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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Let us not bring disrepute to great institutions by individual actions (RTI related)

To be conscious that you are ignorant is a great step to knowledge - Benjamin Disraeli

Do we have to hide when there’s nothing wrong ?

Of course not. And that’s why I say, the RTI Act should be implemented in spirit and not just in letter. It has changed the way we look towards the govt and how the govt looks at its citizens. The services as a whole have implemented and adopted the Act in a genuine and welcoming manner, despite the fact that due to some strange logic, the CPOs have been kept outside the purview of the Act by virtue of Section 24 but the defence services are very much amenable to it. So there you have it, RTI does not apply to the BSF or Assam Rifles but it applies to the Army. But that is not the point I want to make here.

Most of the times, our RTI machinery, especially after the job was entrusted to the Education Branch, is judicious and very much careful in the application of the RTI Act. But sometimes we goof up and we goof up bad, and in the bargain the entire organisation suffers a bad name when the discredit should entirely go to those particular officers who handled that particular case. The problem remains in the holy cowish attitude ensconced in some of us. Some of us try to make sure how to look for ways to somehow put impediments in public life and derive sadistic pleasure out of it rather than create a conducive environment for outflow of information and transparency. This attitude ultimately invites bad press and brickbats instead of the bouquets that the forces truly deserve. This is the era of information and not of confidentiality, period.

The other day, I was asked by an officer if we could disseminate copies of the Regulations of the Army (DSR) to RTI applicants and whether it was not a confidential document. Some applicant had desired a copy of the para dealing with retirement ages of officers. Damn I thought to myself. The entire DSR has been uploaded on the net on the official army website, it’s a public document to the hilt determining service conditions of our personnel then what the hell was confidential about it ?. Record Offices have been refusing medical board documents based on some dim-witted diktat issued by someone sitting in the office of DGAFMS which says that medical board documents should not be supplied under the RTI Act unless directed by the CIC. Michel de Montaigne had once said ‘he who establishes his argument by noise and command shows that his reason is weak’. Is this a bloody joke ?, the RTI Act is an Act of the Parliament, Medical Board documents are documents concerning one’s own medical condition, how in the world can they be held back ?. And why do you want people to approach the CIC and cause loss to own exchequer and burden on own legal machinery when you damn well know that the CIC has in the past held that such documents have to be supplied ?. In fact I personally once saw a letter received from a Regimental Records Office stating that a clarification had been sought (a year back) from the DGAFMS on the issue and the medical documents would only be disseminated once a reply is received. Fine, so now the M-Block has more authority than an Act of Parliament & the CIC, and that Record Officer would wait for years for a clarification in utter disregard of law rather than implement RTI requests within 30 days as provided under the Act. This veil of secrecy should be shunned. The more we hide, the more people would think there is something shady or devious ultimately bringing disrepute to our great organisation due to our own individual actions and non-application of mind. Only those documents can be held back which are directly hit by the prohibitions mentioned in Section 8 of the RTI Act.

Why the above thought came to my mind was this. One mother whose son had died in an operational area (was declared a suicide) had sought documents related to the Court of Inquiry and post-mortem of her son’s death. The reply provided to her was very interesting – that the RTI Act is not applicable to J&K and that not being under the Army Act she was not entitled to any CoI proceedings. Pray tell us, the Act through a decision of the CIC has been made applicable to central govt servants even in missions outside India and here we are talking of our very own India. Perhaps the officer shooting off that reply forgot to browse the Indian Army’s official website which lists out PIOs and RTI Appellate authorities for the Northern Command, all based in J&K. Perhaps his insensitivity of human life took the better of him, otherwise who would refuse a mother the documents of her son’s death or his post-mortem and to analyse this situation in the light of the fact that the deceased was a Shaurya Chakra awardee and that the officer’s father had also died after hearing about his death, makes me want to hang my own head in shame. What a monumental goof up for our organisation by some of our own. If everything is right, then why hide ?. Individual actions like these bring disrepute to the defence services. Visitors on this blog have oft talked of accountability and transparency in bureaucracy, I would say let’s start with ourselves first and reflect it in our own little ways. Things should never come to such a pass. By the way, the CIC has now held that Court of Inquiry proceedings are under the purview of the RTI Act and all central govt organisations in J&K are under the RTI Act. Of course we can always hold back information from a CoI which may be a threat to national security.

