right to information (r2i)
part A | decision of high court
- No Absolute Exemption to CBI from the RTI Act
The CBI cannot claim absolute exemption from disclosing information pertaining to allegations of corruption and human rights violations held by it under the RTI Act, the Delhi High Court has held.
The CBI has been denying information citing Section 24 of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, which says that its provisions will not apply on intelligence and security organisations, which also include IB, RAW, NIA and the Enforcement Directorate. The CBI was included in the list by the erstwhile UPA Government. The Act however clearly states that the information pertaining to the allegations of corruption and human rights violation will not fall under the exemption given to these organisations under Section 24 of the RTI Act.
Hyderabad-based RTI activist C. J. Karira had sought information pertaining to corruption in several top offices of the country from the CBI, but the agency had said since it is exempted from the RTI Act, it will not share such records. It had also said that the information on alleged corruption and human rights violation can only be disclosed if the allegations are against any official of the agency. This was an incorrect intrepretation as the RTI Act dealt with information 'held or controlled' by a public authority and does not make any distinction if the allegations of corruption are against its employee or not, the CIC had noted.
In 2012, then Chief Information Commissioner Satyananda Mishra had rejected the claims of the agency saying when it comes to disclosure of information on allegations of corruption, blanket immunity given to the agency from the RTI Act in Section 24 will not apply.
The agency had challenged it in the Delhi High Court. In a judgement, the High Court rejected the argument of the agency and said the allegations of corruption do not attract blanket exemption given to the agency in Section 24.
It has said the information pertaining to allegations of corruption and human rights violation can be denied only if they fell under Section 8(1) of the RTI Act which gives 10 grounds on which information can be denied.
"It is apparent from the plain reading of the first proviso to Section 24(1) of the Act that the information pertaining to allegations of corruption and human rights violation are not excluded from the purview," Justice Vibhu Bakhru pointed out.
The judge also cited a recent order of the High Court which dealt with the information sought from the Intelligence Bureau, also an exempted organisation under the RTI Act.
"... The only conclusion that can be drawn is that, if the information sought pertains to allegations of corruption and human rights violations, it would be exempt from the exclusion clause, irrespective of the fact that the information pertains to the exempt intelligence and security organisations or not, or pertains to an officer of the Intelligence Bureau or not," the bench had said in the order.
Karira, who was present in the court, stated that the information sought by him has now become stale and he should be permitted to file a fresh application. "In the event such application is filed, the petitioner (the CBI) would examine the same. Although it would not be open for the petitioner to claim that information related to allegations of corruption in other organisation is exempt from disclosure, however, the petitioner would be at liberty to examine whether the information sought by the petitioner is exempt under any clauses of Section 8(1) of the RTI Act," Justice Bakhru said. He also upheld the cost put by the Central Information Commission to the CBI.
"The CIC had also awarded cost of Rs. 153 to the petitioner, which the petitioner has not paid as yet. The petitioner is directed to pay the sum along with interest at the rate of 12 per cent per annum from October 31, 2012 till the date of payment. Such payment as directed be paid within a period of four weeks" he said.
PART B | RTI ACT, 2005
- The Brutal Deaths Of Anti-Corruption Activists In India – Vidhi Doshi
In the din of Kalina, a low-income neighborhood in Mumbai with wandering samosa salesmen and street-cricket championships, nobody heard the gunshot ring out in the night.
Bhupendra Vira slumped in his chair. The 62-year-old had known that his anti-corruption work was dangerous. That is why he kept evidence neatly stacked in folders under his bed. That is why he had asked police for protection.
“There was blood everywhere,” said Ranjan Vira, his wife. “I used my scarf to cover his wound. My nightgown was soaked with his blood.”
According to data collected by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, Vira’s killing was one of 60 similar cases in India since 2005, when the Right to Information Act was introduced. The legislation is similar to the United States’ Freedom of Information Act and allows citizens to request the release of information from government officials. But in India, those who invoke the law risk provoking violent retribution.
