Saturday, June 22, 2013

Pune Municipal corporation members include minor kins in foreign jaunt as expert NGO members to sign MOU on behalf of the city.

Recently a team of Pune Municipal corporation (PMC) members visited city of suseong-gu in South Korea. Among members of this team there were elected members of PMC, one PMC officer and rest were the relatives of elected members. They claim that mayor of city of suseong-gu had invited them along with the members of Non-Government organisation (NGO) to sign memorandum of understanding (MoU) for friendly exchanges between the two cities.

Interestingly they also took their kins along with them touting as members of NGO, some of these so-called NGO members are not even legally adult, they are minor. Even then, they were taken to abroad as if they were the only knowledgeable and expert members in the affairs of civic issues of the city.

Now they claim that they bore all the expenses of the tour. Even if we believe that, they bore their own expenses, which is not true, why did they go on behalf of city of pune? If they went on tour on their own expenses ?, then the tour was private one and nobody will object to it. However, when you go and sign MOU on behalf of the city, it no longer remains the private tour irrespective of the question of expense. Moreover in this case expenses of official member of this team are borne by PMC itself, standing committee had passed the the resolution in that respect.

Now political parties say that people should ask suseong-gu administration about how and why they invited kins of the elected members as the members of NGO's .This is interesting argument ,and  we must congratulate administration of suseong-gu because by  intuition only they came to know the name, age and passport no's of kins of elected members. However they could not identify the names of NGO's these kins are related to.

Interestingly until today, there is no clue what actually this MOU was about? who allowed these people to sign on behalf of the city ?, what study was done before signing such MOU? Moreover, what pune is going to get from this MOU?

There are certain rules and regulation in place for receiving foreign hospitalities such as boarding, lodging, transport. As per office memorandum No. II/21022/58(97)/2011-FCRA-I , No member of a Legislature or office-bearer of a political party or Judge or Government servant or employee of any corporation or any other body owned or controlled by the Government shall, while visiting any country or territory outside India, not accept, except with the prior permission of the Central Government, any foreign hospitality:

In addition, foreign Hospitality means, any offer, not being a purely casual one, made in cash or kind by a foreign source for providing a person with the costs of travel to any foreign country or territory or with free boarding, lodging, transport, or medical treatment.

In addition, as per rule seven of this Office Memorandum (1) any person belonging to any of the categories specified in Section 6 who wishes to avail of foreign hospitality shall apply to the Central Government in Form FC-2 for prior permission to accept such foreign hospitality.
(2) Every application for acceptance of foreign hospitality shall be accompanied by an invitation letter from the host or the host country, as the case may be, and administrative clearance of the Ministry or Department concern in case of visits sponsored by a Ministry or Department of the Government.
(3) The application for grant of permission to accept foreign hospitality must reach the appropriate authority ordinarily two weeks before the proposed date of onward journey.

However, when administration and elected representative with hands gloves do something wrong who else is going to take action on them? Now citizen of pune should raise their voice and ask their representatives, what is going on? 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

13000 employees of revenue department of Maharashtra looted 100 crores meant for pension for old age people.

As per reports in a leading daily of Maharashtra "loksatta" , criminal action against approximately 13,732 employees of revenue department has been recommended by two enquiry committees for alleged fraud in various  pension schemes for old aged to the tune of more than hundred crores.The government is stunned by seeing number of employees indicted in this case. If decided to take action, entire revenue department would be closed hence action in this case is delayed since last ten years.

There are various pension schemes in Maharashtra, named sanjay Gandhi, Indira Gandhi, and national pension schemes for old age people. It was alleged that hand in gloves with political party workers several government employees and officers had siphoned up pensions meant for the needy people. They had shown about 1,66,352 illegal beneficiaries' out of which number of dead beneficiaries' were - 27141, missing -34,759, bogus - 4244, other illegal beneficiaries - 1,00,268,  Total - 1,66,352.

After complaint in irregularities in sanjay gandhi NIRADHAR grant scheme Aurangabad bench of Mumbai High Court had ordered inquiry in to these schemes .The inquiry was conducted on two levels at divisional commissioner level and deputy director of health level.Ofiicers from talathi, gramsevak, circle and branch level officers, medical officers , nayab tahasildar , tahasildar  as well as members of political parties heading concerned committees were held  guilty in this case and criminal action was recommended against all.

In 2003 this matter was considered by then cabinet ministry ,  and it was also decided that action would be initiated,  but looking at the scale of employees involved, the fear was expressed that if prosecuted  entire ministry would come to standstill and hence the report was concealed .

Why Governments are reluctant to follow Supreme Court Orders ?

