working as the registrar (Examination) at University of Mysore, had failed to provide information to C Jayaprakash, a senior technical assistant at the Defence Food Research Lab in Mysore.
Jayaparkash had applied for MSc in Food Science at the University of Mysore in 2009 and his application was rejected. Jayaprakash, in a complaint to the State Chief Information Commissioner, wrote that his application for MSc in Food Science was rejected without any reason.

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Juhu cops in dock for improper reply to RTI query

The power of Right to Information (RTI) is not a secret anymore. The same tool will hold senior police officials of the Juhu police station answerable to the state chief information commissioner on Monday at 3pm. The SCIC is due to hear an appeal of dissatisfactory reply to an RTI application sent to the police station in June 2009 by complainant Yogacharya Shri Anandji. Anandji had made his first appeal regarding the same to the DCP of Zone IX KMM Prasanna in April who on June 10 ordered "to provide the applicant with complete FIR details, with the case number within a week". However, all Anandji received a week later was a copy of a few statements recorded concerning the case.

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V V Giri may get additional charge of Kerala CIC

The administrative freeze in the State Information Commission following the retirement of Chief Information Commissioner Palat Mohandas nearly a month ago is all set to be remedied with the decision to give the additional charge of the CIC to State Information Commissioner V V Giri. Highly placed sources said a government order to this effect will be issued on October 25. Sources said a proposal in this regard which had been sent to the Governor from the General Administration Department has been approved. V V Giri is set to retire in December 2010.

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Delhi's fake farmers in loan scam

And you thought Delhi is a concrete jungle. According to National Bank of Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) data on loans disbursed by nationalised and cooperative banks, the city has more farmers doing more agriculture than Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and West Bengal. Also, its "farmers" were allotted Rs 22,077 crore in agricultural loans in 2009 alone at a mere five per cent rate of interest. Delhi's loan disbursal amount is the second highest in the country after agriculture-rich Punjab, whose farmers borrowed Rs 27,000 crore last year. Uttar Pradesh, another agriculture-dependent state, borrowed Rs 21,100 crore, while Haryana and Madhya Pradesh farmers respectively received Rs 14,915 crore and Rs 13,430 crore.

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HC stays construction inside Koyna sanctuary

In an attempt to stop any further deterioration of the ecology inside Koyna Wildlife Sanctuary, the Bombay High Court has imposed an interim stay on construction activities in the protected forest area in the Western Ghats. For the moment, there will be no construction of tourist resorts, installation of windmills and tree felling. The high court has also directed the government to take steps to remove encroachments from inside the notified sanctuary.

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109 workers died at DMRC sites

In reply to an RTI query filed by the People's Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) in August, the labour department of Delhi government has said that it does not have consolidated figures on the labour deaths reported during the Commonwealth Games preparations. The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) had separately filed an affidavit in the high court in September which said that 109 workers had died on its sites during construction of phases I and II. Clearly, these are not factored in by the labour department in its affidavit. Here's the sequence of events: Indrajeet Kumar Jha from the PUDR filed an RTI application on August 12 addressed to the office of the labour commissioner seeking a detailed factsheet on the accidents, deaths, compensation awarded to victims and the families of the deceased at various construction sites of projects related to the Commonwealth Games.

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6 officials told to pay 25k for RTI violation

The Central Information Commission (CIC) has slapped the maximum penalty ever on any agency at one time by directing six MCD officials to cough up Rs 25,000 each for withholding information related to transfer of staff. These errant MCD officers will have to pay Rs 1.5 lakh for a 100-day delay in providing information under the RTI Act.
Noting the delay in disclosure of information, information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi said, "Since the delay in providing the information has been over 100 days, the Commission is passing an order penalising all six officers Rs 25,000 which is the maximum penalty in the Act."

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Indian airports are without valid licences: RTI expose

Over the years, airfares have increased significantly, but the crucial question remains if the city airports are actually legal. CNN-IBN has found more than 60 airports in India, many of them major international hubs, are without valid licences.Major aerodromes in the country like Chennai, Kolkata, Goa and Ahmedabad, which are international airports seeing hundreds of domestic and international flights a day, are all functioning without valid aerodrome licences, as discovered by CNN-IBN. This, despite the Aircraft Rules Act requiring that no aerodrome shall use a regular place of landing and departure unless it has been licensed for the purpose.

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Court cannot frame rules for appointment of CIC chief: HC

The Delhi High Court has refused to frame guidelines for appointment of Chief Information Commissioner saying it cannot "restrict" the discretionary power of a committee headed by the Prime Minister to decide a suitable person for the post."We cannot restrict the discretionary power of the high- powered committee headed by the Prime Minister to decide on the appointment of the Chief Information Commissioner,a bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Manmohan said.The Chief Information Commissioner is chosen by a committee comprising the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and a minister of the Union Cabinet.The court dismissed the plea of RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal who sought the court''s intervention in framing rules for the appointment of Chief Information Commissioner and other members of the
Commission.He alleged there was manipulation by the Department of Personnel and Training, which recommends the name for the post to the committee, in the appointment Information Commissioner A N Tiwari as the CIC chief.The court, however, refused to entertain the plea and dismissed it, saying "we cannot legislate of frame rules".

