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Monday, January 26, 2009

Right to Information Act

Right to Information –
A new era in Public Information for Good Governance
Y. Babji, PR Teacher & Practitioner
Good governance is increasingly being used in development literature. Governance describes the process of decision-making and the process by which decisions are implemented. Hereby, public institutions conduct public affairs, manage public resources and guarantee the realization of human rights. Good governance accomplishes this in a manner essentially free of abuse and corruption and with due regard for the rule of law. Good governance defines an ideal, which is difficult to achieve in its totality. However, to ensure sustainable human development, actions must be taken to work towards this ideal. Major donors of international financial institutions, like the IMF or World Bank, are increasingly basing their aid and loans on the condition that reforms ensuring good governance are undertaken. Good governance can be understood as a set of 8 major characteristics; the characteristics assure that corruption is minimized, the views of minorities are taken into account and that the voices of the most vulnerable in society are heard in decision-making. The 8 characteristics of good governance are (1) participation (2) rule of law (3) transparency (4) responsiveness (5) consensus orientation (6) equity and inclusiveness (7) effectiveness and efficiency and (8) accountability.

The Chinese Philosopher Confucius once said that “Good Government must have three attributes: [1] Weapons to defend the country [2] Food to feed the people and [3] Trust of the people”. “Popular Government without popular information or the means of obtaining it is but a prologue to a farce or tragedy or perhaps both” said James Madison, US Fourth President [1809-1817]. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru said, “Freedom from ignorance is as important as Freedom from Hunger”. “Out of every rupee earmarked for the development of the people, 15 paise only reach the beneficiary while the middlemen manipulate the remaining 85 paise” opined Rajiv Gandhi.

Speaking during the presentation of the budget for 2008-09, Chidambaram said “two thousand years ago Saint Thiruvalluvar set the benchmark for good governance in the following immortal words: (generous grants, compassion, righteous rule and succour to the downtrodden are the hallmarks of good governance)”.

Kofi Annan (the Ghanaian Diplomat, 7th Secretary General of the United Nations and Nobel Peace Prize Winner in 2001) said, “Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance”.

Freedom of speech and expression

Article 19 (1) (a) of the Indian Constitution confers the right to freedom of speech and expression on every citizen including the media. What is the use of freedom of expression, when there is no freedom of information or right to know?

The United Nations in 1948 adopted “Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 19 of this declaration says that Every one has a right to freedom of opinion and expression, the right includes freedom to hold opinion without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds through any media of his choice and regardless of frontiers”. Majority of third world countries including USA, Germany, France, Japan provided a right of access to State held information.

“Citizens have several rights specifically enumerated in the Indian constitution. They have the right to equality, freedom of speech, right to life and liberty and now right to education of children. Founding fathers of the constitution debated over these rights and now these are part of constitution. But one area, which did not receive the attention initially, was the citizen’s right to ‘good governance. Effective implementation of constitutional rights is vital to provide meaning and substance to the written words and vision of our constitution makers,” said BK Chaturvedi, the then cabinet secretary in August 2005.

A bureaucrat is a strange creature, who sits on his files, sleeps over reminders, stands on his dignity, turns deaf ears to public complaints, smells a rat in every file and ties his hands with red tape - L K Jha, ICS (Retd)

By the foregoing it can be said that information is a valuable element in human development, right of access to state held information is a must, information flow between the rulers and the ruled is a pre-requisite for good governance, which means caring for the governed.

