RIGHT TO INFORMATION (r2i)

 

 

For BCAJ, May, 2016

Jinal Sanghvi

Shraddha Bathija

 

 

PART   A:

DECISION of CIC

·        CIC finally slams BCI hard for continuously failing to disclose information required by RTI  Act

 

The Bar Council of India (BCI) has not satisfactorily complied with the Right to Information Act 2005 (RTI Act) provision which requires that it publish all its affairs on its website, held the Central Information Commission (CIC). The CIC said it is inclined to impose maximum penalty on BCI chairman Manan Kumar Mishra if the BCI does not comply in a definite amount of time.

 

Chief Information Commissioner Prof Sridhar Acharyulu, formerly Registrar at Nalsar Hyderabad, stated in his 7 April, 2016 order:

 

 “It is noticed that the Bar Council of India has not satisfactorily complied with the section 4(1)(b) requirements.  It is a major breach of RTI by prestigious organization called BCI.  It is also surprising that they are repeatedly taking a plea that, though they have such information in computer, they have not posted it on website.   They have already exhausted 10 years of time in fulfilling this obligation.   Commission directs the public authority to furnish annual report in compliance with 4(1)(b), as required under section 19(8)(a)(vi)  and directs the PIO to show cause  why maximum penalty should not be imposed for this breach of RTI.   Commission directs the Chairman, BCI to file an affidavit explaining when they would be complying with 4(1)(b) on their  official website.   All the responses should reach the commission by May 9, 2016.  If not, Commission will be compelled to initiate appropriate action against the Chairman,BCI for non-compliance of section 4(1)(b).”

 

PART B:     

RTI ACT, 2005

·     Four law students take Delhi High Court to Court over exorbitant RTI fees; win

In a landmark decision, the Division Bench headed by the Chief Justice of Delhi High Court, amended the RTI Rules 2006 of the HC, while hearing a PIL filed by four law students, bringing the fees at par with other public authorities

 

Students objected to the following rules:

 

a) Exorbitant Fees prescribed under Rule 10 of the Delhi High Court RTI Rules, 2006 i.e. Rs50 as application fee and Rs5 per page for obtaining the photocopy/ physical/ Xerox Copies.

 

b) No provision for supply of information at free of cost for the citizens falling under below poverty line (BPL) category, which is a mandatory provision under the main Act to provide free access to information to such citizens.

c) Provision of filing separate applications for each unrelated information as per Rule 3 of the Delhi High Court RTI Rules, 2006

 

They filed a public interest litigation (PIL) in the Delhi High Court in October 2015. Paras Jain and Kumar Shanu argued this matter in person without taking help from any advocate before the Division Bench of Chief Justice of Delhi High Court. They got the first two rules a) and b) amended in conformity with the provisions of the main RTI Act. The Bench, however, rejected main contention of the petitioners (students) on quashing of Rule 3 of the Delhi, which requires a separate RTI application for each information.

 

Jain says, “There is no provision in the RTI Act for filing separate applications in case of unrelated information, but Rule 3 of the Delhi High Court Rules states that for each piece of information sought, a separate application should be made.” 

 

The Court stated that the provision was required as it prevents frivolous applications seeking roving inquiries into various subjects.

 

 

PART   :  C

INFORMATION ON & AROUND

·        Haryana: Charge for RTI application reduced from Rs 50 to Rs 10

 

The Haryana government has reduced the charge for filing an application under Right to Information (RTI) Act from Rs 50 to Rs 10. The Haryana Right to Information Rules, 2009, has been amended and now will be known as the Haryana Right to Information (Amendment) Rules, 2016. A spokesman of the Administrative Reforms Department said that a notification to this effect had been issued. He said that according to the amendment, an application for obtaining any information would warrant a fee of Rs 10.

 

·         Delhi HC directs Central Information Commission to start maintaining daily order sheets within six months

 

In a recent order, Justice Manmohan of Delhi High Court has directed the Central Information Commission to start maintaining daily order sheets within six months. The direction came while disposing the writ petition filed by RK Jain, a renowned authority on indirect taxation, and the Editor of Excise Law Times. In his order, Justice Manmohan held that since the CIC is a quasi-judicial body, its records must reflect a true and correct state of affairs. Dr. LC Singhvi, counsel for CIC, told the court that the CIC was willing to maintain daily order sheets, and sought time to evolve a procedure. Jain had complained that during hearing of his appeal in a recent case, it was allowed by the CIC, but in the order which was passed by CIC after a long delay, the appeal was dismissed.

 

·        RTI query exposes scam in appointments at CCSU

 

A report obtained under the Right to Information Act (RTI) has thrown light on alleged corruption in the appointment procedure of assistant professors at Chaudhary Charan Singh University(CCSU).

As per the interview procedure, a suitable candidate is judged on the basis of his performance in the academic record & research programme and domain knowledge. In the 13 appointments made in February 2015, marks in domain knowledge were allegedly increased that led to the appointment of these aspirants.

However, a complaint was filed against one such aspirant following which the appointment was terminated. However, the remaining 12 candidates continue to be staff members.

