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If you buy electricity from Reliance Energy, you can now get any information from the parent company — Reliance Infrastructure — using the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005.

The state information commission has stated that suburban power supplier Reliance Infrastructure (RInfra) comes under the ambit of the RTI Act.

Justifying the order, the commission said though RInfra is a private company, Reliance Energy provides essential public service, and hence should come under the Act.

On Tuesday, state chief information commissioner Vilas Patil, state information commissioner (Amravati bench) Bhaskar Patil and state information commissioner (Nashik bench) M Shah directed RInfra to appoint a public information officer and a first appellate authority.

The order comes in the wake of a complaint filed by RTI activist Anil Galgali.

In his RTI application to Reliance Energy, Galgali had sought details of his electricity meter connection.

Reliance Energy declined to provide the information saying it is a private firm and the RTI Act does not apply to it.

The firm’s vice-president argued that since the government does not provide monetary or any other kind of assistance nor is the firm formed by the constitution or any act of the state or assembly, it is not a public company and hence out of the ambit of the Act.
Galgali counter-argued that as RInfra was formed under the Company Act and functioned as a public utility, it should come under the Act.

After hearing both sides, the commission stated that since the company was formed and given work under the Electricity Act, 2003, and supplying power is a public service under this Act.

“I am happy with the state information commission’s order as it is in favour of the public. It is a win situation for Mumbaikars,” said Galgali.

The order stated that other power suppliers in the state come under the RTI Act as they “supply essential service” and so consumers buying electricity from them were at an advantage as they could seek information.

The commission also referred to the definition of the word licence, which is given to REL for supplying electricity. “If a license is coupled with a grant or interest than the grantor cannot in general revoke it so as to defeat the grant to which it is incident. In order to grant license a man need not be its owner,” the order stated.

ash“We have received the said order. It is being examined and will take steps as available under the law,” said the spokesperson of RInfra.

http://www.dnaindia.com/mumbai/report_reliance-infra-comes-under-rti-info-panel_1567799

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The Madras high court has held that assets details of IAS officers furnished to the government in a sealed cover can be made available under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. Inspection of asset details of the officer concerned can be allowed as well, it further held.

An appeal by V Madhav said that on February 12, 2009, he applied to the public information officer (PIO) of the public department seeking permission to inspect the five latest statements of assets’ disclosure submitted by 10 IAS officers, including the chief secretary. It was rejected by the PIO and the appellate authority on the grounds that the information was exempt under Section 8(1) (j) of the RTI Act.

The information commission contended that the assets declaration related details were personal information, the disclosure of which would have no relationship to any public activity or interest or which would cause unwarranted invasion of privacy of the individual. The commission also said the information furnished in a sealed cover is “held” by the government to ensure confidentiality.

While the government pleader said the information about the IAS officers in question was made available on the website as per a circular of the Union ministry of personnel , public grievances and pension dated April 4, 2011, V Krishna Ananth, counsel for the petitioner, said the information on a website may not be authentic as it was liable for hacking. The information also had no evidentiary value , he said.

In light of the direction from the central government on disclosure of assets by IAS officers, counsel contended there could not be any impediment for the Commission to allow the appellant to access information sought for in his application. In its order, the bench of justices D Murugesan and K K Sasidharan said, “We find force in the above submission.”

Passing orders, the bench held that the disclosure of such information under the provisions of the act would ensure a culture of openness. A sound administrative system leading to efficiency and effectiveness could be achieved. It would further result in involving a better form of government, the bench said, adding that the relief sought for in the writ appeal be considered.

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New Delhi, Jul 1, DHNS

In a decision that may embarrass an embattled UPA government, the Central Information Commission on Friday held that the Centre’s action in placing the CBI on the list of organisations exempted to provide information under the RTI Act was against the spirit of the Constitution.

The CIC order comes within weeks of the Union Government’s controversial notification issued by the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) on June 9 which put the CBI in the second schedule of the Right to Information Act 2005. This enabled the CBI exemption available to “security and intelligence” organisations like IB and RAW from the scope of the transparency law.

The June order of the government was criticised by various quarters as CBI is already investigating cases relating to Common Wealth Games 2010 and 2G spectrum scam. “This commission rules that the said notification of 9/6/2011 is not in consonance with the letter or spirit of section 24 of the RTI Act, since it constricts the citizen’s fundamental right in a manner not sanctioned by the law,” Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi said.

The Commission quashed the notification by allowing a complaint filed by Justice (Retired) R N Mishra seeking copy of the FIR and other details relating to Ghaziabad Provident Fund scam case which had put several members of judiciary including the higher judiciary under the scanner for allegedly swindling employees’ money for personal gains. After going through the functioning and mandate of the CBI, the apex panel under the transparency law ruled that CBI is not an “intelligence or security organisation”.

