Tuesday 22 November 2011

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.

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