Thursday, December 30, 2010

Over 600 children missing from Delhi this year

Nearly 2,161 complaints of missing children were registered in seven of the 12 districts of Delhi in nine months of 2010, response to a Right to Information (RTI) query revealed Thursday. Over 1,500 children have been recovered, but 605 are still missing. 'At least 2,161 children went missing from northwest, south, north, outer, New Delhi, east, and southwest (police) districts of Delhi between January 1 and September 30 this year,' revealed the response to the RTI application filed by the Alliance for People's Rights (APR) -- a group of non-governmental organisations (NGO).

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Delhi HC chief justice declares assets on website

The Delhi high court chief justice Dipak Misra has made public his assets by posting it on the court website, seven months after taking charge of the office. The declaration dated December 6, 2010 put on www.delhihighcourt.nic.in recently gives details of landed property, bank deposits and investments made by him, his wife Suprama Misra and daughters Kajal and Sheetal. However, like other judges of the court, he has not made any mention of jewellery or vehicles owned by him and family. Justice Misra (57), a native of Orissa, owns a house in Cuttack. He declared the land was acquired in 1981 for R25,000 out of the “self earned income” as an advocate before he became a judge in 1996. Its construction was completed in 1988 at a total cost of R6.75 lakh. In 2003 he had also bought a flat in Supreme Enclave, Mayur Vihar, taking a loan of R22.50 lakh from HDFC bank. He has not invested in shares and mutual funds. He has R7.2 lakh in fixed deposits, R4 lakh in GPF and R3 lakh worth investment in life insurance.

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Lucknow University to pay fine of Rs 15000 to student

The State Information Commission (SIC) has slapped a fine of Rs. 15,000 on Lucknow University for not awarding medal to a meritorious student as convocation was not held. The order was passed by SIC Gyanendra Sharma after the student Alka Bhargava, who had topped M.Sc (organic Chemistry) in 1994, alleged that she was not given the gold medal by the University officials. She also alleged she had a tough time in getting the degree certificate. After University authorities allegedly did not respond to her plea, Bhargava approached SIC, which asked the varsity to pay Rs. 15,000 as fine, official sources said.

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

RTI plea forces Gujarat govt to prepare database of births, deaths

Thanks to an uncommon initiative by a common man from a village in Rajkot district, the people of the state will have a New Year’s gift: the vital data concerning the births and deaths of their near and dear ones will be put in a retrievable format. This will not only help people get duplicate certificates in the event of the originals being lost but they can also get appropriate information about such important matters even if the official records are destroyed. Deputy chief registrar of births and deaths, DM Patel, has told the state information commission that from 2011 the births and deaths registration would be computerised and that the National Informatics Centre (NIC) had designed a software that would enable all data to be there on a central server.

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Think twice before you blow the whistle on someone

Fighting for citizen rights can turn a tad ugly. So it is wise to be on your guard while pointing fingers at something, or somebody. A family of RTI activists had to suffer abuses and assaults when they accused a school of illegal functioning. Brothers Uday Shankar and Dharmapalya were beaten black and blue by the DJ Halli police on December 16 when they filed an RTI, suggesting the illegal functioning of Amar English School.

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RTI shows the way to act

At 27, M C Chandan has completed his masters in social work but he isn’t really looking for a job. This native of Kodagu in Karnataka, is more interested in building a non-corrupt system — which has also become a career option thanks to the Right to Information (RTI) Act. Indeed, people like Chandan all over the country are hard at work developing the right to information into a powerful tool for transparency. Chandan comes from a rural background, so he knows first-hand the problems of graft. He has long dreamed of a just society, and the RTI Act gave his aspirations just the boost they needed. For the last four years he has filed nearly 4,500 applications on various subjects. He seems to have found his metier, and developed a distinct vision about corruption and ways to stem it. In the process, he has turned his vocation into a career. Chandan is one of the early RTI entrepreneurs as he has designed a four-month course on corruption for community leaders and citizens. The course promises to equip the participants with the knowledge of how to use the RTI to fight corruption.

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Invoke section 17 of RTI act to remove Tiwari

City-based non-governmental organisations on Wednesday sent a letter to chief minister Prithviraj Chavan saying that the state should make a recommendation to the governor to invoke section 17 (3) (e) of the Right to Information Act (RTI) 2005 removing Ramanand Tiwari from the post of state information commissioner. The letter was sent by Sajag Nagrik Manch president Vivek Velankar, Surajya Sangharsha Samiti president Vijay Kumbhar, RTI activist Vihar Durve and Nagrik Chetana Manch president Maj Gen (retd) S C N Jatar. It was sent following media reports that Tiwari was not tendering his resignation, despite being asked to do so by the government, on account of his alleged involvement in the Adarsh society scam. Tiwari, whose son had got membership in Adarsh, was the urban development secretary and was directly dealing with the Adarsh proposal.

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Section 4 drive by Loksatta Sanjeevani in Andhra Pradesh

To mark the 5th anniversary of the enactment of the RTI Act, the Sanjeevani team has filed an unprecedented 500 RTI applications. Significantly, all 500 applications target a single section of the RTI Act - Section 4(1)(b). The provisions of Section 4(1)(b) are key to transparency in the system - they help remove obscurity and the accompanying corruption and ultimately, empower citizens to make officials accountable. These applications have been filed with all state and secretariat heads of departments of the Andhra Pradesh Government and some Nalgonda, Rangareddy and Hyderabad district offices. Staring September 25, 13 Sanjeevani activists spent several weeks filling and posting applications, analyzing and documenting responses, preparing and filing complaints with the Information Commissioner.