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Villagers use RTI to take on candidates

Documents availed through Right to Information (RTI) Act are giving sleepless nights to former pradhans contesting the panchayat elections again. Armed with these papers — mostly related to utilisation of panchayat funds — the villagers are questioning candidates who come seeking votes. The authenticity of the information being guaranteed, the candidates have no chance to argue.In village Hamirpura in Jalaun, a candidate contesting for the the gram pradhan's seat for the second time, faced a volley of questions at a public meeting. "I was shocked when villagers asked me why a particular road was constructed twice and why six handpumps in the village featured both in the list of re-bored and newly installed,within three months," he said. "When I asked them how can they allege these anomalies,I was shown copy of documents which they had procured through RTI and I couldn't say anything. I have stopped holding any public meetings and now prefer going door to door."

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Banglore Metro RC spent 533 crore only to acquire land

Clearing the way for Metro rail is proving to be a costly exercise -- BMRC has had to shell out a whopping Rs 140.32 crore as compensation for land acquisition just for Reach 1 between Byappanahalli and MG Road. A 536.17 sq m property on MG Road cost the organisation Rs 6 crore while a 325 sq m plot cost Rs 5.36 crore. So far, BMRC has paid Rs 533.51 crore towards compensation for property acquired. The amount was fixed at different points of time over the past couple of years. Information obtained through a Right to Information application revealed that in Reach 1, Leela Ramachandra was paid about Rs 6 crore (Rs 6,62,12,624) for her property of 536.17 sq m on MG Road, at approximately Rs 11,471 per sq ft. While C D Medappa got Rs 3.99 crore for his land measuring 647.358 sqm, Indira Medappa with the same land measurement got Rs 3.99 crore as compensation.

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No info about RTI penalties, says CIC

Information Commissions in the state are failing to provide information about how penalties imposed for improper management of RTI appeals are being recovered. This loophole has convinced officers and activists that the RTI Act needs some amendment If an answer to a Right To Information (RTI) application is not received within the given period of time (ie 30 days) or is not satisfactory, then the applicant may proceed with an appeal. If found guilty in any way, then the Public Information Officer (PIO) has to pay a penalty. However, the new State Chief Information Commissioner, Vilas Patil, feels that the implementation of the Act is not right, as there is no mechanism to collect the penalty imposed on the PIO.

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NGO ordered to pay Rs.75,000 for transparency law abuse

The Delhi High Court Wednesday imposed a cost of Rs.75,000 on an NGO which had sought an inquiry into the role of Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) engineers in the alleged mismanagement of Commonwealth Games (CWG) projects. The court dismissed the petition after the MCD submitted that the petitioner NGO, Pardarshita Public Welfare Foundation, had questioned the parentage of the engineers through a Right to Information (RTI) application. Dismissing the petition, Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Manmohan said the present petition amounted to abuse of law.

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Rajiv Gandhi Foundation not covered under RTI: CIC

Rajiv Gandhi Foundation (RGF) headed by Congress President Sonia Gandhi is not liable to answer queries made under the RTI Act as it does not fulfill criteria of a public authority, the Central Information Commission has held. Established on June 21, 1991 to promote former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi's ideals and vision for the country, the foundation runs a number of project for the development of children, women and other marginalised groups. "To qualify for public authority, an entity should be owned, controlled or substantially financed, directly or indirectly, by the Government. It is
nobody's case that RGF is owned by the Government. Nor is it controlled by the Government in as much as its control vests in a Board of Trustees which is an elected body," a full-bench of the Commission has held.

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Information commissioner imposes fine on civic clerk

The state information commissioner for Pune has imposed a fine of Rs 6,000 on a clerk of the Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation (PCMC) for not giving information sought under the Right To Information (RTI) Act within the stipulated time. The fine will be recovered from the clerk's salary in three months. State information commissioner, Pune bench, Vijay Kuvalekar in his recent order imposed a fine of Rs 250 per day for the delay of 24 days on clerk Sanjeevani Kamble. The fine has to be recovered from the salary to be paid in November and December (2010) and January (2011). The information commissioner has directed city engineer Eknath Ugile to recover the fine and submit a compliance report. Social activist and president of Sangvi unit of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, Raju Savale, had on October 20, 2008, submitted an application under the RTI Act to get information from zone D office of the PCMC.

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51 mines in 5-km periphery of Barda sanctuary reveals RTI

Two months after RTI and wildlife activist Amit Jethava was murdered for trying to expose illegal mining within the periphery of the Gir sanctuary by limestone mafias, an RTI application has revealed similar mines functioning with impunity within five km of the periphery of Barda Wildlife Sanctuary in Porbandar district. Bhanu Odedara, an RTI activist based in Porbandar, recently filed an RTI application with the department of Geology and Mining, Porbandar district, which has revealed that more than 51 such mines, producing lime stone and chalk, have been functional in the non-forest area of the sanctuary. "As per the Wildlife Protection Act (1972), before giving permission for mining or any industrial activity within 5 km of non-forest area surrounding the sanctuary, the mine operator requires a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the concerned forest department. The department has not given this certificate to any of the miners," Odedara said. The application has revealed that these mines are operated mainly in Adityana, Digvijaygadh, Aniyari, Bhod, Ranavav, Bordi, Godhana among other villages.

