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Deliberately wrong RTI replies attract penalty, disciplinary action: Ex-CIC

The news caught national attention as this is the same route on which the Narendra Modi government’s prestigious Bullet Train project is planned, raising serious question marks on its viability.

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RTI ACT

Even as we witness an alarming trend where RTI replies by various government departments are subsequently denied outright, a former Central Information Commissioner (CIC) has underlined the fact that providing wrong information to any applicant can invite a penalty and disciplinary action.

“Any Information Officer who wilfully provides wrong or misleading information under the Right to Information (RTI) Act to any application, can be penalised Rs 25,000 by the Commissioner, plus disciplinary action can be recommended against him,” former CIC Shailesh Gandhi told IANS.

However, the ex-CIC said there may be cases in which the errors are genuine, without mala fide intention, in which case the concerned department must immediately provide an explanation for the lapse as well as the correct information.

Gandhi’s comments come at a time when RTI replies are subsequently denied outright — with at least five such instances that have made news nationally in the recent past.

Last November, Western Railway informed activist Anil Galgali that the Mumbai-Ahmedabad rail sector was running at 40 percent below capacity.

The news caught national attention as this is the same route on which the Narendra Modi government’s prestigious Bullet Train project is planned, raising serious question marks on its viability.

After a furore over the RTI revelation, Indian Railways and Railway Minister Piyush Goyal personally denied the information, and later claimed that the sector was not only running at 100 per cent capacity but was also profitable.

“By such tactics, fear is instilled among the Information Officers, who try to dodge RTI queries, unsure whether the genuine information provided would be later denied if it proves controversial,” Galgali told IANS.

In March 2018, senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Eknath Khadse raised a stink when he publicised RTI replies that said over 319,000 rats were killed within a week in Mantralaya, the Maharashtra government headquarters.

Though the RTI replies hinted at a scam, the government did a somersault to say that they were “misinterpreted” by the former minister Khadse and actually referred to the quantity of zinc phosphide (anti-rodent) tablets needed to eliminate the rat population.

“The original documents are available in the matter, how can the government deny it? It clearly means they are trying to hide something. If they cannot accept their own documents, then better scrap the RTI Act,” Khadse told IANS.

The same month (March), Mumbai Congress President Sanjay Nirupam created a sensation when he furnished RTI replies showing the Maharashtra Chief Minister’s Office guzzled nearly 18,600 cups of tea daily.

“Later, the government completely reneged on its own RTI replies. This puts tremendous psychological pressure on the poor Information Officer trying to do an honest job. It seems the present BJP government at the Centre and states want to completely destroy the RTI Act,” Nirupam told IANS.

In a very recent instance, the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) denied its own RTI replies to activist Chandra Shekhar Gaur of Neemuch, Madhya Pradesh, pertaining to huge arrears of over Rs 50,000 crore all over India and “write-offs” of over Rs 3,002 crore, claiming these figures were given “erroneously”.

“For my single line query, I was barraged with nearly 1,100 replies, right from Principal Commissionerates to block-level officers. Most letters came by registered Speed Post costing over Rs 50 each, meaning they have spent more than Rs 50,000 of taxpayers’ money,” Gaur told IANS.

He said that his query seeking a consolidated national figure of the arrears and write-offs online, via email, was tossed by the CBDT to all state and local offices, “which is a sheer waste of resources and harassment of the RTI activist”.

In an IANS expose on indiscriminate purchase of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in April, the Election Commission of India (ECI) contended that the information was provided wrongly, but never came forth with a written explanation.

“I am aware of how government departments try to trample RTI. So I took the precaution of first filing a PIL (Public Interest Litigation) before the Bombay High Court based on the RTI replies received so far. Now, the court will decide whether the ECI’s replies are true or not,” said a grim RTI activist Manoranjan S. Roy, who toiled on the EVMs issue for over a year.

On his part, former CIC Gandhi said there are avenues like appeal or even the courts, but “the tragedy is most commissioners and the courts are anti-RTI” and the whole exercise can be very time-consuming.

“RTI is in a regressionary stage, taken very casually by the government, the Information Commissioners and the courts. It is up to the RTI activists and the media to pursue it relentlessly, continue to name and shame the authorities,” Gandhi suggested.