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Former babus Tiwari, Lala refuse to step down

While the state government has asked retired bureaucrats Information Commissioner Ramanand Tiwari and State Human Rights Commission member Subhash Lala to resign from their present posts after their names were linked to the Adarsh Co-operative Housing Society scam, the two have apparently refused to step down. A senior bureaucrat said while the Prithviraj Chavan-led Congress-NCP state
government had asked the two to put in their papers, they had declined. While Tiwari's son Omkar is a member of the society located in upmarket Cuffe Parade, Lala's mother Susheela Shaligram and daughter Sumeela Sethi are also in the society, the controversy over which was the trigger for the removal of Ashok Chavan as Chief Minister in November. While Tiwari, who was in charge of the Urban Development Department during his days in the bureaucracy, did not respond to phone calls, Lala, who was one principal secretary to the chief minister, said he had no comments to offer.

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Student's RTI way to get disability certificate

Likhitha, a class nine student of Kendriya Vidyalaya MEGBangalore, was in a dilemma about how to obtain a physical disablilty certificate. She did not know how to apply but needed the certificate for concessions in travel and education. Likhitha approached the Right to Information centre, run
by some activists to help people file RTI applications. One of the activists at the centre, who did not want to be named, filed the RTI on her behalf as she was a minor and could not apply on her own. "We wanted to help her, especially because information can help the physically disabled people, to acquire certificates that would benefit them," said the person. "This RTI is an essential document for people who want to avail various benefits by getting a certificate."

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Now, students can take CAT test papers home: Delhi HC

In a first, the Delhi high court (HC) has ruled that students appearing for competitive exams at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) can take the question papers home since it falls within the ambit of the Right to Information (RTI) Act. Around 2.15 lakh students appear for Aiims exam each year. The ruling means even students appearing for IIT-JEE, CAT and other such exams will be allowed to take question papers home. The Delhi HC upheld the Central Information Commission's order to provide question papers to Vikrant Bhuria, who appeared for Aiims' Mch entrance test. Justice S Muralidhar said Aiims has not been able to show how the disclosure of the question paper would adversely affect the competitive position of a third party under the RTI.

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Six years after tsunami, no houses for victims

Six years since the tsunami in the Indian Ocean washed away millions of lives and livelihoods, victims in certain fishing villages in Chennai are yet to get the free houses promised under the rehabilitation scheme. What's more, the government does not even have data of the affected people and those eligible for resettlement in these villages. Residents of Srinivasapuram and Foreshore Estate have been denied the free housing provided under the Emergency Tsunami Reconstruction Programme funded by the World Bank for six years for dubious reasons. The project originally planned for these two fishing villages was later called off, citing non-cooperation from residents. However official records show the government does not even have data of the number of people affected. This was revealed in an RTI filed by Shashi Kumar, a resident of Foreshore Estate and secretary of Coastal Communities Protection Movement. "How can they claim the project was cancelled due to lack of cooperation when they do not have even preliminary data on the number of victims eligible for the scheme," he asks. Residents allege the government was hesitating to build the houses as a proposed elevated expressway would run over Srinivasapuram and Foreshore Estate.

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Disclose meetings agenda, RBI told

An order passed by Chief Information Commissioner Satyananda Mishra makes it mandatory for the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to disclose pre-board meeting agenda notes and minutes. RBI has been told to draft a "disclosure policy" by February 2011 to bring about greater transparency in the bank's functioning. The Commission said such a move "will also set the trend for other banks to follow". The decision came on an application filed by one Kishan Lal Mittal, a resident of Mumbai, who had asked from RBI the copies of the minutes of the meetings of governing board, board of directors, committee of directors of the central bank from April 2007 and information regarding the complaint handling procedures followed by it against banking/non-banking companies. RBI's Public Information Officer said the information was "voluminous" and would take a long time to furnish, which would result in wasting public money.

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FIR against Goa Congress MLA after RTI exposes forgery

The Goa police on Friday registered a first information report (FIR) in Mapusa in North Goa against Dayanand G. Narvekar, president of the Goa Cricket Association (GCA) and a ruling Congress MLA and his family members on charges of forging his son's birth certificate to make him eligible for a national-level Under-15 Cricket tournament for the third time beating rules. Mr. Narvekar, former Law Minister, his wife Sushma Narvekar, his son Ganeshraj Narvekar and Ravindra Chodankar have been named as accused in the FIR registered by the Mapusa police based on a complaint by Shekhar Salkar, former GCA executive member.

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Madhya Pradesh under hazardous wastes threat

The Right to Information Act (RTI) has helped reveal that apart from the 350 tonnes of wastes inside the now defunct Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, around 26,500 tonnes of wastes remain unattended in other districts of Madhya Pradesh. Prayatna, a social organisation, has now got records from both the Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board (MPPCB) and the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), which show thousands of tonnes of hazardous wastes dumped in the state, most of them in Ratlam district. CPCB records showed seven sites, including that of Sajjan Chemicals, Ratlam. The company, producing H-acid, G-acid, etc, remains closed since 1999 and has the biggest stock of hazardous wastes - 20,906 tonnes.

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HC to DMRC: Disclose crashed pillar's design

The Delhi high court on Friday directed the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) to disclose the design of an under-construction pillar at Zamrudpur in south Delhi that collapsed last year, killing six people. The court issued the order while dismissing the DMRC's appeal against a Central Information Commission (CIC) order of March 18, 2010, asking it to reveal the design to architect Sudhir Vohra under the RTI Act. "The details of the design are already on the internet and, therefore, in the public domain. In the circumstances, the disclosure of such design can hardly be said to prejudicially affect the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the DMRC (as claimed by it). Consequently, this court finds no ground having been made out by the DMRC for interfering with the impugned order passed by the CIC", said Justice S Muralidhar.