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Apex court restores powers of transparency panel chief

The Supreme Court Monday stayed the operation of a Delhi High Court order striking down the provision under which the chief information commissioner constitutes different benches of the transparency law panel to hear appeals. The high court by its May 21 order quashed the Central Information Commission (Management) Regulations, 2007. The high court also held that the chief information commissioner had no powers to constitute other benches. An apex court bench of Justice P. Sathasivam and Justice B.S. Chauhan stayed the operation of the high court order after Attorney General G. Vahanvati told the court that it (high court order) had impacted the functioning of the Central Information Commission (CIC).

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CIC asks Delhi HC to drop rules due to lack of jurisdiction

The Central Information Commission has asked the Delhi High Court to drop rules it framed for the processing of information seeking applications at district courts, saying this would defeat the purpose of the RTI Act. "In exercise of the power in Section 25(5), the Commission again recommends to the High Court of Delhi to withdraw the rules made by it for the District Courts due to lack of jurisdiction and the fact that certain sub-rules...are beyond the exemptions provided...in the RTI Act," Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi said. Gandhi was hearing the plea of an inmate of the Tihar Prison who had sought some information from Tis Hazari court but was denied the same by the Public Information Officer citing sections of the Delhi District Courts (Right to Information) Rules framed for processing of the RTI pleas. The Rules cited by the PIO exempt information from disclosure if it amounts to intrusion in the judicial work of any Court, or relates to a judicial proceeding, or judicial function or matters incidental or ancillary thereto. Gandhi observed that the said rules provide for a much wider exemption than that stipulated under the RTI Act.

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Napalchyal to be the next CIC of Uttarakhand

Former Uttarakhand Chief Secretary N S Napalchyal will be the next Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) of the hill state, official sources today said. Napalchyal will succeed Dr R S Tolia, the first CIC of Uttarakhand, whose five-year tenure ends this month. The decision to appoint Napalchyal as CIC was taken at a meeting that was chaired by Chief Minister Ramesh Pokhariyal Nishank and attended by leader of the opposition Harak Singh Rawar among others last evening.They also decided to appoint journalist Prabhat Dabral and Supreme Court Advocate Anil Sharma as Information Commissioners to the four-member constitutional body. Advocate Vinod Nautiyal is already working as Information Commissioner in Uttarakhand Information Commission. The recommendations have been sent for the approval of Governor.

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Saturday, October 16, 2010

Delhi-Gurgaon expressway generates revenue

The quality of services on the Delhi-Gurgaon expressway might be getting worse but revenue generation from the project has been very healthy. DSC Ltd, the project's concessionaire, has earned Rs 381 crore from toll collections in the 31 months between January 2008 and August 2010, while the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) has earned Rs 20.29 crore as its share of toll revenue from the project. In August 2010, DSC earned Rs 16.3 crore from toll collections. NHAI revealed the information in an RTI reply. In the RTI application, TOI Gurgaon had sought information on both revenue and service-related issues. NHAI said the project, implemented on a build, operate and transfer (BOT) basis, would be maintained by the concessionaire for 20 years from the date of appointment (signing of the concession agreement).

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Only 600 public toilets in Chennai

Chennai city has only 600 public toilets! With each of the 10 zones supporting a population of around 4 lakh this is disturbing, say a few young, urban planners who are out to make public information available to the common man through TransparentChennai.com "This means that many in the city don't have access to sanitation. We also found that the location of the toilets had very little relationship to slums in the area, residents of which would be most likely to use them. In one area we found many on the main road, of course they could be where slums existed earlier. But we also found that several were not used everyday," said project lead of Transparent Chennai Nithya V Raman, who did her Masters in city planning from MIT, US. It found that while some zones had 100 toilets, others had barely 20. It also noticed discrepancies in keeping records of such data. Enquiries with the corporation revealed there were 20 toilets in Zone 4, comprising the areas between Villivakkam, Ayanavaram, Sembium and Perambur, whereas a RTI application disclosed 40 toilets.

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Unfit to ply on our roads

If the buses of Pune had a test of ‘survival of the fittest,’ over 300 of them would fail. Around 301 buses have being running in and around Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad without having the mandatory Annual Fitness Certificate from the Regional Transport Office (RTO). Jugal Rathi and Vivek Velankar of the PMP Pravasi Manch have been pursuing this issue for over two years. PMP Pravasi Manch retrieved this information under the Right To Information Act.

