Thursday, September 23, 2010

Updates from the RTI Awareness Camp @Dharmapuri on 18th September 2010

5th Pillar organized a comprehensive RTI Awareness camp at Dharmapuri on 18th September 2010. The event was organized at Puvidham Education Center in Nagarkudal Village, Dharmapuri -- 636803. The speakers of the event were:

Mr.Rajamanickam (Coordinator, Salem) 
Mr. Gunasekaran (Lawyer, Dharmapuri Chapter Member) 
N. Vinoth (Coordinator, Dharmapuri) 
A few other volunteers also added their experiences with the village administration.

    The RTI brought to limelight tonnage of bribe demands by the village administration besides the stiff silence that was prevailing over the petitions submitted to the collectorate over the said issues. More than 150 people from the surrounding villages of Nagarkoodal, Kalanikatoor, Balajangamanahalli and a few more participated in the camp. Owing to the intensity of the issue we had a grievance camp scheduled the nest day in the same campus. About 8 school teachers and 10 volunteers helped us in organizing the camp. The various petitions that were received were in the following categories: 

    1. Patta problems 
    2. Ration card, civil supplies issues ( Name inclusions / Deletions / New and Missed cards) 
    3. Electoral Identification problems 
    4. Old Age Pension issues
    5. Widow Certificate Disbursal Delays 6. Birth/ Death certificate problems

    The current action item is to re-request for a fresh RTI with the collectorate based on the above petitions through registered post with the concerned departments.

    Saturday, September 18, 2010

    Awareness Campaign for the Retired Government Employees of Sankagiri Taluk

    Salem 5th Pillar Chapter coordinator, Mr. Rajamanickam was invited by the Retired Government Employees Association of Sankagiri Taluk on 12th September for their annual day celebration. Mr. Rajamanickam addressed the participants for 30 minutes about 5th Pillar and our field activities. Zero Rupee Note was distributed to all the participants and they were encouraged to approach our offices for any help when faced with corruption. Retired officials encounter corruption when they apply for their pension and other benefits. We believe that empowering everyone with the necessary attributes will encourage them to confront the situation.

    Awareness campaign for young film directors in Chennai

    5th Pillar was invited by the Tamizh Studio, (group of young film directors) for an awareness campaign on corruption. Mr. Subramani from 5th Pillar addressed the young directors about corruption and the activities of 5th Pillar in combating corruption. The film directors who are full of ideas had many interesting questions about this social curse. They also shared their own experiences and had suggestions on how to handle a situation. There were interesting queries like, if ever anyone from our organization had encountered a threat for non compliance. RTI Act was explained as an asset to a common man in ascertaining his rights. The main goal of this event was to sensitize the youth about the current impending national problem, and once the program started, it was very clear that they had a strong belief in anti-corruption movement and were willing to take part in our mission. Media is a vital portal for disseminating the message and as directors they would be able to portray the negativities of corruption.

    RTI training session at Sourashtra Chamber of Commerce, Madurai

    5th Pillar conducted RTI training for the members of the Sourashtra Chamber of Commerce, Madurai on 11th September. Madurai district coordinator of 5th Pillar, Mr. Balaji, conducted the RTI training for the members, and went in detail on every step of the RTI filing process. RTI pamphlet was distributed to the participants and sample RTI petitions for different scenarios were compiled. The members of this organization were eager to start an RTI clinic.

    RTI training Session for the All India RPF Association, Southern Railway, Chennai Division

    RTI training program was conducted for the All India RPF Association, Chennai Division, Southern Railway on 2nd September at YMCA Hall at Yellagiri Hills near Jolarpettai. 120 members of AIRPFA from various cities took part in the training session conducted by our organization. Mr. Binoy Antony, President of AIRPFA welcomed everyone and initiated the event. Mr. Subramani, Director of Operations, 5th Pillar conducted the training and answered all the queries relating to corruption. RTI Act was explained in detail, and sample RTI petitions were devised to help understand the procedure in filing a petition. A kit containing the Zero Rupee Note, copy of Maattram magazine and RTI pamphlet was distributed to all the participants. RTI training was very useful for them and hence they requested us to conduct such training sessions in other regions of their division.

