Any Government That Is Corrupt And Arbitrary Will Not Promote RTI Law

Any Government That Is Corrupt And Arbitrary Will Not Promote RTI Law: Aruna Roy
Any Government That Is Corrupt And Arbitrary Will Not Promote RTI Law: Aruna Roy

The government is considering a proposal to amend the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005 to frame rules on salaries and services of Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and Information Commissioners (ICs) .

According to the proposed amendment, the salaries, allowances and other terms and conditions of service of the CIC and ICs “shall be such as may be prescribed by the central government”. The tenure of information commissioners at the centre and the states is proposed to be amended from “a term of five years” to “terms as may be prescribed by the central government”.

RTI activists have strongly opposed amendments to the Act saying they are aimed at lowering the stature of Information Commissions from equivalent to the Election Commission (EC) and to do away with their five years fixed tenure.

In an interview to Outlook, social activist Aruna Roy said the proposed changes will reduce the commission to the level of any other department in the government.

Roy said RTI law has become a huge worry for all those who are corrupt and misuse power in the government. And therefore, there has been a desire to neutralise it.

“Any government that is corrupt and arbitrary will not promote the RTI law,” she said.

Excerpts from the interview:

The government is planning to bring amendments to the RTI Bill. What do these proposed changes mean?

The most dangerous thing about these amendments is that it’s undermining the independence of the Information Commission and reducing it to the level of a department of the government of India…If the independence of all institutions are going to be whittled down by the government, then democratic institutions created to maintain a check and balance, and to ensure that the constitutional rights are delivered will be nullified.

Do you think the proposed changes will destroy the RTI act completely?

I think they will. The commission as a body has many functions. One is to implement the RTI act, but also to safeguard the peoples right to information.

If these changes come into effect, will they interfere with RTI activists freedom to make independent decisions?

Yes, absolutely… The Act has given us, for the first time in independent India, the people of this country have gained the right to be part of a process of democratic government- because we know then what is happening inside the government. We have the right to understand how our sovereignty is being used or misused. We have the right to know which individual is taking what decision – it’s a complete window into the functioning of government in our name. So. the fear of every government, is that they will be monitored by notions of justice and equality, that we hav egiven to ourselves in the Constitution.

We know that RTI is one of the most important tools for the citizens of this country. Why do you think the government is proposing changes to the Act?

For the first time in the history of independent India, there is an Act which gives us the right to monitor the government about corruption and arbitrary use of power at every single point of its transactions. There are between 60 and 70 lakh users of the law every year. They are being monitored and checked in many different parts of India, in many different departments, and at many different points of interaction between citizens and the state. In each one of these interactions, the government is held accountable and liable in one way or the other…Just look at the millions of sets of eyes looking into the system, to monitor whether it’s doing right or wrong.

The law has become a huge worry for all those who are corrupt and who misuse power in government…Any decent democracy will promote it (the RTI law); any givernment that is corrupt and arbitrary will not promote the RTI law.

If the proposed changes to the Bill are made, what will be the next step of Commission and activists?

We already had one agitation yesterday (Wednesday). We will now agitate all over the country, and processes of public protest have already begun. And of course, we finally have recourse to the vote. Any government that goes against the RTI will never receive the mandate of its people. Any government which threatens the RTI will become a terribly unpopular one, as it will be seen to be blatantly standing up for corruption and for the arbitrary use of power.

https://www.outlookindia.com/website/story/any-democracy-that-is-corrupt-and-arbitrary-will-not-promote-rti-law-aruna-roy/313772

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Dilution of the RTI act by SC judgements

A meeting was convened to discuss the mis-interpretation of the RTI act due to precedence setting judgments made by the Supreme Court. Several prominent RTI activists were present for this meeting.

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Supreme Court & RTI – Powerpoint presentation

http://www.livelaw.in/supreme-court-judgments-on-rti-act-2005-wither-transparency/

CMO fined for delaying info sought under RTI

Information Officer fined ₹25,000 for not providing details of grievances filed on govt. portal to former CIC

Mumbai: Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’s claim of bringing transparency to the administration received a setback, with the State Information Commissioner (SIC) imposing a fine of ₹25,000 on a Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) staff member for not providing information sought under the Right to Information (RTI) Act within the time period stipulated for it.

The fine pertains to information sought under RTI by former Central Information Commissioner (CIC) Shailesh Gandhi on November 13, 2015, on the number of grievances filed and redressed on the State government portal, and a copy of these grievances on a CD. “This started a unique passing-the-parcel game,” Mr. Gandhi said.

The government’s General Administration Department (GAD) said it didn’t have the information and forwarded the query to the CMO, which sent it back to the GAD on December 4. On January2, the GAD forwarded the query to the Technical Directorate, saying the portal was developed with the latter’s co-operation. On April 2, 2016, five months after he filed the RTI application, Mr. Gandhi received a reply from the CMO informing him that 9,889 complaints were received between May 1, 2015 and October 31, 2015, and 9,460 of these have been resolved.

‘Portal a facade’

Mr. Gandhi said, “This indicated that the grievance portal is perhaps just a façade, since nobody seemed to know who is dealing with it. The PIO in the CMO gave part-information and claimed the grievances were given in confidence by a foreign government. Grievances are ‘secret’ secrets. Then, the reason for not giving detailed information was put down to intrusion on the privacy of the complainants.” He then filed a second appeal to the SIC.