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Details of EWS patients posted on website after CIC order

The Delhi government has started posting on its website the daily report carrying details of patients from economically weaker sections who are given free beds in private hospitals after orders from the Central Information Commission in this regard.The daily report posted on the health department website carries hospital-wise details of beds allotted to people from economically weaker sections. It also carries details of patients who are allotted these beds.Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi had directed the Delhi government to start posting such details saying these are mandatory under the suo moto disclosure clause of the Right to Information Act.Gandhi had directed the government "to ensure that the details of the beneficiaries of the EWS patients in private hospitals is displayed on the website each day" with details of name, address and bed number allotted to them."This will be displayed on the website of the public authority every day from October 1 onwards. This is being ordered in compliance of Section-4 of the RTI Act,"

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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Notice to Punjab on old age and widow pension

The Punjab and Haryana High Court today issued notices to Punjab and its Director, Social Security, on the state Cabinet’s decision to re-start the old age pension and widow pension to about 1 lakh “ineligible” beneficiaries. The petitioner, Dr. Sandeep Gupta of Talwandi Sabo, has contended in a public interest litigation (PIL) that according to information received by him under the RTI Act, as many as 29,991 persons were found to be ineligible (for getting old age and widow’s pension) in the four districts of Kapurthala, Ferozepur, Ludhiana and Gurdaspur. Contending on behalf of the petitioner, Advocate H C Arora submitted that according to newspaper reports, approximately 1 lakh persons were found ineligible for these pensions during a scrutiny conducted by the State Government. The petitioner has demanded that the state government be directed to recover the pensions paid to all those ineligible beneficiaries and also to file criminal cases against the concerned persons, including sarpanches and doctors who helped in preparing fake documents for these ineligible beneficiaries.

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Bandra, Khar locals say no to Kalantri as sheriff

Residents of Bandra and Khar have opposed the candidature of entrepreneur Vijay Kalantri for the post of sheriff of Mumbai after an RTI query revealed that he had allegedly helped the case of an illegal pub that was subsequently demolished on the orders of Bombay high court. The petitioner, Arif Ali, a resident of Mamata building in Bandra, said, "The politicians are still supporting the pub as the BMC has only carried out partial demolition of the bar. Documents procured under the RTI Act reveal that Kalantri had recommended the pub owner's case to the BMC commissioner."

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RTI applicable to Trusts, institutions indirectly funded by govt

In a recent judgement, the State Information Commissioner Vijay Kuvalekar has said that Trusts or institutions that are not directly substantially funded by the government, but still indirectly receive funds to run schools, courses, colleges, come under the Right to Information (RTI), Act. Kuvalekar, in his judgement said that indirectly, since the parent institute is getting the funds for institutes run by them, the RTI is applicable. The judgement came in the wake of former member of Shikshan Prasarak Mandali (SPM), B B Jambhulkar who raised an RTI query with the SPM to get details on
admission having cited corruption.

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Civic school students denied their rights, group finds with 2 yrs of RTI efforts

Curiousity to know where the huge BMC spending on its schools goes prompted a group of eight Mumbaikars to probe deeper. Two years and 17 Right to Information applications later, the group says it has found that most schemes, facilities and amenities a child is entitled to as a municipal school student, is confined to paper. Every year, approximately Rs 40,000 per student is earmarked by the BMC. The group on Monday made a presentation to the authorities in the BMC's education department to show the lacunae they had found.

The idea of Mumbaiites for Child Rights (M4CR) took off three years back when Nitin Wadhwani, a founding member, read about the ever increasing education budget of BMC that runs 1,177 schools with over 4.5 lakh students. "In four years, the education budget jumped Rs 800 crore. We decided to form a group and find out how this huge sum is utilized, what are the provisions covered by the BMC under public education," said Wadhwani, a businessman.

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MC spent 2.7L on cattle fodder in 16 months

Details sought under the Right to Information (RTI) Act regarding the upkeep of cattlesheds in Mohali has yielded some interesting facts. Mohali municipal council had purchased 4,480 litres of diesel for using a cattle catcher vehicle during the period of April 1, 2009, to August 15, 2010. Also, the civic body spent Rs 2,73,138 to provide fodder to 426 stray cattle. In the last 16-17 months, as much as 50 litres of diesel was used in order to catch stray cattle. Besides, Rs 641 was spent on providing fodder to each cow. The revelation was made by Mohali MC in reply to an RTI plea moved by MC
councillor Kuljeet Singh Bedi.

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5 years, 767 cases, Bengal info panel paints a sorry picture

Exactly five years ago, the Right To Information Act came into effect in the country. But in West Bengal, the State Information Commission, which has the responsibility to make the Act the effective, has instead become defunct in these years. Since August 5, 2010, the day Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) Arun Bhattacharya retired, the commission has not conducted any hearing. “After the CIC retired on August 5, there is only one information commissioner. As per section 15 (2) of the Act there should be a CIC and other state information commissioners. With only one information commissioner, the commission is not operative,” said a senior official of the commission. And that’s precisely is the situation in State Information Commission in West Bengal. After the CIC retired, Sujit Sarkar is the only information commisoner. In the last two months, the state government failed to appoint a second information commisoner when it has already spent Rs 13.80 lakh on the commission.

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Monday, October 11, 2010

GOACAN will observe a RTIAwareness Fortnight from 12th to 25th Oct

GOACAN will observe a Right To Information Awareness Fortnight from 12th to 25th October to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the enactment of the Right To Information Act 2005. The fortnight is being observed to address the need for awareness on RTI, to petition the Goa Govt. to fulfill its duties & responsibilities with respect to the Act and to mobilise citizens to strengthen the movement for transparency and
accountability in governance.

