RTI:TNEB staff fined for denying information


TNEB staff fined for denying information

Julie Mariappan | TNN

Chennai: The State Information Commission (SIC) has imposed a penalty of Rs 25,000 on the public information officer (PIO) of the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board (TNEB) for not supplying information to a petitioner last week. This is the maximum penal amount which can be imposed under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

R Natarajan, an RTI activist wanted to know the irregularties involved in billing a private firm located in North Chennai in 2007. However, the petitioner received the copy of the anti-power theft squad report alone, which recommended departmental action against seven officials who had failed to check periodical power consumption patterns of the firm.

Immediately thereafter, the petitioner made another application under RTI to the TNEB seeking information about the billing card. The PIO preferred to state that the billing card was not traceable and there was a chance of missing the card, as the case was 16 years old. The PIO also said that no official was to be blamed and recreating the file did not arise.

Aggrieved by this, Natarajan filed another application, wanting to know if any complaint was registered with the police, as the issue was deemed a criminal offence. When the public authority chose not to reply, the petitioner sought the commission’s help. Despite the latter’s intervention suggesting speedy disposal of the queries raised by the petititioner, the officer refused to give complete information. He also failed to oblige the commission’s directive to appear in person.

In it’s reply to the petitioner, the office of the PIO, TNEB stated that it had no obligation to answer questions as to “when, why and which,” which were not defined as information under RTI Act. During an inquiry by the commission last month, the TNEB’s public authority could not give a convincing reply as to why he absented himself during the previous summons.

Pointing out administrative lapses, the commission directed the TNEB to pay a compensation of Rs 500 to the petitioner for the instransigent non-supply of information. It also directed severe departmental action against the staff for violation of RTI Act, within a month.

NREGA: Implementation woes


UTTAR PRADESH

Pucca work, kuchcha payment

Ashish Tripathi | TNN

New Picture (58) New Picture (61)

When the gram sabha announced the scheme a couple of years ago, young Manoj Rawat’s heart swelled with hope: a guaranteed job for 100 days every year meant that the boy could stay at home earn, take care of his parents besides pur suing his studies.

Today, the NREGA is this landless Dalit labour er’s last option. The 18 year-old says: “During the last season worked for two months but got paid only for 28 days, and that too after a long wait. It’s better to work as a farm labourer which at least gets you Rs 34-40 at the end of the day.”

Asti village, situated in Bakshi Ka Ta lab block, has over 500 Dalit, backward and Muslim families. Payment delays is a common complaint here. Which is why the half-completed kuchcha road being laid under the scheme looks deserted these days. With the sowing season on no one is reporting for work. There are also complaints of caste and communal bias in enrolment.

The pradhan, Rajveer Singh, belongs to the dominant Thakur community and keeps all the job cards and bank passbooks issued to villagers under NREGA in his custody. Many al lege that he takes “their thumb impres sions to withdraw money from the bank but takes away a substantial amount on the pretext of paying government offi cers for getting funds sanctioned.”

The pradhan denies this but admits villagers are unwilling to work because of payment delays. He blames the bank for this. “The staff doesn’t cooperate and most of the time their computers are down.” As for ‘custody’ of job cards and passbooks, he says most of the villagers are “anghootha chhap” (illiterate), so he has to maintain records for them. The scheme seems to be faltering here.

However, the ambitious project has made an impact in districts such as Bara banki where activists have been able to mount pressure on the administration to act. G K Shukla, a Lucknow-based con tractor, says the inflow of labour from Barabanki has dropped significantly “People now get easy employment in their village,” he says. But in places like Asti, the old feudal system continues with pradhans replacing the landlords.

Lucknow district UTTAR PRADESH

Maharashtra

Suicide belt on debt row

Snehlata Shrivastav | TNN

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Yavatmal MAHARASHTRA  New Picture (60)

Sometimes it only takes a single statistic to tell the whole picture Driven by penury and despair, at least 860 farmers have commit ted suicide in Vidarbha’s Yavatmal dis trict during the last three years — the same period that the NREGA has been in operation.

The scheme’s poor show ing in one of India’s most industrialised states is most glaring where it is need ed most — the state’s debt-ridden cot ton belt. Of the Rs 20-crore cumulative grant for the scheme, only Rs 8 crore has been utilised so far.

The unutilized Rs 12 crore allocated to 1,205 gram pan chayats was diverted to other projects in the district. While the villagers claim they never got any work, the adminis tration and the panchayats are busy blaming each other for the situation.

The TOI team visited three villages in Pandharkawda taluka — Mandoli Wanzari and Umri — and found that a majority of villagers registered under the NREGA had not got any work at all since 2006. A handful who worked on a check dam in Wanzari for about 15 days are yet to be paid.

“We had to lift huge boulders, it was hard work. But none of the 25 men and women employed for the job have got their money. We don’t even know whom to approach,’ says Laxmi Maruti Atram, one of the workers.

At Umri gram sewak Prakash Dhamankar and sarpanch Dattatrya Malgade claimed to have employed 15-20 people on seven projects for roads and ponds, but prevented the team from meeting any of them.

The only beneficiary around was Maruti Domaji Meshram, who said he had earned Rs 12,000 from about 30-40 days of work in a year. But other villagers in Umri alleged that Maruti was a favourite of the sarpanch. Kantabai Maruti’s next-door neighbour and many others said they had a job card but only got work for a day.

Yavatmal MAHARASHTRA