RIGHT TO INFORMATION (r2i)

For BCAJ January 2017

 

PART A - DECISION OF CIC

u  CIC directs CPIO of BCI to show cause why maximum penalty should not be imposed against her for demanding exorbitant amount to give copy of the complaint (File No.: CIC/SA/A/2016/000101, Order dated: 28.12.2016)

 

The appellant (Budhkaran Yogi) sought certified copies of his complaint in case no. 26/2009 and related papers pending before the BCI against an advocate whom he alleged to have cheated. The CPIO provided the information on 09.09.2015. FAA upheld the information provided by the CPIO. Hence, the appellant approached the Commission.

 

The commission held that, “The Bar Council of India should introspect into its own functioning which does not allow them to help a victim of alleged cheating by member of its own professional body. The Commission need not remind the basic objective and functioning of BCI is to protect the people from the misconduct and professional disservice by his own members. The BCI is expected to secure high standards of their profession. But this is a case where by delay and procrastinated non-hearing of complaints, the BCI is indirectly facilitating the ‘misconduct’ and criminal cheating by the Advocates. The RTI Act has provided a new tool to the exploited clients like this appellant. If the advocate does not perform his duty after taking the fee, the damage suffered by the client is not just a breach of contract but the loss of property also. Non-returning of documents, is also serious crime which the BCI need to act immediately to establish the truth of the same and take strong action as per law. The poor client is cheated by advocate and frustrated by complacence of the advocate’s body. The BCI did not take up the case for hearing. It did not act at least after the appellant filed an RTI application demanding action and copies of the file.”

 

Further, CIC M. Sridhar Acharyulu said, “The Commission finds merit in the contention of the appellant saying that the inaction and delay at BCI was helping the advocates to cheat the poor complaints like him. The appellant says that some criminally minded advocates are emboldened with inaction and delay at BCI and Courts and continue unethical and criminal activities, extorting money from the clients even to give back their own original property documents. The appellant has rightly challenged the BCI for demanding Rs 250 to Rs 500 per page, as per BCI Rules, instead of seeking the cost of copying at Rs 2 per page to give copy of his own complaint and related papers, which is totally violative of RTI Act and rules.”

 

PART B - RTI ACT, 2005

RTI act was passed 11 years ago and since then it has been modestly successful in disclosing and bringing out a lot of controversial information. Let’s take a look at some of them.

 

u   The RTI Act has been used to fight corruption and has exposed deep-rooted graft in India. For example, the RTI applications filed by activists Yogacharya Anandji and Simpreet Singh in 2008 exposed the infamous Adarsh Housing society scam, which eventually led to the resignation of the then Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan.

u   That RTI application revealed that flats in the Adarsh Housing Society, a 31-storey building, which was originally meant to provide residence for war widows and veterans, were used to house politicians, bureaucrats and their relatives.

u   In the 2G scam, in which the then Telecom Minister A. Raja undercharged mobile phone companies for frequency allocation licenses and caused a loss of Rs 1.76 lakh crore to the Indian government, an RTI application by Subhash Chandra Agrawal revealed that Raja had a "15-minute-long" meeting with then solicitor-general Goolam E. Vahanvati in December 2007 after which a "brief note was prepared and handed over to the minister", but the minutes of the meeting were not recorded, stated this report in The Huffington Post.

u   The RTI Act was also used to expose corruption after the Commonwealth Games scam, in which the corrupt deals by politician Suresh Kalmadi embarrassed the nation. The report said that an RTI application filed by non-profit Housing and Land Rights Network showed that the then Delhi government had diverted Rs. 744 crore from social welfare projects for Dalits to the Commonwealth Games from 2005-06 to 2010-11.

u   In 2007, the RTI request filed by Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti, an NGO, revealed irregularities in the distribution of food meant for people living below the poverty line by the public distribution system in Assam, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal. In 2008, an RTI application by a Punjab-based NGO revealed that heads of the local branches of the Indian Red Cross Society had used money intended for the victims of the Kargil war and natural disasters to buy cars, air-conditioners and pay for hotel bills.

u   A PTI report published in July 2016 said that an RTI query showed that only 12 members of the Maharashtra Cabinet have declared their assets and liabilities details as per Central governments code of conduct for ministers. Another one filed by social activist Anil Galgali showed that as many as 118 complaints of sexual harassment were filed at the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) between 2013 and July this year.

u   An RTI query filed by Child Rights and You (CRY) revealed in May this year that twenty-two children go missing in the national capital everyday with most of them being boys aged upto 12 years. (source: the firstpost)

 

RTI has been used by people of all strata, young, old, male,

female, rich and poor.  Some  with  the  intention of bringing

about a change and some to get their work done quickly and

easily. Many of them received the information sought for and

many were rejected on  unholy  grounds  initially  but  were

successful at the end.

The RTI Act is one of the most crucial tools that we have as citizens. We should not misuse this freedom.

 

Call out to all who wish to learn more about the Act and how to use it practically, you can either visit the BCAS office on dates and timings mentioned at the end of the article or can email me at jinalasanghvi@gmail.com

 

PART C - INFORMATION ON & AROUND

u   Delay in appointment of information commissioners

   Former Central Information Commissioner and noted RTI activist Shailesh Gandhi has expressed concern over delay in filling of three vacancies of Information Commissioner in Maharashtra. Two of these posts are vacant for the last two years, while the state has a huge pendency of 42,000 appeals under the Right to Information Act.

 

Post of the information commissioner for Amaravati region is vacant for the last six months, while those for Aurangabad and Nashik regions are vacant for the last two years.

 

u   GIC asks SHRC information officers to take RTI training

The Gujarat Information Commission (GIC) has recommended the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) to send its public information officers and appellate authority to Sardar Patel Institute of Public Administration for training on the Right to Information Act. The GIC has also suggested the SHRC to put maximum information as proactive disclosure on its website so that people do not have to file RTI applications.

 

The GIC made this recommendation recently while observing that the Public Information Officer (PIO) and the appellate authority of the SHRC had “shown negligence” in giving details to an applicant on suo motu action taken by the Commission in a particular time span.

 

       No reported cases of HIV being transmitted through blood transfusions – Ignorance or Unawareness

An IndiaSpend investigation, through a series of Right to Information requests, has revealed that 14,474 cases of HIV through blood transfusion have been reported in India over the last seven years. It also revealed that the Indian government has yet to order a study or inquiry into this medical crisis that puts millions of lives at risk. Developed countries rarely report such cases now. Canada, for instance, hasn’t seen a single case of blood transfusion-related HIV since 1985, and the US, since 2008. While in India, one in every 100 HIV patients could be a victim of infected blood transfusion, the tally in the US is one in 300,000 cases, according to data shared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a US national health agency. This means that the chances of an HIV patient in India having contracted the virus through a blood transfusion are 3,000 times higher than in the US.

The Indian government, meanwhile, seems to be denying its own findings.