Vira had been investigating a local property scam; he said the records he uncovered implicated his landlord, Abbas Razzak Khan, and local authorities. He had sent multiple requests to local municipal bodies and filed complaints based on the information he collected — complaints that led to the razing of a number of illegal buildings in the area.
A photo of Bhupendra Vira now hangs over the cot on which he used to sleep. Indians make approximately 4 million to 6 million public-information requests every year, said Anjali Bhardwaj of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information. Right-to-information activists such as Vira have taught themselves to decipher complex legal documents and navigate India’s complicated bureaucracy. They scrutinise through government documents searching for hints of falsification or malpractice.
But there are risks. At least 300 people have been harassed or physically hurt because of their work. Activists say the figure is likely to be a conservative estimate, compiled from news stories, as authorities do not separately record deaths and attacks linked to people’s exercising the right to seek information.
Although India is one of 70 countries with freedom-of-information laws, the killings are “uniquely a South Asian phenomenon,” said Venkatesh Nayak, coordinator of the Access to Information Program at the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative. “It started in India in 2007-2008, and now we are hearing of cases of assault and intimidation from Bangladesh as well.”
According to a recent report by Transparency International, India is the most corrupt country in Asia, with 69 percent of respondents in a survey saying they had obtained public services by paying bribes.
“It’s very critical to understand the nature of corruption in our country,” Bhardwaj said. “It’s unlike Western countries, where you have corruption at the highest level but things work at the lowest level. In India, you have corruption at every single level.”
Like Vira, many have lost their lives. Some have been attacked with knives and machetes. Some have been so badly beaten that they have been paralysed or hospitalised with serious injuries. Others have vanished.
Yet the requests for information keep coming. Many Indians start using the act to seek redress of personal grievances against the government. In one area in southern Delhi, a group started making requests to find out where undelivered food rations were going. In another region, stricken by drought, residents discovered that their local government representative was spending money building fountains instead of ensuring a clean supply of drinking water for the public.
“What people are able to connect with is the link between that information and getting your rations,” Bhardwaj said. “So getting information became a matter of being able to use your other rights.”
Vira’s crusade against corruption started because his landlord had forcibly taken over his steelworks factory, a building he had inherited from his father and used for storage for his stationery shop. According to a complaint that Vira filed with local police in 2010, his landlord and the landlord’s son broke the padlock on the factory door and seized items worth about $4,700.
“I spoke to Mr. Abbas Razzak Khan regarding the same, but he threatened to break hands and legs of myself and my sons. And then Abbas Razzak Khan left, putting his own lock on the shop,” Vira’s statement reads.
Vira suspected that Khan had paid local authorities to allow him to take over properties in the area. To prove it, he started filing right-to-information requests. The requests rattled officials, said Sudhir Gala, Vira’s son-in-law. In another complaint, filed in 2016, Vira describes being threatened by a municipal officer.
An officer investigating the case said police think Vira was killed because of the complaints he made to authorities in his right-to-information requests. The officer declined to give his name because the Vira homicide case is pending and because he is not authorised to speak to the news media.
A trial against Vira’s suspected killers is underway. One of them is Khan, who has been released on bail. His son Amjad is still in jail; police found a gun and bullets in his home. Both pleaded not guilty in the case.
It could be years before the slow-moving judicial system delivers a verdict in Vira’s killing. In the meantime, Ranjan, Vira’s wife, is starting to confront the reality of living her later years without the man she married 40 years ago, when she was 18.
Now, she has two battles to fight: reclaiming her husband’s factory and seeking justice in his killing. “We know we’re right, so we’re willing to risk everything,” she said. But minutes later, her resolve crumbled. “Sometimes I feel I’m ready to go, too,” she said.
The money she earns barely covers her daily costs. “Why go through all this, just to put two rotis in your stomach at the end of the day? For the past week, I haven’t been working,” she added. “I’ve become alone. I feel like running away.”
