right to information (r2i)

For BCAJ March 2017

PART A I DECISION OF CIC

-   “I may disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” With this CIC directs PIO of National Archives of India to provide certified copy of charge sheet and statement of Nathuram Godse from the CDs of archives. (Case No.: CIC/SH/A/2015/900266-SA, Hearing Date: 09.02.2017)

 

RTI applicant Ashutosh Bansal had sought to know the details of persons and organisation responsible for assassination of Mr. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in 1948 along with copy of charge sheet issued against Nathuram Godse and copy of statement given by Nathuram Godse in court during trial, etc.

 

Information Commissioner Sridhar Acharyulu said, "One may disagree with Nathuram Godse and his co-accused but we cannot refuse disclosure or circulation of his opinion.”

 

 "At the same time, neither Nathuram Godse nor the holder of his theme or opinion can go to the extent of killing a person whose philosophy he cannot agree with," Sridhar Acharyulu said in his order.

 

Although neither the Delhi Police nor the National Archives cited any objection on the disclosure of the information, Acharyulu said that the information sought does not attract any of the exemption clauses.

 

He said since the information is more than 20-years-old, it cannot be withheld unless it attracts section 8(1)(a) of the RTI Act which prohibits disclosure of information that prejudicially affects security of the State or relations with foreign countries. Acharyulu said in the present case, even section 8(1)(a) does not apply as the argument that the disclosure of Nathuram Godse's statement could lead to enmity between Hindu and Muslim communities would not apply.

 

He said Mahatma Gandhi's life, character and image as a champion of peace, Indian Independence and Hindu-Muslim unity cannot be tarnished either by his physical elimination or writing hundreds of pages of adverse analysis of his policies.

 

 "The Commission also directs the NAI to place the index of records available now with it about the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi on its official website along with the procedure to gain access, and recommends development of an archive to include present digitised records and collect as many as possible from various sources to be part of their disclosures under Section 4(1)(b)," said Acharyulu.

 

He directed the NAI to provide certified copies of the charge sheet and Godse’s statement from the CDs of the archives as sought by the appellant upon payment of copying charges at Rs two per page, within 20 days from the date of receipt of this order.

 

PART B IRTI ACT, 2005

-   BPL applicants have to pay for photocopies above 50 pages

 

The applicants belonging to Below Poverty Line (BPL) category will no longer be able to seek unlimited photocopies of desired information under the Right To Information (RTI) Act.

 

In a recent circular, the state general administration department (GAD) has instructed all public institutions that BPL applicants should be given only 50 pages of photocopies of desired information free of cost and thereafter normal charge of Rs. 2 be recovered from them, along the lines of other applicants. The GAD circular refers to a slew of recommendations that the state information commission had made in the past and clubbed in the annual report of 2016.

 

"The BPL applicant should be given access to desired information free of cost. The BPL applicant should be requested to visit office of public institution concerned (for file inspection). If the number of pages is more, the applicant should be provided upto 50 photocopies without any charges. If the number of pages is more, regular fees be charged," Rajendra Jadhav, deputy secretary of GAD, said in a latest circular.

 

Activists said certain incidents have been noticed wherein non-BPL candidates seek desired information through BPL candidates just because of the exemption regarding providing free photocopies.

 

A public information officer associated with the regional level public institution said people may not believe it, but they have to arrange photocopies in bunches. In many cases, the information disseminated does not serve any public interest, the official said.

(Source: Times of India, 8 February, 2017)

 

 

PART C IINFORMATION ON & AROUND

-   SBI-SBT merger likely to be delayed

 

The merger of State Bank of India with its associate banks, including the State Bank of Travancore (SBT), is likely to be delayed further as these banks are yet to get the mandatory clearance from the Competition Commission of India (CCI).

 

The Union Cabinet had given its approval for the merger on Wednesday last. However, information sought under the Right to Information Act (RTI) says that these banks have not yet received any clearance from the CCI.

