RIGHT TO INFORMATION (r2i)

 

For BCAJ, September, 2016

 

 

PART   A:

DECISION of CIC

 

[Introductory Note to the following CIC Decision: In 2010 the Environment Minister placed a moratorium on release of Bt  Brinjal, which would have been the first  genetically modified (GM) food crop in India - despite it having been cleared as 'safe' by the Regulator, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC). This was done in the light of the analysis of the test data by scientists in India and abroad, who found many lacunae in the test results done by the applicant and accepted by the GEAC. There were also public hearings at 7 locations where the scientists as also consumers, farmers and NGOs could put their view point. Currently GM mustard has been through testing and may be cleared for release, but data was not being put in the public domain for analysis. An RTI application has resulted in the following landmark order]

 

·        GM mustard trials: CIC asks govt to reveal bio-safety data

The Central Information Commission (CIC) has directed the environment ministry to reveal safety data regarding trials of genetically modified (GM) mustard without further delay, noting that “any attempt to postpone or delay the disclosure will block the public discussion” on the controversial issue.

 

In April, the information panel had pulled up the Union ministry of environment, forest and climate change (MoEFCC) over its lack of transparency on trials of GM crops and directed it to make public all information, including bio-safety data, related to the field trials of the GM mustard crop before 30 April.

 

The CIC also directed the ministry to put in the public domain bio-safety data pertaining to all other GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in the pipeline.

 

The CIC’s directions came on an application by environment activist Kavitha Kuruganti, who sought information regarding field trials of GM mustard from the MoEFCC, but was denied.

 

“Instead of furnishing information as ordered by 30 April 2016, the public authority requested for two more months. The public authority did not honour its own commitment to furnish in that time and on 28 June they sought another extension, this time for 90 days. To furnish a copy of a report or to place the agenda and minutes of the GEAC (Genetic Engineering Approval Committee) meeting, they need no time at all. They are just asking for time though they do not require it,” information commissioner M. Sridhar Acharyulu noted in his order.

 

He also held that there appears “to be no seriousness in seeking extension” and the environment ministry is “routinely asking for extension without specifying the period”.

In his order, Acharyulu said that the information sought is of “high public importance, concerning public health, and it should have been in (the) public domain”.

 

“Public authority is attempting to keep vital information out of public discussion. It amounts to prevention of constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech and expression of the appellant, who are interested in discussing the pros and cons of GMO-related issues of GM mustard, which if permitted would cause serious impact on the public health of consumers on a large scale,” he said.

 

 

PART B:     

RTI ACT, 2005

·        Constitution bench to decide if SC is exempted from RTI Act

 

A five-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court will decide whether the apex court is liable to disclose information on judicial appointments under the Right to Information Act.

The bench will hear a case filed by its administrative wing through the Central Public Information Officer.

 

A three-judge bench led by Justice Ranjan Gogoi referred the question to the country’s top court, following a case filed by the CPIO of the Supreme Court against an earlier Delhi High Court ruling.

 

The Delhi High Court in 2014 upheld a similar order by the Central Information Commission and ruled that the Supreme Court is not exempt from disclosing information under the RTI. The high court thus allowed the public to seek information related to appointment of judges, and number of cases pending and disposed off in the apex court through RTI applications.

 

The Delhi High Court directed the Supreme Court registry to maintain all records, even judgments that had been reserved, to ensure that all information is available under RTI.

 

In 2011, the CIC had given a similar direction to the Supreme Court to maintain its records regarding all cases in such a way that information can be made available to RTI applicants. The Supreme Court has however, refused to give any directions with respect to divulging any details under the RTI during hearings of several public interest litigations.

 

The CIC gave its order in 2011 based on the apex court’s 2001 ruling in the case titled Anil Rai vs State of Bihar. This judgement has been cited in most cases pleading for transparency in judiciary’s functioning on account of observations made on maintaining confidence of litigants.

 

Several drafts of the Memorandum of Procedure prepared by the government for appointment of judges exclude appointments from the ambit of the RTI.

 

 

PART   :  C

INFORMATION ON & AROUND

·        Maharashtra government makes another attempt to cripple RTI Act; move draws flak

The Devendra Fadnavis government is proposing a series of RTI rules, which, if implemented, would sound the death knell of the Act. Earlier, during Prithviraj Chavan's tenure some RTI rules were made.

