Right to Information
Maharashtra CIC asks public authorities to maintain e-register for all PIOs under RTI
In a landmark order, the Maharashtra Chief Information Commissioner (SCIC) has asked public authorities to maintain an e-register for all Public Information Officers (PIOs) giving all details of the application filed under Right to Information (RTI) Act. This order was passed following a suggestion from Shailesh Gandhi, former Central Information Commissioner to the State Commission.
 
"...the (State Information) Commission appreciates excellent suggestion made by Shailesh Gandhi and treats his request as Complaint under section 18 of RTI Act, 2005. During last over 11 years, the Commission has noted almost total lack of review of the performance of PIOs and First Appellate Authorities (FAAs) by their superiors with the result that public authorities are not only required to pay huge compensation to the information seekers from public exchequer but the government is also responsible for ineffective implementation of such a revolutionary Act, which directly relates to citizens exercising fundamental right of 'Right to expression' enshrined in the Constitution," Ratnakar Gaikwad, the SCIC, stated in his order.
 
Mr Gandhi saw a letter from Kerala CIC about maintaining a register for RTI and decided to take up the matter with Maharashtra CIC.
 
In his suggestion to the SCIC, he said, "It is fairly difficult for Heads of Departments (HODs), and Information Commission to review overall performance of individual PIOs and FAAs on real time basis and to take corrective actions in an ongoing basis in real time. Software can easily be developed so that a dashboard showing each PIOs performance and of the public authority would be transparent for everyone to see. This will also facilitate preparation of the annual report and be a very useful tool for monitoring individual PIOs and public authorities continuously."
 
Mr Gaikwad, the SCIC, while appreciating the suggestion made by Mr Gandhi, decided to treat his request as complaint under Section 18 of the RTI Act. Exercising its powers vested under Section 19(8)(a) of RTI Act, the (Maharashtra) Commission ordered that “Chief Secretary, Govt of Maharashtra should create an online RTI register in every office, which has a Public Information Officer and put on a single platform all the RTI applications filed in every office at every level where RTI applications are submitted and filed and also upload this information on the websites of Public Authorities so that Citizens can also access this vital information."
 
"This platform would facilitate the compilation and tracking of RTI applications filed offline as well as those that might be filed online with Departments. This order should be implemented by 15 June 2017 and detailed compliance should be reported to Commission by 15 June 2015 positively," Mr Gaikwad said in his order.
 
The SCIC also approved the format for maintaining the e-register as suggested by Mr Gandhi. Here is the format...
 
Suggested format
 
 
Name of PIO:                                                                        Unique Id no.  
Name of Department: 
Name of Office: 
Location: 
 
Name of First Appellate Authority: 
 
 
This has drawn considerably from a request by the CIC of Kerala to the Chief Secretary of Kerala.

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COMMENTS

GLN Prasad

6 months ago

Hon.CJ Karira, expert in RTI Act's opinion was as follows:
This order of the Maharashtra SCIC will be thrown out by a HC in a second.

The SIC has no powers to give any directions under Sec 19(8)(a) while hearing and disposing off a Complaint under Sec 18.
Hon.CJ Karira in his post in RTI INDA.ORG.

Pradeep Kumar M Sreedharan

6 months ago

Great work, thank you Mr Shailesh Gandhi for spreading the right.

New RTI Draft Rules an Invitation to Murder of Activists?
Another Right to Information (RTI) activist was brutally murdered on Sunday, making it the 16th such murder in Maharashtra and 65th in the country since 2010, besides assaults on nearly 400 activists.
 
In the latest fatal assault, Pune-based Suhas Haldankar, who exposed irregularities in civic works and inefficiencies of corporators in Pimpri Chinchwad, was savagely attacked with cement blocks by 11 men, including a former corporator from the Congress party. The attack took place when Haldankar was returning home late Sunday night on his bike. He was stopped on the way and bludgeoned to death. Eleven persons were nabbed by the police in connection with the murder. 
 
 
The new RTI Draft Rule 12, issued by the DOPT, is in complete contravention of the 2011 recommendation of the Central Information Commission (CIC). The Draft Rule permits the CIC to allow appeals to terminate on the death of an appellant. The DoPT has sought suggestions and objections on the entire Draft Rules. What is worrisome is that Rule 12, which pertains to the RTI application in case of the applicant’s death, is not what the CIC recommended, which is that the information sought by late applicant must be immediately put on the public domain.
 