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Maharashtra officers fined Rs 26L for RTI delays

Maharashtra Government has imposed fines of over Rs 26 lakh collectively on primary information officers for ignoring and delaying answers to the queries received under the Right to Information Act. On completion of five years of implementation of RTI, as per the figures revealed by state's Chief Information Commissioner Suresh Joshi today, in 2009, 347 officers were fined Rs 26,57,691 for ignoring the queries and delaying
information. The amount of fine imposed has gone up since 2006, he said. "The fine was charged in proportion to the number of applications received which are increasing per year," Joshi said. The Government can even conduct divisional inquiry of the officers for delay in implementation of the Act, he added.

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Soon, a helpline in Gujarat to protect RTI applicants

To celebrate the 5th anniversary of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005, the Ahmedabad-based Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel (MAGP) has announced its plans to pioneer an effort to protect RTI applicants against any perceived or real threat. The MAGP helplines: +919924085000 and 07926821553 (fax) will now take details of the applications, nature of threats, and addresses from such applicants and forward them, along with a complaint, to the concerned police station, the Superintendent of Police, the district collector and the state information commission.

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Assam loses 55 tigers in a decade

The truth or the lie, depending on the perspective, is finally out. Assam has lost at least 55 tigers between 2000 and 2010. Data provided by the Assam Forest Department, under the RTI Act, indicate that tigers have died due to various reasons, including poisoning and gunshot wounds in some cases. A senior forest official, who wished anonymity, told this correspondent that the number would actually be higher, because some deaths are not known, and therefore go unreported. The highest toll was reported in 2006, during which 10 tigers were found dead. Four deaths took place at sites under the Eastern Assam Wildlife Division, while six animals died in spots under the jurisdiction of Mangaldoi Wildlife Division. Significantly, the loss of four tigers that year was attributed to poisoning. All the four poisoning cases, which included three cubs, were reported by the DFO, Mangaldoi Wildlife Division.

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Sunday, October 10, 2010

BMC loses 1 crore in dog tax

This is no stray fact: There are 19,495 unlicenced pet dogs in the city, who have collectively chewed off over Rs. 1 crore from the civic body's coffers. In a reply to an RTI query, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has revealed its latest census shows there are 27,147 pet dogs in the city, but only 7,652 of them have licences. "Section 191 (A) of the BMC Act makes it mandatory for owners of pet dogs to obtain a licence by paying a tax of Rs. 100 every year. But the BMC has so far failed to collect this revenue, incurring a loss of Rs. 1 crore in the last five years," said Vilas Durve, the RTI activist who procured the information. Last year, the civic body had issued a notice asking owners to get a licence, failing which their pets would be detained in civic dog pounds. "However, it is surprising that nearly 20,000 pet dogs still don't have one, and nothing has been done about it," said Durve.

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How Lokayukta’s warnings were ignored to break rules

The alleged land scam involving IT & BT minister Katta Subramanya Naidu seems to be getting murkier than it appears with a finger of suspicion also pointing to the city corporation for allowing the legal violations despite two warnings from the Lokayukta since 2006. DNA has RTI documents in its possession which reveal that the Lokayukta’s vigilance cell had clearly and sternly intimated the then Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BMP) (before the formation of Greater Bangalore) on October 26, 2006, about the alleged land scam involving Naidu and his family pertaining to two properties (survey numbers 7/2 and 7/3) on first main road of Byatarayanapura off Mysore Road. In fact, that was not the only warning. The Lokayukta cell again alerted the BBMP’s (Greater Bangalore) commissioner on February 14, 2008.

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Blind RTI crusader in Gujarat gets death threats

The visually-challenged Ala was the first winner of Rahul Mangaonkar Award, instituted by The Times of India, Ahmedabad, for Best Use Of RTI For Common Cause.
Ala, 30, a resident of Rangpar village in Wankaner taluka of Rajkot district, has been using RTI as a tool to play watchdog in works done in his gram panchayat. In many cases, his RTI pleas stirred panchayat officials into action. In 2008, Ala, a fighter, had got a 2 km road built in his village with the help of RTI, which earned him the award. He has told the police that he received an anonymous call on his cellphone on September 29 when he was in a hospital at Chotila with his ailing wife, who is also visually challenged. He immediately lodged an FIR at Chotila police station. "I was threatened as I sought information about road planning to file an RTI plea seeking information about the gauchar land in our village and its status. Panchayat members were not happy with me. The anonymous caller said I would be killed if I asked too many
questions through RTI. I have named sarpanch Ratabhai Gogiya as a suspect in the FIR and also given the police the unidentified number," Ala said,

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Enforcement Directorate directed to give details of Swiss bank a/c

Observing that Indian citizens are keen to know about the amount of black money stashed away in foreign banks, a full bench of the Central Information Commission (CIC) has directed the Enforcement Directorate (ED) to reveal "an estimate of the total volume of such money involved in the investigations they are presently conducting." The decision came on an application filed by a VR Chandran who had asked if the "union finance ministry is aware of the existence of such secret accounts of Indian citizens in Swiss banks amounting to 1456 billion US dollars." He had also asked for action to be taken in order to find the identity of the account holders, list of depositors, action contemplated if deposits are illegal and if the Indian government had asked the Swiss authorities for repatriating the illegal money. But when ED — the government's principal agency to check and undo illegal stashing away of money from the country — refused to provide any information claiming exemption under the RTI Act, Chandran went to CIC.