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Uttarakhand HC issues notice to state Government on IC's

Uttarakhand High Court at Nanital sent notice to state government in connection with a PIL seeking quashing of appointment of former chief secretary N S Napalchyal as Chief Information Commissioner of the state. A two-judge division bench, presided over by the Chief Justice of High Court,
Nainital, while admitting the PIL filed by Jan Haqdaari Manch (JHM), asked the state government to reply in the matter before the next date of hearing set by Court for February 15, 2011. According to JHM counsel G K Verma, his client has prayed to the High court for quashing the government order of October 18, 2010, appointing Mr Napalchyal as Chief Information Commissioner, claiming that it was against the Right to Information (RTI) Act 2005's section 15.

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Now, SC puts CIC selection under lens

After the Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC), the selection and appointment of the Chief Information Comm-issioner (CIC) and Information Commissioners have come under the judicial scanner. Issuing notice to the Centre on a petition filed by Right to Information (RTI) activist Arvind Kejriwal, the Supreme Court has sought a response to the allegations of arbitrariness, nepotism and mala fide practices in appointing the CIC and Information Commissioners since 2005, when the RTI Act came into effect. What has come as another embarrassment to the Government is the apex court's questioning of the appointments made at the highest level by a high-power selection committee, chaired by the Prime Minister. Earlier, Kejriwal failed to convince the Delhi High Court to hear his plea. The appeal has been entertained by the Supreme Court against the order of dismissal passed by the high court on October 20.

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87 lakhs in expenses incurred by headless J&K State Information Commission

Here is the complete response provided by the State Information Commission in reply to Raman Sharma's RTI application seeking details of expenditures on the (headless) J&K State Information Commission from its establishment in Oct. 2009 until now. See our OpEd in Kashmir http://blog.jkrtimovement.org/?p=3527 Times published on 16 & 17 Dec. 2010 outlining (1) the importance of a strong & independent information commission, (2) our explanation on why ex-J&K
bureaucrats are poor choices, and (3) the criteria for an ideal information commissioner.

http://blog.jkrtimovement.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/SIC-expenses.pdf

Best regards,
Dr. Preetaish Kaul [J&K RTI Movement Blog]

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8,000 RTI cases pending for disposal in Orissa says Minister Prafulla Samal

Information and Public Relations Minister Prafulla Samal on Tuesday informed the State Assembly that directives have already been issued to all the Government offices under 38 Departments to implement Right to Information (RTI) Act. Replying to a question of Bijay Kumar Mohanty, the Minister informed that the RTI Act came to force on October 12, 2005. As per section 4 of the Act, the offices have been advised to provide information to the citizens as per their request in prescribed forms. "A total of 8,000 cases have remained pending for disposal due ton non implementation of section 4 of RTI Act. Similarly, a total of 7,179 cases of second appeal are pending with Odisha Information Commissioner for disposal," he said.

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State Information Commission summons Goa Governor

Goa State Information Commission has today issued notice to Goa Governor Dr. S.S. Sidhu directing him to personally appear before the commission on 4th January 2011 at 10.30 am in connection with the complaint filed against him by Adv. Aires Rodrigues for non- complying with the Right to Information Act. The Commission has also issued notice directing the Special Secretary to the
Governor Dr. N.Radhakrishnan to also remain present. The notice to Goa Governor follows the petition filed yesterday by Aires Rodrigues against Goa Governor Dr S.S. Sidhu for his failure to comply with the provisions of the Right to Information Act.

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Vinita Kamte, 4 others win RTI award

The jury singled out Vinita for showing courage in taking on the establishment in moment of grief
Slain Mumbai police officer Ashok Kamte’s wife Vinita, who exposed the chaos in the police control room on 26/11 and restored her husband’s honour, will get this year’s RTI award along with four others, including Goa’s young political activist Rajan Savlo Ghate for his campaign against foreigners owning properties in the tourist heaven. A jury -with Infosys chief mentor Narayana Murthy, former chief justice of India J S Verma, former chief election commissioner J M Lyngdoh and media personality Madhu Trehan as members -went through the stories of those who used RTI as an instrument to make an impact.

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Monday, December 20, 2010

DoPT silent on RTI for Indians abroad

The department of personal and training (DoPT) has become a stumbling block when it comes to formulating a procedure for Indians living abroad to file RTI applications.
It has been three months since the ministry of communication & information technology sought the help of DoPT on developing a methodology to assist Indians living abroad in filing RTI applications. But DoPT is yet to respond on the matter. On August 16, Shantanu Consul, then Secretary, DoPT, wrote identical letters to Radhika Doraiswamy, secretary, department of posts and Nirupama Rao, foreign secretary asking for inputs on devising a system enabling Indians living abroad to file RTI applications.

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Activist wants public debate before changes in RTI Act

Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel (MAGP) has urged the Department of Personnel Training (DOPT) for a public debate all over the country before the Right to Information Act, 2005, is amended. In a letter sent to DoPT, MAGP secretary Pankti Jog said the debates and discussions were necessary where the restrictions were proposed to be imposed on the citizens' rights. Stating that MAGP had studied the proposed rules, she said while some of the proposals were progressive, others were highly regressive. Giving examples, she said the move to restrict the number of words to only 250 in the request for information was beyond the scope of the RTI Act, 2005. "It is impractical, gives arbitrary powers to the principal information officer (PIO) and will lead to rejection of even genuine applications from the citizens requiring information," the letter said.

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Kashmir's RTI Warriors

A small but dedicated band of RTI warriors is determined to fight for people's
empowerment through the weapon of information. In July 2010, when stone-pelting teenagers were battling it out with policemen on the streets of Kashmir, one young Kashmiri was taking on the security forces in his own way. In a video conference call from Srinagar, Muzaffar Bhat, a dentist by education, deposed before Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah about an unsuccessful 2007 application for information, under the Right to Information Act, on the whereabouts of a man from Budgam district who was picked up by the Border Security Force in 1990 and has not been seen since.