A Neemuch-based RTI activist, Jinendra Surana, realised the futility of appeals the hard way. “An appeal of mine is pending with the CBDT since over three years… They kick it from one department to another and nobody bothers to dispose it off.”

By Quaid Najmi

(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at [email protected])

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Obituary – Ex-Aus batsman Dean Jones had a love affair with India

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Dean Jones

For some strange reason, a 51-second video clip of Dean Jones being bowled neck and crop for a duck by the legendary Kapil Dev in a Test against Australia went viral on Wednesday, with a commentator uttering the words “that’s the end of Dean Jones”. And, on Thursday Jones died of a cardiac arrest, aged 59 years and 184 days, in Mumbai.

Jones, who was in India to honour his contract with a broadcaster for the IPL, was close to many Indian players, like Kapil Dev and Dilip Vengsarkar, and was a regular visitor to India for cricket-related work.

A top order batsman, Jones, who was part of the second Tied Test in which he scored his maiden double century in 1986 in Madras, played 52 Tests and 164 ODIs between 1984 and 1994. He was a gutsy batsman and wasn’t scared of stepping out to play speedsters. His running between the wickets was very brisk. Jones is perhaps best known for his 210 in the Tied Test, his maiden double century at that level — an innings after which he was taken to a hospital and was put on a saline drip after he was dehydrated during his eight-and-a-half hours at the crease in hot and humid Madras, as Chennai was then called.”

A day that changed my life forever,” Jones tweeted on September 19, on the 34th anniversary of the Tied Test. Another tweet of his that day read:

“This Test was the Renaissance for Australian cricket. It was our Mt Everest moment. Under AB [Border] we started to believe that we can compete against the best. Great friendships started with the Indians. Our Journey had just begun!” Indeed, Jones’s friendship with Indians had well and truly begun in 1987, and some of his friends, like Kapil Dev, were in the team that played at Chepauk. India proved lucky for Jones as he was part of Allan Border’s team that won Australia their first ever World Cup, in 1987 at Eden Gardens, Kolkata. After retirement, Jones started getting TV work in India and was nicknamed ‘Professor Deano’. He even named his twitter handle @ProfDeano. Jones’s love affair with India continued both on and off the field. In Test cricket, although he played only three matches on Indian soil, his average here — 92.

75 — was the highest of the six countries he had played in. He played 18 ODIs in India and tallied 719 runs at 44.

94. The Aussie once also played alongside Indians in unofficial cricket. When a World XI gathered in England to celebrate the bicentenary of the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) in 1987, former India captain Dilip Vengsarkar partnered Jones in a game against Gloucestershire in Bristol.”

He was a very nice, jovial person. I was shocked when I heard this news today. I was absolutely devastated. Of course, we played against each other, representing India and Australia. We also played together once. It was one of the three matches played before the main five-day game between the MCC and Rest of the World XI at Lord’s in London. Dean and I had a 200-odd-run partnership. I scored 171 and he scored 70-odd in that match,” Vengsarkar told IANS. “Of course, I knew him very well. When he used to come to Mumbai for commentary etc, sometimes we used to meet. He was a good friend. And he used to play golf also. So, I was surprised that he collapsed and died today. It’s absolutely shocking,” he said. In mid-2000s, Jones also applied for the India coach’s job. Although he didn’t get the job, he became coach of the Islamabad franchise in the maiden Pakistan Super League in 2016 and guided the team to the title.

Jones played a prominent role in the revival of Australian cricket in late 1980s, especially during the 1987 World Cup and the 1989 Ashes Test series.

He went on to captain Victoria and Derbyshire. At times, Jones was too outspoken. As a commentator, he slipped a couple of times. In 2006, he called South Africa cricketer Hashim Amla a “terrorist”, a comment for which he had to pay a penalty. But he was accepted back into the commentary box while Amla forgave him. On Thursday morning, Jones reportedly greeted everyone when he was at the breakfast table in the hotel where he was staying in Mumbai. “When he went for breakfast, he was jovial and said ‘good morning boys, hope everything is fine’ to people present there,” a hotel source told IANS.

By Qaiser Mohammad Ali

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Obituary – MoS Railway Angadi will be remembered for warm gesture, smile

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Suresh Angadi,

New Delhi, Sep 23 : Minister of State for Railways Suresh Angadi, who passed away on Wednesday evening at a hospital here where he was being treated for Covid-19 will always be known for a big smile and warm gestures by his colleagues and friends.

