Tuesday, February 23, 2016

RTI - a very powerful tool in the hand of ordinary citizen - FAQ - practical approach

RTI or Right to information Act 2005 stands for Right To Information and has been given the status of a fundamental right under Article 19 and 21 of the Constitution. It has been able to bypass the iron curtain of Official Secrets Act 1923.

Article 19 under which every citizen has freedom of speech and expression and have the right to know how the government works, what role does it play, what are its functions and so on. It has something to do with Government. So apart from Govt Departments like, say, Ministry of Human Resources, it is also applicable to panchayat office, Govt Co like Indian Oil, ONGC,West Bengal Industrial Dev Corpn Ltd. etc.
The term which has been used in appropriate competent authority and appropriate Govt in the Act - from whom information can be sought. As such competent authority and appropriate Govt includes President of India, Governor of India,Chief Justice of India (SC and High court), Speaker of Loksabha and Assembly.
e.g. RTI activists has been able to get qualification of MPs even from the speaker of Loksabha.

Article 21 talks about Protection Of Life And Personal Liberty. No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.

RTI is not applicable to a Pvt Co, say, ITC directly. But the information can received indirectly. However Section 2(f) says information includes information relating to any Pvt body which can be accessed by a public authority. e.g. you can ask Excise deptt how much Excise is paid by ITC, you can ask IT Deptt what are the assets declared by, say, Amitabh Bachchan in his Income Tax return.

The basic object of the Right to Information Act is to empower the citizens,promote transparency and accountability in the working of the Government and utilization of public money.We  have 3 tier Govt - Central, State and Local body. Anybody or deptt which is funded or established directly or indirectly by public money (e.g. all District Magistrate[DM] and their office) is answerable to us. Analogically just like a maid servant appointed in our house , is answerable to us, so are the DMs. That is why all political organization should be under RTI (they are not paying any Tax - so indirectly funded by us - e.g. Congress is paying a token rent of only Rs 10,000 for a property valued at few crores).RTI activists are trying to include them under the purview of RTI.

Some popular RTI queries are : Passport delay, Income Tax Refund,copies of answer sheet,FIR status, Scholarship,Employee Provident fund transfer or withdrawal status , recruitment policy of a PSU,compensation for land etc.

It is a two tier Act - State level and Central level. Therefore it has two tier jurisdiction depending upon whether it pertains to State or Centre. For example in case of Central Govt Deptt prepoer forum is CIC.

The procedures:

1. Apply to PIO or Public Information Officer. In case of Central Govt  Organization it is called Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer in case of State Govt organization. In my Co ( Govt Co - under Companies Act 2013) Company Secretary is the PIO. One can write just PIO instead of writing the name. PIO is appointed u/s 5 of the Act.

However in case of Vishwabharati / IIT / office of President of India PIO is PIO and not CPIO.

2. It should be accompanied by Indian Postal order/ Non judicial stamp paper/ Demand draft or Banker's Chq /Court fees of Rs 10 in West Bengal. It is Rs 10 in most of the states.No fee for BPL. Some states do not accept Demand Draft etc. In case of DD there is a practical problem "Payable to whom?". Indian Postal order is universally acceptable in all the states.

3. The Indian Postal order ideally should not contain the name of the company unless you are sure. Even if IPO is blank (ie not endorsed) PIO is obliged to fill it up himself and not harass the information seeker on frivolous grounds. In some companies PIO wrongly return back the IPO saying it is not endorsed (meaning the name is not mentioned in IPO).

4. Ideal format - with this format email may be given 

5. PIO has to reply maximum within 30 days. However in case of life and liberty it should be maximum 48 hours. e.g. in case of a senior citizen staying alone in Salt Lake (say), even denial of restoration of telephone line or gas connection can be covered under 48 hours clause. This term life and liberty can be interpreted depending upon facts and circumstances of the case and cannot be compartmentalized. Everything is left to your interpretation - though it can be challenged.

6. Information is sought under section 6 of RTI Act 2005.

7. If PIO thinks he can ask for IPO ( or other mode ) of higher value to recover cost - but it cannot be a ground of delay. Both the process should go parallely.

