Thursday, July 1, 2010

New policy gets tough on PILs against projects

NEW DELHI: Petitioners contemplating PILs against ongoing projects on environment grounds might want to do a rethink. The government's new litigation policy calls for petitioners to be slapped with costs for stoppage of projects that are in public interest.

This approach is a prominent part of the National Litigation Policy (NLP) announced recently by law minister Veerappa Moily and is a response to PILs that lack merit. Though a majority of PILs challenging projects are ultimately dismissed, they succeed in delaying work.

The NLP drafted by attorney-general G E Vahanvati says, "PILs challenging public contract must be seriously defended. If interim orders are passed stopping such projects, then appropriate condition must be insisted upon for petitioners to pay compensation if the PIL is ultimately rejected."

The policy, the government argues, is meant for those petitioners who rush to courts with PILs to merely get publicity immediately after a controversy over a social, political or legislative issue. Critics, however, are likely to argue that the policy will curb public spirited actions.

"It must be recognized that several PILs are filed for collateral reasons, including publicity, and at the instance of third parties. Such litigation must be exposed as being not bonafide," the NLP stressed.

However, NLP does not envisage all PILs as ill-intentioned or bad in law and talks about the need for government to adopt a balanced approach. "On the one hand, PILs should not be taken as a matter of convenience to let the courts do what government finds inconvenient," it said.

A good example of the government turning to the courts to bail it out was the reference on the Ayodhya issue sent by the President to the Supreme Court, immediately after the December 6, 1992 demolition of the disputed shrine. The reference sought an opinion on whether a Ram temple pre-existed the Babri mosque.
The SC had returned the reference without offering an opinion.

The NLP recognizes that an increase in the number of PILs in high courts and the Supreme Court stemmed from a perception that the government was not doing what it was supposed to do or due to a lethargic bureaucracy. "This perception must be changed," it says. The proposal to link costs with dismissal of PILs is, however, bound to be controversial.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Arvind Kejriwal inaugurates Federation of RTI activists in Kerala

Arvind Kejriwal inaugurates Federation of RTI activists in Kerala

Arvind Kejriwal, the leading right-to-information (RTI) campaigner and Magsaysay award winner inaugurated the Federation of RTI activists in Kerala on Sunday 9 May 2010 at Chavara Cultural Centre. In his address to the RTI activists from various districts of Kerala, he urged the Kerala Government to make the selection of State information commissioners transparent and make sure that only those with a deep commitment to RTI are chosen for the jobs.

He noted that the positions of the chief information commissioner and a couple of commissioners would fall vacant in Kerala later this year and suggested that the new recruits be chosen through a process of nomination and public scrutiny. “Information commissioners can make or mar the RTI institution and are hence very critical to good governance and democracy,”

Mr. Kejriwal pointed out that in Indonesia, information commissioners were selected through written test and interviews. The interviews were broadcast so that people could get an idea of the calibre of each candidate. Something on this pattern could be introduced in India, he suggested. In many States, the commissioners' posts had degenerated into being politicians' gifts to pliable people who would take care not to embarrass the government. He called for clear rules for the selection of commissioners.

Mr. Kejriwal praised the Chief Information Commissioner Palat Mohandas for standing up to the Ethics and Privileges Committee of the Assembly which, Mr. Kejriwal said, had ‘tried to browbeat the constitutional authority of the Information Commission.' “Information commissions are as good as the commissioners,” he said. Strong, bold commissioners with a deep commitment to the concept of RTI could translate the powerful RTI Act 2005 into a real weapon in people's hands. The commission in Arunachal Pradesh was an example —it had even ordered the arrest of an official who had refused to comply with the commission's order to provide the information sought by a citizen. About 93 per cent of the Arunachal SIC's orders were complied with (in Kerala, the percentage is 55). “Arunachal people tell me that government officers are scared of the information commission.”“However, in many States, the information commissioners themselves are the biggest bottlenecks,” he rued. They were not using the immense powers in their hands. They refused to act when their own orders were not complied with by the bureaucrats. Nationwide, only in two per cent of the complaints did the commissioners impose penalties on the erring officials. “This way, they send out a signal to the officials that the Information Commission and highly potential RTI Act are not to be taken seriously.” He suggested that commissioners have zero-tolerance for non-compliance.

The attitude of judiciary was not very helpful to RTI, Mr. Kejriwal complained. Many high courts had framed rules for not revealing information about their functioning. He recalled that the former Chief Justice of India had written to the Prime Minister seeking to make amendments to the RTI Act so that the judiciary was kept out of its purview. The Central Information Commission had ruled that the RTI Act covered the office of the CJI too, against which the Supreme Court registry appealed to the Delhi High Court. The high court's full bench, in January this year, however, upheld the CIC ruling.

Mr. Kejriwal praised the innovative way the Uttar Pradesh authorities had strengthened the RTI. Anyone could call a particular RTI telephone number which would record the caller's RTI requests and this call is treated as an RTI application.The Rs.10 application fee would be included in the next month's telephone bill. This system could be tried in Kerala too, he suggested.