In its order on November 3, 2017, two years after the application was first filed, SIC Ajit Kumar Jain imposed a fine of ₹25,000 on the CMO’s Public Information Officer (PIO) for the delay in providing information within the stipulated time frame.

During the proceedings, the PIO claimed the CM’s Officer on Special Duty (OSD) Kaustubh Dhavase was looking after the online portal Aaple Sarkar and it was him who had asked her to transfer the application to GAD. The SIC. however, observed that the file had no notings supporting the claim.

http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/cmo-fined-for-delaying-info-sought-under-rti/article20405487.ece

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Cooperative Societies Are Bound by RTI Act, Says Bombay HC order

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Notwithstanding the myriad opinions and interpretations of several court judgments on whether cooperative societies come under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, a recent landmark judgment of the Aurangabad Bench of the Bombay High Court reiterates that urban cooperative banks, cooperative financial institutions and other cooperative societies are bound by the Act.
The Association of Jalgaon Zilla Urban Cooperative Banks, Credit Societies and other financial institutions registered under the Maharashtra Cooperative Societies Act 1960, appealed in a petition to the High Court that cooperative institutions cannot be treated as public authority under the RTI Act.
They contended, “In view of the provisions of Section 2(h) and Section 8 of the Right to Information Act 2005, cooperative institutions registered under the Cooperative Societies Act cannot be treated as public authority.”
They also argued that under banking rules too certain information cannot be disclosed. Their contention was that in view of the provision of section 34A of the Banking 3 WP 1304 of 2008 Regulation Act, 1949, these institutions are not bound to disclose certain information which, according to them, is confidential in nature.
The petitioners also argued that “these institutions are not receiving financial aid from the Government, directly or indirectly, and so the provisions of the Act cannot be made applicable to them”.
The petitioners, in their prayer, urged the court to declare cooperative societies and others as “not public authorities” under the RTI Act. Following was their submission:
  • The urban cooperative banks, cooperative financial institutions, Patpedhis (credit cooperative societies) and other cooperative societies, which are registered under the Maharashtra Cooperative Societies Act 1960, are not public authorities within the meaning of Section 2(h) of the Right to Information Act.
  • These institutions stand exempted from disclosure of information u/s 8)1 (d), (e) and (j) of the Right to Information Act
  • That the court issue a writ, order or direction restraining the officers of the cooperative department from supplying any information to the members or general public which is, according to the said societies, confidential in nature.
  • The court, pending the hearing and final decision of the writ petition, restrain the respondent from disclosing any information other than the balance sheet and profit and loss accounts of the cooperative societies, urban banks and Patpedhis to the general public under Right to Information Act.
In its order issued on 13 February 2017, the court observed that cooperative institutions, are registered under the Maharashtra Cooperative Societies Act, 1960 and that cooperative societies and other such institutions are created by a statute; that they have a public authority over them which is the final decision-making body.
Certain Articles of the Constitution also show that such institutions are discharging the duty of the State and there is an ‘authority’ over them, which is the final decision-making body and the co-operatives are bound to supply information (all of which comes under Section 2 (f) of the RTI Act), to this authority. Hence, cooperative societies and other such institutions are bound to supply information under the RTI Act, the HC said.
The High Court observed:
  • Cooperative institutions are bodies created by the statute. But right from the registration till the liquidation there is control over these institutions by the authority created under the same Act. 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.
  • Even Articles 38,39,43 and 48 of the Directive Principles of State Policy of the Constitution show that to some extent such institutions are discharging the duty of the State
  • The provisions of the Maharashtra Cooperative Societies Act show that the authority under the Act can do the audit and inquire into irregularities. If loss is caused to the institution, by the directors, promoters etc., the authority can assess the damage, and the loss caused to the institution can be recovered from those persons. Under the Act, the authority can suspend the managing committee and remove its members. For all these and other purposes mentioned in the Cooperative Societies Act, the cooperative institution is bound to supply the record to the authority.
  • The provisions of the Maharashtra Cooperative Societies Act, if read with the definition of information given in Section 2(f) of the Act, makes it clear that everything which is mentioned in the definition of information needs to be supplied by the cooperative institution to the authority created under the Cooperative Societies Act. The definition of ‘Public Authority’ given in Section 2(h) shows that such public authority can be created by any law made by the State Legislature. It is already observed that the officers like Registrar and his subordinate officers are appointed under the Cooperative Societies Act.
The High Court therefore concluded that, “…the reliefs claimed in the present petition cannot be granted as the reliefs can be used 14 WP 1304 of 2008 directly or indirectly by the cooperative institutions to deny the supply of the information… This Court holds that no relief which is claimed in the present petition can be given to the petitioner.”
RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar, who has been pursuing this issue for long, says, “After the Supreme Court’s order in Thalappalam Services Cooperfative Bank Ltd. against State of Kerala, public authorities and public information officers (PIOs) said the RTI act was not applicable to cooperative societies. Actually even in the Thalappalam case, the apex court, in paragraph 52 of its judgment, had categorically stated that the PIO of Registrar of Cooperative Societies is duty bound to supply the information. But even then PIOs and cooperative societies were denying the information sought under RTI.”
Below is a copy of the order passed by Aurangabad Bench of the Bombay High Court…
 Click Here for the full order
vinita-deshmukh
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting, which she won twice in 1998 and 2005, and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book, “To The Last Bullet – The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart – Ashok Kamte”, with Vinita Kamte, and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)
http://www.moneylife.in/article/cooperative-societies-are-bound-by-rti-act-says-bombay-hc-order/49794.html