Thursday, June 10, 2010

Meeting with the P&AR Secretary regarding transparent appointment of TN ICs

Sometime back I had sought an appointment with the Secretary of the Personnel and Adminsitrative Reforms Department, wanting to discuss the issue of appointment of Information Commissioners. I was hoping that the letter that was sent sometime back (can be seen here would elicit a response. But since that did not happen, I had sought an appointment with him. Yesterday somebody from the department had called up and told me that I was given an appointment at 11 today. Almost exactly, 24 hours notice. So the people I tried to get to accompany me were busy and could not make it, and moreover, the Secretary had said that only 2 people can accompany me. So I couldnt find people to go with me, though I took a friend, Bhaskar, along with me. Here is what happened.

During the meeting, I had referred to the Indonesian model of appointments of Information Commissioners and also the appointments of Judges in UK. He kept repeating "If you have a suggestion, then I will consider it". But I tried to make the point of how the existing procedure is not transparent. He refused to agree saying that the committee is making the appointments as per the RTI act. I told him that since the P&AR department sends the list of candidates, this list needs to be prepared on a transparent basis. He said that there were no such lists sent by the P&AR department. Immediately, I showed him the list that was sent the last time to the appointments committee and told him that these people had applied for the post and hence their names were listed. To this, he said that he did not know this, but said that there is no compulsion that the committee should choose only those within the list sent by the P&AR and that they can choose their own people. To this I replied that we cannot expect the CM, the Leader of the opposition and the Minister to act like a Search Committee and that they can only choose from the list given by P&AR. Then he again asked me if I have a specific suggestion. I gave him a letter with contained references to the way Indonesiation Information Commissioners and South African Judges were appointed.

The meeting lasted just 10 minutes. I brought up the issue of the letter sent in February and asked him if anything happened on that. He said that holding a public consultation is not possible, but asked me if I had a specific suggestion. I told him that I wanted the procedure to be a result of a public feedback process. But he said he cannot do it. At the end, I told him that I will come up with an appointment process after talking to people and he confirmed that saying "you hold a public consultation and come up with a draft and that can be considered".

So what I am considering is this. I will hold a half day public consultation of NGOs, activists and any interested citizens, the result of which should be a suggested procedure for appointment of Information Commissioners. And then this can be presented to the P&AR department and push them to implement it. I am thinking of the end of this month to hold such a consultation.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Thiruvallur collector's report on Justice P D Dinakaran

As is public knowledge Karnataka High Court Chief Justice P D Dinakaran has been accused of various forms of corruption like encroaching on government lands, giving biased orders and other such charges. The actual complaints filed by Chennai based lawyers can be downloaded from here and here.

These complaints were filed when when Dinakaran's name came up on the list of judges who were to be elevated to the Supreme Court. After this complaint, the Supreme Court asked the Tamil Nadu government to verify the facts of the allegations of encroachment. The Tamil Nadu government in turn asked the Thiruvallur district collector, to verify the facts, since the alleged encroachments had taken place in that district. The collector submitted a report which confirmed the allegations. But the fact that the allegations have been confirmed is only hearsay and unofficial. There have been numberous media reports saying that the allegations have been confirmed by the report.

The collector who submitted the report was Mr.V.Palanikumar, but on March 28th 2010 another officer Mr.T.P.Rajesh has been appointed as the collector of the district. Following the report, P.D.Dinakaran's name was taken out of the list of judges who were to be elevated to the Supreme Court. I had filed an RTI with the Thiruvallur Collectorate seeking a copy of the report filed by him with the Supreme Court. They replied that it was confidential and hence cannot be given out. A first appeal too elicited the same reply. Hence I filed a second appeal with the State Information Commission.

This was heard on 13th April 2010. The Information Commissioner was Mr.T.R.Ramasamy). In my RTI application I had written that the Supreme Court had asked the TN Govt to look into the allegations which in turn asked the Thiruvallur to do it. Instead of focusing on the exemptions under 8(1)(h) and 8(1)(c) he started nitpicking saying that the Supreme Court had not asked the Government but instead asked the collector directly. I dont know how true this is, since I had based my RTI on the newsitem in the Hindu But irrespective of which is right, it was such a useless point to pick on. The disclosure of the report is the only thing of consequence.