Cloak of secrecy never works, after all, as Benjamin Franklin said, 'Three may keep a secret only if two of them are dead'.


digvijay said...

I have & so many have laughed over these issues for so long , it is funny but it is fact , nin-cum poops !!!!

Anonymous said...

Sitting on the other side of the fence there is a flip side too.This in no way should be misconstrued as a disagreement with the views aired by Maj Navdeep.At times we find officers repeatedly raising the same queries or forming a group to reword in plain semantics a set of questions repeatedly even after they have been replied to the best of our ability.Fiduciary capacity is a word much exploited in the realms of RTI.The need of the hour is someone needs to explain if not all at least the experts on the subject as to what it actually means otherwise if left to interpretation us men in the olive green can even withold our ration entitlements for public info stating that I am a fiduciary custodian of the ASC handbook.There is no formal training on legal aspects and the basic block in not giving an information is primarily because of the fear of the unknown.Further I find routine policy letters being asked for in RTI - the flaw lies in the system where a unclas letter at AHQ letter becomes class at lower levels and the personal fiefdom of one ignorant staff offr.So the need of the hour is a systemic change in handling of correspondence and some basic education on RTI. Guess what Navdeep I learnt about RTI verdicts from your site and not through any letter from the army.

Anonymous said...

Hi Navdeep,

Thanks for projecting this imbroglio so lucidly.
We are a defense organisation, accountable to the citizens & to our own.
Any decisions taken by the policy makers HAS TO BE in accordance with the laws of the state. Any less is treason. Ignorance of existing laws is not an acceptable reason for defiance, nor is a sly misinterpretation.
THe L & M (DGMS & DGAFMS) blocks seem to be quasi governments by themselves, reigning over the hapless populace chained by an archaic Army Act. Just a look at the postings they issue, with the privileged getting near permanent stay in the metros (throughout their careers) while the plebians man their peripheral units is proof enough of the nepotism that reigns there.All protected by the shroud of 'secrecy'.
Time to clean out the stables!!


Anonymous said...

No wonder the RTI issue was raised in the context of the DGAFMS. Show me the person, and I'll make a rule, they say. But unfortunately, they are also a part of the Armed Forces, and as a result, the entire Armed Forces get a bad name...

Anonymous said...

Well! What one has to say when I'm suppose to sign the register for having read official secret act (OSA) even today. my question in this is RTI does not fully absolves one of OSA and still under the gambit of RTI every thing is open. Now when RTI is there open for everyone.
Why OSA is not scraped?
Why we are banned from media?
(Capt Poonam being charged for contacting media)
Do you think there is need to change Army Act?

Anonymous said...

I draw your attention to Section 22 of the RTI Act which states that "The provisions of this Act shall have effect notwithstanding anything inconsistent therewith contained in the Official Secrets Act, 1923, and any other law for the time being in force or in any instrument having effect by virtue of any law other than this Act"

We are banned from contacting the media just because most of us have a loose tongue. Even in other departments or even in Political Parties,everyone is not allowed to meet the press and there is a "Spokeman" who is suppossed to give its view to the press. So, there is nothing special on this account impossed on us. If anyone attempt to amend the Army/Navy/Air Force Act, our problem will commence then only and not with the Acts as existing to-day.

Anonymous said...

Dear Maj Navdeep,

I have sought a certified copy of Part II order publishing my relase from the Army on relinquishment of Commission on 01 Jan 1996 under under RTI Act applicatuion forwarded through CPIO Hisar Postal Division. Instead of supplying the information RTI Cell IHQ of MoD (Army) has asked my proof of Indian Citizenship. This is being done just to harass an officer who has served in the Indian Army for 33 years from 20 Feb 1963 to 01 Jan 1996. However, I have sent copies of my I card, ECHS card and release order issued on personal intervention of Lt Gen A Natrajan, PVSM, AVSM, Adjutant General on 15 Jan 2004. I hope I get a copy of required document without having to approach the CIC.

