ORISSA MAKES THE RIGHT TO INFORMATION ACT A FARCE

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

Freedom from bureaucratic machiavellianism was the sole purpose behind enactment of the Right to Information Act, 2005. But Orissa Government has made it a farce by recommending only two persons to form the first Information Commission of the State in which the corrupt bureaucracy shall see its rampart well protected.

A committee constituted under Sub-Section 3 of Section 15 of the Act, comprising Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, Leader of Opposition J.B.Pattanaik and Damodar Raut, a member of the Cabinet nominated by the Chief Minister, has recommended the names of D.N.Padhi and Radhamohan for the post of Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and Information Commissioner (IC) respectively. Padhi is currently working as the Union Power Secretary when Radhamohan has retired from Orissa Education Service. When the former has spent almost entire span of his career in Orissa administration, the later, whose recruitment was meant for teaching economics in Colleges, has spent almost all the years of his career not in any College, but in the State Secretariat as a scientist!

If these two fellows did not commit any corruption during their tenure in Orissa then it must be assumed that there is no corruption in Orissa.

But everybody knows Orissa administration is full of corruption. And, the bureaucrats know where and when who of them committed or commits what sort of corruption.

Corruption is a vicious game played by bureaucrats under the canopy of their mutual cooperation. So there must be many people in Orissa bureaucracy, starting from clerks to Secretaries, who must be knowing what were the corruptions committed by Padhi and Radhamohan during their long tenure in Orissa. How these fellows constituting the only two-member-Commission can come up against the same persons who must know their questionable conducts, if any, in course of their career, is a question to which no answer is known to anybody.

A suspicion is still nagging in the minds of many that Padhi, had he not been a senior IAS officer, could not have been free from the blemish that had soiled his cloths in the matter of official purchases following the 1999 killer cyclone. If somebody now invokes the Act to dig out what really had happened and if the concerned Office refuses him access, what would be inferred? Similarly, when some one will want to know if using his Secretariat position, Radhamohan had provided benefits to the NGO called Sambhav with which he is associated, what would be its impact?

Therefore, a lot of precaution should have been taken in selecting the CIC or IC. I do not know if the selection flew from free choice or from a guided choice. But there is reason to apprehend that information blockers against whom the Act has stringent provisions may bargain for leniency through blackmail, if these two persons are appointed.

This apprehension would never have arisen had the legislative intention behind the Act been properly understood before the selection. Meant to grant access to the citizens to information under the control of public authorities, in order to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority the Act was from the beginning considered to be an instrument against bureaucracy. Hence bureaucracy as a whole had heightened its lobby against the Act and politicians who benefit from collaboration with bureaucracy were opposing it. Many concerns and questions were raised during discussion on the Bill in the Parliament.

Putting forth the legislative intention, the Prime Minister had to call upon the civil servants to see the Bill in a positive spirit; not as a draconian law for paralysing Government, but as an instrument for improving Government-citizen interface resulting in a friendly, caring and effective Government functioning for the good of our people.

So saying, the P.M. had further said, “I appeal all civil servants to see this Bill in the right spirit and hope they will only be spurred towards better performance”. The Prime Minister’s emphasis on the very words “civil Servants” eventually proceeded to specification when he stressed that “the passage of this Bill will see the dawn of a new era in our processes of governance, an era of performance and efficiency, an era which will ensure that benefits of growth flow to all sections of our people, an era which will eliminate the scourge of corruption, an era which will bring the common man’s concern to the heart of all processes of governance, an era which will truly fulfil the hopes of the founding fathers of our Republic”. (Lok Sabha debates, 11 May 2005)

Hence it is clear that the right to information given by the Act to the citizens of India is meant for curbing corruption in bureaucracy.

It is therefore shocking that in Orissa an incumbent bureaucrat, whose integrity in public perception is still shrouded by nagging suspicions and a retired economic teacher who deceived the State for many years donning the attire of a ‘scientist’, have been chosen as the Chief Commissioner and Commissioner of the State’s first Information Commission. What a mockery!

The three-member committee of power-politicians, by selection of these two fellows, have individually as well as collectively played a fraud upon the people of Orissa.