 

“The commission has not given permission for the takeover of subsidiary banks — State Bank of Travancore, State Bank of Mysore, State Bank of Patiala, State Bank of Hyderabad, and State Bank of Bikaner & Jaipur,” the CCI stated in its reply to a query.

 

It also said that these “five subsidiary banks have not sought permission from the CCI either individually or collectively for the takeover.”

 

To another query, the CCI clarified that the Union government on January 8, 2013, had exempted such banking company in respect of which the Centre had issued notifications u/s. 45 of the Banking Regulation (BR) Act 1949 from the application of the provisions of Section 5 and 6 of the Act in public interest. That means, since the acquisition of the associate banks is being done u/s. 35 of the SBI Act, these banks have not been exempted from the Competition Act.

 

Section 45 of the BR Act is pertaining to banks which were declared moratorium by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI).

However, in the draft Scheme of Acquisition of Associate Banks by the SBI, it has been stated that the acquisition has been exempted from the Competition Act. The petitioners had challenged this contention and had filed complaint before the CCI.

 

In their complaint, the petitioners argued that the proposed merger of SBT and other four associate banks were in violation of the Competition Act 2002 in letter and spirit, and purpose and intent in that the proposal was for creating monopoly and destroying competition.

(Source: The Hindu, 19 February, 2017)

 

- Town planning officer fined Rs. 25,000 under RTI Act

 

State Information Commission chairman Shankar Patil has slapped a penalty of Rs. 25,000 on V. N. Karekar, town planning officer in Belagavi Urban Development Authority(Buda), presently serving at Hubballi Dharawad Urban Development Authority in the same position, on the grounds of negligence and malafide intention of not sharing information under the Right to Information Act.

 

At a public hearing at the deputy commissioner's office, Justice Patil observed that the designated information officer of the Buda had not the shared the information even after three years, which indicates dereliction of duty and malafide intention not to share the information with the public.

 

Advocate Nagappa Sogalad who sought information on the eligibility criteria of appointment of members for Buda was not provided the information since past three years. In this connection, the state commission also instructed Buda to provide information in accordance with the Act in 2014. Observing gross negligence on the part of VN Karekar, the state commission chief imposed a penalty u/s.27 of the Act which should be remitted within 10 days.

 

In another case, a show-cause notice will be served to BG Mujawar, retired assistant sub-inspector attached to Hirebagewadi police station, as he had provided wrong information to the applicant. Chairman Shankar Patil said that of 31 cases, 15 were disposed of and the remaining cases were adjourned. Expressing concern at the number of applications with the commission, he said that the public as well as government officers have failed to understand the act. "Often people come with grievance applications on which the commission doesn't have authority to act," he said.

 

(Source: Times of India, 14 February, 2017)

 

-   ‘Illegal’ denotifications cost BDA Rs. 400 crore

 

A right to information (RTI) application has revealed that 38 acres of government land in Arkavathy Layout, worth at least Rs. 400 crore, has been illegally denotified and handed over to private parties by the Bangalore Development Authorities (BDA) officials. The series of handovers began after one person managed to denotify 2,500 sq. ft. within this area, and others followed suit until the whole of 38 acres were guzzled. Now, after the RTI revelation, a complaint has been lodged to get back this government property located near Thanisandra, KR Puram. The areas come under survey numbers 92, 93 and 114 (old survey number-92/4) and are part of a complaint lodged by the Arkavathy Anti-De-Notification Action Committee. J. Ashok Kumar, who heads the forum, is fighting against the scam, and has taken up the issue with the administration, lodging a complaint with the Bengaluru East Tahsildar. The tussle over the 38 acres started almost 20 years ago. After an initial investigation by the BDA, it was declared that the property belonged to the government, and the owner was the Bengaluru East Tahsildar. Over the years, several people had built upon these acres and had started claiming its plots. When the government declared that this was its land, a few individuals approached the High Court in 2005-06, staking their claim. The court had then ruled that anyone who had bought the site (within the disputed 38 acres) before the government’s gazette notification issued in 2001-02, would be allowed an alternative site by the BDA.