As per Rule 12 in the New Draft Rules of RTI issued by the DoPT, which is now in the public domain for suggestions and objections from the public, “Withdrawal/Abatement of Appeal :-. (2) The proceedings pending before the Commission shall abate on the death of the appellant”
 
In stark contrast, the CIC, in a full court meeting held on 13 September 2011, had passed the following Resolution:
1. The Central Information Commission expresses regret and takes note of the reported killings of and assault on RTI users across the country. The Commission underlines the need to take urgent steps by the respective Governments for the safety and protection of the RTI users. The Commission strongly believes that it is the duty and responsibility of the respective Governments to safeguard the life and liberty of the RTI users, for which purpose they should invoke the relevant penal provisions for the prevention and detection of such heinous crimes. 
 
2. This Commission, therefore, resolves that if it receives a complaint regarding assault or murder of an information seeker, it will examine the pending RTI applications of the victim and order the concerned Department(s) to publish the requested information suo motu on their website as per the provisions of law.
 
3. This Commission also resolves that it will take proactive steps in ascertaining the status of investigations/prosecutions of the cases involving information seekers and endeavor to have these processes expedited.”
 
Condemning the murder of Haldankar, the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) has demanded that the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) monitor the ongoing police investigation. It has also sent a requisition to the Maharashtra State Chief Information Commissioner to call for all pending RTI applications filed by Haldankar before public authorities in Pimpri Chinchwad and direct them to proactively disclose all information in accordance with the RTI Act. CHRI has documented these attacks on a Google Map. Readers may visit the Hall of Shame.
 
Several activist and legal experts have asked for modification of Rule 12. RK Jain, President, Excise and Customs Bar Association, writes, “…the proposed Rule 12(2) thus needs to be suitably modified to provide that in the case of death of information seeker, who has sought information in larger public interest or against the corrupt practices, such information may be directed to be placed on the website of the concerned Department despite the death of the appellant, so that the purpose of silencing the information seeker is defeated.”
 
Writing in Swarajya, another legal expert, Madhumita D. Mitra, says, “For a government aiming to root out corruption, it should be obvious that allowing withdrawal/abatement will only strengthen the might of this venal public-private nexus. Every RTI application points to a lapse in governance, either by omission or commission, which subsists even after the death of an applicant. The final outcome of an information request instigates a service delivery or course correction, whether it is an individual’s personal grievance or a case of corruption and maladministration. Closing pending appeals/complaints in this manner not only undermines the purpose of the RTI application, but does disservice to the applicant’s family and to the benefit that may have accrued to public interest at large by the disclosure.
 
“Legally too, the proposed Rule 12 will not stand scrutiny. The Supreme Court has made clear in a 2013 judgment (Union of India vs. Namit Sharma) that IC proceedings under the RTI Act are purely administrative in nature, requiring a simple determination whether the requested information should be disclosed or not. It is not a civil or a criminal matter. Even under civil law, abatement of proceedings on death of a party is not absolute and heirs and legal representatives retain their right to sue. In criminal cases, the death of a complainant does not terminate the criminal proceeding and the magistrate can exercise his powers to decide whether the complaint should be dismissed or the accused acquitted or discharged.”
 
RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar says, “…the same rule existed in the 2012 Rules, which are set for amendment now and at that time too activists had vociferously registered their objections. Despite that, they have included the Rule 12 in the Draft Rules 2017. This is indeed treacherous of the government and a way of encouraging murder of RTI activists.”
 
Pondering on the grievous implications if Rule 12 of the Draft RTI Rules 2017 comes into force, Venkatesh Nayak, research scholar and programme coordinator of CHRI, says, “If the Central Government has its way, all RTI applications and appeals that Suhas Haldankar may have filed with public authorities would abate automatically on his death. The accused who battered him to death with cement blocks would attain a victory ... Civil society actors have been demanding that the RTI Rules do not allow for the closure of appeals on the appellant's death.”
RTI activist Lokesh Batra considers Rule 12 as “dangerous for appellants.”
 
The way out is to again file as many objections as we can. 
 
