RIGHT TO INFORMATION (r2i)

In loving Memory of Narayan Varma

For BCAJ November, 2016

 

PART   A:

DECISION OF CIC

UGC must give clarifications on courses recognised by it: CIC

The UGC and other public authorities cannot deny clarifications sought by RTI applicants if it is part of their duty to collect that information, the Central Information Commission has said, rejecting the plea of the higher education regulator that explanations cannot be sought under the transparency law.

In several previous decisions, the Commission and high courts have allowed public authorities to reject RTI applications if the applicant is seeking explanations and clarifications.

The argument given by the Central Information Commission (CIC) and the high courts had been that clarifications or probing questions do not fall within the ambit of the definition of “information” under the RTI Act.

Information Commissioner Sridhar Acharyulu made a major distinction in his order in the matter, saying the University Grants Commission (UGC) or any public authority cannot refuse to give clarifications if it is part of their duty.

The CIC has also issued a show-cause notice to an under secretary-level officer of the UGC who had refused to clarify to an RTI applicant whether a particular course was recognised by it.

The UGC had denied to share the information, saying it can only give information about records held by it and cannot give clarifications under the RTI Act.

Acharyulu was deciding the plea of Ram Kishan Sharma who sought to know the list of UGC recognised courses for career advancement scheme.

“The policy of UGC must be providing clarifications for such genuine academic doubts. Though it appears to be technically right according to section 2(f), it leaves student community in confusion regarding validity of a course. “Not informing the validity of a course amounts to abdication of their duty to inform, as that duty was prescribed by the statute and that is their basic function,” he said.

The Information Commissioner admonished the UGC, saying “policy deficit” in the organisation has been exposed by the RTI application.

 “In fact, the UGC has to understand the doubts of such students or parents and recognise the need for clarification arising out of such RTI applications and prepare the FAQs accordingly.

“The UGC should entrust a team to scrutinise such requirements out of the RTI applications and continuously increase the number of clarifications under FAQs,” Acharyulu said in the order.

Acharyulu said the increase in the number of RTI applications seeking such clarifications reflect on the public authority leading to an inference that the UGC is not properly communicating to the people about the validity of courses and degrees.

He said instead of physically approaching or telephonically asking, the applicant has paid Rs 10 in the form of RTI fee, creating an obligation on the UGC to respond.

“Hence, the Commission directs the respondent authority not to refuse to give clarifications,” the Commissioner said.

Acharyulu said if not, the commission would be compelled to initiate penal proceedings and also direct the public authority to pay compensation to the appellants in similar circumstances because the appellant’s RTI request was a necessity arising out of non-performance of its duty under section 4(1)(c) and (d) of the RTI Act.

“The information sought is not prohibited by any exemption. Even if appears to be a clarification which could be denied under first part of Section 2(f), it has to be given under second part of Section 2(f) as the UGC Act provided access to that information held by the UGC concerning the universities -- both public and private,” he said.

He said the UGC cannot forget that they recognise universities/institutions and their courses after examining the compliance with prescribed standards.

“The Commission (is) surprised at the way the public authority is refusing to clarify an academic doubt. The UGC being an academic regulatory has statutory duty to inform/educate the people about the courses/degrees and their validity as mandated by the law...,” he said.

Issuing a showcause notice to the Central Public Information Officer of the UGC, Acharyulu directed the higher education regulator to explain why it should not be ordered to pay compensation/costs to the appellant.

(Source : Hindustan Times, October 5, 2016)

PART B:     

RTI ACT, 2005

• India fourth on Right to Information list

India has ranked fourth in a worldwide comparative assessment of national legal frameworks for right to information, slipping a rank as Mexico replaced Serbia to head the list of 112 countries this year and pushed each of last year’s top five countries a notch lower. Sri Lanka, at ninth spot, is the only other South Asian country to figure among top ten nations in the ratings released on Wednesday to mark International Day for Universal Access to Information.

 

Developed by the Centre for Law and Democracy and Access Info Europe, the ratings are done on the basis of 61 indicators totaling up to 150 points to gauge a country’s legal framework.

Mexico scored 136 points, edging past Serbia, which ended up with 135 points. RTI experts said India slipped one rank this year not because of its own performance but because of Mexico’s surge. “Mexico has recently revamped General Act of Transparency and Access to Public Information and has outranked Serbia. This is why India has slipped a rank,” said Venkatesh Nayak, programme coordinator at Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative.