TC -31290K Maj MR Penghal

Anonymous said...

Dear Navdeep,
It is sad to know about the suicide case and the events that followed. But I am sure denial of docus by authorities must be to avoid any legal complecations. since we are not aware of the official stand, wrong conclusions should not be drawn.
On the flip side, I am reminded of the movie "A Few Good Men". Men in uniform at times are so indoctrinated that we place Izzat of paltan above every thing. May I call upon youngsters to have the courage to standup and speak for what is right.

Rajababu said...

Dear Navdeep

Replying after a long time cos i preferred to be a spectator watching sparring matches.

But this article of yours has had my adrenaline pumping as i cant stand the Hypocrisy in the services. We in the services are down right hypocrites when it comes to welfare and humanitarian aspects. This is mainly due to the inflated egos most of us have and also oneupmanship bordering on brinkmanship.

It is evident in the services that most of the officers make totally unprofessional and audacious off the cuff remarks which in fact draws adulations from juniors due to the sychophancy factor.

Most of the superiors cant stand criticism as they want their writ to run large in the respective empires(read orgns). It is because of this very reason that we see officers most of the times acting against their conscience and doing such acts that goes against the basic tenets of service ethos.

So i feel that the RTI replies most of the times will end up getting doctored in the services. The day transparency finds its way into the services then only there will be noticeable improvements. Till such time we have to live up to the mediocracy.

Anonymous said...

Dear Navdeep,

Please enlighten me of the fact that can I as a serving Officer of IAF, apply for RTI for getting information about any subject of the Indian Air Force. If so, what is the procedure?

Wg Cdr Indranil Chakraborty

IndianACE said...

It is a disgusting state of affairs. Is there something in the air at Wellington which makes its alumni create a fog wherever they go?

Someone said recently that 15 days behind the slammer by one of these brasspots will, in fact, be godsend for those expecting transparency and equity from the system here.

I second Rajababu's view that the gang will attempt to doctor the RTI Act as pertaining to services.

At Pragmatic's blog they are having a field day over AWWA, AWES and AWHO issues. If we have no transparency in this peripheral orgs, how can we expect the core issues to be dealt transparently?

Anonymous said...

This may me a little off from the RTI induced disrepute.
Many of as hope someone is giving a due thought while fixing pay in the Pay band for Lt Cols. There are Lt Cols(Select list), the Lt Col (Time Scale) who got promoted on completion of 21 years of service but seniority fixed as on Dec 04 on implementation of AVS Phase1 and the third category of those who promoted on 13 years of service. While selection to Lt cols rank no more existing, those who attained the rank by selection were not abrogated. Similarly the erstwhile LT Cols(TS) who attained the rank after 21 years cannot be clubbed those promoted through AVS-1. Hope those working on the pay fixation is giving due consideration to these facts. Navdeep is requested highlight this aspect.

Anonymous said...

Some of the repeated issues raised on this site, and a bit of out of the box thinking.

Todays topic: Acommodation.

Repeated mention is made of single and married accomodation for both PBOR and officers, and the shortage thereof, at various stations.

Ideas to deal with the problem of shortages.

Idea A

If a temporary labour force of 5000 unskilled construction workers was raised, using even casual labour at the rate of Rs 3000 per day, one would find takers.

This entails a wage expenditure of Rs 20 crores per annum. Small potatoes, by any account.

A few months of training could meld them into a highly efficient unit of construction workers, and given adequate budget provisioning (which is easily possible), they can quickly start making an impact in the shortages being felt currently.

Idea B:

Raise a construction corps, such as the US Navy's Seabee's, or the US Army Corps of Engineers (Which is essentially a federal construction and maintenance agency). It can be officered by such officers as are currently sent on deputation to the MES, and will then obviate the need for an MES any further.

Several advantages accrue. The use of trained and effective personnel, service personnel, is likely to raise efficiency, and standards.

The creation of such a corps, perhaps headed by a PSO to the COAS, will immediately engender improvement in quality, as it will be an in-house organisation, rather than the current situation.

The creation of a permanent works cadre acts as an excellent opportunity for officers who are unable to continue in combat engineering roles.