8. PIO can reject the RTI on the ground of section 8(1) of RTI Act 2005, because it is confidential commercial information (In fact in my Co one case was rejected under section 8 of RTI Act) or sensitive information which is likely to hinder social fabric or provocative information which can jeopardize national integrity (e.g. no. of Policeman deployed in Babri Masjid).

However under section 8(2) if public interest warrants divulging such information, then it can be published. e.g. Singur case agreement was open for 4 days before it was withdrawn on the intervention of Ratan Tata.

But under section 8(3) it can be divulged after 20 years by Govt. , if it thinks, it is fit to do so.

9. Process of application :

10. If applicant is not happy with the answer or question is rejected altogether, then applicant can appeal to Appellate Authority(AA). In my office, AA is the Managing Director.

In RTI, SPIO is the most important person and 1st Appellate Authority is the weakest point in the chain. It needs to be strengthened.

11. If you are not happy with the order of AA then your 2nd appeal lies to Information commission - in case of state to State Information Commission or SIC (or CIC in case of C Govt related question).

Appeal can be made under section 19 of RTI Act 2005.

12. Appeal vs Complaints

In the following cases ,
under section 18  
of RTI Act 2005, complain can be 
made directly to the Information Commission. 

13. If PIO does not give information and is adjudged guilty then he has to pay a fine of Rs 250 per day subject to a maximum of Rs 25,000. However habitual defaulter can even be terminated.

14. The role of PIO is to give information and pass on information to the concerned deptt for a suitable reply. If PIO has documentary evendience that information has not been given by the concerned department - then the deptt will be held guilty and not the PIO. Under RTI there is nothing called internal document unless it falls under section 8. Information supplied by a department can be supplied to the information seeker in verbatim. In 2006 the Congress tried to bring an amendment to exclude file notings from the Acts purview, but thankfully the Act has not been enacted.

15. PIO has to submit Quarterly Statistics and Quarterly return to CIC.

16. State Chief Information Commissioner under section 19(8) read with section 20 of RTI Act may instruct a Company to follow the rules which they are not following, failing which penal provision may be applicable. 

17. Proactive disclosure - U/s  4(1)(b) is required. There are 17 points under this sub section – information in respect of which needs to be given in the website. 

- this disclosure will reduce the number of RTI Applications and many RTI Applications may be disposed of referring to the website.

18. It may be mentioned here that  stress may be given on Record Management. Proper Record Management system be prepared, which will classify the period for which various documents need to be maintained, otherwise records will have to be maintained for ever. 
e.g. If it is classified the certain records (e.g. Tender Documents) are to be kept for 5 years, then general public cannot ask for documents, beyond that, under RTI. In absence of this record management system, we might have to give Tender Document to RTI applicants since inception. 

The Bengal Records Manual 1943 may be looked into. It inter alia says that Class A records will contain papers to be permanently preserved, Class B records will contain papers to be destroyed after 12 years, and Class C records will contain papers that need not be kept for more than 3 years (e.g. Peon’s leave rules).

19. If you give information in the website, you can simply refer the RTI applicant to the website. 

20. Public servant’s salary should be in public domain. 

21. SPIO should mention the name of Appellate Authority u/s 7 (8) of RTI Act, where the appeal can be preferred , whenever information request has been rejected. While rejecting an RTI , grounds of rejection must be explained in the reply.

22. CJI, Shri Ranjan Gogoi has given verdict that Supreme Court is also under RTI Act. 

23. Information means whatever is recorded in file. It does not mean creation of information. In other words, if RTI information seeker asks for data, which has to be created before for them, it ought to be refused. 

24. Section 22 of RTI Act says it overwrites any other Act. 

25. SCIC or CIC can evoke Section 22 of RTI Act. e.g. a Govt. Servant can appeal to CAT to ask for ACR, where promotion has been denied. SCIC can ignore Section 8 of RTI Act and instruct the Department u/s 22 of RTI Act, give copy of ACR. In one particular case, promotion was granted on the basis of ACR. 

26. CIC or SCIC is not a Court of Justice. 

27. SPIO may seek assistance of any other officer of the same Department u/s 5(4) of RTI Act for proper discharge of his duties, then such other officer will be deemed to be SPIO u/s 5(5) of RTI Act and will be responsible for contravention. 

