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Right to Information - Meeting With President Kalam

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  • Shaji John K
    Right to Information - Meeting With President Kalam It was a pleasure to receive invitation from the President of India, Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam to discuss
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 6, 2006
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      Right to Information -
      Meeting With President Kalam

      It was a pleasure to receive invitation from the President of India,
      Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam to discuss our concerns regarding the "Right
      to Information Act." 04:45 P.M. on October 30, 2006 was the appointed
      time for the meeting.

      I and three of my associates had an opportunity to discuss issues
      relating to RTI reforms needed for proper implementation of the "Right
      to Information" laws. The President was very receptive and discussed
      all the concerns we had, in full details, during the 30 minutes
      meeting. The President showed keen interest on the suggestion that the
      whole of India should have the same RTI rules applicable everywhere
      instead each state making its own rules.

      Five major issues were discussed in the meeting. It was mentioned that
      some information commissions were wrongly preventing NGO's from
      seeking information under the RTI Act. We pointed out that when NGO's
      were empowered to move the courts for preventing violation of
      fundamental rights under part three of the constitution then there was
      no reason why there should be any restriction on seeking information,
      especially when legally there was no restriction on NGO's or AoP's to
      seek information.

      The provisions of Section 27 and 28, which empower the "State
      Governments" and "Competent Authorities" to make their own rules were
      also discussed. It was mentioned that these provisions were being
      grossly misused and playing untold bedlam and severely restricting the
      implementation of the RTI Act.

      Issues relating to appointment and condition of service of the
      information commissioners were also discussed. We emphasised that no
      government servant should be eligible for selected for the position of
      information commissioner until three years have elapsed since his/her
      last assignment with the government. There must be the involvement of
      the Supreme or the High court chief justice instead of any other
      minister in the appointment of the information commissioners. We
      insisted that just like the provisions in the Human Rights Act, any
      person who has been an information commissioner must be ineligible for
      further government appointment so as to ensure impartiality in
      selection and decision making of the commission.

      Information Commissions must be promoted as facilitation centres with
      minimum procedural hurdles and not as courts with complicated
      procedure was our emphasis. And lastly the most important issue of no
      amendment which abridges the right to information as enjoyed currently
      under the RTI Act was also discussed.

      The President was most receptive and discussed each of the issues we
      raised point-by-point. All my comrades, namely Mr. Ajit Tomar, Ms.
      Poonam and Mr. Devender Madan contributed to the discussion to make it
      more emphatic and forceful.

      With a concerned President like Dr. Kalam, I am sure the RTI Act is in
      safe hands. Meeting the President assured us that Dr. Kalam is as much
      concerned about the unfettered right to information as me and you are.


      Yours,
      Hemant Goswami
      Chairperson,
      Burning Brain Society



      Copy of the memorandum discussed with Dr. Kalam


      BBS/PoI/1006/016
      October 30, 2006

      His Excellency Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam,
      President of India
      NEW DELHI



      ENSURING PROPER IMPLEMENTATION OF RTI ACT FOR EMPOWERING PEOPLE

      Your Excellency,

      We are thankful to Your Excellency for sparing valuable time to listen
      to the voice of the common man on concerns relating to implementation
      of the "Right to Information Act 2005." The intend of every concerned
      citizen is that the RTI Act should achieve the intended objective of
      empowering the people by helping inch the nation closer in achieving
      the goals enshrined in the Constitution to built an egalitarian
      society based on Justice, Liberty and Equality.

      We on behalf of the common people of India would like to highlight
      some of the issues relating to proper implementation of the "Right to
      Information" for your kind perusal;

      PREVENT EXLUSION OF CIVIL SOCIETY FROM RTI

      In a bizarre interpretation of the "RTI Act" the Central Information
      Commission has held that any NGO, Trust, Society or any other AoP are
      not eligible to seek information under the RTI Act. Such
      interpretation is not only incorrect but also illegal.

      To point out the legal interpretation, it may be mentioned that any
      NGO, Trust, Society or any other AoP can approach the High Court or
      the Supreme Court for protection of the fundamental rights as in Part
      III of the constitution or otherwise. Section 6 and Sec. 18 and 19 of
      the RTI clearly read that any "Person" may seek any information and
      any "Person" may file an appeal with the Information Commission.
      According to Article 367 of the Constitution, for any interpretation
      the "General Clauses Act, 1897" has to be referred. Section 3 (42) of
      the General Clauses Act, 1897 reads that "Person" shall include any
      company or association or body of individuals, whether incorporated or
      not;" (Quoted). Further even Section 11 of the Indian Penal Code 1860
      also defines "Person" as "Person"-The word "person" includes any
      Company of Association of body of persons, whether incorporated or
      not. (Quoted)

      It is quite strange that an NGO can approach the Supreme Court for
      enforcement of rights conferred under the Part III of the constitution
      but are denied the right to seek information under the RTI Act by the CIC.

      Any attempt to exclude NGO's and/or Civil Society from the RTI Act
      shall have a telling effect on achieving the desired ends of the Act.
      This wrong interpretation must be immediately clarified and rectified.

      UNIFORMITY IN RTI RULES

      The provisions of Section 27 and 28 which empower the "State
      Governments" and "Competent Authorities" to make their own rules are
      playing untold bedlam and severely restricting the implementation of
      the RTI Act. These provisions are being grossly misused by many
      "Competent authorities," "State Governments" and the corrupt
      bureaucracy/officers.