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How correct are the proposed amendments to RTI rules

आम आदमी के लिए इंसाफ के दरवाजे खोलने व सरकारी कार्यप्रणाली में पारदर्शिता लाने के मकसद से सूचना का अधिकार कानून (राईट टू इंफारमेशन एक्ट) बनाया था, जिससे आम आदमी रक्षा मंत्रालय व सुरक्षा संबंधी गोपनीय सूचनाओं को छोड़कर किसी भी विभाग की जानकारी हासिल कर सकता है, लेकिन अब नागरिकों के लिए बनाया गया यह कानून आम नहीं रहेगा।

ताजा होने जा रहे फेरबदल के अनुसार आरटीआई के आवेदनों में 250 शब्दों की सीमा होगी, जिसमें अधिकारियों और आवेदकों के पते शामिल नहीं होंगे। इसके इलावा आवेदन में सिर्फ एक ही विषय होगा। इसके साथ ही सूचना मुहैया करवाने के लिए किसी उपकरण के इस्तेमाल पर प्रशासन की ओर से की जाने वाली वास्तविक राशि भी आवेदक को देनी पड़ेगी। 'दैनिक जागरण' ने आरटीआई कानून में हुए फेरदबदल संबंधी शहर के आरटीआई कानून पर कार्य कर रहे प्रतिनिधियों से बात की।

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Friday, December 17, 2010

Pending cases at CIC double up

The number of pending cases at the Central Information Commission (CIC) has been increasing over the years with more than 13,000 cases pending till September this year compared to 7,000 in 2009. Of these, around 300 cases are pending for more than a year. What's more, most of the cases are pending due to the retirement of former chief information commissioner Wajahat Habibullah. In reply to a query filed under Right to Information (RTI) by chartered accountant Rakesh Gupta, the CIC has said it has 13,668 cases pending till September. There are 7,495 cases that are pending for three months; 4,970 for three to six months; 904 cases for more than six months and 299 for more than a year. The number has only increased over the years. In March, the Hindustan Times had
reported that there were 7,068 cases pending during January to December 2009. Incidentally, the transparency watchdog's own website has not updated these figures.

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Amendments proposed, RTI rules likely to be more people-friendly

The withdrawal on the limitation of number of words when asking for information, restructuring of fees, halting provisions to withdraw an appeal under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, are some of the amendments in the RTI rules that have been adopted by the Working Group on Transparency, Accountability and Governance under the National Advisory Council (NAC). These amendments are likely to be placed before a full house of the NAC on December 21. The amendments were adopted by the working group in a recent consultation on the proposed amendments to RTI rules held under the chairpersonship of NAC member Aruna Roy. The meeting was also attended by NAC member Deep Joshi, Dhiraj Srivastava, former CIC Wajahat Habibullah, RTI activist Shekhar Singh, MKSS convenor National Campaign for People's Right to Information (NCPRI) Nikhil Dey and others.

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Details of babus' assets can't be made public': DoP

In a state where every minister is required to file a declaration of their property and liabilities to the chief minister annually, the department of personal (DoP) considers property details and income-tax returns of bureaucrats as personal information and can't be disclosed for public. The state cabinet had taken a decision earlier this year that all ministers in the state will have to file a declaration of their properties to the CM. The DoP stance came through in a reply to an RTI query that was filed by a resident of Jodhpur Dinesh Bothra. Bothra had sought details of all immovable property of officers belonging to the all-India services and working in
Rajasthan, including IAS, IPS and IFS. All these officers, as per service rules,
are required to submit the same to the DoP every year. The RTI query also sought information from the DoP on what action the department had initiated against those all-India service officers who have not filed returns of their income by January 2010 as is mandated by rules of the department. The petitioner also sought information on whether any of these officers have received any gift worth more than Rs 5,000 last year details of which are suppose to intimated to the DoP within a month of receiving the gift.
In its reply dated December 7, the DoP has stated, "The information sought by
you (Bothra) is personal and there is no public interest involved in it and it
is related to third person. Therefore, the information sought under RTI Act-05
Section 8(1) (J), can't be given."

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Court's directive to government on RTI

The Orissa High Court on Thursday admitted a PIL pertaining to casual approach by the Orissa government as well as the Central government in implementing Right to Information (RTI) Act in the State and issued notices to both the governments to file counters within two weeks. Sanjib Kumar Satapathy, a social activist of Kalahandi district, has approached the High Court stating that it was mandatory as per the Act for every public authority to fulfil certain obligations within 120 days from the
enactment of the Act. "Provisions of the Act clearly say that every public authority should suo moto disseminate certain basic information of their organisation to public and shall make constant endeavour to upgrade the information at regular intervals through various means of communications, including Internet," the petitioner says adding that these provision has not been implemented in the State yet.

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'Green violations by Tata Steel, L&T were overlooked'

The environment ministry overlooked green law violations by Tata Steel and Larsen and Toubro (L&T) in their Dharma port project in Orissa, an environmental group said Thursday, quoting from a Right to Information (RTI) reply. Greenpeace obtained file notings of Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh on the Dharma project, which has been at the centre of controversy for years due to being adjacent to the Bhitarkanika National Park and Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary. 'The file noting by Jairam Ramesh admits that there is a probable legal violation, but argues in favour of condoning it on the grounds that the port itself is nearing completion,' Greenpeace India's oceans campaign manager Sanjiv Gopal said. 'He (Ramesh) further wrote that had construction not commenced, they could have taken a decision unequivocally not to let the project proceed at the site whose forest status is disputed,' he said. According to the NGO, the revelation was in sharp contradiction to the ministry's strictures against Vedanta, Adarsh Society and Lavasa Corporation.

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CIC tells schools to display admission info

Pulling up Delhi government’s education department for its lack of transparency, the Central Information Commission has asked it to ensure that all city schools put up display boards carrying information about available seats for economically weaker sections (EWS) before December 31. CIC has also asked for annual returns of private unaided schools and a list of schools that have not filed returns, to be uploaded on the education department website along with information related to available seats, applications for admission and other details by December 31.