But I told him that I will get him a copy of the newsitem (the above given link). Eventually he said that the report will come under section 8(1)(c), breach of privilege. To which I replied saying that he just cant cite "8(1)(c)" and that he must establish what privilege of parliament is breached. To which he replied "Is that the only argument you offer??" I said yes. While I was leaving he also showed me a newsitem,, wherein the PIO of the Supreme Court refused to give information regarding consultations done before suggesting Dinakaran's name. He wanted to use the 8(1)(b) clause wherein it says that Information barred by the Courts cannot be disclosed. To this I replied that the information refused in the newsitem he cited is COMPLETELY different from what I had asked, but that didnt seem to cut any ice with him. Moreover PIO refusing some information does not amount to the information being "barred by the courts", though I didnt mention it there.

Eventually he reserved the case and said that the judgment will come. I was 99.99% sure that he will not order for disclosure. But then I received an order from the SIC stating that since the PIO did not have enough information on hand, the hearing has been adjourned to 2nd June 2010. And for this hearing, the district collector was asked to appear in person. So yesterday, I was back at the Commission armed with a lot of arguments based on high court judgments, CIC orders news reports etc. But, to my complete disappointment, the collector did not turn up. His two officers told the commissioner that the collector could not come because of work related to the World Tamil Conference that will be held in June in Coimbatore. So the hearing is adjourned again, but the date is not known yet. Let us see what happens.

All related files can be downloaded from here.

The Chief Secretary does not even want to tell WHETHER he has submitted his assets statements or not

Even before I had filed an RTI seeking copies of the assets statements of the Chief Secretary of Tamil Nadu, I had filed a RTI seeking information on WHETHER IAS and IPS officers have been submitting their statements and if not, the list of officers who have not submitted their statements. I filed this RTI on 2-Dec-2008.

For this I received a reply stating that the property returns of the IAS officers of the government, are personal in nature and disclosure of this information will cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual.

In response to this I filed a First Appeal on 5th January 2008, putting forward arguments why these are public records and also adding that in my RTI application I have not asked for copies of returns filed, but only whether they have filed their returns and the number of people who did so and action taken on those who have not complied with this requirement. Hence the argument of these documents being personal in nature is not relevant to my RTI application.

After this there was no response, hence I filed an appeal with the State Information Commission, which ordered the public department to disclose the information sought for within 2 weeks of the order. Since there was no information even after the SIC's order, I filed a followup in Dec 2010, and when I went a few days back to check with the Registrar on the status of my follow-up letter, I was surprised to learn that the Public department had gone to court appealing against the SIC's order.

This was completely unexpected. Though I can understand their claiming that assets statements are personal documents (though I dont agree with them) their saying that even the information on whether they have filed their returns or not is personal is simply weird. I need to go to the courts now and find out the status of this case. I had not received any notice on this and so I was completely ignorant of it till I checked with the Information Commission.

Though it is plain to everybody that Government Servants will try to hide as much information as possible, the extent to which they do that in this case is a shocker.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Demand transparent appointment of Information Commissioners

Krishnaraj Rao of Mumbai and I, have initiated a campaign demanding transparent appointment of Information Commissioners in the Central Information Commission and Tamil Nadu State Information Commission. Here is a bit of background on why the campaign is crucial. The rest of the details are available at (appointments to Central Information Commission) (appointments to the TN State Information Commission)


1. Right to Information was legislated to bring in transparency thus moving towards a cleaner and more effective governance. This places the obligation on every government department to give information whenever it is demanded.

2. But when a department refuses to part with information or tries to evade supply of information you can complain to Information Commissioners who have the power to take action (impose penalty and recommend disciplinary proceedings) against the erring officers.

3. But these Information Commissioners are themselves appointed by a committee comprising of the PM, Leader of the Opposition in parliament and a cabinet minister in the central government (for Central Information Commission) and by the CM, Leader of the opposition in state assembly and a minister in the state government (for the State Information Commission). This committee is given a list of names to choose from by the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) in the Centre and Personnel and Administrative Reforms (P&AR) Department in the State.

4. But the DoPT and P&AR do not adopt any transparent procedure right now to choose its commissioners. In fact, two DoPT secretaries themselves and one P&AR secretary have become Information Commissioners. Such nepotism and self appointment is only expected from a non transparent procedure. This leads to an ironical situation where upholders of transparency themselves are appointed in a non-transparent way. But there are more serious problems. For the most part an Information Commissioner's work involves passing orders against the Government. Since the present process is non transparent, people are appoinbted because they are close to the higher ups in the power hierarchy. Such a person would hesitate to pass orders against the Government. Moreover nontransparent appointments also lead to inefficient and incapable people being appointed as Information Commissioners. And this will kill the RTI act.