      Many States and Competent authorities have prescribed fee as high as
      Rs. 500/- (Instead of Rs. 10/- as prescribed by the Act) for seeking
      information. Complicated forms and payment methods to deposit RTI fee
      has been prescribed which makes it nearly impossible for a common
      citizen (Especially people living under poverty line or those
      illiterate) to seek information. For example Delhi High Court
      prescribes a fee of 500 for seeking information (Rule 10 of "Delhi
      High Court (Right to Information) Rules, 2006") and has reduced the
      fine on delinquent official not furnishing information to Rs. 50/- per
      day (Instead of the prescribed Rs. 250/- per day in the RTI Act).
      Similarly the State of Himachal Pradesh which has a large population
      living in poverty has prescribed two complicated forms "A" and "D" for
      seeking information and inspecting files. Further Himachal Government
      accepts fee only if it be deposited in the Himachal Government
      Treasury and three copies of the treasury receipt are deposited along
      with the two forms. Further if a subject matter related to a matter
      spread over ten years then the applicant has to submit ten separate
      applications, one pertaining to each year and deposit separate set of
      form and fee for each year. Most other State Governments like Haryana
      too have enhanced the RTI fee to Rs. 50/- or above in addition to
      prescribing non-practical and cumbersome rules.

      The power granted to the State Government and Competent Authorities
      under Section 27 and 28 to frame their own rules must be immediately
      recalled and uniform rules by the Central Government must only be
      applicable. People from any part of the country must be enabled to
      seek information from any other part of the country. "One India"
      should have "One rule".

      APPOINTMENT & SELECTION OF THE CIC AND SIC

      The present mode of appointment of the CIC and the SIC as mentioned
      under Section 12 and 15 is not proper and needs to be changed.

      a. The three member recommendation committee for the CIC and
      other Information Commissioners should include the "Chief Justice of
      the Supreme Court" in place of "a Union Cabinet Minister nominated by
      the Prime Minister," as mentioned in Section 12(3)(iii).

      b. The three member recommendation committee for the SIC and
      other Information Commissioners should include the "Chief Justice of
      the High Court of the State" in place of "a Cabinet Minister nominated
      by the Chief Minister," as mentioned in Section 15(3)(iii).

      c. No person from the bureaucracy should be appointed as an
      Information Commissioner unless at-least three years have elapsed
      since his/her last assignment with the government. The precedence of
      appointing the relived "Chief Secretaries" as Information Commissioner
      is detrimental for proper implementation of the RTI Act as many times
      the Information Commissioners have to listen to appeals against the
      same officers with whom he/she still enjoys a very emotional or close
      personal rapport. This often comes in way of passing firm orders
      and/or penalizing delinquent officials.

      d. As far as possible young people involved in social activities
      with a proven track record and who are adequately qualified should be
      considered for the position of Information Commissioners.

      TERM OF SERVICE OF THE CIC AND SIC

      No Information Commissioner should be eligible for any further
      appointment under the Government of the State or under the Government
      of India on ceasing to hold office. To ensure that the members of the
      commission work in an unbiased manner and do their duty without
      expecting any future gains/returns for any "favour granted," including
      such a condition is must.

      Such a condition is also there in Section 24(3) of "Protection of
      Human Rights Act 1993," which reads, "24(3): On ceasing to hold
      office, a Chairperson or a Member shall be ineligible for further
      employment under the Government of a State or under the Government of
      India." A similar condition should be included in the RTI Act.

      NEED TO PROJECT INFORMATION COMMISSIONS AS "FACILITATING BODIES" AND
      NOT AS COURTS

      Most Information Commissioners are projecting themselves akin "Judges"
      and "Information Commission Office" as "Court of Law." This is counter
      productive and gives an impression of an unfriendly and vexatious
      system. Such an image is likely to defeat the objective of the RTI
      Act. Most Information Commissions are also promoting the idea of
      quoting the earlier decisions of Central Information Commission or the
      State Commissions as precedence, just as case laws quoted in courts.
      Our Constitution does not intend to promote such a system and this is
      the reason that only the "High Court" and the "Supreme Court" have
      been designated as courts of record and no other tribunal or quasi
      judicial commission/forum. By promoting a system like that of courts,
      the distance between the "Commission" and "People" is likely to
      increase further which would be eventually fatal to the desired
      objectives. Besides, such a system would also give growth to
      professionals who are expert in manipulating all such systems and
      procedure to their advantage.

      QUESTION OF AMENDMENT

      No amendment which abridges the right to information as enjoyed
      currently under the RTI Act must be allowed to be made. No new
      organisation should be included in the "Second Schedule" of the RTI
      Act. All discussions and contemplations regarding any proposed
      amendment to the RTI Act should be open to public at all times and
      done only after involvement of the civil society which should be
      absolutely open and transparent at all stages.

      Your Excellency; we are very hopeful that you will consider our prayer
      and thereby enable the voice of citizens of India mouthed through us,
      heard in the higher echelons of power. We also pray that the necessary
      administrative, legal and other corrective changes as suggested above
      are considered so that the spirit of the RTI Act and the Constitution
      of India is protected.

      Thanking you,
      Yours cordially

      Hemant Goswami
      Chairperson, Burning Brain Society
      Convenor, Citizens Voice

      Devender Madan Ajit Tomar Poonam Goswami Neeraj
      Chaudhary

      .... and other concerned Citizens of India

      Cross posted:BURNING BRAIN NEWSLETTER - October 2006
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