Right to Information in India
In 1994, the people of Rajasthan pioneered the struggle for freedom of information and right to know. ‘Ham Janenge’ (the right to know) ‘Ham Jieyenge’; (the right to live) ‘Hamara Paise’ (public money); ‘Hamara Hissab’ (public accountability). After 11 years of this struggle and due to the effect of Administrative Reforms undertaken worldwide, the Right to Information Act was brought into force in India, in October 2005, making the adage, “today’s public opinion is tomorrow’s legislation”, a reality.
Transparency & Accountability
The Government of India, after 58 years of Independence, gave its citizens the right to know with the Right to Information Act-2005, which marks a new era in public information. It has two fold objectives: (1) To Ensure Transparency in the functioning of democracy and also to contain corruption and (2) To Ensure Public Accountability in the working of every public authority
What is Information?
Information means - any material in any form including records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinions, advices, press releases, circulars, orders, logbooks, contracts, reports, samples, models, data held in any electronic form and information relating to any private body which can be accessed by a public authority. Right to Information means: Right to inspect works, documents, records; Right to take notes, extracts or certified copies; Right to take samples; Right to obtain information in electronic modes such as diskettes, floppies, etc. or through printouts.
The four important pillars of the Right to Information Act are (1) Good Governance (2) Obligations of Public Authorities; (3) Duties of Public Information Officers; and (4) Central and State Information Commissions, Appeals and Penalties.
Good Governance: Government-Citizen Interface is the objective. RTI Act brought a new era in Public Information Regime, which aims at establishing Good Governance through promotion of Transparency and Accountability in the working of every public authority. It also aims at eradicating of corruption. Act envisages free flow of information from Government to the Public.
What is a Public Authority? Public Authority means - any authority or body or Institution of self-government established or constituted under the constitution, by any other law made by the Parliament or by State Legislature Body owned, controlled or substantially financed by Government
Obligations of Public Authorities are -
(A) Maintenance of Records - Every public authority shall: Maintain all its records in a form that facilitates the Right to Information. All such records are to be computerized and connected through a network all over the country so that access to such records is facilitated.

(B) Pro-active Publication of Information - Every Public authority shall publish the particulars of its organization, functions and duties; the powers and duties of its officers and employees; the decision making process; the rules and regulations, manuals and records held by it; particulars of any arrangement that exists for consultation with or representation by, the members of the public in relation to the formulation of its policy or implementation thereof; a directory of its officers and employees; the budget allocated to each of its agencies indicating the particulars of all plans, proposed expenditures and reports on disbursements made; the manner of execution of subsidy programmes including the amounts allocated and the details of beneficiaries of such programmes

(C) Provide Suo Moto Information - Every public authority shall provide as much information Suo Moto to the public at regular intervals through various means of communication including internet so that public have minimum resort to the use of this Act.
D) Dissemination of Information through Media - Every public authority shall disseminate widely in local language all materials and information to the public through all media - notice boards, newspapers, public announcements, media broadcasts, the internet or any other means including inspection of offices of any public authority.
Public Education: Government Role
The Government may develop and organize educational programmes to advance the understanding of the public in particular of disadvantaged communities as to how to exercise the rights under this Act. Encourage public authorities to participate in the development and organization of educational programmes and also to undertake such programmes themselves. Train Central PIOs and State PIOs of public authorities and produce relevant training materials for use by public authorities.
Publication of User Guide - The Government shall compile in its official language, a “User Guide” containing such information, in an easily comprehensible form and the manner as may be required by a person who wishes to exercise any right. The Guidelines include Objects of the Act, postal address, the phone and fax number of PIOs, duties of PIOs, the manner and the form in which requests for access to information, manner of filing appeals to Commission, fees to be paid in relation to requests etc
Public Information Officer is the Kingpin of the Act - Every Public Authority shall designate as many officers as Public Information Officers, as the case may be in all administrative units or offices under it as may be necessary to provide information to persons requesting for the information. Designate an officer at each sub-divisional level or other sub-district level as an Assistant Public Information Officer as the case may be to receive the applications for information or appeals for forwarding the same forthwith to PIO or Information Commission as the case may be.
Application Procedure
Any citizen of India can make a request for seeking information under the Act. Application can be made in writing or electronically in English or Hindi or local official language of the area wherein it is being made. If not possible in writing, PIO to provide assistance to reduce in writing. Reasons for seeking information need not be given.
Obligation of Public Information Officers
Every PIO shall deal with requests from persons seeking information and render reasonable assistance to the persons. May seek the assistance of any other officer as necessary for the proper discharge of duties