In Namit Sharma judgement, Supreme Court of India had directed all governments that the selection process of information commissions should be commenced at least three months prior to the occurrence of vacancy. As far as Maharashtra is concerned, it does not seem to obey supreme courts order. In Maharashtra, there are total eight posts of information commissioners including chief information commissioner, of which four are vacant and fifth post is going to be vacant on 17 July, i.e. after 17 July, there will be five posts vacant. Forget about starting process of filling post before vacancy, government of Maharashtra has not bothered to fill even vacant posts.

That is how the government of Maharashtra honors Supreme Court orders. The history is matters under which it was possible to put hurdles before the RTI applicants and appellants Government of Maharashtra had acted promptly But stealthily. ( remember amendments to The Maharashtra RTI rules)  .But when it comes to fill the vacancies or do something for the benefit of RTI or in the public interest it doesn't even bother to disobey supreme court.

Recently government of Maharashtra stealthily tried to frame appeal procedure rules for state information commission. When I learnt about this, I wrote about it on this blog. After that, lot of RTI activists and journalists called me about authenticity of these draft rules and asked why government is trying to do this in such a hurry? Moreover, why they have not made it public before they pass it ?. The answer of this also lies in Namit Sharma judgement that was delivered by division bench of supreme me court of India on 13 September 2013  and subsequently challenged by some renowned RTI activists. In addition, we have experienced in the past that why government doesn't make such things public? The answer is simple, because if they make it public then there will be burden to make those people friendly.

In this judgement, SC had directed that the Central Government and/or the competent authority shall frame all practice and procedure related rules to make working of the Information Commissions effective and in consonance with the basic rule of law. Such rules should be framed with particular reference to Section 27 and 28 of the Act within a period of six months from today (i.e. from 13 September 2013 ).That may be the reason that government of Maharashtra  tried to frame those infamous appeal procedure rules in hurry and stealthily.

The next two orders i.e. (1) The Information Commissions at the respective levels shall henceforth work in Benches of two members each. One of them being a ‘judicial member’, while the other an ‘expert member’. and (2) The appointment of the judicial members to any of these posts shall be made ‘in consultation’ with the Chief Justice of India and Chief Justices of the High Courts of the respective States, as the case may be, Were stayed by the supreme court in review petition . However, there was no stay for any other orders even then most of the governments have not followed that.

Supreme Court had also directed that appointment of the Information Commissioners at both levels should be made from amongst the persons empanelled by the DoPT in the case of Centre and the concerned Ministry in the case of a State. The panel has to be prepared upon due advertisement and on a rational basis as before recorded. Only DoPT has has published advertisement for appointment of information commissions. No other government seems to be following this order.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Only 160 more years required for compliance of section 4 of RTI act?

A, B and C can do a particular piece of work in 2, 3 and 6 hours time respectively. If they do the same work together, in how much time they will finish it? Many of us must have faced such type of work, time, and speed problems in school days. Many of us may make mistake while answering such problems. We can understand if any person makes such mistake, but what if entire country makes a mistake?

Yes, as far as Right to Information is concerned, entire country has made such mistake. On 15 June 2005 parliament of India passed RTI act. On 15th June 2013, it completed eight years; to be precise it completed 2922 days. After 15th june parliament of India .i.e. entire country gave  120 days time  to all the public authorities , to disseminate  as much information suo motu , to the public at regular intervals , through various means of communications, so that the public have minimum resort to the use of RTI Act to obtain information. How this 120 days period for compliance was calculated? , Who was so sure about capabilities of public authorities in India? .No body knows the answers to these questions. However, ground reality is, there is very little, or no compliance at all of section 4 of RTI acts in India.

Exact figure of compliance of section 4 is not available, but for sure, it is not more than 2% to 5% in entire India. Now if we consider formula of time, work, speed, and if in 2922 days only 5% compliance is there, then how much time will they require for 100% compliance. Answer is simple 58, 440 days, i.e. only 160 years! As far as country is considered 160 years is not a big span, but if citizens of the country are considered this is very big span. As per this speed, our next few generations will not see compliance of section 4.

Now let us be some generous, show some faith on capabilities of our public authorities, and see what happens. if we consider 10% compliance of section 4 has been done then for full compliance  80 years will be required , if  we assume 20% compliance has been done then 40 years and if 40% compliance is done then next 20 years will be required for full compliance.

It is hard to believe that 40% compliance has been done or even it is impossible that somebody will claim so. It is pleasant scenario that in next 20 years 100 % compliance of section 4 will be done isn't it? But friends we are talking about compliance up to 15 June 2005 only , what about next years compliance? .For that we have to calculate vice versa . forget it , instead it is better to believe that in next 20% years 100 % compliance will be done.Thats why it is not even considered here that only 2% of compliance has been done till today. Positive thinking is always good. However, question remains the same, how did we made a mistake about capacity of our public authorities on such a huge scale?.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Why political parties did change their stand on RTI and Transparency?

