Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Chief Ministers Public Contact Program-district administration

Here is the 3rd complaint.

File: Comp/cm contpgm-distadm-221111                                                                                                      22 Nov 2011


1.       Will a public servant moving around in a govt vehicle- name plate, flag et al-inaugurating shops and seminars and laying foundation stones during working hours constitute district administration? To be blunt there is nothing more visible in the nature of administration than these opulant gimmicks. We had a district collector who convened a meeting of all parties in the matter of land acquisition for a rail coach factory at Kanjikkode. You don’t need to even have gone to any school to know that in such cases the two parties involved are the lot of people whose land was being taken over and the other lot representing the govt who was taking over the land. But this all party meeting convened by the district collector had only representatives of political parties and none from the project affected people!

2.       It is 13 years since I have settled down in this place after retirement from the army and all I am witnessing is the alarming degradation in the quality of administration and fear that the reason could be only corruption of the worst kind. Can somebody even cycle through the roads in Palakkad without ever ruining his/her back? Looks like all that the public servants are doing is collecting taxes and distributing it amoung themselves!

3.       To list some specific complaints:

3.1. I had taken up the issue of illegal quarries in Palakkad. And the only lesson learnt is that the public servants keep passing the buck without doing anything that they have been tasked to do. The RDO passes the buck to the Mining and Geology Dept and the Mining and Geology Dept passes the buck to the police and even the District Collector just writes to these people without ensuring that necessary steps to prosecute the culprits are undertaken by those authorities. In this context my complaint to the District Collector, reference  Comp-dc pkd-rdo pkd-210509 dated 21 May 2009 still begs a response.

3.2. I had taken up the issue of miscreants destroying the houses of two adivasis in Plachimada in 2010. As per the SC/ST (Prevention of atrocities) Act the DC and the police authorities are required to take a lot of actions. Information obtained under the RTI Act revealed that not only the DC had not taken any action but his office was totally ignorant of every bit of information sought and the application had been transferred to every other public authority in Palakkad dealing with SC/ST issues! In this context two 2nd appeals are pending with the KSIC-  RTI/dcpkd-2nd appeal-130810-SC-ST dated 13 Aug 2010 and RTI/dcpkd-2nd appeal-081110-scstact dated 08 Nov 2010. Though it is more than a year since these appeals had been filed they have not been disposed off yet!

3.3. In the above matter, even the police authorities have been deliquent. The crime should have been investigated by an officer not below Dy SP but it had not been done! A complaint, on this ground, filed with the Police Complaints Authority, reference Plachimada Samara Aikyadhardya  Samithi letter No PSADS/comp-pca pkd-sc st act-310810 dated 31 Aug 2010,  is still pending with the authority! Even the performance of this authority is questionable since complainants are repeatedly summoned for the hearings and the hearing postponed for the next date without assigning any reasons! In fact even the constitution of this authority is questionable what with one retired judge, based at Thiruvnanthapuram, heading the  authorities of the 07 southern districts and another, based at Kochi, heading the  authorities of the 07 northern districts. Needless to say, questions abound even on the issue of transparency in the selection and appointment of these retired judges.
3.4. Can you believe that it could take a year to get an Legal Heirship Certificate if you follow the procedure correctlybut fail to grease palms?  I am afraid that introducing spelling mistakes in the name of the deceased is a strategy used by the corrupt Village Office staff to sort out those who do not grease palms. And the complicity of the higher authorities cannot be ruled out. Or how can it be that is spite of applications under the RTI Act and complaints to the District Collector no action seems to have been taken? In fact it was revealing that it was only after submitting an application under the RTI Act, after more than one month of submitting two complaints to the DC, that the first complaint itself reached the concerned section!

3.5. The Conference Hall in the Collectorate is an asset created out of public funds and needs to be used more optimally. Even on the directions of the Information commissioners to lay down instructions on its utilisation, the only criteria specified is that it should be function in which the DC is a participant! Registered NGOs should be allowed to use this facility at a nominal cost without the fear of having to abandon their program at the last minute due to sudden requirements of the district administration. If the district administration cannot schedule a requirement for this facility atleast a fortnight in advance, then such requirements should not come in the way of better utilsation of a public resource.