Hence this campaign to bring in transparency in appointments. The anticipated benefits of a large number of people applying and other details can be seen in the pages below. I am looking at a target of 100 applications to the Central Commission and 100 to the State Commission. Anybody reading this blog, I request you to take some time out and do this. If indeed the appointments become transparent, RTI would have taken a great step forward.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Councillors' Ward Improvement Fund

The Chennai Corporation has 155 wards, and each ward has an elected councillors. Chennai Corporation allocates some amount every year (It is 25 lakhs for the present financial year) to each councillor under which he can ask the corporation to do some specific works in the ward. This was implemented on the lines of MLA and MP constituency development funds. Sometime back I had filed an RTI application seeking to know its utilisation. I received only half the information but on 17th March 2010 the Chennai Corporation presented its budget wherein it increased the Constituency Development Funds allocation from 25 lakhs to 30 lakhs. But the information I had received so far revealed that a lot of these funds were unutilised. Hence I released this to the media on 18th March 2010. Here is the press release, which contains the details.


Chennai Corporation Ward Development Funds underutilised

(18th March 2010)

While yesterday's budget of Chennai Corporation had raised the Councillors' Ward Development Funds from 25 lakhs to 30 lakhs per ward, the past utilisation of these funds, Information revealed under the Right to Information act, makes one wonder if the increase is really necessary and justified. Data obtained under RTI from the Chennai Corporation reveals that in the past 4 financial years 2005-06, 2006-07, 2007-08 and 2008-09 the average utilisation of this fund was only 67%. That is 1/3rd of the amount has been left unused.

Councillors are allocated funds for ward improvement works every year. This was on the lines of funds allocated for Constituency Development funds for MLAs and MPs. While this amount was 7 lakhs per councillor per year in 2005-06, 2006-07 and 2007-08, it was increased to 15 lakhs in 2008-2009 and to 25 lakhs in 2009-2010. In 2005-2006 the utilisation was at 89.2%, but it dropped drastically to 49% in 2006-2007, followed by 70% and 64% in 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 respectively.

What is more worrying is that till Dec 2009 of the current financial year, when 3/4ths of the year is over, only 25% of the funds have been utilised.

The Mayor Special Development fund is even more underutilised. The Mayor has been allocated 50 lakhs every year till 2008-2009 and so far, out of the 2 crores allotted in the 4 financial years 2005-06 to 2008-09, the total expenses for 4 years have been only 45 lakhs resulting in only 22% utilisation in the 4 previous financial years. In the current financial year where the Mayor has been allocated 2 crores, a 300% increase in allocation compared to previous years, only 9.71 lakhs, a mere 4.8% has been spent till the end of ¾ ths of the year.

The RTI application, that had also sought councillor wise data, was transferred to all the 10 zones of the Chennai Corporation but has elicited a reply only from 5 zones viz: I, IV, VI, VII and VIII. Data from these zones show that there are 3 councillors who have so far not used a single rupee of their funds in the last 3 financial years including the present one. They are Ms.S.Kalavathi (Ward100), Mr.G.Ekappan (Ward 101) and Ms.S.Selvi (Ward 111) all from Zone 7. The councillors who have not spent a single rupee so far in current financial year in zones I, VI, VII and VIII are

Ward Name
97 M.Govindasamy (Congress)
98 S.Venkatesan (DMK)
99 J.Krishnamurthy (DMK)
100 S.Kalavathi (PMK)
101 G.Ekappan (DMK)
102 N.Balakrishnan (PMK)
103 A.Rajathi (DMK)
106 NM.Abdul Majid (DMK)
108 V.Ganesan (DMK)
111 S.Selvi (DMK)
113 M.P.Anbudurai (DMK)
114 V.Christie (DMK)
116 Saidai P.Ravi (A) Rangaramanujam (Congress)
117 S.P.Viswanathan (Congress)
118 K.Jayanthi (DMK)
121 Pushparoot (DMK)
128 Radha Sambanthan (DMK)

The RTI application filed and the replies received can be downloaded from

The coverage can be seen at the following links.

Indian Express: Mayor more miserly than Uncle Scrooge
Times of India: 1/3rd of city councillors' ward funds lie unused
Dinamani: ஒரு ரூபாய் கூட செலவு செய்யாத 17 கவுன்சிலர்கள்

The response from the Mayor and some councillors (reported in the Times of India) has been very funny. They have tried to put the blame back on the corporation for rejecting some works. They have even said that since there was no place to implement any such improvement works in some wards. Even assuming that all this is correct, why should they hike the allocation if they are not able to utilise it?