“Since no reasons have been advanced, citizens are likely to deduce that the purpose of including CBI in the second schedule was to curb transparency and accountability from the investigations of several corruption cases against high-ranking government officers,” Gandhi said, noting that the CBI was a multi-disciplinary investigating agency. Rejecting the CBI plea, the commission directed the probe agency to provide the details sought by Mishra by July 25.

Also the notification issued by DoPT on June 9 would be construed as prospective in nature only without there being any “express stipulation” in it.

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The Government says it is working for a tough anti-corruption body through the Lokpal Bill. But it is now defending its action of shielding the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) from the Right to Information (RTI) Act.  “The CBI is investigating various matters which involve national security. Therefore based on the opinion given to us by the Attorney General, we have done it (exempted the CBI),” V Narayanaswamy, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, told NDTV on Monday.

The CBI has refused to make public, the information about disproportionate asset cases against government servants, including bureaucrats and ministers. The Centre, through a notification issued on June 9, had placed the agency in the organisations listed in the second schedule of Section 24 of the RTI Act, which also comprises intelligence and security agencies. “The Government of India…has placed the Central Bureau of Investigation at Serial Number 23 of the second schedule of the Right to Information Act, this act is not applicable to the Central Bureau of Investigation,” CBI joint director Prabodh Kumar said in reply to an RTI application filed by activist SC Agarwal.

Mr Agrawal had filed four RTI applications, three months before CBI got exemption, seeking details of corruption cases accusing officials and ministers of amassing disproportionate assets. The questions asked by him pertained to recoveries done by the agency from the accused and fine slapped on corrupt officials on the orders of courts.

The Central Public Information Officer of the agency refused to provide information, saying it was “voluminous”.

In his appeal before the Central Information Commission, Mr Agrawal pleaded that since his petition and first appeal were filed prior to date of notification exempting CBI, provisions of the said notification should not be applicable to his case. “Even otherwise, section 24 of RTI Act clearly stipulates that information pertaining to allegations of corruption and human rights violation shall be provided even if some organisations are placed in second schedule of RTI Act,” Mr Agarwal said.

Former Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah has criticised the CBI’s stand.  “Exempting CBI would amount to misapplication of Section 24 of the RTI Act much against the intention of Parliament, and militating against a primary objective of the Act, which as stated in the Objects and Reasons is ‘to contain corruption’,” Mr Habibullah said. The former Chief Information Commissioner who demitted office on September 30 last year said apprehensions cited in some quarters that through RTI Act CBI could be “compelled” to give sensitive information about probe cases, and reveal identity of crucial witness, are “mistaken” as section 8 of the RTI Act provides safeguards against such information.

CBI sources told PTI that the provisions of section 8 of the RTI Act, 2005 gives case-to-case basis of application of exemption. However, they said it is not possible to decide in such a fashion on secrecy of individual documents or pieces of information. “Seemingly innocuous or unobjectionable” pieces of information might seem harmless but when placed in conjunction with each other, the “mosaic of a dangerous picture” affecting the security of the nation can emerge, they said.

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The Central Information Commission (CIC) has said a government order allowing transfer of RTI applications from a public authority to another was “not consistent with law”. It also allowed disclosure of information related to fuel expenses of Cabinet ministers, state ministers and Opposition party leader.

In its June 2008 circular on transferring RTI applications, cases in which information is scattered across number of public authorities, the department of training and personnel (DoPT) had said such transfers can be allowed only once.

The point was raised by the cabinet secretariat during a hearing of a plea filed by Mumbai based RTI activist Chetan Kothari. The cabinet secretariat had said information is not maintained centrally, and is scattered across different public authorities.

Citing the DoPT order on transfer of application, it had asked Kothari to file separate RTI applications with different departments to get the information.

Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi, however, said, “There are numerous instances where RTI applications have been transferred by one public authority to another and none of them appears to know where the information is.”

Gandhi said in this scenario for public authorities to take a position that they would only transfer to one public authority is “unreasonable”, and the law does not state this. “There is nothing in the (RTI) Act which would shows that Parliament intended that the transfer should only be to one public authority.”

He added, “It also appears that DoPT’s office memorandum is in contravention of the General Clauses Act 1987 and interpreted Section 6(3) of the RTI Act wrongly… The Commission rules that DoPT’s office memorandum is not consistent with the law.”


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The first state level meet of alumni and students of colleges from AP was held at Maheshwari Complex, Masab Tank, Hyderabad from 10am to 2pm on the 12th of June 2011. It was a wholesome first time experience for Team Asthra to see students and alumni from various colleges.

Minutes of the meeting:

10:20Am- Introductory remarks by Navya

10:25Am- Introduction to Asthra was given by Rakesh and tried to give first hand impression of what we want.