3.6. The list can go on and on. But it cannot be concluded without mentioning the subversion of the RTI Act by the o/o the DC. The RTI Act enjoins every public authority to appoint a public information officer to accept applications and provide the information sought. The Act also provides for the applicant to approach an officer superior to the PIO if the information sought is not provided within 30 days. Logically, it implies that the PIO is a senior public servant who is knowledgeable about the office procedures and has access to all the information in that public authority. In the case of the o/o the DC, the only public servant who can be entrusted to do this job is the ADM/Dy Collector (Gen). The appellate authority would then be the DC only. And it was so till a few months back. But even then there had been problems with respect to paying the cost demanded and still the information not being provided in time! And now things have ben made murkier by having more than a dozen PIOs and almost half a dozen appellate authorities for the same public authority! The RTI Act clearly says that ultimately it is the public servant actually holding the information who is the deemed PIO and liable for penalty but having more than one PIO in a public authority and that too in a small office like that of the DC is only a deliberate effort to create confusion and shirk responsibility. In this context, it has been seen that even the register(s) required to be maintained by the public authority in the matter of processing applications under the RTI Act are not being maintained correctly! Of course, this public authority, that also boasts of an RTI Cell, has not only failed to implement the first  citizen friendly, clear, simple and unambiguous law, but has been very diligent in implementing the illegal OM issued by the DoPT and passed down from the state’s GA(Co-ord) Dept(73209/Cdn5/10/GAD dated 18/10/2010). How can anyone believe that a public servant belonging to the IAS can be so idiotic? If not idiotic, then the only other reason for such illegal actions can be treason and treason only!

4.       The Indian bureaucrcy is acknowledged as one of the most corrupt on this part of the globe. In a poll conducted by NDTV on  ‘are we citizens of a nation that is truly the most corrupt in the world?‘, 86.87 pc respondents agreed that we are!  A report of a survey of 12 Asian economies done by the Political and Economic Risk Consultancy, based in Hong Kong blames India’s ‘suffocating bureaucracy’ for us falling behind countries like Vietnam, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Myanmar in providing our people with minimal standards of healthcare, sanitation and education. The report points out that the Government of India spent Rs 4 trillion on various poverty alleviation programmes last year and if even half this money had been distributed among our estimated 60 million poor households, they would each get Rs 80 a day and so rise above the poverty line. Our own Planning Commission pointed this out more than a decade ago but because there has not been the smallest attempt to get our babu-log to work more efficiently, nothing has changed!

5.       In this context I suggest that the govt take the following steps immediately to provide an effective district administration:

5.1. Ensure a standard tenure of 30 months to every district collector.
5.2. Ensure that the DC attends office throughout the working hours
5.3. Do away with the unwarranted and disruptive practice of having the DC tag along whenever ministers visit the district. The ministers have been provided with enough and more secretaries to accompany and assist him/her.
5.4. The DC must provide for meeting the public at least for one hour in the forenoon and one hour in the afternoon, say from 1200h to 1300h and 1600h to 1700h.
5.5. Ensure that for every complaint submited to the DC, an acknowlegement card is provided with a format providing feedback to the concerned Secretary to the Govt on the efficacy with which the application has been disposed off and the satisfaction level of the complainant. This should be compiled to update the dossier of the public servant.
5.6. The DC must cater for one day in a fortnight, say 2nd and 3rd Wednesdays, to inspect his subordinate offices-RDOs- and cover all immediate subordinate offices once in 3 months. On these days, when time permits, s/he should also carry out surprise checks of one or two offices two level below-at the taluk level! The inspection report should be published on the website within 24 hours and updated atleast once every week based on the follow up actions.

Chief MInister's Contact Program-consumer fora

Here's the complaint against the consumer fora and commissions.

File: Comp/cm contpgm-consumer-221111                                                                                                  22 Nov 2011


1.       The Consumer Protection Act (CPA) was enacted to provide fast and free justice to consumers. But over the years the consumer fora and commissions set up under this law have turned this into a Consumer Persecution Act. Complaints to even the Minister for Consumer Protection have been futile. To list a few of the complaints:

1.1.  The CDRF is not disposing off the complaints within the period specified by the law (3months). As per information received under the RTI Act, as on 31/5/2010, there were 109 cases pending for more than 3 months, but less than 1 year; 37 pending for more than1 year but less than 3 years and 15 pending for more than 3 years. On 18 Jun 2011 when I inspected the documents at the CDRF I was shocked to find even cases of 1996 listed as late as 19/2/2008!

1.2.  In spite of such criminal delay, the CDRF has been holding sittings for less than one hour per day. By their own adminssion they hold sittings for two hours per day but even a cursory look at the cause list will convince anyone that it cannot be more than one hour per day!