However, in April 2006, misusing and twisting this order, one M. Ranga Rao from Byarasandra allegedly got his 2,400 sq ft plot denotified by the BDA, illegally.

 

“The High Court in its order had clearly stated that only those who had bought their site or house before the gazette notification in 2001-02 would be given their property back, and that too after taking a certain fee. But after Ranga Rao managed to get his site denotified by paying a bribe, the BDA completely denotified the whole of 38 acres. This was clearly done by BDA officials working in cahoots with land sharks. The BDA has incurred a loss of Rs. 400 crore because of its own people,” said Ashok Kumar, chairman of the Arkavathy Anti-De-Notification Action Committee. “After collecting all the documents, I gave a complaint to the administration concerned, but no one seems to care,” he said.

 

According to Ashok, the land sharks used the General Power of Attorney (GPA) to take away the land. A committee formed to give the report on this particular land after High Court gave its verdict, said there were many buildings on this property already. It was clear that the committee too colluded with the land sharks and vanished after taking a lot of money, alleged Ashok.

 

“An enquiry should happen on this and the land has to be taken back immediately. Otherwise, if people want to keep their houses, they should pay up as per the current market value,” he said.

 

Both the BDA and Revenue Department, to whom the case was referred after the complaint, didn’t want to come on record. But they said they would take up the issue with the department secretary, deputy commissioner and with the BDA commissioner.

(Source: Bangalore Mirror, 24 February, 2017)

 

-   Only information can be sought under RTI Act, says PIO

 

In a bizarre reply to an application filed under the Right to Information Act of 2005, the Public Information Officer (PIO)-cum-Under Secretary of Tamil Development and Information Department has told the applicant that he
can only seek “information” and not “ask questions” under the Act.

 

R. Lakshminarayanan, secretary of Bharathiyar Thinkers’ Forum, a private organisation based here, had asked the PIO if there were any reasonable hurdles in implementing orders passed by the Madras High Court Bench here on April 22 last directing the government to start short duration correspondence courses to teach Tamil to non-Tamils across the globe at a nominal cost.

 

Replying to this, the Under Secretary A. Amaresan has said that the applicant’s plea was in the form of a query and not information. “Therefore, the answer to your question cannot be provided in the form of information under Section 2(1) of the rules framed under the RTI Act,” the officer said.

He added that only documents, official notes, e-mails, proposals, instructions, press releases, circulars, orders, diary notings, agreements, statements, application formats, information in electronic format, and so on, would fall under the definition of the term ‘information’ which could be provided under the Act.

 

The PIO also gave a similar reply to another question on the time it would take for the Tamil Development Department to implement the court order and consequently sanction necessary funds to the Tamil University in Thanjavur for starting the correspondence courses.

 

“This plea of yours is also in the form of a question and not information. Therefore, it cannot be answered,” he said.

(Source: The Hindu, 23 February, 2017)

 

-   Confusion abounds: Now HC Bench says co-ops fall under RTI

 

Judgment of the Aurangabad Bench of the Bombay High Court, as reported by RTI activist Vinita Deshmukh in Moneylife has added to the confusion over the issue if cooperatives fall under RTI.

 

According to Moneylife the court reiterated that urban cooperative banks, cooperative financial institutions and other cooperative societies are bound by the Act that Cooperative institutions are bodies created by the statute. Right from the registration till the liquidation there is control over these institutions by the authority created under the same Act.

 

The High Court observation came in response to a petition filed by the Association of Jalgaon Zilla Urban Cooperative Banks, Credit Societies and others.

 

Responding to the issue columnist I. C. Naik has more than once said “ In its Order dated 7 October, 2013 the Supreme Court in Thalappalam Ser. Coop. Bank Ltd. & Others vs. State Of Kerala & Ors.: CIVIL APPEAL NO. 9017 OF 2013 at Para 54 reproduced below basis of determining whether a Cooperative Society/Bank is covered by the RTI Act.