Governor Rameswar Thakur would do a wrong if he accepts this selection. Before proceeding to accept the recommendation of the committee it would be better for him to peruse Sub-Section 5 of Section 15 of the Act. It says: THE STATE CHIEF INFORMATION COMMISSIONER AND THE STATE INFORMATION COMMISSIONERS SHALL BE PERSONS OF EMINENCE IN PUBLIC LIFE WITH WIDE KNOWLEDGE AND EXPERIENCE IN LAW, SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY, SOCIAL SERVICE, MANAGEMENT, JOURNALISM, MASS MEDIA OR ADMINISTRATION AND GOVERNANCE.

So the Committee should have selected PERSONS OF EMINENCE IN PUBLIC LIFE, which necessarily means PERSONS OF UNQUESTIONABLE INTEGRITY WHO HAVE EARNED RESPECTABLE PLACE IN THE LIFE OF THE PUBLIC and in whom the public have grown and shown confidence. Such people of eminence in public life, the Act stipulates, should have wide knowledge and experience in Law, Science & Technology, Social service, management, Journalism, Mass media, or Administration and governance.

But the Committee of three politicians that made the selection did not want to make a choice from all these segments even though Orissa has many eminent persons of impeachable place in public life having wide knowledge and experience in all these segments.

Misled by officialdom it has erred in accepting official employment as ‘Administration and governance’ and equated government service with public life.

The Act has never equated official employment with administration and governance. Had by ‘administration and governance’ official employment was to be meant, then instead of these three words, the Act would have noted a single word ‘bureaucracy’. So the words ‘administration and governance’ must be construed as Company, Banking, Industrial, University or NGO management, or can be taken as erstwhile Ministers who are no more with any political party or outfit. But by no stretch of imagination, these words can be accepted as employment in any government office.

Under these interpretations, Padhi and Radhamohan are not eligible to hold the offices of CIC and IC respectively and hence selection and recommendation of their names for the said posts by the Committee of three politicians is devoid of legality.

It would be proper therefore for the Governor of Orissa to turn down the recommendation and to refuse to appoint them.

The farce that is being enacted in Orissa in the name of Right to Information Act must not be allowed to proceed.

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  1. Dear,
    your observations and analysis is praise worthy.But, let us see how the new set up work in accordance with the NEW constitutional provision.I request the journalist comunity to wake up and take this editorial as a first step for keep an sincer watch on the govt in implementing tis new Act .
    thanks

  2. Eradicate evil of corruption for long term sustainability and giving voice to the voiceless.

    Corruption is a cancer eating into the vitals of our society. It does not allow the under developed and developing nations to transcend and become developed nations. Most developing countries are doing well on many fronts – except tackling corruption – which in turn affects many development projects and impacts the grassroots by depriving the marginalized of essential benefits.

    The rich are growing richer at the cost of the poor. What is needed is a one-stop solution for solving the evil of Corruption. The solution has to change the face of our society and take it from the downward path to one of upward growth.

    One ideal solution would be, to register every citizen uniquely using their biometric (all finger prints, all fingers or palm vein) and issue a Multi Purpose Biometric Smart Card cum Debit Card, linked to a Cashless Money Account for making valid all transactions and making it public on the web.

    Suitable ‘e-Administration’ tool should be available for tracking all communications and transactions by anyone anywhere. Total transparency and accountability needs to be made a way of life. This would deter us from doing any thing on the sly. This would minimize corruption, to the point of eliminating it.

    We need to create a new world order, a level playing field, where every citizen has an equality of opportunity, to explore his / her / their potentials to the maximum.

    This would encourage everyone to contribute their mite for the growth of the community and society at large without impeding the growth of others.

    Kris Dev, ICT & e-Gov Consultant
    Manthan Awardee 2006 for e-Inclusion and Livelihood Creation
    (www.manthanaward.org)

    President & CEO, Life Line to Business (LL2B)
    Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India. http://ll2b.blogspot.com
    +91 98 408 52132 (Mobile) +1 (206) 274 1635 (VOIP)

    Co-Founder, Transparency and Accountability network
    http://TrAcNet.blogspot.com

  3. K. Gopal Rao Says:

    Resp.Sir,
    Sub:Police Inaction in the case of house grabbing by Deepak Niranjanath Pandit
    Superitendant of Customs,Air Cargo Complex,Mumbai,brother of producer/Director Ashok Pandith by misusing official power /and connection at high places