PART C | INFORMATION ON & AROUND
- ECI agrees to release video of Gujarat Rajya Sabha polls under RTI
In its reply to a query under Right to Information Act, the Election Commission of India has agreed to release video of the Gujarat Rajya Sabha elections. The ECI has also agreed to release the copy of the returning officer's report on Congress' objections.
The ECI, responding to an RTI query by one, Paras Nath Singh, has said that it can release a video recording of the Gujarat Rajya Sabha elections in a CD format upon payment of Rs 50. A certified copy of the report filed by the returning officer with regard to the objections filed by the Congress party on the day of the elections is also available for public consumption, according to the ECI. The five-page report is accessible under RTI. The RTI also seeks information on the Congress party's objections to the returning officer, 167 pages in total over the elections that say Sonia Gandhi's political secretary Ahmed Patel won in a dramatic way.
The RTI query also reveals that the BJP had not filed any written complaint in the matter before the Election Commission. However, the petitioner has been asked to seek the same from the returning officer cum secretary of Gujarat legislative secretariat. On Wednesday, the Election Commission of India told the Supreme Court that elected representatives as voters in the Rajya Sabha polls were not bound by law to vote in the manner desired by their parties. The affidavit was filed in response to a plea by the Gujarat Congress challenging the introduction of NOTA in the Rajya Sabha polls held recently in the state.
- Telangana: Sadaram is Chief Information Commissioner and Murali the Information Commissioner
Former secretary of the State Legislature, S. Raja Sadaram, has been appointed Chief Information Commissioner of the State Information Commission under the Right To Information Act.
A Ph.D. in law, Dr. Sadaram retired as legislature secretary recently. He has been instrumental in the effective functioning of legislature as an adviser to the Chairman of the Legislative Council and Speaker of the Legislative Assembly since the formation of the new State. A non-controversial officer, Dr. Sadaram is known for discharging the administrative and executive functioning of the legislature effectively.
Dr. Sadaram’s name was finalised by a high-level committee headed by Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao, his deputy Mohd. Mahmood Ali and Opposition leader K. Jana Reddy.
The committee which met at Pragati Bhavan on Friday afternoon also approved the name of senior journalist Buddha Murali, with three decades of experience in a Telugu daily, as Information Commissioner.
A seasoned journalist, Mr. Murali is known for his column ‘Janantikam’ on the political developments of the State, laced with satirical remarks, running continuously for over 15 years. He has also authored two books on the political narrative of the State before and after bifurcation.
The 2 names finalised by the committee had been sent to Governor E.S.L. Narasimhan for his approval and the Governor has cleared the file, according to officials. The State has scope for appointing 10-member body for the Commission.
- Bring political parties under RTI, says former Chief Election Commissioner T. S. Krishnamurthy
Political parties should be brought under the ambit of Right to Information (RTI), says former Chief Election Commissioner T. S. Krishnamurthy. He also flagged practical difficulties in conducting simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and state Assemblies. Asked if political parties should be brought under the RTI, Krishnamurthy said, “Of course, why not? Except their strategic decisions relating to elections, all their administrative decisions, their funding and everything should be subjected to public scrutiny.”
According to him, the policy matters of political parties relating to government formation need not come under the RTI. “What’s required in the RTI is financial aspects and administrative aspects. For example, whether they (political parties) are holding internal elections or not; these should be made available to the public; their account should be made public,” Krishnamurthy told PTI today.
On the Niti Aayog favouring simultaneous Lok Sabha and Assembly polls, he said it’s theoretically very attractive, but practically it has problems vis-a-vis its implementation. “First of all, the Constitution needs to be amended. The availability of central paramilitary forces has to be increased. If these conditions are met, it should not be difficult to hold simultaneous elections,” Krishnamurthy said.”At the moment, as the Constitution stands, it may be difficult because vote of confidence can result in the termination of legislature anytime, which means elections will have to be held depending upon the dissolution of the House,” the former CEC noted.
- Seeking bank employees' personal info exempted under RTI: SC
The Supreme Court has held that seeking information about individual bank employees which were personal in nature and devoid of any public interest, was exempted under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
The court made the observation while allowing an appeal filed by Canara Bank challenging an order of the Kerala High Court directing it to provide information under the Right to Information (RTI) Act about transfers and postings of its entire clerical staff from January 2002 to July 2006.