 

·        Three Public Sector Banks With High Non-Performing Assets Rejected Most RTI Requests in 2014-15

 

A day after the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) submitted a list of the big defaulters – those who owe banks over 500 crore rupees each – before the Supreme Court, with the plea that the names not be made public, an analysis of the data on the disposal of right to information (RTI) applications has revealed that three public sector banks (PSBs), which figure high on the list of those with large non-performing assets (NPAs), rejected the most number of applications. While the rejection rate of some banks was less than 12%, many banks had a rate as high as 50%, indicating that perhaps they have something to hide, said RTI activist Venkatesh Nayak, programme coordinator at the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), who examined the annual reports released by the Central Information Commission, which contains RTI application statistics submitted by 24 PSBs under Section 25 of the RTI Act.

·        SIC imposes Rs 5K fine on town planning officers

 

The Nagpur bench of State Information Commission (SIC) levied a fine of Rs5,000 on the public information officer of town planning department here for not complying with its earlier order for providing answers to queries under Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005. Commissioner Vasant Patil directed to recover this amount from information officer and be paid to RTI activist Mangesh Gakre, who had lodged a complaint.

 

 

PART   :  D

ETHICS, GOVERNANCE & ACCOUNTABILITY

Corporate Transparency

Shailesh Gandhi

Former Central Information Commissioner                                     

There is considerable debate on how corruption must be reduced in the government. It spawned a movement, - which shook the nation;- and subsequently a political party.   Most organizations in Western countries do not have specific Vigilance departments, whereas most of our government departments cannot so without these. Since the Vigilance departments are ineffective we have an Anti-corruption bureau. To ensure independent investigation we have a CBI. Since these are not adequate we have the CVC, and now the talk of a Lokpal as the panacea for corruption.

 The objective of this article is to see whether a method can be evolved to curb the corruption which takes place by collusion between big business and government functionaries. This hurts the nation seriously, since it is now estimated to be in millions of dollars.  As many people point out there are basically two types of corruption in government offices:

1)      Extortionist- where bribes are demanded for a legitimate service or as a price to avoid harassment.

2)      Collusive- where the giver is eager to give bribes so that he can indulge in an illegal act, or enrich himself at the cost of the public. This is usually of very large value and hurts public finances significantly.

This piece is an attempt to suggest that non-government action can lead to reduction of the second kind of corruption, which results in huge scams and great cost to public exchequer. Let me make an attempt to outline how this could be achieved.  I am basing my suggestions on the following assumption:          

A small percentage of the corporate would collapse if corruption were to be curtailed, since their profits depend on them. A comparable number of corporate lose a lot of business opportunities to the former because of unwillingness to adopt unethical practices. Most of the corruption of the collusive kind is indulged in by the former. For corporate of the second kind, there is a business need to curtail the collusive corruption. Apart from this there may be a consideration of ethics and a genuine desire to curb corruption. If a few such companies decide to take active steps to curtail corruption, and are quite clear that they will not adopt this route of getting unfair or unjust advantage from the government, they can make a difference to the overall national scenario. Taking a proactive role to achieve this goal is in their business interest and could translate to higher profits.

Unfair advantages by collusive corruption are obtained by paying lower taxes or getting unfair reliefs in paying taxes. Another area is getting lands or other infrastructure in a manner which gives them an effective subsidy. One more avenue is to bid competitively for providing services or for public private partnerships, and subsequently changing the conditions to affect public interest adversely. The idea is that those who wish to promote honesty and look at it as their social responsibility publicly pledge to display all transactions with governments on their websites.

Companies could also declare a policy for disclosure in which they could declare that certain information, which may harm their commercial interests would not be displayed. This would be very little, which might harm the legitimate commercial interests of the companies. They could declare the kind of information in government transactions which they would not display and explain their reasons.  Many business leaders regret the lack of transparency and the corruption in government.  They can take the lead and demonstrate their willingness to be transparent and also to transform the nation.  It would be very good if a few businesses got together and announced their commitment to be transparent in their transactions with government. If they have taken a conscious decision to refuse the route of corruption to get undue advantage they would lose nothing and certainly gain respect from citizens and peers. Businesses may well argue that citizens should get the information from the government departments. These departments usually do not give information which would reveal favours despite this being a violation of their obligation in Right to Information Act.

There could be two benefits for companies who publicly announce and practice transparency in all transactions with government:

1)      They would be recognized by public for their commitment to transparency and corporate social responsibility. 

2)      Over a period of time if more companies follow suit, it would create a pressure on others to accept this level of transparency.

As the law stands most of this information should be accessible to citizens from government departments using RTI, except that which is exempt. However when large corruption is involved, the information is usually denied and a citizen finds it difficult to battle this unjust denial.

Private action could have the potential of curbing corruption. I am hoping a few will take the lead. Corporates can make an effective contribution to bringing transparency and accountability and reducing corruption in the nation. Will some corporate take the lead? This could also be achieved if regulatory agencies,- like SEBI in India,- make it mandatory for all companies.