1.3.  Even these sittings are not held punctually with hearings sometimes commencing as late as 11.15 am! And the parties to the complaint are helpless to complain.

1.4.  Even in the matter of adjournments the CDRF does not follow the law. As per the rules on the subject  when a party seeks adjournment without adequate reasons the opposite party is to be paid Rs 500/ as compensation. As a matter of protest I have myself not collected Rs 1000/- due to me from a decision in my favour which came after 9 years! 

1.5.  In OP 282/99 (OP No 85/95 transferred from Malappuram), the opposite party had produced interim stay order on 28/10/99 and the stay was vacated only  on 8/6/2005 but through out this period the case was listed 58 times and adjourned! It was finally posted for orders on 6/7/07 but was opened for re-hearing suo moto on 15/2/08 and went on an adjournment spree from 3/3/08 to 31/5/2010. During this spree it was adjourned 17 times, including 5 times for want of members/President and 10 times for orders only! It was dismissed when an application was submitted under the RTI Act to find out the status!

1.6.  The CDRF in complaint No CC159/06 took 8 months to illegally dismiss it saying that it has no jurisdiction!

1.7.  If that is the case with CDRF the complaint against CDRC is worse. The decisions of the CDRC are not merely a mockery of justice and insult to comon sense but gross subversion of the justice delivery system itself. The following documents are proof:

1.7.1.         Notice for hearing in IA 568/08 in FA 210/2008 and
1.7.2.         Orders in FA 210/2008

Needless to say the order which says that no application for condoning the delay has been submitted can only be a fraud when as per their own records they have issued a notice for a hearing on that very application (IA or Interim Appeal in their jargon!)
1.8.  These issues had been brought to the notice of the Minister Food & Civil Supplies, Consumer Protection etc, through my letter No Comp/minofcs ker-cdrfpkd n kscdrc-080111 dated 08 Jan 2011. On getting no response and on enquiry through an application under the RTI Act on action taken on the complaints, the reply received was that it had been forwarded to the Secretary, FCS! And even the Minister’s office had not complied with the provision of the RTI Act in the matter of forwarding the application also to the Secretary FCS to provide info on the status inspite of it being specifically asked in the application itself!

2.       While I have taken the case of one quasi judicial organisation to highlight  the gross failure of the system, the same would apply to all other quasi judicial organistions also- the human rights commission, information commission etc. They are worse than white elephants, draining  the exhequer  as if there was no tomorrow. It had been reported in the media how a former Chairman of the State Human Rights Commission had been holding sittings at Guruvayur on the 1st of every Malaylam month! Can anyone show any of these quasi judicial organisations holding sittings with such regularity even at every district headquarters? Are the members holding erratic and notional sittings at different locations just to cover their moves for private purposes ?

3.       For reasons given above, it is imperative that a cell be set up in the CM’s office to monitor these quasi judicial organisations and take action on complaints against them. To claim that the government cannot do anything with respect o the functioning of these bodies would be blashphemous. For every law enacated it is for the government to specify the rules also. Not to specify pragmatic rules to enforce the rules asa well as to monitor the performance of the enforcers and attend to the grievances of the targetted beneficiaries, would be gross derelection of duty.

Chief Ministers Public Contact Program

The Chief Minister of Kerala, Mr Oommen Chandy, is on yet another public contact program. No doubt it is typical political roadshow and raises more questions than are answered. But it shall be covered later.

His last show as at Kochi and some statistics are out in the media. He will be in Palakkad on 8 Dec and the District Collector has deployed a hoard of employees to collect complaints. I have given three- against the Kerala State Information Commission, the Consumer Fora and Commission set up under the Consumer Protection Act and the District Administration itself.

The 1st one- against the KSIC- is reproduced below.

File: Comp/cm contpgm-ksic-221111                                                                                                        22 Nov 2011


1.       The KSIC has not only rendered the Right to Information Act half dead, it is also causing immense loss to the Govt of Kerala. The most important complaints against the KSIC are as follows:

1.1.  By not complying with Sec 4(1)(b) of the RTI Act it is setting bad example to all the other public authorities in the state. This is an unpardonable crime considering the fact that this public authority has been provided the best of infrastructure and facilities right from the begining, including a website for itself! This has forced citizens to file applications to get information that should have been made available to them proactively and also follow them up to the information commissioners, where due to the criminal delay, the whole effort is invariably rendered wasteful.