Relying on an 2013 apex court verdict, a bench comprising Justices R. K. Agrawal and A. M. Sapre said the information sought by a man, who was working as a clerical staff in the bank, was "personal in nature" and exempted from being disclosed under section 8(j) of the RTI Act.
It said neither the man had "disclosed any public interest much less larger public interest involved in seeking such information of the individual employee" nor any finding was recorded by Central Information Commission (CIC) and the high court regarding any public interest in supplying such information to him.
He had in August 2006 made an application to the public information officer (PIO) of the bank under the RTI Act and sought information regarding transfers and postings of the entire clerical staff from January 2002 to July 2006 in all the branches. He had also asked for information regarding personal details of individual employees like date of joining, designation and promotion earned. The bank's PIO had expressed his inability to furnish details sought by him on the ground that it was protected from being disclosed under the provisions of the Act and had no nexus with any public interest. The man had thereafter filed an appeal before the chief public information officer who also dismissed it.
Later, he moved the CIC which in February 2007 asked the bank to furnish the information sought by him. Aggrieved by the order, the bank approached the high court which dismissed its plea while affirming the order of the CIC. The top court allowed the appeal filed by the bank while setting aside the orders of the high court and the CIC.
- Sports Authority of India, anything but sporting
The Sports Authority of India (SAI) is a classic case of apathy towards transparency that is mandated under Section 4 of the RTI Act. As per the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) rules, it is mandatory to publish names of those who failed doping tests. Its rule states: ``MANDATORY PUBLIC DISCLOSURE If you are found to have committed an anti-doping rule violation, that fact will be made public. The idea is that this publicity serves as an important deterrent to doping. An Anti-Doping Organization must, except in the case of a minor, publish the name of an athlete, the nature of the rules violation and the consequences within 20 days after a final ruling. If the final decision was that there was no violation, the decision may only be disclosed publicly with the consent of the athlete.’’ Our NADA (National Anti-Doping Agency) also has the same rules for public disclosure of names of such errant sportspersons.
But here is what our Sports Authority of India (SAI) does; it not only does not publish information, but has brazenly rejected it when sought under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. Here are some queries that were rejected:
- Certified copy of the list of drugs banned by SAI
- List of players tested positive in various events for use of drugs
- Certified copies of all requisition letters that SAI moved to NADA (National Anti Doping Agency) seeking action in the past two years (2015-16)
- Certified copy of various wrestling federations (state/regional/district/selection trial levels/any others come under title of Indian Olympic Association
- And so on…
Since SAI and NADA (National Anti-Doping Agency) did not provide information, the RTI applicant filed second appeals. The Central Information Commissioner (CIC) has now ordered the SAI to provide the information within a certain time frame.
- Right to info key to transparency
Central Information Commissioner Madabhushi Sridhar has termed the right to information an uncompromising right and said it should be implemented in letter and spirit. For government officials, being public servants, there is no scope for any secrecy in their functioning. He was addressing a gathering after the release of his book ‘RTI and misconduct of public servant: Is bribing a family affair’ by RINL CMD P. Madhusudan at a function organised by Writers Academy at Platinum Jubilee Guest House.
He said the book analysed Section 8 (1) of the RTI Act quoting the judgements of several courts. Mr. Madhusudan emphasised the importance of open administration and said official accountability would increase transparency.
Former Vice-Chancellor of DSNLU Y. Satyanarayana said the book dealt with the social responsibility of ending corruption.
DSNLU Vice-Chancellor V. Kesava Rao, who presided, said DSNLU would print 1000 copies of the book translating it into Telugu.
Writers’ Academy Chairman V.V. Ramana Murthy and others participated.
RTI Clinic in October 2017: 2nd, 3rd, 4th Saturday, i.e. 14th, 21st , and 28th 11.00 to 13.00 at BCAS premises. ▄