Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Meeting to discuss further action plan - 24th Feb

Yesterday the following people met at Kodambakkam to discuss further action plans regarding the functioning of the State Information Commission.

1. Mr.Arasu (Anti Corruption Movement)
2. Mr.Bhanu (5th Pillar)
3. Sowmya (CAG)
4. Mr.Siva Elango (Makkal Sakthi Iyakkam)
5. Mr.Gopalakrishnan
6. Mr.Louis Menezes (Transparency International)
7. Mr.Chandrasekaran (represeting Transparency International)
8. Madhav (Association for India's Development)

There was consensus on the fact that the State Information Commission is functioning extremely poorly and that repeated attempts at dialogue havent yielded results and we should look at some drastic measures. Experiences were shared on how Mr.Arasu had received a reply after 6 months of filing a appeal saying that his appeal was incomplete (though it actually wasnt). Mr.Gopalakrishnan pointed out how two of his appeals were lost in teh commission. Also one PIO challenged him to go to the commission saying he knows Mr.T.Srinivasan. I pointed out that right now, appeals filed in Jun beginning were heard now.

Everybody felt that we had to have a protest and the procedure finalised was this.

We will send a letter to the Chief Commissioner, copied to all the other commissioners, listing out the failures of the Information Commission, and then informing them that a demonstration will happen on March 16th pressing a set of demands. This will be signed by all the organisations whose support that we can get. We will also hold a press conference a week before the protest where a copy of the letter will be given to the media, the failures highlighted and our demands publicised.

The letter will go to the Commissioners on Monday or Tuesday next week, since it also involves translation into Tamil.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

RTI to the help of RTI

That decisions of the State Information Commission needs to be on the website has been a constant request from my side. But till now only the decisions till June 2008 are uploaded on the website ( When I repeatedly raised this issue with the Chief Commissioner, he told me that the scanning was done but the NIC(National Informatics Centre) people were not uploading it to the website. Feeling very irritated with such delays I filed an RTI with NIC seeking the list of requests that had come to it from the Information Commission regarding the website and the status of each of those requests.

After a couple of days when I met the Additional Secretary of the Commission for a different reason, and he suddenly asked me if I had asked anything from the NIC. I told him yes. He then told me how somebody from NIC contacted him saying a petition had come to NIC. The Additional Secretary also then explained to me the problem the Commision was facing in uploading decisions in detail. Now I had a good idea of what their problem was. But he also told me that the NIC person had said that he would come to the State Information Commission to try addressing their issues, though they had already provided some software to the commission for uploading decisions.

Then I told the Ad.Sec that I have a reasonably good idea of how websites are maintained and that I could help in whatever way possible, and asked him if he would be ok with my being a part of his discussion with the NIC person whenever he comes. Unexpectedly, the Ad.Sec agreed and asked me to come the next day at 11.30 since the NIC person said he would come at that time. All eager, I went there the next day (after cancelling my plans of another meeting) and when I went there, I learnt that the NIC person was in some meeting and hence would not come. So I came back after giving the Additional Secretary my mobile number in case a discussion is scheduled on some other day

But filing that RTI application with the NIC turned out to be useful for two reaons.
1. The Ad.sec was happy the NIC person was coming to the commission since he said that, it would be very helpful for the people in the commission working on the uploading of the decisions to the website.
2. Now I had a better understanding of the problems the commission is facing in uploading the decisions (though it doesnt justify the huge delay) and also given me an opportunity to be a part of the discussions related to it at the State Information Commission.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

TN State Information Commission's capacity utilisation

The State Information Commission of Tamil Nadu has 7 commissioners today. 3 of them have been from the beginning and 4 of them have added in 2008. Effectively, the new commissioners started working as independent commissioners from August (for some time before that they were getting "trained" by sitting along with the old commissioners for hearings). To look at the output of the 7 commissioners I looked at the number of hearings held in 2008. And here is what I found.

Capacity of the commission
To roughly calculate the capacity of the commission to conduct hearings, let us assume that a commissioner can conduct 10 hearings in a day. And assuming there are 20 working days in a month, this would mean that each one of them can conduct 200 hearings in a month. With 7 commissioners, this would mean that the capacity of the commission is 1400 hearings per month. Though the number 10 for the number of cases per commissioner per day is underestimated, I guess it would be compensated by the fact that hearings cannot really happen on all 20 working days, due to commissioners taking leave occasionally, or some other paper work in the commission. So the capacity of the commissions is 1400 cases per month. And now let us see what the actual performance look like.