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'Babu is entitled to know penal action against him'

In a setback to the Democratic Front government, the Bombay high court has asked it to provide information sought by controversial bureaucrat Vinay Mohan Lal on the penal action proposed against him. "It's Lal's own case, as such he is entitled to know the penal action proposed against him. The information sought by him is not under the exempted clauses of the Right to Information Act. So, the information can't be denied to him,'' Justice B H Marlapalle and U D Salvi observed in their brief order. The government had initiated a departmental probe against Lal for certain
irregularities committed during his tenure as chairman and managing director of Cidco between January 2003 and December 2004. According to Lal, the inquiry officer in his report submitted to the government on December 20, 2006, had given him a clean chit. However, on December 11, 2009, the government rejected the inquiry report. Then the government had given a copy of the report, along with the disagreement note to Lal. Later, the government submitted the inquiry report, disagreement note and penalty proposed to Lal to the Centre as per the provisions of the All India Services (discipline and appeal) Rules.

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Hurting from the RTI bites, govt readies muzzle and leash

The going might get difficult for RTI applicants. The government has started the process of notifying the RTI rules. As per the new rules, each RTI application can have questions related to only one subject matter and the word limit is 250 words. This is excluding the address of the central public information officer and the address of the applicant. Further, the applicant will be required to pay the actual amount spent by public authority on hiring a machine or any other equipment, if any, to supply information.

There is no logic behind this word limit. It will become a problem for semi-literate people to draft an application in 250 words. It is like telling me that I can speak to you in these many words before I actually start speaking. This is something fudamentally erroneous, said Venkatesh Nayak, programme coordinator, access to information Programme, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative.

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RTI queries not beyond 250 words

In what is seen to be another attempt to tame the Right to Information Act, the government has in a recent notification recommended RTI applicants keep their application to just one subject and also limit the query to only 250 words. Citizens asking for information under RTI may also have to pay charges that the public authority has incurred if it needs to hire equipment used in gathering and providing information.
The proposed rules have been drafted by the department of personnel and training (DoPT) and public comments are invited till December 27. The rules have been drafted after a Delhi High Court order rejected the Central Information Commission's powers to draft rules on RTI.

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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Good time to act

Five years after it was enacted, the "miracle" Right to Information Act is empowering people and catalysing change. But while national impact stories emerging out of RTI applications are celebrated, it isn't just the city-bred citizen who is discovering skeletons in the bureaucracy's cupboard by posing awkward questions to the babus. If right to information (RTI) pleas helped unearth national scams such as Adarsh Housing Society, the Commonwealth scandal and illegal mining in Karnataka, in villages and small towns, its deployment is raising accountability and speeding up change. A band of inspired individuals from across the country have used the Act for causes as diverse as making the voice of displaced villagers heard, to getting basics that urbanites take for granted - passports, food rations, street lights and sanitation.

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National Advisory Council to examine new RTI draft rules

National Advisory Council (NAC) will examine threadbare the new draft rules framed for Right to Information Act , which make it mandatory for applicants to file questions in 250 words and pay for hiring photocopy machine used to provide information. NAC's sub-group on transparency and accountability, headed by social activist Aruna Roy, would discuss the draft rules in its meeting on Monday. The draft rules for RTI Act have been framed by the department of personnel and training (DoPT) and have been put up on the website to seek public opinion. The rules lay down provisions for application process, fee for providing information, filing first appeals and appointments in Information Commission . One of the provisions is that an applicant will file an application in not more than 250 words, excluding the address of the public information officer and the applicant.

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Hurting from the RTI bites, govt readies muzzle and leash

The going might get difficult for RTI applicants. The government has started the process of notifying the RTI rules. As per the new rules, each RTI application can have questions related to only one subject matter and the word limit is 250 words. This is excluding the address of the central public information officer and the address of the applicant. Further, the applicant will be required to pay the actual amount spent by public authority on hiring a machine or any other equipment, if any, to supply information. There is no logic behind this word limit. It will become a problem for
semi-literate people to draft an application in 250 words. It is like telling me that I can speak to you in these many words before I actually start speaking. This is something fudamentally erroneous, said Venkatesh Nayak, programme coordinator, access to information Programme, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative.

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Information commissioner blacklists appellant

For the first time ever, the Punjab State Information Commission (PSIC) has blacklisted an appellant and directed the deputy registrar not to accept his applications. State Information Commissioner (SIC) Rupan Deol Bajaj issued directions after finding irregularities in Pathankot-based appellant Yogesh Mahajan's signatures in eight cases and for non-compliance of commission's orders for his personal appearance. She said he appears to be a "'little factory churning out RTI applications, affidavits, appeals and complaints', which are then replicated and sent to all divisions or sub-divisions of the engineering departments 'on a regular and assembly line basis'".

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PCNTDA president illegally sold plots in Pune

Shiv Sena corporator, Sulbha Ubale, has alleged that the Pimpri Chinchwad New Township Development Authority (PCNTDA) president, Dilip Band, has illegally sold 20 plots in Chikhali-Pradhikaran to Delhi-based developers. According to a media release issued on Wednesday, the corporator said she got the details through a Right to Information (RTI) Act (2005) query. Ubale said PCNTDA published advertisement for sale of commercial plots in Chikhali in 2005-06. The authority sold 20 plots with an area of 15-20 guntha to three developers on first come, first served basis. According to the PCNTDA norms, only citizens residing in Maharashtra can purchase these plots and those working in the Pimpri-Chinchwad industrial belt for many years.

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Court rider on information on officials' assets

The Gujarat High Court Friday ordered public information officers (PIO) to issue notice and consider the objections of all concerned before passing an order on a Right To Information (RTI) disclosure of the annual property returns (APRs) of public servants.
The court order came as it heard the petition of senior Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer Arvind Agrawal seeking to set aside the chief information commissioner's order directing the state to furnish such details. Agrawal contended that such details were 'personal' and could not be given under RTI.