What are the controversial proposals?

One is that an applicant would not be given details that "involve fresh collection of non-available data" or "compilation of existing data". The other is not to give information on queries that seek "justification".

How will the proposals kill the Act?

Already, there are complaints that many public information officers (PIOs) do not part with information largely because they do not even keep the records properly with them. The proposals also take away the onus of giving reasons for not providing information from the PIOs. The government is also looking to set a limit on the information it can provide online.

·        PMO discloses salary of its staff; IAS officer Bhaskar Khulbe highest paid

The monthly salary of all officers working in the prime minister’s office (PMO) has been made public as part of suo motu disclosure under the Right to Information (RTI) Act with senior Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer Bhaskar Khulbe the highest paid at Rs.2.01 lakh.

Khulbe, who is secretary to the prime minister, gets a monthly remuneration of Rs.2.01 lakh, according to details of the salary as on 1 June 2016 put on the PMO website.

·        Update details of officers handling RTI matters: Govt to depts

All central government departments have been asked to ensure that updated details of officers responsible for handling RTI applications are available in the public domain. 
One of the items to be disclosed proactively by the public authorities (or government departments) under the Right to Information (RTI) Act pertains to the names, designations and other particulars of the Central Public Information Officers (CPIO) and its updation on a yearly basis.

·        Army canteens most profitable retail chain in India, ahead of Future & Reliance Retail 

Which is the most profitable Retail chain in India? Answer: The defence canteen stores. Its earnings exceeded those of all other chains, including Future Retail and Reliance Retail. The Canteen Stores Department (CSD), which, incidentally, is a not-for-profit organisation, earned Rs 236 crore during FY14-15, according to a Right to Information query. Comparatively, Avenue Supermart, which runs D'Mart stores, made a profit of Rs 211crore.

 

·        118 sexual harassment cases filed in BMC in 4 years, reveals RTI

In the last four years (2013-16) the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) officials have registered 118 cases of sexual harassment in its offices, reveals a right to information (RTI) response.

In a reply to the RTI filed by activist Anil Galgali requesting number of sexual harassment complaints filed in the civic administration and action taken, the civic body replied saying 21 sexual harassments cases were registered by its women employees till June this year.

According to this information, from 2013 to 2016, the average number of complaints registered with committee which works under Women Sexual Harassment Prevention chief and ‘Savitribai Phule Women Resource Centre each year should be 29. While in 2013 and 2014, 32 and 34 complaints were lodged respectively, there was marginal decline in 2015 as 31 cases were filed.

 

 

PART   :  D

ETHICS, GOVERNANCE & ACCOUNTABILITY

Business Transparency

In its simplest sense, business transparency means clear, unhindered honesty in the way that s/he does business. But it’s more than that. One business dictionary defines transparency as a “lack of hidden agendas or conditions, accompanied by the availability of full information required for collaboration, cooperation, and collective decision making.” The same source describes it as an “essential condition for a free and open exchange whereby the rules and reasons behind regulatory measures are fair and clear to all participants.” Meanwhile, another source defines transparency as “the full, accurate, and timely disclosure of information.”

In many cases, the word transparency is used as little more than a buzzword, a marketing opportunity. Whether it’s a corporate executive looking to win back disillusioned consumers and shareholders or a politician making whatever promises necessary to obtain public office, this term seems to have earned a bad rap over the years. And as a result, many have come to question the authenticity of those who use transparency as a part of their normal vernacular.

While observing the steady decay of this word would be a fascinating study in itself, there is another, more beneficial lesson to be learned in the wake of this linguistic disaster—particularly as it pertains to the way businesses are run.

This lesson can be learned, at least in part, by simply rediscovering what true transparency is—what does transparency actually mean? After that, one can utilize that understanding to discern the purpose of remaining transparent in the way s/he does business, as well as the often detrimental consequences of flouting that responsibility. Finally, with that new-found understanding, one can generate useful, ingenuous action plan for increasing transparency in his or her own business.

Transparency is one of those subtle things that can make a dramatic impact on a business. Yes, it will impact your bottom line. But that’s not the whole point. The point is that it helps everyone do business better—you, your clients, your team member. A culture of transparency is the way business ought to be done.