After central information commissions (CIC) decision on Right to Information (RTI), regarding applicability of it to political parties all the parties' unanimously opposed the decision.Interestingle parties' earlier singing song of transparency and accountability suddenly changed their tune. Many of them were scared of disclosure of names of donors. Actually though direct or indirect funding was important factor in bringing political parties under ambit of RTI. To me major role is played in this decision by preamble of constitution of India and preamble of RTI.

Para 86 of this decision says "We may also add that the preamble to the Constitution of India aims at securing to all its citizens: JUSTICE, social, economic and political; LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; and, EQUALITY of status and of opportunity. Coincidentally, the preamble of RTI Act also aims to promote these principles in the form of transparency and accountability in the working of the every public authority. It also aims to create an ‘informed citizenry’, to contain corruption, and to hold government and their instrumentalities accountable to the governed. Political Parties are important political institutions and can play a critical role in heralding transparency in public life. Political Parties continuously perform public functions which define parameters of governance and socio-economic development in the country." moreover, it was also said that the Political Parties are the building blocks of a constitutional democracy.

It seems that political parties were confused while dealing with this case. I guess there was very much importance to argument on confidentiality, transparency, and public interest in this case .It was difficult for political parties to openly defend confidentiality, and with this obligation, they were helpless and unable to oppose transparency and public interest. In addition, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Communist Party of India (CPI) had almost replied to application under section 6 of RTI.

Chandan Bose, PRO, Nationalist Congress Party, in his letter dated 27th November 2010, had informed the complainant “It is very important to mention here that NCP is a non-government organization. Hence, we do not have much more resources nor surplus staff to expedite unusual work, However, I would like to inform you that ours is a National Party duly recognized by Election Commission of India and that from the day of inception of our party, we have been regularly filing our returns to the Income Tax authorities and also to the Election Commission of India along with whatever voluntary contributions received. It is pertinent to mention here that our all obligation towards authorities are up to date. If you feel like, you may collect all the information you desired, from the above said authorities." In other words NCP had agreed that even though it is non - governed organisation it is covered under section 2 (h) (d) (ii) of RTI.

CPI had earlier replied and provided names of top 10 donors to applicant and On the other hand,  A.B. Bardhan, General Secretary, CPI, in letter dated 21.3.2011addressed to applicant  Anil Bairwal has stated that CPI is a Public Authority under section 2(h) of the RTI Act. The relevant portion of his letter is extracted below :- “(a) Yes, we are Public Authority under section 2(h)(d)(ii) “non-government organizations” substantially financed, directly or indirectly, by funds provided by the appropriate Government. In addition (b), we have our internal Appellate Authority “Central Control Commission.”

Later on all the parties including NCP and CPI changed their stand in CIC. Why this happened?. why political parties are scared of disclosing their funding? As per Transparency International, Money may come into conflict with the democratic principles of civic equality and fair competition in elections and can undermine political representation.
For example

1) When the availability of resources becomes a decisive factor in winning elections instead of candidate proposals.
2)When money contributed to electoral campaigns safeguards private interests and inhibits political parties and candidates representing collective interests to communicate their ideas.
3) When a party in office uses the system and the resources of the State for the benefit of the electoral campaigns of its candidates.
4) When companies contribute to electoral campaigns in exchange for future favours from elected representatives.
5)When illegal groups, such as organized crime, drug-trafficking or other armed groups, support candidates who in performing their duties will represent illegal interests.
6) When resources used to fund electoral campaigns are raised individually by candidates and not by their parties, thereby creating the risk of personal commitment on the part of the candidate to the donor.
7) When candidates use financial resources for inappropriate purposes, such as vote purchasing or other forms of unfair competition.
8) When elected representatives have, in general, a greater commitment to donors than to the public.
9) When representatives use their post and attendant government resources to gain re-election.
10) When civic equality, reflected in the principle of each individual having one vote, is undermined by the unwarranted ability of some to contribute money to politics.

These conflicts affect the legitimacy of elected representatives as well as their ability to develop rules aimed to benefit the public. The negative impact of such on the quality of life of the people multiplies and the democratic system as a whole stands to lose credibility.

Shining a light on political financing is the best way to clean house. When parties and candidates disclose information about funds used to finance their activities, both during electoral campaigns and generally, scrutiny of illegal funds and influence peddling in politics is facilitated.

All politicians as well as the parties and groups that support them are either legally or morally required to report to the public. The accuracy and usefulness of reports will increase to the extent that they are fully disclosed to the public and to the media. Reports should be clear, complete, presented on time and reliable.