28. If any information sought pertains to another Department, the fact should be mentioned to the applicant and transfer the application or relevant part of the application to that public authority u/s 6(3) of RTI Act, instead of just returning it back to the applicant

29.If the information sought is so voluminous that it would obstruct normal work or disproportionately divert resource of the public authority, then u/s 7(9) of RTI Act , it can be denied. e.g. in a village school, where there only 2 office bearer, if last 15 years data relating to meeting etc is sought.In my office, it is sometimes found, some people are asking 31 questions, not related to each other and had to be refused.

30.U/s 11 of RTI Act, 3rd party information can be denied. This is a very tricky section. If 3rd party request beforehand that certain information cannot be given then it may be followed by the Commission/SPIO. A person should not go to SCIC/CIC, before approaching Appellate Authority.

31. RTI can override Office Secret Act. 

32. Municipal Chairman can’t be Appellate Authority, since he is not an Officer as per RTI Act
33. NGO who gets fund from Govt. also comes under RTI. 

34. If a person is custodian of certain records, he cannot be held responsible, if during charge handover and take over, his list of files does include that. 
35.Online RTI reply is not recognized under RTI Rules in WB till date. Though online query followed by manual copy is acceptable

36.Under Article 166(3) of Constitution Governor can make business Rules e.g. record manual, secretariat manual. Point 35 can be done by Govermor under this clause.

37. IPO received should be deposited in bank. Court fee stamp goes to state treasury , so it need not be re-used

For any help one can take the help of RTI activist Mr. Amitava Choudhury based in Kolkata at 9836 10 76 24  or 9433 70 76 24 - amitavachoudhury.cal@gmail.com. He can be approached for any help - personally or professionally. Without his help, this article could not have been written.


Thursday, February 18, 2016

30 International Destinations That Allow Visa On Arrival For Indians

source: https://www.triphobo.com/blog/30-countries-to-visit-without-visa-from-india

Many a times you would have avoided the idea of international travel from India for the fear of fulfilling all that documentation process for Visa. Rejoice! There are at least 30 countries that offer visa on arrival for the Indian citizens to enter. Well that would mean that you can simply decide to travel, purchase your tickets and bon voyage! Having access to these over 30 countries situates the Indian passport at number 76th in the world among the list of countries with highest number of visa free or visa on arrival destinations.

1. Bhutan

photo credit: kellie-Netherwoodmydestinationsunknown
Visit the kingdom of Bhutan and explore its insuperable heights with Visa on arrival. Indian, Bangladeshis and Maldives nationals can obtain a 14 days tourist visa at the port of entry on producing a valid passport with a minimum of 6 month validity.

2. Hong Kong

picture credit: dsphotographic
Explore Hong Kong, the country of skyscrapers and ancient traditions. Indian nationals can enter Hong Kong, with a valid travel document, for a period up to 14 days without a visa.

3. Macau

picture credit: risarodil.tumblr
Visit Macau, the ultimate destination for understanding the Chinese heritage. Being an Indian you can avail 30 days visa on arrival to enter this country.

4. Nepal

picture credit: abduzeedo
This neighbourhood country offers you the best views of pristine nature. Indian citizens may live and work freely in Nepal under the terms of the 1950 Indo-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship. 

5. Seychelles

photo credit: peartree
Visit this archipelago that is known for its beaches, coral reefs, diving, nature reserves and rare wildlife such as giant Aldabra tortoises. Indians can avail Visa on arrival for one month for this country.

6. South Korea (only Jeju island)

photo credit: lovethesepics
Jeju is a South Korean island in the Korea Strait that is known for its volcanic landscape full of craters and cavelike lava tubesOnly this island in South Korea provides visa on arrival for 30 days to Indian citizens.

7. Maldives

photo credit: thesuiteworld
Explore the underwater beauty and things to do in Maldives with visa on arrival facility. A free Maldives Tourist Visa which is valid for approximately ninety days is issued to Indian nationals on arriving at the airport in Maldives.

8. Haiti 

photo credit: rezmissions
Visit Haiti, a Caribbean country that shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic to its east. Indians can enter this country for 30 days with visa on arrival facility.