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DOPT announces five short-term fellowships in the field of RTI

The Department of Personnel & Training (DoPT), Government of India, has invited proposals from professionals from the field of journalism, civil society and research and training in the field of Right to Information (RTI) for grant of five short-term fellowships. The fellowships are for conducting field based research on issues relating to RTI. The fellowships will be under a plan scheme titled ‘Improving Transparency and Accountability in Government through effective Implementation of the Right to Information Act’. The primary goal of the scheme is to contribute towards more accountable and transparent government.

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Anna Hazare seeks state info commissioner's ouster

Activist Anna Hazare has joined the protests demanding the dismissal of state information commissioner Ramanand Tiwari. Taking an aggressive stand, Hazare said Tiwari should be sacked and people like him "should be jailed and their properties checked". "I had objected to his appointment. The person who should be at that post is
someone with a clean record and integrity. The government, however, did not pay heed to it," Hazare said. Tiwari has been in the line of fire ever since documents showed that he had played a pivotal role in getting the width of the Captain Prakash Pethe Marg,
adjoining the plot where Adarsh Society is today, reduced. His son is a member of the society.

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J&K RTI Movement meets Governor

A delegation of RTI activists from J&K RTI Movement (JKRTIM) met the governor N N Vohra on Wednesday to discuss the selection of State Information Commissioners and other RTI related matters such as the recent attacks on RTI activists in the state. The activists included Balvinder Singh (who’s also the convenor of Sangarsh RTI Movement), Ayaz Mughal and Raman Sharma from J&K RTI Movement and Advocate Nadeem Qadri. The activists presented to the governor JKRTIM’s recommendations about the selection process for the State Information Commission. The meeting’s core theme was that there is an urgent need for a well-defined, transparent and democratic process for identifying the best candidates for the State information commission.

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Pimpri Chinchwad MC fudged facts to get entrepreneurship award

Shiv Sena corporator Seema Savale has alleged that the Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporation (PCMC) fudged facts to bag an entrepreneurship prize instituted by the Union urban ministry for the initiative in setting up an urban transport fund. Savale collected the details by filing an application under the Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI). The prize comprises Rs 1.5 lakh, a certificate and a memento. The civic body has set up the fund to cover the expenditure on developing the bus rapid transit system (BRTS) routes and to supplement the grant received from Union and state governments.

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Thane gets an exclusive Right To Information library

In a bid to make the Right to Information (RTI) Act more effective in the city, Thane Municipal Corporation (TMC) inaugurated RTI library recently. The library is located at the ground floor of the TMC headquarters and will be run by the Public Relation office, TMC. The library will retain the record of rules and regulations, several acts, yearly budget, discussions in weekly meetings by standing committee and decisions made in the house. It will also have TMC audit report, weekly details of TMC's work and books on RTI.

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Babus fined Rs 1 for blocking information

RTI reply reveals that a state information commissioner slapped a penalty of a rupee on errant officials for blocking information/ What do you think should be the fine for information officers denying information to citizens? Re 1, nothing more or less, according to a state information commissioner. An RTI response sought by activist Vihar Durve in June 2010 revealed that Konkan Information Commissioner Navin Kumar imposed a penalty of Re 1 in two cases of appeals between 2005 and 2008 for stalling information.

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Pune Commonwealth Youth Games expenditure not yet audit

The state sports directorate has admitted that the audited report of expenditure for the Commonwealth Youth Games (CYG) held in Pune in October 2008, is not ready even after two years of the event. Deputy director of sports, MN Thosare, in a letter to Right To Information (RTI) activist Vijay Kumbhar, has accepted that the audit report of the expenditure is not ready and added that the audit team of the comptroller and auditor general (CAG) is also auditing the expenditure for the youth games in the city. The Pune bench state information commissioner (SIC), Vijay Kuvalekar, had on November 11 ordered the state sports directorate to publish all documents related to the expenditure of Rs425 crore for sports infrastructure of the CYG. Kuvalekar had passed the order during a hearing of a petition filed by Kumbhar, who had complained against the sports directorate for not publishing all documents related to organisation of the CYG in Pune under section 4 of RTI Act, 2005.

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Maharashtra: Failed in HSC, but still BSc?

Mumbai Congress President Kripashankar Singh stated his qualification as BSC in two election affidavits despite failing in his HSC exams, reveals an RTI Already under investigation by the Enforcement Directorate (ED), Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) and the Income Tax (I-T) department for alleged money laundering, the MLA from Kalina now stands accused of misleading voters about his educational qualification. The response to an RTI query has revealed that he stated his qualification as a science graduate (B.Sc) in two election affidavits despite failing his HSC exams. According to documents in MiD DAY's possession, Singh claimed to be a graduate in the 1994 and 1999 Maharashtra assembly elections but stated in 2004 that he cleared his SSC examination in 1966, passed HSC in 1969 and studied no further. He claimed to have passed his HSC from Jaihind Inter College in Jaunpur, Uttar Pradesh. However, in response to an RTI query by activist Sanjay Tiwari, the principal of Jaihind Inter College stated on November 9, 2010, that, according to the student register and transfer certificate, Singh had failed in his HSC exam.

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'Names of passengers penalised by Customs can be made public'

The names of passengers who have been penalised by the Customs for unauthorised imports can be made public under the RTI Act, the Central Information Commission has held. Chief Information Commissioner A N Tiwari has held that disclosure of information of the nature of "detection of illegality and penal action by the officers of the public authority" is in larger public interest and should be provided to RTI applicants. "As the information requested is about the names of the passengers involved in such penal action, it would be inappropriate to provide to such passengers/third parties the advantage of exemption under Section 8(1)(j)," Tiwari held in a case where an RTI applicant had sought details of passengers who have been penalised by the Customs department. Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act exempts information which is personal and third party. The Commissioner, however, allowed withholding of information of passengers who have voluntarily paid the duty upon their arrival from abroad.