The roles currently played by the Indian Defence Estates Dept. can be handed over to army/navy/airforce officers on the retired list, generating results as envisaged above.

Any thoughts?

Anonymous said...

The culture of bureaucracy is of secrecy,mystifying things keeping distance which has spread tis tentacles into army also.Efforts of mazdoors in rajasthan way back in 1996 must be praised at this juncture.The aim of RTI is to create conditions favourable to exercise the right.In the case of sardar sarovar dam the potential oustees had no ideas how things are going to change in future.All these incidents give citizens hope that there are tools to check corruption or misuse of power by authorities.

Anonymous said...

CPWD engineer gets access to ACR through RTI route

New Delhi, Feb 23: In a departure from its earlier stand, a full bench of the CIC has permitted disclosure of entries in the Annual Confidential Reports (ACRs) of a government employee who used RTI as a tool to access information denied to him officially.

The CIC order, on the plea of a CPWD official, directed the authorities "to communicate the entries in the ACRs to the appellant for the period asked for by him in his RTI application with in a period of 10 days from the date of the receipt of this decision."

The decision is in contrast to CIC's earlier stand, where it considered the ACRs to be confidential documents whose disclosures may seriously harm interpersonal relationship in a given organisation, is based on Supreme Court judgements which allowed the ACRs to be disclosed.

In the Maneka Gandhi Vs Union of India, apex court has held "all entries...in the ACR whether in civil, judicial, police or any other State service except military must be communicated" to an employee which would be "conducive to fairness and transparency in public administration."

In another decision, "Dev Dutt Vs Union of India and others" Supreme Court also allowed the disclosure of ACRs.

The CIC, hearing the plea of CPWD engineer P K Sarin, held "the disclosure of ACRs to the concerned employee cannot, therefore, be denied in light of decision/direction of...Apex Court."

"This does not, however, imply that it will necessarily be desirable to provide either a photocopy or certified copy of the ACR to a public servant. Similarly, one cannot seek an ACR of someone else as a matter of right. Such disclosure would be permissible only when large public interest warrants," the bench held.

The case relates to RTI application of Sarin filed in 2006 in which he sought entries made in his ACRs during his term as Assistant Engineer, as he was denied promotion to the post of Executive Engineer.

The request was denied by the department saying since ACR entries made by superiors are "fiduciary" in nature, their disclosure may "endanger life and security" of the officials making the entries.

The CPWD also referred the matter to DoPT seeking advice on the issue. The DoPT said till administrative instructions are issued with regard to disclosure of ACRs, CPIO may take a decision in the light of RTI Act, 2005 and the decision of the Supreme Court.

Drawing a parallel between the Dev Dutt case decision by the apex court and P K Sarin's case, the Commission held "prima facie the facts of this case appear to be similar with that of Dev Dutt" and allowed it to be disclosed.

Bureau Report

"Very smartly for Military, they have excluded this provision in the name of National Security"

Anonymous said...

Dear Maj Pengal,
RTI Act is applicable only to the cityzens of India. The CPIO of Army HQ is very right in seeking such proof as he in person is reponsible if he has provided the information to anyone who is not a cityzen of India. Your annoyance is very reasonable as according to you, how can the Army HQ doubt your cityzenship after your 33 years service in Indian Army ? But there are cases where the veterans after retirement migrating to America to settle down with their children on obtaining American cityzenship. You would have provided the proof as sought without making an issue out of a non-issue.

Anonymous said...

As a veteran reasonably well-vesed in the RTI Act 2005 I do not wish to see a day when a man in uniform (Not Veteran, who has no Mai Baap) is forced to resort to RTI Act to get information. In our defence heirarchy how can such a cituation arise ? Indian Defence Forces is built on a firm base of mutual respect, faith and confidence. What are the information concealed from a person in uniform ? Only those information which he need not or should not know. Irrespective of what is laid down in the RTI Act, why should a soldier insist to have an information which he need not know and should not know and want to remain as part of the set up called Defence Forces ?

This can happen only when the unit or organisation he serve is in too bad a condition of administration and man-management. We do have inbuilt exemplary system to get information Is there any parrallel to our Sainik Sammelan ? What stops an officer from obtaining the required information in normal channel? If everything fails, he got a chance to seek personal interview of even the Chief. I am not bringing in the civilians in defence but only men in uniform.