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PCMC uses RTI to nail octroi evaders

The Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation (PCMC) had to file an application under the Right to Information Act 2005, to find out the octroi liability of liquor traders in the civic limits. In order to gauge the volume of liquor brought into the civic limits, between 2008-09 and 2009-10, the civic body has applied to the state excise department
for photocopies of the transport passes issued to liquor traders. However, obtaining the photocopies would cost the civic body Rs 2.22 lakh, as per the excise department's demand of Rs 2 per page -- there are 1.11 lakh pages in all. The civic body has now sought the standing committee approval for spending the amount to gather the data. The proposal will be tabled on October 12. Ashok Munde, assistant commissioner and chief of octroi department, said, "We had to apply under the RTI Act as they denied us the information earlier."

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Principal Secy's office gets SIC rap for not giving info on tainted

The Office of the Principal Secretary, Health, received flak from the Punjab State Information Commission (SIC) for causing harassment to an applicant who had sought records of doctors who had been chargesheeted and yet given career step-ups. "The complainant has suffered mental harassment and financial loss. If no information was to be provided, then why was it delayed for seven months? In view of the systematic deficiencies in the office of Principal Secretary, Health and Family Welfare, Punjab, and on account of the financial loss suffered, a compensation of Rs 5,000 is awarded to the complainant," Commissioner Kulbir Singh said.

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GCA comes under RTI Act, rules GSCIC

The Goa State Chief Information Commissioner (GSCIC) has ruled that the Goa Cricket Association (GCA) does come under the ambit of the Right to Information Act and has asked the GCA to furnish information sought by social activist Aires Rodrigues within 30 days. Rodrigues had complained to the GSCIS against the GCA for its refusal to furnish information sought under the RTI Act after the cricketing body refused to furnish him information claiming that it did not come under the purview of the RTI Act as it had not received any financial or other assistance from the Goa government or the Sports Authority of Goa (SAG). However, Rodrigues submitted documentary proof to the effect that the Goa government had granted a 99-year lease to GCA of land admeasuring 1,30,328 sq m at Tivim for the construction of a cricket stadium at a nominal rent of Rs 50,000 per year.

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Bihar Info commissioner slaps fine on Executive Engineer

Not just the public information officers, any government official can face music for not providing information sought by an applicant under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. Executive engineer of Patna Municipal Corporation's new capital division (north)
Kameshwar Prasad Singh today became the first such official in Bihar. The chief information commissioner of the state, Ashok Kumar Choudhary, penalised him for not co-operating with the Patna Municipal Corporation chief engineer in providing information to Mahendra Prasad Gupta, sought under the RTI Act.

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Sea link connectors are illegal, Worli residents tell high court

Are the Worli dairy and Pratiksha building connectors of the Bandra-Worli sea link illegal? The Bombay high court (HC) will decide soon. Four residents of housing societies near the Worli end of the sea link have contended before the HC that the connectors do not have environmental clearance and they should be declared unauthorised. Citing hazards caused by the connectors, Dileep Nevatia and his three co-petitioners have written that they made an inquiry under the Right to Information Act and found that an affidavit submitted by the Union ministry of environment and forests (MOEF) to the court in December 2005 regarding the connectors was false.

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Now, Maya takes Vigilance dept out of RTI ambit

In a decision vehemently criticised by RTI activists, the Uttar Pradesh government has excluded the Vigilance Department from the purview of the Right to Information Act.
This means citizens cannot seek information about officials being investigated for corruption, misuse of power and possessing assets disproportionate to their income.
Officials said the decision had been taken because the government felt that furnishing information could be detrimental to investigation and legal proceedings.

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'Disclose file notes of ex-Maharashtra DGP's extension of service'

Central Information Commission has directed the home ministry to disclose the file notes related to "extension of service" of then Maharashtra director general of police S S Virk. An RTI applicant had sought to know details and file notes related to service
extension to Virk, who retired in last October without any extension from the state government. Virk, an IPS officer of 1970 batch, succeeded A N Roy as DGP, Maharashtra whose appointment was set aside by the Bombay High Court on February 5, 2009, saying
that the selection process was "arbitrary", violating constitutional principle of equality and the Supreme Court's guidelines.

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Varsity moved goal post to favour job seeker: RTI

In the last two weeks, the governor's office has been flooded with reports about
illegal staff and faculty appointments at the Tamil Nadu Dr MGR Medical University. The university has admitted that it appointed staff in 2008 without following the mandatory procedure like approaching the state employment exchange to suggest candidates or follow the community roster. In a reply to a query under the Right to Information Act, university officials said M Shanthi had been appointed, on a temporary basis, as University Grants Commission co-ordinator on October 29, 2008 with a salary of Rs 9,100 a month. No names were called from the employment register before the selection. Worse,
there was no such post in university statutes. What's more, three days after the appointment, the university placed an advertisement in a newspaper seeking applications for the same post. It said those with a master's degree, good knowledge of English and communication skills could apply before November 5, 2008.