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting, which she won twice in 1998 and 2005, and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book, “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte”, with Vinita Kamte, and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)
 

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COMMENTS

Roy Aranha

6 months ago

have to fight sounds dangerous

Simple Indian

6 months ago

The new rules of RTI are like State-backed goondaism. There is no basis/logic to discontinue an RTI application simply because the original applicant has expired. Social causes are often backed by a whole group, though the applicant may be an individual. As there are class-action suits in the US legal system, we should have similar provisions in India's legal system, and also for RTI Applications, which can be made by an organization. Of course, the Govt can use its 'good offices' to close down NGOs, like it has been doing for a while now (say, by throttling their funding). When the State itself acts like a goonda, there is no escape for conscientious citizens.

ramdas naik

6 months ago

If the party is found guilty, then strong criminal action should be taken against them. Suitable compensation should be awarded to the Applicant. Atleast his efforts should not have gone in vain

'Congress gifted prime land to Tatas at throwaway rates'
Mumbai, An RTI query on Thursday revealed that a huge plot of acquired land here was allegedly 'gifted' to the Tata Group at throwaway rates by the previous Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) government in Maharashtra.
 
The land measuring 32,182.20 sq. metres was given to the Tata Group by the previous government shortly before it demitted office.
 
Prominent Right to Information (RTI) activist Anil Galgali has now demanded that Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis should order a probe into the matter and cancel the allotment as the land could have been used for housing the poor.
 
Giving details, he said the acquired piece of prime land in Borivali East, opposite the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, worth over Rs 3,000-crore, was allotted to Tata Group at dirt cheap rates.
 
"This acquired land could have been used for public or low-cost housing, but now it will be utilised for construction high-end luxury apartments. It is a good example of how land acquired from the poor is handed over to the rich," Galgali said.
 
When asked for their response, a Tata Steel spokesperson said they needed time to study the matter before replying.
 
According to documents acquired by Galgali from the Mumbai Suburban District collectorate under the RTI, the state government had acquired the plot (32,182.20 sq. mt.) in the 1960s under the Land Acquisition Act.
 
It was meant for extending godowns and making residential quarters for the workers of the company, Special Steels Ltd, which was later taken over by Tata Steel.
 
In 2001, new owners Tata Steel sold a part of the land, 3,051.80 sq. mt. to a leading private builder for commercial and residential purposes.
 
However, Galgali said, in the process Tata Steel violated government rules which stipulated that before handing it over to any other party, it must take the government's permission but it defaulted and sent a request to the collector only subsequently, seeking transfer of the property.
 
The government asked Tata Steel to return the land but when it appealed and ruling went in its favour, Tata Steel paid Rs 8.40 crore as 'unearned income'.
 
Later, the company applied for transfer of the remaining 29,130.40 sq. mt. land to exploit it for residential and commercial purposes, ostensibly with help from government officials.
 
This was despite the fact that the government's Committee for Land Acquisition had decided to reject any proposal for transfer from Tata Steel for purposes other than what was stipulated in the beginning, and approved by the then Congress government's Revenue Minister Balasaheb Thorat.
 
The matter again went to Thorat in appeal but strangely, he overruled the earlier decision of the Committee for Land Acquisition and around 2014 allowed the transfer to Tata Steel which paid up Rs 44.98 crore.
 
"The land is worth minimum Rs 3,000-crore, besides the value of the commercial and residential construction on it which will be sold in the open market at current high rates. Tata Steel violated the provisions of the agreement and Thorat misused his status for a huge loss to the exchequer," Galgali said.
 
He said in 2014, even if the government had allowed the change of user, there is no evidence that the company had paid the necessary fees for it, making it clear the land is being illegally developed for commercial gains, though both the collector and the revenue departments had given proposals to take it back.
 
After the new Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government assumed office, then Revenue Minister Eknath Khadse issued an order on November 21, 2014, that since the decision was taken by the previous regime just prior to the October 2014 assembly elections, it should be reviewed.
 
On February 20, 2015, the Konkan Divisional Commissioner scheduled a hearing in the matter of which no information is available on government records.
 
Accordingly, Galgali pointed out that since even the new government suspected it was a wrong decision by the previous government, Fadnavis must order a detailed probe into the case, put on hold all construction activities on site and take action against concerned officials.
 
Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article.

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