9. Jamaica

picture credit: brettlancephotography
Jamaica is well known for its beaches and all inclusive resorts. Enter this country for 30 days with visa on arrival facility.

10.  Dominica

picture credit: outpostmagazine
Discover the unspoilt beauty of Dominica with visa on arrival valid for 6 months for Indians.

11. Fiji

photo credit: tappednz
Visit Fiji, the ultimate destination for every beach bum. Being an Indian national, you can enter its boundaries with visa on arrival valid for 6 months.

12. Thailand

picture credit: waterpaperforcomputer
Today, you can also reach Thailand from India via road. This country charges Visa fee of 1000 Thai Baht. Visa on Arrival has to be obtained at First point of Entry/Landing not the Final Destination. Thailand is also the honeymoon destination in Asia preferred by Indian couples looking for destinations outside India

13. Mauritius

picture credit: thesuiteworld
Visit the pristine beaches of Mauritius with Visa on arrival valid for 14 days for Indian nationals.

14. Indonesia

picture credit: dardennephotography
This archipelago that houses several natural wonders can be visited with visa on arrival valid for 30 days.

15. Micronesia

picture credit: d-vsl
You can visit this subregion of Oceania embellished with several islands with visa on arrival facility valid for 30 days.

16. Cape Verde

picture credit: joaoveracruz
Wonder at the beauty of this arrow shaped archipelago that can be entered by Indians with the facility of visa on arrival valid for 30 days.

17. Ecuador

picture credit: jettingaround
Visit the diverse landscape of Ecuador that encompasses Amazon jungle, Andean highlands and the wildlife-rich Galpagos Islands with visa on arrival facility for Indians valid for 14 days.

18. Guyana

picture credit: travellingcolors
Admire the beauty of the dense forests of Guyana with visa on arrival facility for Indians valid for 30 days.

19. Jordan

picture credit: thrillophilia
If the ancient monuments of Jordan captivate you, visit this historical country with visa on arrival facility for Indians valid for 2 weeks.

20. Laos

picture credit: canvas-of-light
Visit the stunning backwaters of Loas with visa on arrival for Indians valid for 30 days.

21. Saint Lucia

picture credit: travellandleisure
Saint Lucia is famous for its beaches and reef-diving sites, as well as its rain forested interior with waterfalls such as at Toraille. Visit this paradisiacal beauty with visa on arrival from India valid for 6 weeks.

22. Senegal

picture credit: photographyoffice
Visit this enamoring French Colonial heritage with visa on arrival facility from India valid for 30 days.

23. Trinidad and Tobago

photo credit: 4photos.net
Trinidad has always accommodated Indians since British Raj. Visit this twin island country off the northern edge of South America with Visa on arrival valid for 90 days.

24. Tuvalu

photo credit: granddixonphotography
This Polynesian island is home to beautiful underwater world. Visit this island with visa on arrival valid for 14 days.

25. Saint Kitts and Nevis

photo credit: 4photos.net
This two-island nation combines beaches with beauteous mountains.  Enter this West Indian country with visa on arrival facility.

26. Palau

photo credit: nineteenmonths
This pristine paradise can be visited easily with visa on arrival facility from India.

27. El Salvador

picture credit: tracycarolyn
From India, you can easily visit this Central American nation known for its Pacific Ocean beaches, surfing and mountainous landscape. Visa on arrival facility is available for a visit of 30 days.

28. Nauru

picture credit: wikipedia.org
This potato shaped country can be accessed from India with visa on arrival facility valid for 30 days stay.

29. Djibouti

photo credit: kiwicollection
Discover the volcanic formations and Red Sea beaches of Djibouti with Visa on arrival valid for 30 days

30. Guinea- Bissau

picture credit: pictures.traveladventures
Explore the natural beauty of this West African country with Visa on arrival valid for 90 days for Indians.

Also read http://www.thrillophilia.com/blog/countries-where-getting-a-visa-is-easy-for-indians/

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Dooars - er duarey (Eastern part)

Abar Aranye - Dooars- er Duarey - Dooars tour (Eastern side) - Chilapata-Sikijhori-Buxa-Jayanti-Jaldapara  - in brief 


Day 1 

By Kanchankanya from Sealdah at 8.30 pm.