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Monday, December 06, 2010

3rd National NCPRI Convention on 3rd, 4th and 5th Feb @ Shillong

Dear friends and colleagues,

Zindabad!

The National Campaign for the People's Right to Information (NCPRI) is planning to hold its 3rd National Convention in Shillong, Meghalaya from the 3rd - 5th February, 2011. This is being hosted by the Meghalaya RTI Movement. We request you to please block the specified dates for your participation. This is to prevent any coinciding of schedules and so that you can book cheap tickets early. A letter with additional details will follow.

Please begin to discuss within your organisation how many people will be attending the event and let us know how many will be attending by mailing the details to this email id (ncpri.india@gmail.com).

Please forward this mail to anybody you think might be interested in participating in the Convention and feel free to circulate this mail as widely as possible.

Thanking you,
Nikhil Dey
(for the NCPRI)

--
National Campaign for People's Right to Information
Email: ncpri.india@gmail.com
www.righttoinformation.info

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Put all new FIRs online: Delhi HC

In a major move towards transparency in police functioning, the high court has directed the Delhi Police to start uploading all First Information Reports (FIRs) registered in the city onto its website within 24 hours of filing. The police are required to implement the order from February 1, 2011. The landmark order, passed by a division bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Manmohan, said it's the duty of the police to provide information and the accused does not need to move court to get a copy of an FIR. "Fair and impartial investigation is a facet of Article 21 of the Constitution and presumption as regards the innocence of an accused is a right. Therefore, a person booked under criminal law has a right to know the nature of allegations so that he can take necessary steps to safeguard his liberty," the bench said. Earlier, additional solicitor general A S Chandiok and amicus curie Arvind Nigam submitted their suggestions on the matter.

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Sunday, December 05, 2010

TN housing quota abused to benefit judges MLA

Close on the heels of the controversy surrounding land allotments to prominent politicians in Karnataka, a RTI activist in Chennai has blown the lid off similar largesse showered on judges, legislators and bureaucrats by the Tamil Nadu Housing Board. According to housing board records acquired under RTI, many allotments have been made over the past decade through the state government's discretionary quota (GDQ), nearly 40% of them in 2008 alone.

The primary objective of the state-run TNHB, which manages a large land bank, is to create housing stock by granting plots or constructing flats at an affordable price for those who do not own one. The broad guidelines are intended to favour applicants who "do not own a flat/house/plot" within urban limits in any part of the state or in schemes promoted by TNHB anywhere in Tamil Nadu in one's name or in the name of spouses or minor children. The same conditions apply for the discretionary quota although the government is free to fast-track the application. According to RTI data, scores of allotments have been made in the last five years, in Mogappair and Thiruvanmiyur, violating norms.

The information was procured by V Gopalakrishnan, a RTI activist who filed applications seeking information from TNHB.

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To fix a bad road, try this

Two activists from Dadar plan to show you how you can ensure the infrastructure work undertaken in the city is not shoddy. Activists Bhaskar Prabhu and Nikhil Desai will urge citizens to take up ‘social audits’ of projects, like they did for a footpath in Dadar, and get the authorities to take note of a job badly done and rectify it.
When the activists saw that recently laid paver blocks on a footpath at Dadar TT junction had started coming loose within a few days of construction, they decided not to stop at grumbling about it. They pursued the matter until the contractor was forced to re-lay the two footpaths without any extra cost to the municipal corporation.

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Sikkim SPIO fined Rs 4500 for delay

The Right to Information Act 2005 is no more a child's play, this example is being set in Sikkim Administration for the first time which has slammed hard on the official who tried to take it lightly. An educated unemployed youth hailing from South Sikkim seeked for a detailed information under the provision of RTI Act 2005 over the repairing works of Rangpo Tourist Cafeteria for which he placed a written requisition to Chief Information Officer at the capital on 23 July 2010. The CIO processed his request and instructed the consigned department to furnish the details within 30 days i.e 23rd August 2010. Unfortunately the State Public Information Officer (SPIO) furnished the detailed delaying 18 days which exceeded the prescribed timeline given to the department.

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Garbage funds: CCP caught in mess

While Panaji has been gripped by a waste management crisis for over the last three years, information sought under the RTI Act reveals that the Corporation of City of Panaji (CCP) had received funds of 8 crore for waste management from the state government over the same period. While the opposition corporators in the CCP questioned as to how the funds were used, civic officials replied that most of the funds were used towards land acquisition. The RTI documents from the directorate of municipal administration (DMA) was availed of by corporator Surendra Furtado, who alleges that the government had given a total budget of 8 crore to the CCP to purchase property for a garbage treatment plant at Bainguinim, near Heera petrol pump at Patto, Taleigao and
Dona Paula. The RTI document states that in February 2006, the government released a
grant-in-aid of 16.92 lakh for the construction of composting stations to the CCP.

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Madras HC orders notice to Govt on TN CIC's appoint

The Madras high court on Friday ordered issuing of notice to Tamil Nadu government on a writ petition challenging the appointment of retired IAS official KS Sripathi as the chief information commissioner (CIC) of the state as there was "no transperancy" in the selection process. Justice N Paul Vasantha Kumar ordered the notice, asking the government to file its counter within two weeks while admitting for hearing the petition, jointly filed by two right to information (RTI) activists V Madhav, a software engineer in Alwarpet, and Siva Elango of Saidapet. While Sripathi, who is former Tamil Nadu chief secretary, was appointed as the CIC on September 1, 2010, the petitioners said there was a news report in The Times of India on August 5 itself stating that he could become the CIC whereas the selection committee meeting was held only on August 23.

