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Shailesh Gandhi

25 July 2005

It is now emerging that the Mahrashtra Right to Information (MRTI) law will be repealed in October 2005 to make way for the new national sunshine law that applies to all States. This article records one successful case where the MRTI law was used to bring change and is yet another demonstration of the power of the right to information in the hands of citizens.

I had been pursuing the matter of political interference in police transfers with the office of the Police Commissioner of Mumbai since September 2003. Starting with complete denial, the Police Commissioner of Mumbai finally accepted the prevalence of this malpractice. Not only that, action was also taken against 71 officers and 64 policemen, and a strict warning was issued to everyone not to resort to such illegal practices in future.

The Commissionerate also gave a written order confirming that all these actions arose out of use of the Maharashtra’s Right to Information Law. This case uniquely provides proof of the power of RTI.

The police law does not permit anyone outside the police force to recommend or order transfers. Section 413 of the Police manual states: “Government servants are forbidden to approach officials of other departments or non-official gentlemen for support in pressing individual claims… They will be liable for disciplinary action if members of the Legislature or non-official persons approach the government on their behalf unless they can prove that such approach was made without their knowledge.”

First shot at uncovering interference

My perusal of the matter began in September 2003. The information I requested in RTI Requisition 1 was regarding the number of transfers effected in the police personnel on orders or requests of MLAs, MPs, and ministers in Mumbai in last two years.

In December that year, the PIO (Public Information Officer for RTI applications) stated that “the Police commissioner’s office had received recommendations for transfer of police personnel from MLAs, MPs, and Ministers in Mumbai.” However the letter stated that the recommendations were not considered.

I then filed RTI requisition 2, which asked for:

• Date of recommendation
• Name of officer recommended for transfer
• Name of MLA/MP/Minister who made the recommendation for transfer
• Actual date of transfer of the officer

The PIO rejected my request on 21 December 2003.

I then filed requisition 3 on December 24, 2003. Since the Commissioner’s office had admitted that it had received recommendations, I asked for the following information:

• Number of recommendations received
• Details of the disciplinary action taken, or show cause notices issued to the police personnel in whose name recommendations were made, as required by Rule 413 of the Police Manual.

This requisition was also rejected on January 8, 2004.

Requisition 4, which I filed on January 15 and asked for data of the last 10 years, was also rejected. All appeals for Requisitions 2, 3, and 4 had been rejected by the Appellate Authority without giving any reasons, after conducting a personal hearing. No mention was even made of any arguments of the PIO or me.

The Maharashtra State Lokayukta intervenes - first breakthrough

I then filed an appeal against the rejections with Lokayukta. The Hon. Lokayukta, after a personal hearing, gave landmark decisions passing clear directions that information must be provided within 15 days of his order as stipulated under MRTI.

The PIO gave information on 17 May 2004 that 139 recommendations had been received from elected representatives in 2003 for about 146 transfers. Names of the police officials were not mentioned. On 22 June, the PIO informed that no action had been taken under rule 413 against any case of the over 140 cases, and records before one year were unavailable.

This meant that rule 413 had been completely suspended.

Accordingly I requested for more information (my seventh requisition) on 23 June 2004:

• Since when has action as required under section 413 not been taken and under whose orders
• Copy of the letter which allowed suspension of rule 413
• Details of rules of the Police Manual which have been completely suspended

The PIO rejected my application by giving irrelevant comments and opinions. The PIO’s reply was a complete and willful refusal to honour the rights conferred on citizens by MRTI.

No looking back

The First Appellate Authority held a hearing on this appeal on 11 August 2004 and ordered the PIO to answer the contentions in my appeal in 7 days. To which the PIO replied that it was not binding on the police department to take action under rule 413, hence no action had been taken!

The First Appellate Authority then called me for another hearing on 1 September 2004. There was very heated argument where I pointed out that the PIO had given no justification for claiming rule 413 was not binding. If they took such a stand, the police could be shown to be acting in a completely arbitrary manner without rules and the backing of law. Also if rules from the Police Manual were flouted, the implications could be very serious and I insisted I would pursue the matter.

Triumph at last

The Appellate Authority, the PIO, and other senior officials of the Police Commissionerate realized that this was putting across a completely untenable stand of the police accepting that they were not acting as per the rules that govern them. Some upright officials also decided that that it would be good to use this opportunity to ‘clean up the wrong’.

A police notice was issued on 3 September 2004, warning and reprimanding all those who had obtained recommendations. Two ‘orderly rooms’ were taken and 71 officers and 64 policemen were reprimanded and warned under rule 413. Note has also been made of this in their service books.

It was a very good sign that the Police Commissioner had effectively acknowledged past mistakes and given a strong signal to stop future wrongdoing. In view of this, I withdrew all my appeals asking for penal provisions in this matter. However, in continuance of these appeals, I have applied to the Police Commissioner for details of violations of rule 413 from January to May, 2005.

This case is a rare instance where the Right to Information law has been responsible for a major action against corruption by the department itself. It confirms that the right to information indeed empowers citizens to ensure good governance.

Shailesh Gandhi
25 Jul 2005

Shailesh Gandhi is the Chairman and Managing Director of Clear Plastics Limited, Mumbai. He is also the chairman of the IIT Mumbai Alumni Association.

Citizen Direct is India Together's channel for publishing reports from citizens who have detailed information about specific civil society concerns and matters, by virtue of their participation, association, or independent observation. These reports are therefore as witnessed and understood by the authors themselves; India Together accepts no liability or responsibility for them.   More

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  • Posted by Bhupal Singh on July 28, 2005 06:22 AM

    We need more Gandhis these days.
    My regards to Mr Sailesh

  • Posted by Sriram on August 3, 2005 04:43 AM

    The fact that Mr.Gandhi is an IIT alumni and a chairman of a for-profit company, and is still pursuing causes in the interest of the general public, shows that the intelligent elite of the country have not let it down. Thank you, Mr.Gandhi!

  • Posted by sundar on September 2, 2005 06:15 AM

    Nice work Mr Gandhi. As an Officer in a govt Dept, I fervently hopes that efforts like yours will encourage ban on corruption in transfers and consequnetly corruption in public life. Kudos to you

  • Posted by Prakash Phatak on September 18, 2005 03:21 PM

    Very encouraging indeed. Many more different issues should be addressed to bring in taste of good governance. You deserve congratulations.

  • Posted by Prakash Ghatpande on October 11, 2005 04:08 PM

    There is vast difference between 'on paper' & 'in reality'. There is no wonder you have found police manual suspended. How many policemen have read police manual? Does it stand today? Is it updated necessarily and sufficiently time to time? Is it possible to follow police manual practically?

    You have found just iceberg visible. Every thing is cheaper at the cost of law & order. But at what cost? If u find reality of commom policeman you will take pity on him. The analysis of department is necessary. But if data is curupted, manipulated or insufficient no justified inference will be drawn. Transfer doesnt mean transfer of mentality. It is just to make the wise people fool. I appreciate yor efforts.

  • Posted by Prakash Ghatpande on October 16, 2005 03:57 AM

    we need right to correct information. If the data is corupted, manipulated, insufficient then we are far away from reality. Right to varify data is an endless mission. I dont think we will get credible data. "Departmental descipline" & "summary power" are great obstacles to transparency.

    The planning based on such data becomes outdated or impracticable. But still something is better than nothing. With help of this act social research institutes can make a good data bank that will be helpful for social studies & documentation.

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