Angadi was made the Minister of State for Railways in May last year by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Soon after his appointment as MoS for Railways, he knew that he has to meet the expectations of PM Modi to improve the train services.

During the inaugural run of second Vande Bharat Express train between New Delhi to Katra on October 4 last year, just two months after the abrogation of Article 370 from Jammu and Kashmir, he travelled in train with media persons to give a message that the government is standing with the people of J&K for the overall development of the region.

There were around 80 media persons along including the camerapersons to cover the inaugural run of the Vande Bharat Express.

During the trip, Angadi kept on interacting with the media about the plans of the Railway Ministry to bring development in erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir.

He gave interviews for four consecutive hours without any break and assured that he answered all the tough questions posed to him.

Speaking to IANS on the same trip, Angadi had said, the Indian Railways, which has witnessed delays in completion of several important projects, was aiming to finish all of them by 2022, on the occasion of 75th Independence Day.

He had also said that the national transporter sees the option of allowing private operators to run trains as an opportunity to provide world class services.

Angadi had said, “Prime Minister Narendra Modi has directed that all the pending projects and works be completed by 2022. We are focusing on completing pending works, like doubling and tripling of tracks, electrification, installation of CCTVs and signalling system upgrade.”

“New projects will be taken up only after completing them,” Angadi said.

He also favoured giving trains to private operators, and cited the example of private TV channels and said, “The entry of private players will generate more jobs and investment opportunities. In the long run, a lot of development will follow due to the competition.”

In countries like China trains run at 400 kmph. But in India trains were not running even at 160 kmph, he said.

“To compete with the world, we have to opt for investment from many sources. When a private company or people comes and invests in railways, it will create opportunities to develop economy,” he had said.

The railways had last year proposed to corporatise Rae Bareli Modern Rail Coach factory in UP.

On opposition of the Congress and other parties to corporatisation and privatisation of railways’ manufacturing units, the Minister said, “The Congress never thought about development. It has always opposed development.”

“We have not got to think of the Congress, but development and competition, and let the economy grow and create employment opportunities,” Angadi said.

Citing examples, he had said, the national highways remained undeveloped till the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government took it up and today even foreign countries were appreciating them.

Angadi in the railway ministry was also known as one of the most punctual minister. He always came to the ministry on time and ensured that the press briefing started on time.

Angadi represented Belagavi constituency of Karnataka in Lok Sabha.

He first won from the seat in 2004 and remained undefeated from the seat till 2019.

He was also known as a media man, who always remained responsive to the queries of media even late in night.

Following the news of gis death, Union Railway Minister Piyush Goyal said, “Deeply anguished at the unfortunate demise of Suresh Angadiji. He was like my brother. Words fall short to describe his commitment and dedication towards the people. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends in this hour of need. Om Shanti.”

Angadi Angadi admitted at AIIMS on September 11 after testing positive for Covid-19. He breathed his last on Wednesday evening.

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It was all about being ruthless: MI skipper Rohit Sharma

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Rohit Sharma

Abu Dhabi, Sep 24 : Rohit Sharma, on Wednesday, returned to his usual, elegant self with a masterful innings to lead Mumbai Indians to a 49-run win over Kolkata Knight Riders at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi. Rohit scored 80 off 54 as MI scored 195/5. In reply, KKR managed to score 146/9.

Interestingly, this marked MI’s first ever victory in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), having lost all of their matches in 2014 when a part of the group stage was played in the UAE.

“It was only two players from the 2014 squad. It was all about how we executed our plans today, we never let it go. We were in good position throughout the game but it was all about being ruthless, getting as many (runs) as possible. We knew the wicket was good and dew was coming down,” said Rohit in the post-match presentation ceremony in which he was declared Player of the Match.

As the KKR bowlers fumbled with their line and length and gave Rohit short deliveries, the MI captain replied with his trade mark pull shots to deposit the ball over the boundary.

“I back myself to play (the pull shots), love playing it and practiced it quite a bit. Pretty glad it came out well, they were all good (laughs), can’t pick one. I haven’t played a lot of cricket in the last six months time and was looking to spend some time in the middle; it didn’t come out well in the first innings but glad to have done it tonight,” he said.

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