1.2.  In the matter of complying with Sec 5 of the RTI Act also the KSIC has been subversive. Their letter No 6009/SIC-Gen 2/2007 dated 5/10/2007 addressed to the PIO, RDO, Palakkad is evidence for the same.

1.3.  Sec 20 of the Act mandates that penalty shall be imposed even in the case of delays (only). Hence for the information commissioners to order the SPIOs to provide the information sought, even if it is only part of it, without taking steps to impose and ensure the payment of penalty for the delay (invariably Rs 25,000/- by the time the direction is complied with!) not only defangs the law and effectively subverts it, it also causes considerable loss to the exchequer!

1.4.  Also, Sec 20 of the Act unambiguously states that ‘the burden of proving that he acted reasonably and diligently shall be on the the State Public Information Officer‘. Still, inspite of having all the documents related to an appeal- copies of the application, reply of the SPIO, 1st appeal and reply of the FAA- the information commissioners can be seen summoning the SPIO and the FAA for the hearing necessitating further drain on the exchequer in terms of allowances for these public servants. In just two cases where an FAA from Palakkad had travelled to Thiruvananthapuram he had been paid Rs 3200/- towards allowances!

1.5.  While the summoning of the public servants drains the exchequer, the unwarranted summoning of the appellant is more in the nature of harassment. As has been stated in para 1.4 above, all the documents required to make a fair and considered decision is already available with the appeal. After going through these documents alone the Commissioner should be in a position to decide if the complete information sought has been provided or not and if not whether the information denied falls in the category of exempted info. There after the only thing required for the IC to do is to direct the SPIO to provide the info and also seek his/her explanation why the mandated penalty should not be imposed. If only there is clarification required in this explanation need the SPIO be summoned for a personal hearing.

1.6.  Also, in the context of hearings, it has to be mentioned that the summoning of the current PIO for a hearing on an appeal filed 2 years ago is a total farce. And this a a charge against even the present CIC of KSIC.

1.7.  The rate of disposal of complaints/appeals also merit highlighting. While the ICs of the Central Information Commission can be seen disposing off more than 200 cases per commissioner ( during the convention in New Delhi on 14-15 Oct 2011, the CIC of the Central Information Commission claimed that their target was 330 cases per IC per month!) it is doubtful if all the ICs of KSIC put together disposes off as many cases as disposed off by a single IC at the Central Information Commission! Also their decisions appear on their website with 24 hours but that of the KSIC takes more than 6 months!

2.       It also needs to be mentioned that the amendments to the Kerala RTI Rules have been retrograde. For one thing it is not clear as to how the fees/cost paid by any mode is utilised ultimately because whether paid by cash or into treasury or through court fees it reaches the government’s coffers. So why distinguish between govt depts and others when there is no distinction made between the various public authorities within govt depts?

3.       While the implementation of this one of a kind law- citizen friendly, clear, simple and unambiguous- has not been effective, whatever information that has been obtained and equally importantly not obtained, proves that most of the public servants are either idiots or outright traitors. Enough complaints had been made to all the concerned authorities about the dereliction of duty/treason of the 1st CIC of KSIC, including a petition to the Governor to remove him under Sec 17(3)(d). But they have all been in vain because ultimately the responses received seems to indicate that the final decision makers on every matter is the LDC in the office of the deliquent public servant! One of the more recent examples of bureaucratic perfidy is the Dept of Pers & Trg OM No F/10/2/2008-IR dated 24/9/2010 forwarded to District Collectors by the GAD (Co-ord), Govt of Kerala, vide their letter No 3209/Cdn5/10/GAD dated 18/10/2010 which is in blatant violation of Sec 6 of the RTI Act. Who are these clerks, whether of the IAS type or otherwise, to over rule a law made by the Parliament? Such manipulation (amounting to treason) might have gone unnoticed in the past because of the illiteracy and incompetence of the political leaders then and the undemocratic OSA in force! But should such state of affairs be allowed to continue with educated and knowledgeable people dominating the political spectrum and equally alert citizens helping them to identify these problems for what they are?

4.       While there is a need to introduce transparency right from the appointment of information commissioners, the government cannot absolve itself of its responsibility when it comes to  making these public authorities deliver what they are tasked, empowered and compensated to deliver. Specifically in the context of the RTI Act, Sec 26 and 27 needs to be implemented in letter and spirit by the government.