The office bearers of the Federation are K.N.K Namboothiri President, D.Dhanuraj Vice President, Adv D.B Binu General Secretary and K.T Antony as Treasurer.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The First Venture

As promised by Deepak last week, the first set of seven RTI applications has been duly filed. One of them seeks information from the Mumabi Traffic Police and the other six from the following organizers of six national level entrance examinations:
  • National Law Institute University(NLIU), Bhopal for Common Law Admission Test (CLAT)
  • Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) for Civil Services (Prel.) examination
  • National Institute of Fashion Technology(NIFT) for B. Des. written examination
  • Indian Institute of Management(IIM), Lucknow for Common Admission Test(CAT)
  • Central Board of Secondary Education(CBSE) for All India Engineering Entrance Examination(AIEEE) and All India Pre-Medical Test (AIPMT)
The Central Public Information Officer of each of the above six organizers has been requested to furnish following information to us:
  • A copy of the application form used for the purpose of the entrance examination in the current academic year.
  • Does the application procedure require the candidate to mention his/her family income and/or permanent address?
  • For how long are the application forms of data contained in the same preserved?
  • How many applications were received for the recently conducted entrance examination ?
  • How many of those applications were received from students coming from rural areas, semi-urban areas, families with an annual income of less than Rs. 2 lakh separately?
  • How many examination centers were allotted all over India for the recently conducted examination?
  • How many of those centers were in places coming within limits of village panchayats?
The information sought from the Mumbai Traffic Police includes:
  • What mechanism exists whereby a person can complain of taxies refusing to ply to a particular destination?
  • How many such complaints have been received from January 1, 2009 to December 31, 2009 and from January 1, 2010 till date in this regard?
  • In how many cases has any action been taken in this regard?
  • A list of cases showing what action has been taken in each case.
This week's RTIs will be uploaded over the weekend.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The first week: RTIs to further inclusiveness in educational sector

The first week has started running. By the end of this week we hope to have filed seven RTI applications on pertinent issues.

While considering what issues must be addressed through RTI applications in the first week, there were a range of issues to pick from. One was an application mentioned in the first post addressed to the Traffic Control seeking information on howmany complaints have been received on refusal by cabs to ply and what action had been taken in that respect.

I plan to dedicate the rest of the applications to support a noble cause. Many of you may already aware of an initiative called IDIA (Increasing Diversity by Increasing Access to Legal Education). It is an endeavour to assist under privileged students in gaining quality legal education. I plan to dedicate the remaining six applications of the week to secure information from organisers of different national level entrance examinations as to (i) what percentage of students appearing in these examinations hail from rural regions and other specified disadvantaged backgrounds, (ii) what percentage of the candidates securing admissions come from such backgrounds and (iii) the trend in these figures over the last ten years. I hope this will assist IDIA in determining to what extend the low number of students from underprivileged backgrounds in premiere institutions of learning is attributable to a lack of awareness (and consequent lack of participation) and to what extend it is attributable to the lack of training and development of the requisite skills.

Readers are requested to post suggestions on what other issues can be addressed through our RTI applications in the coming weeks.

Disclaimer: Though I have been fortunate to be associated with IDIA to some extend, no part of this post or any subsequent communication in this regard or the RTI applications filed as mentioned above should be attributed to IDIA or any persons associated with it. All communications and representations are made solely in my personal capacity.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Concept

This is not my blog. This certainly is not a blawg.

This is a call for all like minded individuals who wish to make their own little contribution in finding solutions to the daily problems faced by the common man using the all-powerful weapon of the RTI Act.

My idea is that this group will identify issues in whose resolution RTI can be used and file at least seven RTI applications a week. The number may sound challenging - but read on and you will find it is not all that difficult. RTI applications are the easiest to draft (each takes a maximum of 15 minutes), are inexpensive (each takes a basic fee of Rs. 10/- and additional fee which is rarely prescribed) and are extremely effective.

Now on the inspiration behind this blog. It came from a woman whom I have never seen before, about whom I know nothing at all and whom I will probably never meet again. About four hours back, I was waiting outside Peninsula Corporate Park, Lower Parel, Mumbai for a cab to reach my hostel after office (I am interning with a law firm). Many cabs refused to ply and I just kept waiting for another one. After about half an hour of waiting I overheard a heated argument between the woman I mentioned and a cab driver who refused to ply on her request. The cab moved on and she continued waiting. Then she did something which I am sure most of us would not have done. I overheard her call up the Traffic Control and register a complaint giving the details of the incident and the number of the cab.

When I finally got a cab and was in a mood to think, I started wondering why I had not done what this lady did despite me being in the same circumstances. In an instant, I had my answer. I knew that nothing would ever come out of such a complaint. As I did not trust the system, I just chose to not approach it. The small deed of that lady had moved me to do what I could. By the time I reached my hostel I was decided that I would file an RTI application with the Traffic Control seeking information as to how many such complaints had been registered in the last one year and what action had followed. From that thought came the idea of starting this initiative. 

Each week, we will post details of the RTI applications filed that week. Also, I will provide links to some materials that will make any person capable of drafting their own RTI applications. Readers are also encouraged to highlight issues in respect of which they would like me to file an RTI application on their behalf.

For any further information or suggestions, please contact