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Rent for diplomacy: Rs 152 crore in 3 yrs

Despite suggestions from parliamentary panels to curtail its rental bills abroad, the ministry of external affairs seems to be living it up. Figures accessed by Hindustan Times, using the Right to Information Act, show that it has paid over Rs 152 crore in the past three years for running the Indian missions and posts abroad.

In 2007-08 ministry of external affairs' rental bill was Rs 46,56,64,343, in 2008-09 it rose up to Rs 51,37,25,012 and touched Rs 54,36, 20, 906 in 2009-10. The Public Accounts Committee had in 1986-87 said, "The Government should draw up a long-term plan, which should provide the acquisition of plots and immovable properties, and construction of buildings on plots already acquired so that rental outgo, which is increasing year after year, is reduced to the barest minimum".

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Thursday, December 02, 2010

Don't reject RTI applications without prescribed fees: Govt

The government has asked all the ministries and departments not to reject the RTI applications which are without the prescribed application fee of Rs 10. The Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) has asked all Central government ministries to treat such applications "sympathetically", sources said. Sources said that officials have been asked to take a sympathetic view and see if the applicant is needy by enquiring about the person, and then waive the Rs 10 application fee. However, a final decision by the concerned public information officer (PIO) will be binding. The government has also asked all the departments to use the RTI logo make the concept popular and earmark and identify PIOs and CPIOs appointed to answer the RTI applicants, sources said.

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Directorate of Prosecution (DoP)'s report can't be withheld

The state law secretary has held that a report sent by directorate of prosecution (DoP) with a recommendation to the police not to prosecute an accused cannot be withheld under the Right to Information Act. In this case, DoP had declined to furnish the information to RTI activist Jowett D'Souza. D'Souza had subsequently approached the law secretary , who is the first appellate authority, seeking details about DoP's opinion advising that an accused in a case registered at Verna police station be dropped. D'Souza had also sought a report filed by the investigation officer (IO) before the DoP. Justifying its action, DoP argued before the appellate authority that the report
sent to the IO, interalia dropping an accused is a privileged communication which can't be disclosed.

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Information on religion cannot be obtained under RTI

The Punjab and Haryana High Court today rejected claims of right to obtain information on religion of an individual as disclosed during census count and termed such information as within the private domain which cannot be disclosed under a right to information (RTI) application. Holding that no such private information can be divulged the court rejected the appeal seeking details of religion of UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi and her family members including Rahul Gandhi and daughter Priyanka Vadhera.

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SIC Ramanand Tiwari's pages go missing from Adarsh file

A fresh cloud of controversy has developed over the Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society (ACHS) scam. At least four pages of a file dealing specifically with the reduction of the width of Prakash Pethe Marg - the road that was cut down to make space for the tower - have gone missing. The pages contained notings by then urban development principal secretary Ramanand Tiwari and former UD deputy secretary P V Deshmukh. Incidentally, Tiwari's son Omkar and P V Deshmukh were allotted flats in the building. When contacted, Tiwari said, ``I had asked for the papers a month ago from the UD
department and even I do not have a copy.'' Maharashtra's urban development department on Friday filed an FIR with the Marine Drive police, who registered a case of theft and destruction of key documents. On Saturday, the state government transferred the case to the crime branch.

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CIC drive to dispose over three-month-old cases

The Central Information Commission (CIC) has launched a special drive to dispose right to information (RTI) cases which are more than three months old, the Rajya Sabha was informed Thursday. Minister of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions V. Narayansamy, replying to a written question, said: 'The CIC has launched a special drive to dispose the cases which are more than three months old.' He also said that about 55 percent cases before the CIC, as on Sep 30, were three months old and about 8 percent cases were more than six months old.

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Probe into the Commonwealth Games mess takes a backseat

An RTI activist's query shows that the Commonwealth Games probe is just inching along. Should we assume that the probe will be just another Indian case of justice delayed—and denied? The Commonwealth Games (CWG) scandal, where allegedly crores of rupees were
siphoned away at the cost of the exchequer, simply refuses to fade away. Today's news reports indicate that the first draft of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report on the CWG issue will be tabled by the beginning of next year. But will the CAG report actually manage to unearth all the dirt behind the shoddy, opaque-and as been alleged, corrupt-goings-on that the country was subject to in the run-up to the Games? Since the jury is out on this one, one can only wait and watch.

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Govt "robbing" farmers to help firms

RTI plea reveals water ministry has diverted water from 43 dams to SEZs and big cities, violating provisions of water resources law. Government is pushing amendment to the law to validate their excesses, activists allege Even as water scarcity continues to haunt the state despite sufficient rainfall, activists are crying hoarse over what they claim is water theft by the state government. The activists say the government is diverting water meant for agricultural purposes to industries. The Government of Maharashtra, under the initiative of Water Resources Ministry, passed an ordinance on September 17, 2010. The protesters claim that the ordinance is meant to legalise past inequitable decisions to take away water rights of farmers and give them to industries and big cities. The said ordinance is in the process of being turned into law when the state
legislature opens for its winter session in Nagpur on December 1.

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A common man exposed the CM

B M Shivakumar, a textile shop owner from Kengeri Satellite Town, has brought the mighty B S Yeddyurappa at the brink of ouster, and south India's first BJP government on the verge of collapse. The 43-year-old Shivakumar's right to information (RTI) forays into various BDA site allotments made by Yeddyurappa under his discretionary quota exposed the chief minister's nepotism in the alleged land scam. A few months ago, armed with documents procured through RTI applications, the shopkeeper made it public how the CM had given away sites in prime localities at dirt cheap rates to his near
and dear ones. Bangalore Mirror first got a whiff of the scam in the first week of July, when it got copies of the documents from Shivakumar, and subsequently the issue has snowballed into a major controversy which has put the noose firmly around Yeddyurappa's neck.

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