Monday, October 06, 2008

CM's Public Relief Fund

Thanks to RTI, the status of the Tamil Nadu CM's Public Relief Fund is now out in the open. I asked for the funds flow statement of the last 6 years of the CM's Public Relief Fund. And this statement is shown below.

All amounts given in crores of rupees.
Financial YearOpening BalanceFunds Received during the yearFunds spent
Any other outgo
Closing balance

This shows that about 157 crores were received during the Tsunami year (2004-2005). But this is greater than the sum of all the amounts spent in the following years for relief work which is 126.5 Cr (88.75+21.97+12.25+3.51). This shows that the funds received during the Tsunami period not yet been fully utlised. The difference is about 30 crores. But the point to note here is that all these 126.5 Cr has not been utilised for Tsunami relief. A lot of it would have gone for Tsunami, but there are amounts in it which have been given for other kind of relief like general medical and education help. This shatters that myth that the money donated to the government will be properly utilised.

In addition to this, I also obtained a list of Fixed Deposits that the CMPRF money has been invested in. This showed that 166 crores have been invested as Fixed Deposits. Thus this sets a lower bound on the amount lying unused in the CM's fund.

I am not claiming that funds have been misused but what I am trying to point out is the following two things.

1. A lot of money is lying unused in the fund. To understand why this is a lot of money. Consider these two facts. The amount is about 7-8 times the average annual spending of the last 6 years. Moreover, if you leave out the Tsunami year and the year following as "exceptionally high outgo" years, the average outgo for a normal financial year is just 6 crores. That would mean the unused amount is more than 25 times the normal average annual outgo, which is unacceptable.

Why is so much money lying unused? When I went for inspection of files of the fund, I saw that donations were made to construction of hospitals too. With that being the case, and assuming that there are not enough people applying for funds (which I really doubt), why cant the relief funds be used to good purposes like improving the Government Hospitals, which are in a terribly bad shape?

2. If funds received 4 years back that too obviously for Tsunami, has not yet been used, then in raises the question whether contributors would be happy with their money (which was donated for Tsunami) being used for other kinds of work (though that is also some kind of relief work).

Indian Express first took this up which was followed by Makkal TV covering it. The Indian Express article can be seen here.

The actual statements received from them and copies of media coverage can be seen here.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

DVAC and TSVC Exempted from the RTI act

Directorate of Vigilance and Anti Corruption (DVAC) and Tamil Nadu State Vigilance Commission (TSVC), have been brought out of the purview of the Right to Information act. The link for the news item can be seen at the end of this mail. The govt has passed a GO in this regard too (attached).

This GO clearly states that this has been done because "in vigilance cases, giving information at the initial stages, investigation stages and even prosecution stages would lead to unnecessary embarrassment and will definitely hamper due process on investigation". This is a pretty strange reason to give exemption because section 8(h) anyway provides exemption to information whose disclosure would hamper investigation. Also, "Unnecessary embarrassment" cannot be a reason for exemption since with RTI embarrassment is bound to happen in almost every Public Authority.

But the fact that both these organisations have been given blanket exemptions means, we cannot get any information from DVAC and TSVC. This makes the government's motives suspect. It seems to be only a ploy to protect people who are being investigated by DVAC, as this will prevent us, the public, from asking details on follow-up or action taken on cases they are investigating, finding out causes of pressure from vested interests etc.

Moreover, allowing such exemptions to be added, unquestioned, would only make the government bolder to add further exemptions.

The G.O can be viewed at

I am talking to other organisations like Catalyst Trust, CAG and 5th Pillar to see what can be done about this. Though some orgns want to fight this legally, I feel we dont have a strong enough case and losing the case would be disastrous since, then it would seem that the high court has upheld the stand of the govt. In my opinion all the orgns should get together and talk to the P&AR secretary and try to convince him. If that does not work we need to get down to the streets. Here again there is a long struggle and more will come on this.

Here are some media links to the exemption.