Team members: Sourabh, Debasree and her son, Barun and family of 3, Subirda and family of 3, Arindam and family of 3 and Arun.


The Western part of Teesta is called Terai region and Eastern Part of Teesta river is called Dooars. Dooars can be roughly divided into parts - Western Part consists of Murti,Khunia, Chapramari, Suntalekhola, Jhalong, Bindu, Gorumara. You can go to this place either by car or bus or by train. If you come by train (Kanchankanya - you have to get down at Mal junction). For animal sighting you should only go to Gorumara only.

We went to the Eastern part (get down at Hasimara - this is also the place to go to Bhutan - Bhutan border Jaigaon is only 30 minutes from here - you don't need passport to go to Bhutan.) of Dooars. In the Eastern part you will find Chilapata,Jaldapara, Jayanti and Buxa (Rajabhatkhawa).


Day 2 - Chilapata

Got down in the morning at Hashimara (scheduled stop ; Madarihat - non Scheduled stop, but nearer to Jaldapara) . From Hasimara, Jaigaon - Indian side of Bhutan border - is only 30 minutes by auto and popular entry point.

Distance from station to Medabari Eco resort (Chilapata) – 20 Km –@ 600/- per sumo/Bolero + one Maruti Omni. We are 12.5 people ! total amount paid is Rs 1200/-. Reached hotel at 1.30 pm- 2 hrs late !

Tips : Can hire an auto and reserve it for a much lesser rate from the station @ Rs 150-200/- we have been told

(At chilapata one can move around tribal village - hire jeep at 1 pm - Rs 1000 for 3 hours )

Evening safari in Chilapata by 6 seater jeep 

Quite disappointing - hardly any sighting . Elephant seen on the main road (which is not strictly a core forest area) - which leads to Jaigaon - Indian side of Bhutan border ( Phuntsholing - is Bhutan side of the border)

Animal Sighting - 2/100 - few birds and elephant
Jeep - 30/100
Resort - 30/100
Forest flora and fauna - 80/100

6 person can somehow seat in the jeep. For photographers maximum should be 4 per jeep.

# Evening safari ...1810/- jungle safari car rate – for 6 person (car entry fee Rs 250 + Guide 200/- + per person entry fee 60/- + car hire Rs 1000 )


# safari in a separate car (personal or Tourist car from outside not allowed - you have to hire it exclusively from Forest Deptt - unlike, say, Masai Mara )

Hidden deep inside the Chilapata Forests the ruins of a thousand years old fort of Nal King has a tremendous historical and archeological importance. A trip through the deep and dark Chilapata Forest is a pleasant and exciting experience. 

Built in the 5th century during the Gupta Empire the ruins still recall the memories of the Golden Age of India.

# Contact no for tourist cars outside :

i. Nitu bhattacharya – Buxa based (can provide car from Chilapata) 9733 41 08 24

ii. Thapa for car - Jayanti based 8509 47 25 73

iii. Mithun das (9735 02 87 33 - Relax Lodge - Madarihat based - 24 Km) - he provided our car

iv. Sanjay at the resort - Chilapata based.

a. Rates for dry car 1200/- or 1500/- (fuel @ 10 km per litre for minimum 3 days)

b. 2600/- all inclusive - We paid Rs 2600 for whole day - 7.30 am to 7 pm.

c. point to point - varies

# Night halt at Chilapata forest, Cooch Behar, West Bengal, India - at Mendipara Forest Resort @ RS 1500/- ( with commode shower - very basic room - not highly recommended at this price - should negotiate the price) + Food Rs 400/- per person per day


Day 3 - Chilapta - Sikijhora - Rajabhatkhawa-Buxa-Jayanti-Chilapata

Morning - left at 8.40 am for Sikiajhora (Amazon cruize of Dooars) - only for 40 minutes [20 minutes one side and 20 minutes back- same route] @ Rs 50 per head. Only one boat at the moment. can be contacted at 96 79 408438 (Paresh) to hold the boat till you reach !