However, this is not happening in India only. Since last few years, many countries worldwide are trying bring legislation on political funding and expenditure. Many developed countries already have such legislations and control over funding and expenses of political parties and they make them public.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Will real estate bill really stop unfair practices in housing projects ?

         Yesterday cabinet of India approved real estate(regulation and development) bill. This bill aims to establish the Real Estate Regulatory Authority for regulation and planned development in the real estate sector, to ensure sale of immovable properties in an efficient and transparent manner, and to protect the interest of consumers in the real estate sector.

Earlier also central and state governments have passed so many legislations and policies to regulate this sector. Primary object of all these legislations and policies was to help consumer from being cheated, to provide affordable housing, to give concessions to this sector for benefit of poor. However, none of these legislations or policies could provide shelter for poor. All the benefits or concessions given by governments never reached to its real beneficiary. All the incentives, benefits, facilities, and concession meant for poor were robbed by mafias in this sector. Because no government attempted to check whether these benefits reach to real beneficiaries or not. That was deliberate and hand in glove with real estate mafias.

There were and are several legislations or policies that were meant for affordable housing. e.g. housing for economically weaker section (EWS) , Urban Land ceiling ( ULC) , so many awas yojanas , special Township act , Slum rehabilitation Act (SRA), Affordable housing policy , National Urban Housing & Habitat Policy (NUHHP), Basic Services to the Urban Poor (BSUP) , Integrated Housing & Slum Development Programme (IHSDP), various state housing boards etc. etc.

None of the above could provide adequate affordable housing or housing for poor. There were several benefits and concessions given in all the above schemes and policies but they never reached to real beneficiaries' .Only beneficiary of such benefits and concessions were developers. Anarchy is Urban Land Ceiling Act was introduced to acquire land for affordable housing and it was repealed for the same reason.

As far as Maharashtra is concerned, the first ever DRAFT STATE HOUSING POLICY was published in 2006. The main objective of this policy  to address the issue of providing affordable housing for the Economically Weaker Section (EWS), Low Income Group (LIG), and Middle Income Group (MIG) .Under this policy and In order to encourage private investment in housing sector and to facilitate housing at affordable prices. Incentives for this scheme include automatic Non-agriculture permission, floating FSI in the township, concession in stamp duty, and concession in development charges and so on. However, what fate this scheme has mate? . Who got benefits of all those incentives ?

Can a person from EWS, LIG, and MIG dare or afford to purchase house in such schemes?. Forget about purchasing house in these schemes.Some townships are encouraging investors to buy flats in these schemes. Don't they know why they have received all the incentives? If you ask them why they are encouraging investors instead of real buyers they will shamelessly say that, government has put in any such condition. That is true there is no such condition or any authority to check whether such incentives reach to its real beneficiaries or not.

Not only this but many developers of such schemes even don't disclose correct fact of the schemes ,don't complete projects in time, don't give promised amenities .And there was not any authority to attend such complaints or to take sou motto action on such developers. Now government has come forward with one such authority called Real Estate Regulatory Authority. (RERA)

Hence forth every project above has to be registered with RERA and for that he/she has to declare among other things legal title to the land, land is free from all encumbrances and has to give affirmation that the project or the phase of the project shall be completed as the case may be in accordance with the terms and conditions of the registration.

This Authority may, on receipt of a complaint in this behalf or suo motto or on the recommendation of the Competent Authority, revoke the registration granted if
 (a) The promoter makes willful default in doing anything required of him by or under this Act or the rules or the regulations made there under;
(b) The promoter violates any of the terms or conditions of the agreement entered into with the Competent Authority: Provided that the Authority shall revoke the registration under this clause only on a recommendation received from the Competent Authority in this behalf;
(c) The promoter is involved in any kind of unfair practice or irregularities.
Explanation.-- For the purposes of this clause, the term “unfair practice means” a practice which, for the purpose of promoting the sale or development of any immovable property adopts any unfair method or unfair or deceptive practice including any of the following practices, namely:-
(A) The practice of making any statement, whether orally or writing or by visible representation which,-
(i) Falsely represents that the services are of a particular standard or grade;
(ii) Represents that the promoter has approval or affiliation, which such promoter does not have;
(iii) makes a false or misleading representation concerning the

(B) permits the publication of any advertisement whether in any newspaper or otherwise of services that are not intended to be offered.

In this act, there is also provision of penalty If any promoter willfully fails to comply with or contravenes the provisions in act, he shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years, or a penalty which may extend to ten per cent of the estimated cost of the real estate project, or with both.

Let us hope this act will really regulate real estate sector and protect rights of consumers also .