Disposal of Request for Information
A person who desires to obtain any information under this Act shall make a request in writing or through electronic means in English or Hindi or in the official language of the area in which the application is being made. Oral request to be reduced to writing with assistance sought from Public Information Officer, where such request cannot be made in writing. He shall specify the particulars of the information being sought by the applicant. The application shall be accompanied by fee as prescribed under the rules. Applicant not to be required to give reasons for requesting the information or any other personal details except those that may be necessary for the purpose of contacting. Every Public Information Officer on receipt of a request, shall dispose within 30 days of the receipt of the request in general cases and within 48 hours on receipt in cases where the information sought for concerns the life or liberty of a person. Request is deemed to have been refused by the Public Information Officer, if decision on the request for information is not given within the period specified as above. Where a decision is taken to provide the information on payment of any further fee representing the cost of providing the information, the Public Information Officer shall send intimation to the person making the request. Where access to information is to be provided in the printed or in any electronic format, the applicant shall pay the fee prescribed; no fee shall be charged from the persons who are of below the poverty line as may be determined by the Government. Before taking any decision to provide information, the Public Information Officer shall take into consideration the representation made by a third party. Where a request has been rejected, the Public Information Officer shall communicate to the person making the request- i) the reasons for such rejection; ii) the period within which an appeal against such rejection may be preferred; iii) the particulars of the appellate authority. Where a request relates to a subject connected with the functions of another public authority or the requested information is held by such authority, the first authority, which received the request, shall transfer the same to the concerned public authority within five days under intimation to the requester. Where a request relates to information supplied in confidence by a third party, the PIO shall give a notice to the third party within five days and the representation made by the party shall be taken into consideration while deciding the request.
Exemptions from Disclosure of Information
There shall be no obligation to give any citizen information disclosure of which prejudicially affects the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the state, relation with foreign state or lead to incitement of an offence. Information disclosure of which has been expressly forbidden by any court or tribunal or may be contempt of court. Where disclosure would cause a breach of privilege of Parliament or Legislature. Commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property, where disclosure would harm competitive position or become available to a person in his fiduciary relationship, unless larger public interest so warrants. Endangers life or physical safety or identifies confidential source of information or assistance. Impedes the process of investigation or apprehension. Cabinet papers, including records of deliberations of the council of ministers, secretaries and other officers. However, such information shall be made public after the cabinet decision has been taken, and the matter is complete, or over. Personal information, which would cause invasion of privacy unless larger public interest justifies it. Infringes copyright, subsisting in person, except of the state Intelligence and security agencies exempt except for corruption and human rights violation charges.
Who is excluded?
Central Intelligence Agencies and security agencies, specified in the Second Schedule, exempted from the Act. Similar agencies notified by the State Governments will also be excluded from the Act’s purview. However, information relating to corruption and human rights violations is not exempted from disclosure.
First Appeal - Any person who does not receive a decision within time specified or is aggrieved by a decision of PIO, may within 30 days from the receipt of such decision prefer an appeal. First Appeal with the officer who is senior to PIO in rank designated as appellate officer. The appeal shall be disposed of within 30 days of the receipt of the appeal or within such extended period not exceeding 45 days from the date of filing. Second Appeal - A second appeal against the decision of the appellate officer shall lie within 90 days from the date on which the decision should have been made with the Information Commission. The decision of the information Commission to decide appeal shall be binding and it has the power to require the public authority to secure compliance with the provisions of the Act including providing access to information, require the public authority to compensate the complainant for any loss or other detriment suffered, impose any of the penalties provided under the Act, reject the application.
Penalty for PIOs
Where the Central or State Information Commission as the case may be at the time of deciding appeal is of the opinion that PIO has without ‘any reasonable cause’, refused to receive an application for information or has not furnished information within the time specified, malafidely denied the request for information or knowingly given incorrect, incomplete information or misleading information or destroyed information which was the subject of the request or obstructed in any manner in furnishing the information. The information Commission shall impose a penalty of Rs.250/- each day till application is received or information is furnished, however the total amount of such penalty shall not exceed Rs.25,000/-. The PIO shall be given a reasonable opportunity of being heard before any penalty is imposed on him. The Commission shall recommend for disciplinary action against PIO under the service rules.
Jurisdiction of Courts
The Act bars the jurisdiction of the Court to entertain any suit, application, etc. against an order made there under. However, it is only the jurisdiction of the civil courts that is being removed and the writ jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and the High Courts under articles 32 and 226 respectively would continue to remain.
Appointment of a Professional Chief Public Information Officer in every Head of the Department as a Nodal Officer for implementation of the Act, website management and public education programmes. Establishment of Public Information Facilitation Centre in every public authority as a ‘visitors lobby’ equipped with full information. The Blanket order giving exemptions in the Public interest, (sovereignty, integrity, security, strategic scientific and economic interests) needs to be guarded against its misuse by bureaucrats. A specific provision of five per cent of department’s budget must be earmarked for publications, dissemination of information through media and public education programmes. Establishment of Evaluation and Monitoring Unit in the office of the Information Commission to review and collect feedback information from the users on the implementation of the Act.