All countries in South Asia, barring Pakistan, scored more than 100 points. Pakistan remains at 89th spot. As per the ratings, Arab countries are among the world’s weakest on this important human rights indicator, with only four of the 22 member states of the Arab League – Jordan, Sudan, Tunisia, Yemen – having RTI laws. “The popular myth ‘RTI is meant for developed countries while developing countries have other urgent issues of poverty, hunger, poor levels of basic services like education and health’ stands disproved once again,” said Nayak.

(Source: Economic Times, September 29, 2016)

 

PART   :  C

INFORMATION ON & AROUND

• RTI Act- Authentic Interpretation of the Statute

Mr. Shailesh Gandhi (Former CIC) has written this e-book to interpret the RTI Act passed by Parliament. “Our law has been ranked as the third best in the world in terms of its provisions. But India ranks at number 66 in terms of implementation.  My co-author is Mr. Pralhad Kachare who is a bureaucrat and was heading the RTI training cell at YASHADA. He has developed the training material at YASHADA and trained many officers.

A unique feature of this book is that its draft was shared with former Chief Information Commissioner Mr. Satyananda Mishra and Mr. Toby Mendel who is one of the leading international experts in transparency laws. They gave their views on the interpretations and I incorporated most of them. After that there were some differences in interpretations and nuances which have been mentioned in the footnotes in the book. It is heartening that there is a broad consensus.  I believe this is the most authentic interpretation of the RTI Act.

Many decisions presently being followed do not reflect the words of the Act passed by parliament, and the law is slowly being amended by misinterpretation. The bad decisions given by PIOs, First appellate authorities, commissions and judges are being followed everywhere. Right to Information is being slowly disfigured into a Right to Denial of Information. Consequently, this fundamental right is being constricted. Most of the decisions violate the Supreme Court’s earlier pronouncements given in the Raj Narain , SP Gupta, ADR and Rajagopal cases .  This book could empower citizens and is a plea to all adjudicators to follow the words of the law.” informed Mr. Gandhi.

• Constitution Club answerable under RTI: CIC

Constitution Club which is a “platform for interaction amongst the past and present member of Parliament” will now be answerable to queries under the Right to Information Act, the Central Information Commission has held.

A bench of Information Commissioners Sudhir Bhargava and Sridhar Acharyulu has declared the Club, located on posh Rafi Marg here, as public authority under the Right to Information Act.

A Public Authority defined under Section 2(h) of the RTI Act means any authority or body or institution established or constituted; by or under the Constitution, by any other law made by Parliament or State Legislature, by notification issued or order made by the appropriate Government.

It includes any body owned, controlled or substantially financed; non-Government organisation substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate Government.

• Defying RTI, 25 public authorities fail to submit annual returns to Maharashtra SIC

As many as 25 public authorities have failed to submit their annual returns with the State Information Commission (SIC) for the year 2015, in defiance of the Right to Information (RTI) Act. This omission assumes significance as there was no such dereliction of duty by public authorities last year.

The RTI law mandates that every public authority i.e. government offices has to send its annual report to the SIC to help the latter in preparing the Annual Report of the state. The report is supposed to contain the number of applications received by the public authority, the number of applications which went for first appeal and the number of applications challenged by the Information Commission. These figures help in deciding the state of awareness and implementation of the RTI Act in the state.

The 10th Annual Report of the SIC reveals that in 2015, as many as 8,68,818 RTI applications were received — the highest ever since the implementation of the RTI Act. Though this indicates renewed interest in the Act by the general public, the response from public authorities leaves much to be desired.

Of the 25 authorities which have not filed their annual returns, eight are various departments and commissionerates while 17 are corporations. The Transport Department under the Home Department, the Employment Guarantee Scheme Department, Drinking Water and Sanitation Department and the Minorities Welfare Department have failed to provide their annual reports to the SIC. Among the state-run corporations, CIDCO, the Punyasholk Ahilyadevi Sheli Mendi Development Corporation (corporation for the development of goat and sheep rearing), the Fisheries Development Corporation and all seven corporations run by the social justice and equality department have failed to file their annual reports.

• Right to Information activist shot dead in India

An Indian Right to Information (RTI) activist Bhupendra Veera, who launched multiple campaigns against illegal land dealings and construction in Mumbai, has been shot dead at his residence.

A former corporator from Congress party, Razzaq Khan, has been arrested along with his son for suspected involvement in the murder. The slain activist Veera is survived by his wife, two sons and a daughter.

According to police, some people had come to meet 61-year-old Veera on late Saturday night while his wife was in another room. Later his wife found him in a pool of blood sitting on the chair. She raised an alarm and took Veera to local VN Desai Hospital where he was declared dead.