    We, Mr&Mrs.K.Gopal Rao aged 75 years and 65 years are the Legal owners of flat no 803 Brookhill Tower,Andheri(w),Mumbai.Mr and Mrs. Deepak Pandit are known to us through Ravi Suvarna who is also Superirendant of Customs ,
    approached to us for temperory shelter for a period of 2-3 months,since in the society in which they stay do not have lift and Mrs Arushi D.Pandit was undergoing a major heart surgery in Leela Hospital and need one bedroom in our flat.Hence,we allowed Mr. Deepak Pandit to stay in our flat with his wife and son(One son is away in angalore),by providing one bed room and allowed them to use common hall and kitchen
    on humanitarian and medical ground with out charging a single rupee.

    In Sept 2007, we visited our native place in Karnataka,and locked other 3 bedrooms apart from which has been used byDeepak Pandit and his wife Arushi Pandit by showing blind faith
    and trust and handed over the keys of main entrance.When we came back from our native place,we found our other two bed rooms locks were broken and the bedrooms have been used
    by Mr.Deepak Pandit and Mrs.Arushi D. Pandit.When we asked about this mischief,Mr Deepak Pandit very rudely replied that we people should vacate the flat along with our belongings.We were
    shocked and surprised after this incident.
    Then we immediatly contacted Ravi Suvarna and Ravi Suvarna contacted Deepak Pandit about vacating the flat.He bluntlydenied to vacate the flat and also threatened with dire consequences and that his brother Mr Ashok Pandit is a very influential political person,and Deepak pandit himself is a Custom Officer and by virtue of his position/post he will grab our flat.
    Further we approached to one/two reputed persons in the society and narrated the things which have been going on and requested them to mediate the dispute.He refused to meet the
    persons and asked us to pay Rs 10 lakh otherwise he will not vacate the flat .At the same time he mentioned that we will see how he will grab our flat.

    Recently we have come to know that other than his house in
    Juhu (no 214)juhu Shantivan co-operative Housing Society,bldg
    no 13,gulmohar cross road no 6,Andheri(w),he has got one house
    at Takur Complex, kandivili(E),and one at Andheri(E). He has rented
    out all these houses and took shelter at our place on sympathetic/humanitarian grounds.

    We have approached the oshiwara police and lodged written complaints dtd 4/10/07 and 28/02/08 but to no avail.Police have threatened to arrest our grand daughter if she doesn’t vacate the house and she was forced to leave the house at 0400 AM on 05/10/07(By SI Gaikwad,Kadam on the instruction of the PI Sonawane of Oshiwada Police Station).As we are old
    aged and can not run from pillar to post,I kindly request yourgoodselves to Publish this issue on your Paper because this kind of acts by people by misusing the legal provisions to their advantage and grabbing only shelter of senior citizens by taking the help of police and security staffof the building.This is nothing but breach of trust and they know that if it goes to court it will take years together.These kind of issues should be debated and people should be educated about this kind of offences/crimes(misuse of legal provisions) which were probably made to safeguard poor tenants

    We kindly request your goodselves to take up the matter so that people will get educated about such kind of abuse of legal provisions and also wrong people who misuse the provisions of law to their advantage which were made to safeguard the weeker sections by using official power and connection at high places.As we are old aged and can not run from pillar to post,We kindly request you to publish in your paper after investigating the case and being convinced as an issue(House grabbing).He has made an extra(double) door in our absence and now he is not allowing us to enter the house with the help of Oshiwada police.If a public servant can behave like a goon and grab only house of senior citizens then we are in the same age old tradition of slavery.(We are ready to produce any kind od evidence reg the fact that he is forcefully/illegally stying in our house).He has not got any papers/reciepts

    Yours sincerely,

    Mr.&Mrs. K.Gopal Rao.
    76/41,14th cross,PadmanabhaNagar,
    Bangalore-70
    Cell No 09343952727
    So many people have suffered or lost their houses due to this kind of planned tactics(Khabja). If you publish the article/News,it will definately help people who go to help people innocently and get trapped.I hope there should be amendments in the legal provisions to safeguard genuine cases.As the legal process takes years together and culprits enjoy the possession merrily.Here the system(Law and order/police and legal system has also to be blamed).If things like this continues people will lose humanity and stop helping even in genuine cases.Please help us atleast in educating(legalities) people about this Khabja

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