Refuse information about Ujwalla beneficiaries

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The first phase of this program was launched in May 2016, during which more than 8 million poor families across India have benefited from free LPG connections over the past 5 years.

Have the poor really benefited from this program across India, especially J&K is a big question? In recent years, this author has received constant complaints from BPL families alleging that they have not received a free connection to LPG gas from their respective gas dealer in the region. I was not even able to search for information under RTI law on Ujjwala Yojna because I did not know from which government office the information could be accessed?

Food Civil Supplies & Consumer Affairs (FCS & CA) previously called Consumer Affairs & Public Distribution Department (CAPD) said the list of beneficiaries was not with them? Technically, they should have obtained the list of beneficiaries from all gas agencies and uploaded it to the websites of its management offices (both Srinagar and Jammu). Official district websites (DC office websites) also do not have this information. Finally, we decided to request the details directly from the Union Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas.

One of our activists, Mohammad Mudaser, filed an online RTI request with the Ministry’s Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) last month. Within a day or two, that request was transferred to Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd (BPCL) and Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd (HPCL) respectively.

BPCL Response

Mudaser wanted the names of Ujjwala beneficiaries in some selected areas of Budgam, Baramulla, Kupwara, Srinagar and Pulwama district. We had planned to cross-check the list by carrying out on-site verifications in these villages, settlements and mohallas through our volunteers. The Public Information Officer (PIO) at BPCL (LPG) headquarters in Mumbai, namely SK Padhi, refused to share information that should have been proactively available on different websites. The officer invoked section 8 (1) (J) of the RTI Act of 2005. The answer reads as follows:

“The information sought relates to personal information the disclosure of which has no connection with an activity or a public interest and would lead to an unjustified invasion of the private life of the individual. Therefore refused according to 8 (1) j of the RTI 2005 law “

Mudaser wants information that the government must make available to every citizen and this is in fact mandated under section 4 (1) (b) of the RTI Act of 2005. Many poor citizens have asked for connections to the Internet. Ujjwala gas but they don’t know what happened to their documents. Many may have received the connection on documents, but in the field they did not get anything. Shouldn’t the information be made public? Some poor consumers have told me that they have to pay Rs 1500, Rs 2000 etc. to local brokers or a gas dealer. Now, if a welfare-conscious citizen wants a list of BPL families with free LPG gas connection (stove and cylinder plus regulator) in a particular village or mohalla, how can that be an infringement? the privacy of these poor individuals or families? These government officials should be treated in accordance with the law, the intention of which is not to ensure the transparency of public authorities but to promote corruption and bad governance. They want to hide the misdeeds and delinquency of their officers and gas agencies. Previously, few BPCL officers in J&K UT contacted me after I filed a complaint online on the PMs Grievance portal (www.pgportal.gov.in). The agents were not of much help as they refused to assist this author with the ground check in a few villages in Budgam from which I received several complaints. The department tried to arbitrarily close my grievance. I resisted and sent a few emails to the management of BPCL. Then my colleague Mudaser requested information using RTI, which was refused. We will now take this matter to the Central Information Commission (CIC) and even request the intervention of the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC).

Past experience

Personal information that has nothing to do with public activity is exempt under Section 8 (1) (j) of the RTI Act of 2005. Unfortunately, the State Central Public Information Officers ( PIO), the first appeal authorities (FAA) or even the information commissions / courts misinterpret this legal provision. In September 2011, the J&K State Information Commission (JKSIC) headed by Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) GR Sufi issued a landmark judgment that helped publicize the assets of administrative service agents. state and center.

This author was denied information by the Department of General Administration (GAD) in 2010 when I requested details of the property declarations from the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and Kashmir Administrative Service officers (KAS) published in J&K. The PIO invoked Article 11 (3rd party information). Some IAS agents even told GAD’s PIO in writing that they would not make their property claims public because they would be threatened. The BRP had sent a written communication to these Article 11 officers soliciting their comments. One of the bureaucrats in his response said:

“We are the agents on the ground and due to the current law and order situation our property sometimes becomes the target of attack. Sharing such information without any compelling reason or specific purpose is against the mandate of the law. and the purpose of the law. Once this information is shared, there is some apprehension that officers’ properties may be targeted due to public order concerns. “

Another officer said there have been a fair number of cases in the country where children of top private sector executives have been kidnapped for ransom.

“The security situation at J&K continues to be fragile and the majority of employees do not have specific security coverage for their families. Thus, information sharing can become a big threat from criminals. “

In getting rid of my GR Sufi complaint, the then CIC in its order said:

The Commission considers that they [GAD] should hoist these details on real estate agents owned by them and which they acquire from their own sources of income on government websites. “
The order further says

“While some KAS agents had opposed the declaration of assets citing a ‘security scenario in J&K’, the CIC rejected the argument saying that ‘the commission is forced to note that there is no is not expressly prohibited in law in this regard. worthy officers of the IAS sometimes perform more important functions and responsibilities with regard to public order and security issues and they clearly occupy higher positions than KAS officers. However, the Commission is also aware of the fact that IAS officers only hoisted property returns from All India and Central Services Rules. On the principle of fairness, the same principle should be applied to KAS agents. “

Conclusion

When the BPCL refused to share information, Mudaser obtained within days a list of Ujwala beneficiaries from the Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd (HPCL). Although the information was incomplete, Deputy Director General HPCL Jammu, who is the designated CPIO, provided a list of beneficiaries from some villages in Budgam. Details of other districts have not yet been provided. How can a public authority sit on information by abusing the legal provisions of the RTI law while another public authority provides the same information to RTI applicants? How can information about Ujwala beneficiaries cause an unjustified invasion of the privacy of individuals? Courts, tribunals and information commissions must take these issues seriously …

Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is an Acumen Fellow. He is founder and president of the Jammu & Kashmir RTI Movement


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