RIGHT TO INFORMATION (r2i) 

For BCAJ, June, 2016

Jinal Sanghvi

Shraddha Bathija

 

PART:  C

INFORMATION ON & AROUND

        Targeting RTI in the House

MPs must not run down a law that promises a more informed citizenry. As part of the assessments, 20,000 RTI applications filed to different public authorities in the country were collected, of which detailed analysis of a randomly selected sample of 5000 applications was undertaken. The Right to Information (RTI) Act has undoubtedly been a most empowering legislation for citizens. The law has initiated the vital task of redistributing power in a democratic framework. It is perhaps this paradigm shift in the locus of power that has resulted in consistent efforts by the powerful to denigrate it. The latest attack on the legislation was witnessed recently in the Rajya Sabha, with several members of Parliament, across party lines, demanding amendments to the act. A key allegation made on the floor of the House was that the RTI is being widely misused, especially to blackmail public functionaries. It was also argued that government servants are unable to take decisions objectively for fear of the RTI. This is not the first time that the issue of misuse of the RTI Act has been flagged. The previous prime minister alleged that a large number of frivolous and vexatious RTI applications are being filed resulting in a negative impact on the efficiency of the government. These assertions, however, are not backed by data or evidence a point which the office of the previous PM had to publicly concede when the RTI was invoked to ask for the basis of the PMs views! Similarly, one of the MPs who raised these issues in the Rajya Sabha has reportedly admitted that his statements were based on anecdotal evidence drawn from some isolated cases

        No fee to be paid for appeals and complaints related to RTI

State information commission has said that the RTI applicant needs to pay fees only for the first application for information and no fees shall be paid for appeals or complaints. The commission issued the notification in the wake of instances where applicants were made to pay fees for appeals and complaints as well.
The complaints filed before the commission as per section 18 of Right to Information act and appeals filed as per section 19 does not require fees, the commission said. It has also been pointed out that postal orders, money orders will not be considered as fees for matters under the control of state government. Section 6 of RTI act says that the applicant has to pay the fees as prescribed by the state government while filing an application for information. The state government has determined Rs 10 as application fee as per Kerala Right to Information (Regulation of fee and cost) rules.

        Stay on order exempting T branch from RTI Act

A Division Bench of the Kerala High Court on Friday stayed a January 27 Government Order exempting the T (Top secret) branch of the State Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau from the purview of the Right to Information Act. The Bench of Justice P.N. Ravindran and Justice Sunil Thomas, while issuing the stay order, made it clear that the RTI Act would continue to apply to the T branch of the VACB. The Bench observed that a prima facie case had been made out for staying the Government Order.  The order came on a writ petition filed by A. Jayasankar, general secretary, Indian Association of Lawyers, and its State committee. According to the petitioner, the T branch was probing the allegations of corruption against Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, Ministers, MPs, MLAs and top IAS/IPS officials. The petitioner contended that the order was sheer abuse of power. The RTI Act provided for exempting only Intelligence and security organisations from its purview. In fact, the VACB was an agency tasked with the job of probing corruption charges against public officials. The exemption order was issued to cover up large-scale corruption indulged in by Ministers and higher officials and with a mala fide intention to prevent the public from knowing the details of the probe being conducted into the corruption charges against Ministers and top officials before the Assembly election.The petitioner pleaded that unless the order was stayed, it would cause irreparable harm to the general public.

        CIC pulls up Civil Aviation Ministry for 'casual' approach in RTI

The Central Information Commission has pulled up the Civil Aviation Ministry for "casual and callous approach" in handling Right to Information applications which it said "defeats the spirit" of the law for empowering citizenry. Chief Information Commissioner Bimal Julka made these hard-hitting observations while hearing the case where the ministry could not satisfactorily answer queries on ground handling services such as "Which out of these are part of Central Government (i) Indian Airlines (2) BWFS (3) Air India SETS (4) CELBI". Delhi-based Jagpal had sought information on a number of queries related to ground handling work through his RTI application filed in 2013 but satisfactory responses were claimed to have not been furnished and the application kept getting transferred from one authority to another including Air India and Airports Authority of India.

        CIC ruling: Cabinet Secretariat to disclose details of agenda under RTI Act

The Central Information Commission (CIC) has ruled Cabinet Secretariat cannot deny access to items on the agenda of the Cabinet after the meeting is over under Right to Information Act.

In a pro-disclosure order, chief information commissioner R K Mathur has directed Cabinet Secretariat to disclose all agenda items under the RTI Act once the meetings are over.

In a ruling on an RTI plea by RTI activist Venkatesh Nayak of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), the CIC has also advised the Cabinet Secretariat to "put in place" a mechanism to monitor departments and ministries for their compliance with the requirement of sending monthly reports of work done by them to it. The order further says that it is "advisable" for ministries and departments to upload the "unclassified portions" of their monthly reports to Cabinet Secretariat on their respective websites. Nayak had filed an RTI application with Cabinet Secretariat seeking details of Cabinet agenda between August 2014 and December 2014.  

PART:  D

ETHICS, GOVERNANCE & ACCOUNTABILITY

ACCOUNTABILITY

In ethics and governance, accountability is answerability, blameworthiness, liability and the expectation of account-giving. As an aspect of governance, it has been central to discussions related to problems in the public sector, nonprofit and private (corporate) and individual contexts

Political accountability is the accountability of the government, civil servants and politicians to the public and to legislative bodies such as a congress or a parliament.

Within an organization, the principles and practices of ethical accountability aim to improve both the internal standard of individual and group conduct as well as external factors, such as sustainable economic and ecologic strategies. Also, ethical accountability plays a progressively important role in academic fields, such as laboratory experiments and field research.

Internal rules and norms as well as some independent commission are mechanisms to hold civil servants within the administration of government accountable. Within department or ministry, firstly, behavior is bound by rules and regulations; secondly, civil servants are subordinates in a hierarchy and accountable to superiors. Nonetheless, there are independent "watchdog" units to scrutinize and hold departments accountable; legitimacy of these commissions is built upon their independence, as it avoids any conflicts of interests. The accountability is defined as an element which is part of a unique responsibility and which represents an obligation of an actor to achieve the goal, or to perform the procedure of a task, and the justification that it is done to someone else, under threat of sanction.