To me, there should never be an occasion where a seving soldier has to resort to RTI Act to get an information from the Defence Department. The system provide him whatever he must know, could know, should know and shouldnot know. If this is not acceptable to him, my advice to them is that he is at a wrong place and better leave at the earliest for the good of all concerned.

Anonymous said...

Is RTI an option

An officer attended a career course in which out of a total of 1000 marks, 500 marks were in the form of written tests, the results of which were shown and discussed in classroom but the remaining 500 marks were awarded based on some criteria which was not deliberated upon at all, but the marks granted therein were added and the course report despatched direct to the unit.

He noted with shock that whereas he had stood 4th in the course (among the officers of his corps)after totalling the marks obtained out of the first 500 marks, but out of the overall marks, he had dropped to 12th position and was even pulled down a grade.

There was no mention of this mismatch/ drop in performance in his course report and in time almost all officers who had been ultimately ranked above him had the opportunity to serve abroad and posted to class 'A' establishments.

How does one approach the defence department, if he wants to know the reason for this mockery/ traversity. If it had been a college exam, a system is in place for review.

Is RTI an option at all? How is it to be framed?

Anonymous said...

it is a good education for us who did not know about faq of rti

Anonymous said...

There is no doubt on prevelence of maladministration in every filed including Defence Forces. RTI Act is a wonderful piece of legislation which can expose this maladministration. In the case- study brought out above, one cannot rule out that the system adopted by them could be a deliberate manipulation or honest scientific method of assessement. RTI Act can expose this fully. The very fear that this could be expossed using RTI Act, will act as a deterrant and forbid anyone from resorting to any shaddy activities. In every fields this is what exactly happening.

But what happens to those who are making effort to expose this by using RTI Act ? The entire heirarchy gun for him. Whoever is party to the above maladminist-ration support the manipulators. In any case all concerned will ensure that he is booked some how or other. He will defenitely not benefit even if he succeed in exposing it. In civil Departments,Rtians face transfers, posting to inconvenient places bad ACR, rejecting TA/Medical Bills etc., etc.,

In Defence Forces, our mutual relations, values, mutual faith etc., etc.,are different. Even in a Cource of Instructions we do not believe that Gradings are fully manipulated though we do not rule out little bit of personal influence . For Eg, if one is sure that the No.1 grade is likely to be very critical, we do expect that from the very detailment stage till the final posting, there could be influences and struggle among the top 1, 2 & 3. This in any case cannot be averted. A person having good influence on the Defence Minister cannot be stoped from encashing it. That is a way of life. But when liberal use of RTI start,what happen to the unit ? The elements and factors that distinquish a defence unit from other civil departments/organisation perishes. How will you like an Infantry Bn functioning like a Municipal Office or even a Collectorate ?

In nut shell RTI Act is good, it can expose corruption fully. But it will make the Defence Unit like any of the civil departements. Is that acceptable ? Will you go to war with such a Bn constituted of Groups which are waiting for a war so tthat they can eliminate the inconvenient one ?

Anonymous said...

I think RTI Act use in Armed Forces will only be understood by all those who have seen corruption from close quarters. Rest others can feel good about the organzation and have a right to say RTI is not ok for Indian Army. No point in arguing,they were lucky all i can say.

Anybody who feels there are reform required go ahead. What is required is training to beat the PIO or officals replying. It is a mind game. Vb

Anonymous said...

thought provoking and excellent presentation of issues have been the highlight of this blog. I for one am glad to see this effort. we need to be more open, flexible and ready to accept criticism without getting worked up. We cannot expect to have seperate/different treatment under the law. If anything we need to uphold it and stregthen it. Our disdain for laws is there because we are always taught to look at ends. If a particular job is to be done then local orders take precedence otherwise AO is quoted to fix anyone undesireable! However i have seen a quantam change in attitude so far as approach to solving an issue vis a vis viewpoint of law is considered. another important issue is the awareness of laws in the rank and file. Oterwise for the fear of the unknown we shall always take the safety first path.