Vigilance bodies out of RTI Act purview

Taking DVAC out of RTI purview evokes protests

Govt defends exclusion of DVAC from RTI purview

Work with the Commission

I have set two interns to work on analysis of the files of the State Information Commission starting Jan 2007. They are from Loyola College and are doing this work on Wednesdays and Thursdays. There have been many problems with the State Information Commission and the most important of them is that they dont follow up on their orders. In the worst manifestation of this, the penalties they impose too are not followed up on.

I went through all the judgments of the Commission and made a list of penalties imposed by the commission and found that about 24 penalties were imposed by the commission. I passed this info on to Shyam of the Hindu who talked to the Commissioner about this. An article on this came out in the Hindu ( The Commissioner claims that more than 200 penalties have been imposed so far and says that the reason why I could see only 24 penalties was that, many of the penalties imposed have been after replies from Show Cause Notices came in, and they were looked at. I still have not seen any documentary proof for those 200 penalties. In addition to this, a staff of the Commission told me that not a single reply to the Show Cause Notices has been looked at so far.

Recently the State Information Commission gave a bad order against an RTI applicant, Mr.Gunasekaran. A copy of the decision can be seen here, but the gist was that the applicant had applied for a post of a driver in the State Transport Corporation. But he did not get the job. He told me that there is always corruption in such appointments and the money would be in the filed an RTI application under RTI application asking for Merit List and the marks list of candidates who appeared for an interview for the post of a driver for a State Transport corporation. Since he could not get those, he filed an RTI again asking for panel members who decide the merit list. This time the transport corporation gave the names of the panel members (which in the commission's opinion need not have been disclosed). The applicant then filed an RTI with one of the panel members with a view to get the mark list for which he was told that RTIs cannot be filed with panel members. When the first RTI (asking for merit list and marks for merit list) came up for hearing, the commission ruled that normally they order the mark list have to be disclosed, but in this case since the applicant has asked for panel members' names and has got them, the commission decided that disclosing the marks list could lead to personal harm of the panel members and hence ordered that information need not be disclosed. I was also along with him, at the hearing. My repeated appeals, saying that just because the names of the panel member were known, it does not mean we would do them any harm. The commissioner Mr.T.R.Ramaswamy said that we should come with our hands clean. He also asked us why we were so impatient that we filed a second RTI application when the first was still pending and why could we no wait. Such questions were unnecessary as it does not matter how many RTIs we file. But he refused to listen to any of our arguments and ordered that information need not be disclosed.

I have decided that this decision should be challenged in the High court. Gunasekaran is also ok with it. So through Arvind Kejriwal I got a lawyer contact in Chennai. She is Ms.Gita working in Human Rights Law Network (HRLN). Over phone she agreed to help us out. So Gunasekaran and I will meet Ms.Gita the coming monday (6th October). I feel this will go on for some time. So, as they say, keep watching this space :-)

TN Awareness Campaign

A state wide RTI campaign was launched from Oct 13th - Oct 21st on Sep 13th. On this day many organisations from across the state met and decided to do this campaign. I initiated the campaign, and it moves forward with lots of suport from Ossie of HRF (Human Rights Foundation) and Nity of CAD (Corporate Accountability Desk). The photos of the meeting can be seen here. Following this on 23rd Sep Nity, Rupesh, Dharmesh and Ossie met to discuss what we could do in Chennai. It was decided that we do the campaing for 6 days. On 2 days we will run mobile camps by going around the city in a van. On 2 other days we will post ourselves outside Taluka Offices and run clinics. It was also decided that we call the Appellate Authorities and HoDs of some important Public Authorities including the P&AR and have a discussion on RTI implementation. This discussion will happen, if a similar meeting that is being planned by Catalyst trust around the same time does not happen.

We had also discussed that a bigger meeting of Chennai organisations could be called and after talking to Organisations like Transparency International, 5th Pillar, Anti Corruption movement this meeting has been scheduled for Saturday, 4th October at Transparency International.