10:35Am- Nutan Thakur told the audience on how RTI can be effectively used and how larger issues can be dealt by networking with other social activists.

10:55Am- Amitabh Thakur asked students to be more vigilant and broad in looking, how the society runs and get updated with the happenings around oneself. He opined that in current situation it is inevitable to be ignorant on issues which have been jeopardizing society. He also questioned the students, “How can corrupt people live in beautiful buildings, spend lavishly with money that is siphoned and have dirt all around their building?” He urged for a community development rather than individual selfishness. He reminded the immense potential students have and what they can achieve if acted together.

11:20Am– V V Laxmi Narayana has urged Asthra to be a active part in policy making and decision making mechanism in a supportive way. He asked Asthra to take up the issue of syllabus revision and try to see that new electives beneficial for society development are brought out in curriculum. He also suggested Asthra not to be a fault finding mission as the authorities will get defensive. Instead, ask them to post all the information on their websites and minimise use of RTI act. He urged citizens to approach ACB and CBI if there are any cases of embezzlement of funds and irregularities.

Though he was on a different note with general perception of students, he said he is an optimist and said, will always encourage transparency in governance. He said implementation of section 4 of RTI act at educational institutions should be first step and rest should follow.

11:45 Am: Rakesh clarified some of the doubts raised by V V Lakshmi Naryana,

1. Is Asthra working on section 4(1)?- Rakesh showed the 5 page document prepared and submitted to registrar of NITW. The same document is more or less applicable to all colleges.

2. Approach of Asthra- Rakesh clarified Lakshmi Narayana on how we were approaching administration at college. Rakesh assured that it was always a healthy dialogue and not a fault finding one.

Meanwhile one of the audiences asked why was CBI trying to join in the list of exempted institutions from RTI?

12:10Pm: Umesh Varma spoke about his experiences in social space and how RTI improved things. He also cautioned citizens to work collectively when working on sensitive issues and not to fall prey to the system.

12:25Pm: Rajendra Lingam gave an introduction what Asthra is doing and illustrated tools which Team Asthra has come out with on its website and also spoke why we need to network and work together.

12:45Pm: The forum was made open to audience to discuss action plan for coming 6 months.

The following points we discussed:

a. Friends from Osmania have asked for awareness sessions at Osmania Universtiy and other colleges. They complained about mess bill and scholarship issues

b. Friends from JNTU Karimnagar too raised the same issue and have mentioned how funds were being diverted at JNTUK

c. Other friends raised issue of illegal tuition fee being collected at private engineering colleges.

After discussion it was concluded to bring RTI awareness sessions among students, get section 4(1)b implemented at colleges, take up the issue of scholarships and mess bills and  lastly bring out more awareness about tuition fee collection at private colleges. 

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The Central Information Commission (CIC) has directed Rajya Sabha to disclose the register of members’ interest submitted by MPs to the Ethics Committee [Please find the order:CIC ORDER]. The information relates to MP’s declarations of Remunerative Directorship, Regular Remunerated Activity, Shareholding of Controlling Nature, Paid Consultancy, Professional Engagement.

The decision was based on an appeal filed by Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) after being denied the information by Rajya Sabha Secretariat claiming that the information was personal in natured and held in fiduciary capacity.

However, the grounds on which the RTI and the 1st Appeal was rejected by the PIO and the Appellate Authority were not found relevant by the Chief Information Commissioner, Mr. Satyananda Mishra.

The information sought included copies of the statements of current members of the Rajya Sabha submitted under ‘register of members’ (business and commercial) interest’. The application also requested information as to how many Rajya Sabha members had given this information and how many hadn’t.

ADR had filed the RTI application with Rajya Sabha Secretariat on July 20, 2009. The RTI when rejected was followed by the 1st appeal which was also rejected by the Appellate Authority. The appellate authority this time added sub section (1) (c) (breach of privilege of Parliament or State Legislature) of section 8 of the RTI Act.

The CIC ruled that, “The knowledge among the citizens about the pecuniary interest of MPs in various companies and other business establishments would help them to keep a better watch on their representatives when they would be with policy and other legislative matters affecting the interests of such companies and business interests”.

This information pertains only to Rajya Sabha MPs as such a rule is not there in Lok Sabha. ADR has sent letters to the Lok Sabha speaker and to the members and  chairman of the Ethics Committee of Lok Sabha requesting them to introduce the register of members’ interest in the Lok Sabha too. We are however yet to hear from them.

As soon as we get this information, we will analyse and share with everyone.