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CIC asks SBI to furnish investment details of corpus fund

In a landmark decision which would pave the way for investors of public sector banks, the central information commission (CIC) has asked the largest bank of the country, State Bank of India, to reveal all information related to the fund, called SBS REMBS scheme and provident fund (PF) surplus account. This comes after a retired employee of State Bank of Saurashtra (SBS) Bhavnagar had filed an RTI application to know how the bank managed Rs 100 crore worth of savings.

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MCD official slapped with maximum penalty by CIC

The Central Information Commission has slapped a maximum penalty of Rs 25,000 on an executive engineer of Municipal Corporation of Delhi for delay in providing information about a construction work. The case relates to Dheeraj Sehgal who sought to know details of a construction in the Dwarka area here. But his queries were not responded to by Executive Engineer Buildings, MCD, SR Lakhan even after Commission's order. "The Public Information Officer/Executive Engineer has further refused to obey the orders of the First Appellate Authority (FAA), which raises a reasonable doubt that the denial of information may also be malafide," Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi observed.

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Nagpur information chief Vilas Patil is new CIC of Maharashtra

The suspense over who will be the next chief information commissioner is finally over. Nagpur information commissioner Vilas Patil (64) will take over the post after the present incumbent, Suresh Patil's five-year term comes to an end on October 12. In a move, which many in the political circles are terming as bold, a high-level committee comprising CM Ashok Chavan, deputy CM Chhagan Bhujbal and opposition leader Eknath Khadse recommended Patil's name to the governor on Thursday. Besides Patil, who will retire in July 2011, the panel recommended the appointment of P D Patil, a retired joint registrar, as well as M S Shah and D B Deshpande, both retired PWD secretaries, as the new information commissioners for Nagpur, Nashik and Aurangabad respectively.

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BJP MP quizzed for RTI activist's murder

The city crime branch finally reached BJP MP from Junagadh, Dinu Solanki, in the
RTI activist Amit Jethava murder case. According to sources, the MP has been interrogated by the investigating agency, which believes Solanki was connected with the murder as per the evidence gathered during investigation. However, Solanki has denied the charges. Sources also said that the MP's name cropped up during the interrogation of his nephew Shiva Solanki, who was taken to police remand after his arrest last
month. During his questioning, he reportedly gave many details about Jethava's killing.

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CM flouts rules in denotifying land

More skeletons are tumbling out of chief minister B S Yeddyurappa's closet. Flouting norms and advice of officials, the CM has denotified 1 acre 30 guntas of land (75,530 sqft) acquired for Arkavathy Layout. The information obtained through an RTI query revealed that on June 7, 2010, the state government issued an order denotifying 7 acres and 35.5 guntas at Rachenahalli village, K R Puram Hobli, Bangalore East taluk. This included 1 acre 30 guntas whose deletion was against rules.

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Friday, October 01, 2010

State to go ahead with CIC appointment

The state government decided to go ahead with the appointment of the state's chief information commissioner (CIC) and two members of the state human rights commission after leader of the opposition Partha Chatterjee skipped the meeting to discuss the appointments on Friday. The state will send the names of the proposed appointees to the governor for his approval. The law states that the leader of the opposition must be part of the panel that appoints the CIC and other ICs as well as the human rights commission members.

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Gang attack fails to deter bold RTI activist

A life-threatening attack on him with lethal weapons has not daunted an activist, who sought information under the Right to Information (RTI) Act on road projects of Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP). S Channabasappa Patil was set upon by three motorcycle-borne men armed with a machete and a steel rod in the Gandhi Nagar area. The attack has left him with injuries to his right hand that required 37 stitches. The assailants hit him on his head with the steel rod, which could have killed him but for the helmet he was wearing. Such was the impact of the blow on his head, that the helmet split into two.

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Their NREGA wages gone, over 2,000 Dahod farmers give boycott call

Even as the state government mulls over the compulsory voting bill, farmers in the tribal Dahod district have decided to boycott the local elections over non-payment of wages under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS). There are about 2,223 such farmers in Fatehpura taluka of Dahod district bordering Rajasthan, who have decided to abstain from voting. Incidentally, police investigation continues in the case in which sarpanchs are alleged to have embezzled funds to the tune of Rs 5 crore due to the workers. Nathu Pargi (56), a farmer who took up work as a labourer under NREGS, in 2008, said: “I did not receive a single paisa as payment, so why should I vote for anyone? The people who have taken the money will contest these elections again.” Bharat Pargi, the Secretary of the NREGA union for Fatehpura taluka, whose Right to Information (RTI) application brought the scam to light, said 2223 NREGA workers from Fatehpura will boycott the October 21 panchayat elections.

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Order from RTI commissioner's office sparks of debate

An order given by the state Right to Information (RTI) commissioner office saying that information available on public domains should not be demanded under the RTI Act has sparked off a debate among activists. Appellant Bhagvan Nivadekar of Kothrud had demanded information regarding the rules related to the records of 7/12 abstract at the tehsil office, Haveli. Speaking to TOI, Nivadekar said, "As per the RTI Act, the information that I was seeking should have been available at the tehsil office, but it was not so. Which is why I took recourse of the RTI Act, but even then the information was not given to me. Consequently, I appealed to the higher authorities and then to the RTI commissioner. I was shocked by their reply where I was duly advised not to seek information available on a public domain. This is not right or in accordance with the law."