Monday, March 08, 2010

DVAC gets temporary relief

The DVAC has gone on appeal to a division bench of the high court again challenging the dismissal of its earlier writ challenging the SIC's order asking DVAC to disclose information to me. This case came for hearing last friday (March 5th 2010) where it was granted interim stay. The case has now been posted for hearing on April 19th. (Case no. WA 321/2010)

Court stays order on DVAC
Debate over RTI exemptions gets heated
Court order to bring vigilance agency under RTI Act stayed

An interesting newsitem came up today in the Tamil Newspaper Dinamani. The reporter emailed it to me. RTI application filed by Mr.Bhaskaran of Pollachi has revealed that the government has spent 12 Lakhs on medical treatment for an Information Commissioner Mr.T.R.Ramasamy. The tamil article can be seen here. An English translation, that I have prepared can be seen here.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Letter seeking transparent appointment of Information Commissioners

I had drafted a letter to the Chief Secretary and the Secretary of Personnel and Administrative reforms seeking a public consultation to evolve a transparent appointment procedure for appointment of Information Commissioners to the State Information Commission. Then I got it signed by some eminent people in Tamil Nadu and by groups interested in RTI. The scanned version of the letter and it doc version can be seen here. The related news reports can be seen below. As the letter says the Chief Information Commissioner is going to retire in Aug 2010 and another Information Commissioners is going to retire in Oct 2010. I see it as the start of the campaign, as I am sure there will be a lot of work to be done on this. Arving Kejriwal is planning to file a PIL in Delhi on appointments to the CIC. I am in touch with him as he said I can do something similar in TN. Though I dont know what the grounds of his PIL are, when I pointed out that an earlier PIL filed in Delhi HC on the same issue was dismissed, he replied that he now had more information on hand and hence could make a much better case. Let us see.

The Hindu: Transparency sought in SIC commissioners’ appointments
Dinamani: தகவல் ஆணையர்களின் நியமனத்தில் வெளிப்படைத்தன்மை தேவை
The Times of India: Appoint info panel chief in transparent fashion: RTI activists

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Functions, they indeed are!!!

An RTI application filed with the Chennai Corporation has revealed that on a day when 2 flyovers and a subway were inaugurated by the Chief Minister, close to 24 Lakhs were spent on the inaugural functions. This is equivalent to the amount that is allocated to each councillor for his/her ward improvement works for a complete year, which is 25 Lakhs. This was featured in Times of India today and the Mayor has justified it too, saying this is the same as was spent by the previous government. They just dont seem to get it. Even assuming this is true, why is their benchmark the previous government. If the previous government was corrupt, is a claim that this government is less corrupt good enough a justification. The Mayor also says that this is usual for functions involving the CM. What the heck? Whose money is this?? The functions are essentially a platform for the ruling party to publicise their "achievements" and hence is as good as the political meetings that they normally convene. Only this time, it is being done in the name of inaugurating a flyover, and all expenses borne by you-know-who.

The actual replies can be seen here.

Update: Tamil Osai, the party newspaper of Pattali Makkal Katchi (Headed by Mr.S.Ramadoss) has written an editorial on this. The editorial (in Tamil) can also be seen in the same link as given above for the replies.

Transparent appointment of Information Commissioners and other updates

Right now, I am working on Transparent Appointment of Information Commissioners in Tamil Nadu. In this direction, as a first step I have drafted a letter to be sent to the Chief Secretary of Tamil Nadu and the Secretary of P&AR department, asking them to hold a public consultation to decide on a procedure for appointment of Information Commissioners. The letter can be seen here.

Another important development is that I have scheduled a meeting with the Secretary of DoPT, Government of India on friday (12th Feb 2010). I had fixed this up on behalf of the group that had previously filed the PIL in Delhi HC seeking transparent appointments in CIC. We are in the process of drafting a memorandum and demanding a time bound response from them. So I will be travelling to Delhi this weekend to be a part of this meeting.

Regarding the assets disclosure of IAS and IPS officers, the Judge had earlier reserved her judgment in this case in Dec. Now after reminding her, she passed a judgment dismissing the writ. The order, a copy of which is not in our hands yet, but the lawyer was allowed to look at the order in the court itself, essentially reiterates what the SIC has said. But we had also enclosed CIC decisions where assets disclosure of IAS and IPS officers were allowed. To this, the Judge mentioned in the judgment that "though the lawyer referred to the decisions of CIC copies of these were not produced", whereas, the initial set of documents enclosed along with the affidavit itself contained copies of not one but two CIC decisions. It was such a stupid statement to make. Even assuming that the docs were missing, (which is not the case anyway) it is the Judge's duty to ask for copies and ensure that a fair judgment is passed. I wonder how she can ignore those important CIC decisions when passing such a judgment. Krishananth said that it will make it all the more easy to challenge the decision in a bench. We are waiting for a copy of the order, for us to file an appeal.