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Corruption has become the household topic these days with almost everybody talking about corruption and how much money our country is loosing because of it. While this is a welcome change, systemic changes will only happen when we stand up and put up a united front against the institutionalized form of corruption system. Towards this, the role of youth and especially students from prestigious colleges becomes very critical. This very thought has and the problems we faced in trying to correct the system at NIT Warangal (previously REC Warangal) has inspired us to start “Asthra”. Our motto is to make the current education system “Transparent and corruption free”. (www.theasthra.org). We started as a group forming members from alumni of NIT Warangal.

We started our initiatives at NIT warangal and were partly successful in making a few changes.

We believe Right to Information is a very potent tool to cleanse our education system. It can unearth a lot of issues in our system and pave way for much needed transparency. This change is possible only when all of us join hands and stand United. We invite you to join us for the first ever state level conference of Asthra on 12th June 2011. The theme of the convention is “Corruption free Education system and the role of RTI.”

Let us all come together to root out corruption from our education system.

Chief Guest : V V LAKSHMI NARAYANA CBI,DIG

VENUE: Sri Ramanujachari hall,1st floor,Maheswari complex,Masab Tank ,Hyderabad

CONTACT:
Email:asthra@live.com; asthranitw@gmail.com
Ph:9885419012(Rakesh Dubbudu) ; 9885789908(Rajendra Lingam);9347840224(Manali)

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The Central Information Commission has asked Rajya Sabha Chairman to take a decision on whether disclosure of file notes, under the RTI Act, on notices and questions received from members will be a breach of Parliamentary privilege.

The transparency panel, while deciding the case of an RTI applicant who had sought to know questions and discussions that took place in the Rajya Sabha against the Central Information Commission, has referred the issue of privilege to the Chairman of the House.

Applicant Anita Chabra had also demanded note sheets prepared by the Secretariat on these questions and notices for discussions received from members. The information was denied by the Secretariat citing section 8(1)(c) of the RTI Act which exempts from disclosure information which would cause a breach of privilege of Parliament or the State Legislature.

“This Commission realises that there is no exact codification of Parliamentary Privilege. In view of this the Commission requests the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha to consider whether giving this information would be a breach of privilege of the Parliament,” Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi said.

He directed that disclosure of information would depend on the decision of Chairman Rajya Sabha.

The Rajya Sabha Secretariat , while declining to disclose the information, had said it works on the behalf of the Chairman and decisions like notices received from the MPs are taken in terms of the Rules of Procedure of the House.

“…and in this process the Secretariat is exercising the powers and functions of Chairman Rajya Sabha. The decisions arrived at in terms of the said rules are privileged and protected from disclosure into the public domain,” the Secretariat said.

It said the control on the business of the house falls with the jurisdiction of the house itself and this is the Parliament Privilege.

“This being so, it is not felt appropriate to divulge the decision taking process in relation to the business of the house,” it said.

Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi said, “This is an interesting proposition but if this is to be accepted, various protection given to certain bodies would be extended far beyond its intended purpose.”

He pointed out when any institution or person denies a citizen’s fundamental right, great care needs to be taken.

“However, the majesty and privilege of the Parliament also have to be respected with equal care for democracy to function properly…If the Honourable Chairman comes to the conclusion that giving this information will not be a breach of privilege of Parliament the PIO is directed to provide the information,” Gandhi held.

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The Central Information Commission has ruled that annual confidential reports of government servants cannot be treated as secret, saying “citizens’ right to information has greater primacy with regard to privacy.” The government has, so far, refused to provide the annual confidential reports (ACRs) by citing the exemption provision of personal information under the Right To Information Act (RTI).

The ACR evaluates the work and performance of a public servant on an annual basis. The labour ministry invoked the clause saying the information had no relation to public interest, while refusing to provide details of ACRs of 17 officials.

VK Sharma of Kolkata had sought information regarding the promotion of these officers in October 2010.

Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi, however, said that privacy is a cultural notion related to social norms and cannot be considered a valid exercise to constrain the citizen’s fundamental right to information.

“Parliament has not codified the right to privacy, so far. Hence, in balancing the right to information of citizens and the individual’s right to privacy, the citizen’s right to information would be given greater weightage,” said Gandhi, in his order.

Gandhi also said information such as property details, conviction or acquittal of a public servant of criminal charges, which is routinely collected by a public authority and provided by public servants, cannot be construed as an invasion of privacy.

“Similarly, citizens have a right to know about the strengths and weaknesses as well as performance evaluation of all public servants,” he said, while asking Prakash Tamrakar, public information officer of the ministry, to provide the information sought.

In addition, the order also said that ACRs were first treated as secret by the British, under the Officials Secrets Act of 1923.

But over the years, the trend has drastically changed, with even the judiciary recognising rights of the citizens to access information to bring transparency and accountability in the functioning of the government.

As per the RTI, the Officials Secrets Act (OSA) is not applicable anymore wherever citizens seek access to information, except the exemption provisions under the information law.

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