The actual numbers
The number of hearings conducted in each month is given below.

Monthwise Number of hearings conducted by the TN State Information Commission in 2008
Month# hearings

The number of hearings held during the 5 months From Aug-Dec (the period when all the 7 commissioners were functioning) comes to 517. And their capacity in these 5 months is 7000 hearings (1400 x 5). So the capacity utilisation is about 7.5 %. This is the ridiculous state in which the State Information Commission is in today.

We can have a slightly more detailed look at this underutilisation. What really happens is that for each hearing a 2 or 3 member bench normally conducts the hearing. Which is really a waste. Most of the cases that come up are straight forward cases, where even half a commissioner would suffice. There is no denying that there will be come complicated cases where a bench will be needed, but there are very few such cases. This kind of allocation wastes the resources. It could be argued that there is only one court hall in the commission. But the solutions to that could be that hearings could be held right in the rooms of the Commissioners, since each commissioner is given a spacious enough room to hold 10 people easily. Another solution could be commissioners travelling to districts to hear cases (which is happening even now sometimes).

Monthwise % of hearings handled by a single commissioner benchin 2008
Month% of hearings handled by an individual commissioner

If you look at the percentages given above you can see that though the percentage of such individual commissioners handling cases was decent in the initial 4 months, then on it declined. The increase in commissioners saw an increase in the quantum of cases in August and September (refer to the first table) but after that the monthly number of hearings per month came back to almost the same numbers as it was before the appointment of the new commissioners.

If you look at the number of cases handled after the new commissioners have come, as seen before it would come to 517 (from Aug-Dec). So their monthly average is 517/5 = 103.4. So each commissioner's monthly average is 103.4/5 = 14.77. Assuming that there are 20 days in a month, each commissioner's daily number of hearings comes to 14.77/20 which is an incredibly ridiculous 0.74. This means that on an average each commissioner is not even conducting 1 hearing per day.

I request you to just spare a minute for this and think about it. Really think. Think of all the facilities that the commissioners get at the tax payer's expense. A car, an air conditioned office, a hefty pay packet, peons at your beck and call and lots more. And what do they do in return. Handle .75 cases per day.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Assets Disclosure by MLAs and Councillors

It has been close to 1.5 months since I wrote anything here. It was mostly because I was travelling quite a bit. And so here is what has been keeping me busy.

The RTI applications I filed regarding status of assets disclosures by MLAs and Corporation Councillors have yielded some interesting data. Initially an RTI filed with the TN assembly regarding status of assets disclosure of the MLAs of the present and previous assembly revealed that not a single MLA has done their annual assets disclosure. But the reply stated that the resolution to this effect was passed on 27th Aug 1969. The proceedings of that assembly session can be seen here. Page 12 of the pdf file shows that the then CM Mr.M.Karunanidhi moved the motion for assets disclosure. This was passed with retrospective effect from the year 1966-1967. It has also been mentioned that some MLAs and ministers did indeed file their returns after this. But today the practice is probably long forgotten. So I filed an RTI to find out exactly when this procedure died out. I have asked for details of disclosure of all the 42 years starting from 1967 till this year. This revealed the following data.

1. In the last 12 years not a single MLA has filed his/her returns.
2. Since 1973-74 not a single Chief Minister has submitted his returns. That is, for the last 35 years the CMs have not submitted their returns.

The complete details can be seen as an excel sheet here.

As for the councillors of Chennai Corporation, according to the Madras City Municipal Corporation (Disclosure of Assets) Rules, 1973 Members of the Legislative Council (MLCs) of the Chennai Corporation should disclose their assets details on March 31st of every year. Here again I have filed an RTI with the Chennai Corporation asking for compliance details. I had asked for details starting 2002. But I have received data only for the last 2 years - 2007 and 2008. It showed that in both the years out of 155 councillors only 25 have filed their returns. It is the same 25 councillors in both the years.

Both these were covered in the Hindu as can be seen here.

I have talked to a lawyer Mr.Krishnananth (Nity gave me the contact) regarding filing a case in the High Court asking it to issue a writ to the MLAs to do the disclosures or to the government to ensure disclosures. Let us see what happens.