As for the DVAC order in our favour, I am yet to get information from DVAC. The two weeks time given by the judge will be over with this week. But Krishnananth, has meanwhile filed a caveat, which would mean that if the DVAC goes on appeal to a division bench, then the bench wont hear the case or order a stay without giving us notice. This would help us put our arguments forward even before the division bench considers granting an interim stay.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

HC dismisses DVAC's Writ Petition

I had written sometime back that DVAC has challenged the SIC's order, asking it to disclose information relating to investigations on corruption, in the Madras High Court. This came up before Justice Chandru, who has been disposing of a lot of RTI related cases in the past 10 days. He dismissed it without even giving notice to the respondents.

Actually this was stayed by the High Cout in Nov 2009. This has now been dismissed. There was no effort for this on my part. The case was heard last week, and I learnt about it only the day before, when Krishananth, the lawyer who is helping me out with the court cases, enquired about the case, learnt this and informed me. Immediately on Monday, at the end of the court, Krishnananth made a "mention" to the Judge that he was representing me, a respondent, and that we havent received notice for the case yet. The Judge said that he was anyway going to dictate the judgment the next day (Yesterday). So I was present in the court yesterday, and the judge just dictated two lines. "The Writ Petition is dismissed. The petitioner is ordered to supply the information sought for". Here are the media reports in this regard.

DVAC bound by RTI act: Court
Vigilance dept must give info on graft cases: HC
'DVAC must provide info on graft'
DVAC not totally exempted from RTI: Madras HC

The SIC decision that was challenged can be seen here.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Meeting with the P&AR Secretary

Mr.Arasu (Anti Corruption Movement), Mr.Ranganathan (Transparency International) and I were part of the meeting with the P&AR secretary on 14th December 2009. We started the meeting with a follow-up based on a letter that AKV had sent to the Chief Secretary after a meeting with him.

We asked the P&AR secretary about a regular review by the Heads of Departments regarding RTI. He said he will consider it and if necessary pass necessary instructions to the various Heads of Departments.

On the issue of lack of awareness regarding Section 4 within the Government, he said that after the previous meeting with the Chief Secretary, an instruction had already been sent to all the secretariat heads of departments asking them to update their website regarding Section 4 disclosures. He also read aloud the instructions that went out to all of us, and also showed us the file having some acknowledgments some compliance reports etc.

When the issue of different departments not replying to RTI applications in time, and giving vague and incorrect replies, he said that he could not do anything about replies coming from other departments. When asked about training, he said that trainings are being given regularly through Anna Institute of Management.

As for the annual report to be placed before the Assembly, he said that the P&AR department had called for the report from the Commission during each of the last four years but the SIC did not submit the report.

Then we also pointed out that there was no procedure at the Information Commission for disposal of appeals, he said that it was upto the Commission to decide on such a procedure. Then Mr.Arasu pointed out that the Central Government had drafted a procedure, he asked Mr.Arasu to show him the relevant parts, which Mr.Arasu did. He seemed a bit surprised at this and said he would consider it.

Then we raised the issue of understaffing of the State Information Commission. I showed him a document given by the P&AR under RTI regarding the staff situation of the Commission. After looking at that, he said that he remembered sending some letter in this regard and immediately called up one of his juniors and asked him to look into the vacancies. He also told us that there are people available with him and that he can send these people to fill in the vacancies. I also showed him a press release where CIC was given 116 additional staff recently. For this he said that if the Information Commission needed more staff, they need to prepare a detailed justification saying something like, since so many appeals come in daily, 1 person can register so many appeals and thereby working out the staff requirement. Once a detailed requirement comes to them, he said he would consider it.

As for recovery of Penalties imposed by the State Information Commission (which, as per my memory, was agreed upon as the responsibility of the State Government at the previous meeting with the Chief Secretary. This was denied by the P&AR secretary) he said that the Government was not responsible and it was for the Information Commission to follow up on that.

On the whole, we could also see his unhappiness with the State Information Commission passing (in his opinion)strict orders against the Information Commission and also refused to comment anything about the Commission. He also said that the Commission was doing other people's work instead of just enquiring into appeals.

Vijayanand who arrived a bit late, could not join the meeting since the officers outside did not let them in, since the meeting had already started.