Right to Information Act is ambitious, simple, clear and unprecedented people-friendly legislation to usher in a new era of public information for ensuring good governance in the Country.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Hyderabad Chapter of PRSI

10th APPR Conference

"Impact of Global Financial Meltdown on India – PR Perspective" is the theme for the 10th Andhra Pradesh Public Relations Conference being organized by Hyderabad Chapter on 15th February 2009 in Hyderabad. The conference will run on the following tracks:
i) Impact of Meltdown on Industrial and Financial Sector
ii) Reputation Management in Crisis Situation
iii) A New Order for Public Communication
The Conference includes (a) All India competitions for the best Corporate Video Production (b) All India House Journal Awards and Exhibition (c) All India websites/blogs Awards. About 200 delegates from all over India including Students of business communication disciplines are expected to participate in this one-day conference.

Hyderabad Chapter, a Central Pillar of PRSI

Hyderabad Chapter, formed in 1972-73, is one among the premier chapters founded initially for promotion of public relations as a profession in the country and continued to be one of the most active chapters with several achievements to its credit. This chapter won national Awards on different occasions and many of its Chairmen got not only the awards of “Best Chapter Chairman” conferred by PRSI but also National and International recognition on various fronts.

Apart from hosting Two All India Public Relations Conferences (1988 & 2000), one International Seminar and one southern Regional Conference (2001), Hyderabad Chapter of PRSI has a unique history of organizing State-level conferences called “Andhra Pradesh Public Relations Conferences” – a model worth emulation by other chapters in the country.

This is attributed to the presence of PR Legend, Dr CV Narasimha Reddi, past National President (1985-87) National Council and past Chairman (1979-82 & 1988-89), in Hyderabad. He is the driving force and perennial source of energy for Hyderabad Chapter. With his guidance, N L Narasimha Rao, another name to be reckoned with in Public Relations profession, who held chairman’s post for three terms, this Chapter has initiated and organized the following nine conferences.
“Towards Result Oriented Public Relations” July 12, 1980
“Socio – Economic Growth: Public Relations Perspective” Dec 11, 1982
“ Seventh Five Year Plan Public Relations Perspective” May 3, 1985
“ Public Relations for Effective Corporate Management” Dec 2, 1990
“Public Relations in a changing India” Feb 14, 1993
“New Socio - Economic Environment: Public Relations Challenges” Apr 20-21, 1997
"Emerging e-Governance: A Strategy for Online - Public Relations" Feb 14-15, 2003
“Catalysts of change-advancing PR profession.” Feb 12-13, 2004
“Multi Cultural Pluralistic Society - Harmony Through Public Relations" Feb 11-12, 2006

The Chairpersons of Hyderabad Chapter, since its formation are - Prof. S Bashiruddin [1973-1976], PL Raghu Ram [1976-1977], Prof. S Bashiruddin [1977-1979], Dr. CV Narasimha Reddi [1979-1982], Mathew Joseph [1982-1983], S Venkata Rathnam [1983-1984], KV Rajagopal [1984-1986], Pramila Nanda [1986-1988], Dr. CV Narasimha Reddi [1988-1989], R Neelamegham [1989-1990], C Ramakrishna [1990-1992], NL Narasimha Rao [1992-1994], VSR Naidu [1994-1995], NL Narasimha Rao [1995-1997], Krishna Baji [1997-1999], K Govindraj [1999-2000], N Radha Krishna Rao [2000-2001], Y Babji [2001-2002], NL Narasimha Rao [2002-2004], Dr. CGK Murthy [2004-2006], M Pramoda Rao [2006-2008] and KRK Chary [2008-To date].

Y. Babji
Past Chairman, Hyderabad Chapter, PRSI