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RTI helps family to fight fraud daughter-in-law

In 2007, Tejashree Mahesh Kalge, a bank employee consumed poison and tried to commit suicide alleging harassment from her in-laws. Her father Haribhau Prabhavalkar, former deputy mayor of Kolhapur, filed a case against his daugther’s in-laws. After this, Tejashree’s in-laws were in jail for 21 days. Upon their return from jail, they noticed that their house was ransacked and jewellery was missing. Following this, Tejashree’s in-laws rushed to the police station, but the police refused to file it. In the meanwhile, the family was relieved from Tejashree’s first case of abetment to suicided filed against them. The Kalge family had to run pillar to post for two long years to get an FIR filed and it was only after they found out, through a Right to Information (RTI) petition, that the doctor who examined Tejashree and issued a medical certificate at the time of her suicide attempt was an Ayurvedic practitioner, who cannot issue these certificates.

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HC notice to Punjab on murder convict DSPs and others continuing in service

A division bench comprising Chief Justice Mukul Mudgal and Justice Ajay Tewari issued notices to the Punjab director general of police (DGP), the Punjab Public Service Commission (PPSC), two deputy superintendents of police (DSPs) and six other officers who are continuing in service despite being convicted in criminal cases. The order was issued on a PIL filed by advocate H C Arora. The petitioner has alleged that as per information obtained by him under the Right to Information (RTI) Act 2005, two DSPs — Ravinder Kumar and Ravinderpal Anand — who were convicted for murder and sentenced to life imprisonment were still continuing in service. The petitioner has alleged that Ravinder was convicted in a murder case on March 4, 2003. He was dismissed from service the same year but was reinstated in 2004 as his sentence was suspended and he was granted bail by the High Court.

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CM flouts rules in denotifying land

More skeletons are tumbling out of chief minister B S Yeddyurappa's closet. Flouting norms and advice of officials, the CM has denotified 1 acre 30 guntas of land (75,530 sqft) acquired for Arkavathy Layout. The information obtained through an RTI query revealed that on June 7, 2010, the state government issued an order denotifying 7 acres and 35.5 guntas at Rachenahalli village, K R Puram Hobli, Bangalore East taluk. This included 1 acre 30 guntas whose deletion was against rules.

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PIO fined under RTI Act

State information commissioner P N Narayanan on Thursday imposed a fine of Rs 25,000 on the public information officer-cum-sub-divisional education officer, Purnia, for not replying to the notice of State Information Commission (SIC). The SIC had issued notice to the sub-divisional education officer to give pointwise reply to the information sought by Divakant Jha on his right to information petition. But this order was not complied with by the officer. The state information commissioner also imposed a fine of Rs 25,000 on public information officer-cum-block education extension officer, Athmalgola, Patna, Veena Mishra, for not furnishing information to an applicant Md Jabir Hussain. The SIC directed Mishra to appear before it on February 9, 2011, with show cause.

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Tiwari is new info panel chief

A.N. Tiwari has been appointed the new Chief Information Commissioner of the country, succeeding the present incumbent Wajahat Habibullah, who retired on Wednesday. One of the senior-most information commissioners at the Central Information Commission (CIC), Tiwari will only get two and a half months in the top post, till he retires on December 15. The decision to appoint Tiwari, a 1969 batch IAS officer and former Secretary, department of personnel and training, has put an end to the uncertainty surrounding on who would succeed Habibullah. "Yes a decision to appoint Mr. A.N. Tiwari has been taken," said a highly placed source and Habibullah confirmed the development.

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NGO slams charcoal trade

A Shillong-based NGO today revealed largescale irregularities in the functioning of charcoal-based industries in Meghalaya, which use charcoal produced by burning illegally felled trees, violating the Supreme Court order banning felling. The government also incurs loss of revenue by granting permission to such ferro-alloy units, which enjoy huge financial subsidies. Maitshaphrang, the NGO, alleged that these industries employ a negligible number of local people, going against the government policy that calls for 60 per cent employment of locals in industries set up in the state. Maitshaphrang convenor Michael Syiem, along with other NGOs, revealed that the
state government was giving subsidies to as many as 11 charcoal-based industries in Ri-Bhoi district without any profit. The NGOs obtained this information through a Right to Information petition. The RTI findings indicate that in West Khasi Hills, Ri-Bhoi and Jaintia Hills, forest cover is fast denuding due to rampant felling. This has also affected the ecology of Nongknum, a river island, Syiem said.

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MPs' luxury burns hole in the pockets of hotels

When the stars from the tinsel town arrived in Delhi in 2004 as Members of Parliament in the last Lok Sabha, they got five star treatment. The government put them and nine other MPs at the prestigious Ashok Hotel as accommodation in Lutyens Delhi was not ready. Six years have gone by since then but the bills are yet to be paid. The amount
of the bill is Rs 1.2 crore. Bollywood actors Dharmendra, Govinda and Jaya Prada are among the other MPs who ran up a bill of 1.2 crore in the India Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC) hotels, the Ashok and Janpath, in the Capital by overstaying.

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