Experience - 75/100

Tip: if you pay more then apparently they will go further

Rajabhatkhawa (65 Km) for entry ticket of Buxa and Jayanti - Rajabhatkhawa Museum (worth visiting)  

Buxa Santalbari (had lunch - Momo @ Rs 20 for 8) - Trekking for 20 minutes only (out of 2 hours of trek time) - Experience - 35/100

Choto mahakal (through Jayanti river) - the car will follow the route of river. Not Possible during rainy season....not for unfit people
Experience - 85/100

Chunia Jhora Tea Garden - owned by Mcleod Russel
Experience - 75/100

Chuniya watch tower ( evening safari at Jayanti ) - 
Experience - 20/100

# Raydak forest bunglow, Pokri lake, Bird watch Tower could not make it due to lack of time

Came back in the evening at Chilapata at 7 pm.


Day 4 - Chilapata - Jaldapara

# Morning safari at Chilapata 

Animal Sighting - 0/100 - No sighting at all !!

Then left for Madarihat at 11 am (24 Km) at Rs 900 per Sumo - over priced. On the way we saw an elephant.

Reached Jaldapara Stayam Lodge (@ Rs 800- with commode shower) at 12 pm. - just in front of Forest gate / ticket counter/ Madarihat lodge of WB Govt. 

# Evening safari - no tour left.

We opted for alternative trolley line @ Rs 1840 for 6 person (not highly recommended)

Animal sighting - 5/100 - seen a bison and few birds

# Just after the safari we stood in the line from 5 pm for next day safari at 6 am, 8 am, 1 pm and 3 pm. counter opens at 6 pm. So much for the tourist ! - Jungle safari car rate – for 6 person (car entry fee Rs 250 + Guide 200/- + per person entry fee 60/- + car hire Rs 800 )

No online booking like other states, say Tadoba at Maharashtra, where we are going in April 2016. 

We somehow managed to book the morning safari at 8 am. But in spite of valiant effort of Arun and almost fighting with some person missed the pricey elephant tour @ Rs 850 per person approx. What a way to promote tourism in WB !

## In the evening we had our snacks at WB Govt owned Madarihat tourist lodge and even had our dinner at the tourist lodge - Mixed fried rice @ Rs 150/- is good - considering the place you are in. We even walked inside the lawn ! Outsiders are allowed inside the dining room.

1. Hollong (inside the Jaldapara forest - very difficult to get. Booking open 120 days before stay date - you have to book 120 days in advance when it opens.) - highly recommended - salt pit just in front of resort) or 

2.Madarihat Bungalow (at the Gate of Jaldapara Forest ) - No question of sighting from resort - may opt for any other resort, if budget is a constraint - though very nicely maintained

3. http://www.hotelroyalgreendooars.com/ Bivash roy 9933160106 and 9733 000 440 

4. Jaldapara Jungle Camp - help tourism 1200/- and 1600/- for booking - 67A kali temple road ,Kolkata -9733 000 442 


Day 5 - Jaldapara

# Morning safari at jaldapara. Highly recommended. 

Good sighting - 30/100 by Indian standard - seen 3-4 Rhino, few deer, 2-3 elephants, 8-10 peacock, few monkey, few bison

Left for train station at Hasimara at 3.45 pm to catch Kanchankanya at 4.45 pm. - @ 200-300/- for Toto or Rs 350-400/- for Sumo - 10 Km from our hotel/reserve forest main entry gate.

# Totopara (30 km from Jaldapara). A small village on the banks of River Torsha bordering Bhutan is the only habitation of Toto, a primitive tribe in the Dooars. 

Their number has dwindled to less than 1000. Could not go for lack of time.

Blog http://ourcanvas.blogspot.in/2010/11/dooars.html


Dooars is a shame, when you compare it with other reserve forests in India - in every possible way- be it mismanagement of booking safari, safari car quality, animal density, resort quality. There is no need to look at Doors with frosted glass and romanticizing about it. Somebody needs to bell the cat. There is also pathetic animal density to say the least. e.g. In Tadoba you can book safari sitting in Kolkata for April 2016 in January 2016 - which I did. What is going on in the name of elephant ride is nothing short of a scam.

Probably the only bright spot is Jaldapara and a resort at Jaldapara Rhino Cottage (+91 94 34 607825 - Aloke Guha) at Jaldapara beside Sishamara river where you can see animals from the resort (near Shalkumar, Falakata) !

NB: Make no mistake - we enjoyed a lot , over all !!

Chronological order