 

54. We, therefore, hold that the Cooperative Societies registered under the Kerala Co-operative Societies Act will not fall within the definition of “public authority” as defined under Section 2(h) of the RTI Act and the State Government letter dated 5.5.2006 and the circular dated 01.06.2006 issued by the Registrar of Co-operative Societies, Kerala, to the extent, made applicable to the societies registered under the Kerala Co-operative Societies Act would stand quashed in the absence of materials to show that they are owned, controlled or substantially financed by the appropriate Government. Appeals are, therefore, allowed as above, however, with no order as to costs.”

 

On the other hand, the Aurangabad bench of the High Court observed” The authority steps in to take decisions on the rights of the members. The authority has control over the manner in which funds are invested or over the distribution of the funds. Such institutions cannot act independently and the apex bodies are created for such institutions.” Naik says “ it's a matter of fact as to whether the cooperative/bank under question is owned, controlled or substantially financed by the appropriate Government which will answer the question.

 

If we go earlier in 2014 echoing the UPA govt. stance, the NDA government also ruled out bringing co-operatives under the ambit of the Right to Information Act.

 

“The government is not planning to bring in any amendment in the Right to Information Act to include co-operative societies under it”, the Lok Sabha was informed by the minister of state for personnel Jitendra Singh to a question from a member seeking to know whether the government is planning to amend the RTI Act and bring co-operative societies under the transparency law.

 

The Minister also said “Co-operative societies do not fall within the ambit of Right to Information Act, the Supreme Court had ruled last year while quashing a Kerala government circular to bring all such societies within the scope of the transparency law.”

 

Further adding to the confusion, the Haryana state information commission  said  in  2015  "all cooperative banks will be considered public authority and will therefore come under the ambit of the right to information Act." A larger bench of the commission pronounced this opinion reading a judgment delivered by the Supreme Court
in 2013.

 

According to the commission, as the cooperative bank’s funds are raised through debentures, Nabard is their main source of finance and their borrowings are guaranteed by the state govt; they are covered under the right to information Act.

 

(Source: Indian Cooperative, 22 February, 2017)

-   Arunachal official fined for not furnishing info

 

The Arunachal Pradesh Information Commission (APIC) has imposed a penalty of Rs. 25,000 on the director of agriculture, Hage Kanu, for not furnishing information to an information seeker.

 

While imposing the penalty u/s. 20(1) of the Right to Information Act, 2005, the APIC in a release stated that appellant Biki Mangmi filed a petition on June 30, 2016, seeking information from the director regarding funds allocation and details of work executed, along with the names of firms and work orders.

 

However, the director failed to respond even after several notices were issued by the APIC directing him to furnish the information.

 

(Source: Times of India, 24 February, 2017)

 

-   No info on number of accounts with large deposits post November 8: RBI

 

The Reserve Bank of India is unaware of the number of bank accounts that saw deposits upwards of Rs. 2.5 lakh between November 8 and December 30 last year, the central regulator has said.

 

The RBI’s admission came in reply to a query under the Right to Information Act.

 

"In reply to my RTI application, the Department of Currency Management of the Central bank on February 17 said it did not have the figure of bank accounts in which more than Rs. 2.5 lakh were deposited in demonetised notes of Rs. 500 and Rs. 1,000," said Chandrashekhar Gaud, an activist from Neemuch district of Madhya Pradesh.

 

The reply included co-operative banks.

 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced on November 8 that his government was invalidating old banknotes of Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000. The announcement sent millions of people in the country scurrying to financial institutions to have their old banknotes either exchanged or deposited.

(Source: Tribune India, 22 February, 2017)

 

RTI Clinic in March 2017: 2nd, 3rd, 4th Saturday, i.e. 11th, 18th and 25th - 11.00 to 13.00 at BCAS premises