    Friday, September 17, 2010

    5th Pillar participates in the Forum for Electoral Integrity Discussion

    Forum for Electoral Integrity met for a preliminary discussion on 29th August at Chennai. The consultation received good response and 16 invitees from various civil societies participated which included our organization 5th Pillar. Mr. Vijay Anand participated in this discussion and a follow up was scheduled for the 12th September 2010. Earlier some of the invitees, including N.Gopalaswami, former Chief Election Commissioner had responded with valuable suggestions. These were compiled and circulated and also distributed at the meeting.

    1. Deliberations

    The meeting was chaired by Mr. G.Narayanaswamy. After his introductory remarks highlighting the criticality of the initiative in ensuring the survival of India’s Democracy, all the participants expressed their views in a clear and candid manner. Following important suggestions emerged out of the deliberations.

    (i) At the macro-level evolve a Democratic Agenda to rally public in general and youth in particular towards a Movement for cleansing the electoral process.

    (ii) Emphasise on Election Commissioners being appointed in a transparent manner by an ‘independent body’.

    (iii) Section 49 (O) – Right to Reject – should be part of the balloting process

    (iv) Election expenses should be concurrently audited

    (v) EC should evolve stringent ‘code of conduct’ for eliminating the ‘paid news’ syndrome.

    (vi) Relentless public pressure on bureaucrats and police not to allow ‘money-power’ to sway the elections.

    (vii) Need to address the issue of political and bureaucratic corruption in order to effectively contain money-power in elections.

    (viii) Launch a public movement for ‘Electoral Integrity’ in line with the JP Movement of the Seventies.

    (ix) Strengthen the hands of the bureaucrats to ensure free and fair elections.

    (x) Youth, particularly students in Colleges should be reached through extensive use of electronic instruments like Internet and Mobile phones

    (xi) Networking of all concerned NGOs, citizen groups and Resident Associations.

    (xii) Direct appeal to Editors/Owners of media houses to contain ‘paid-news’ menace.

    (xiii) Distribution of freebies and liquor should be banned.

    (xiv) Government should steps down sixty days before the poll day, and the polling should be held under President's rule.

    (xv) Interaction with higher judiciary for sensitization and stressing the need for speedy disposal of election-related cases

    (xvi) Constituting High Court level Special Tribunals to expeditiously dispose of election petitions and other election related cases

    (xvii) Professional and eminent educational Institutions should be roped into this task

    (xviii) Special strategy to reach out to the poor and low-income voters who are the real targets of ‘cash-for-votes’.

    (xix) EC and the CEOs are expressing helplessness I dealing with cash-for-votes. Is it because the administrative machinery is within the grip of the ruling party? This grave anomaly needs to be seriously addressed.

    (xx) CEO or EC should suspend the election process in an entire constituency, when widespread malpractices and corruption become known and well publicized. 

    2. Response by Experts

    To the points raised above, two experts – Naresh Gupta and DK Oza – former CEOs of Tamil Nadu responded with their views. 

    Naresh Gupta

    (i) Electoral Reforms is a long process. We must attempt only what is doable and put forth workable solutions

    (ii) Close monitoring, accounting and booking of election expenses and taking swift action to disqualify candidates violating model code of conduct could be effective.

    (iii) Information is that in the new bribe-giving model that is in vogue, hired people are distributing money in an organised and structured manner. Difficult to establish a nexus with contesting candidates.

    (iv) Information, Education, Communication (IEC) campaign should be taken up in a big way through media and public mobilization. This could be very useful.

    (v) Through the Election Observers, EC can intensely monitor sensitive constituencies where cash-for-vote menace is the maximum. Based on the credible evidence gathered if EC can postpone/cancel elections in some of the worst constituencies it can have a very salutary and psychological effect. 

    DK Oza

    (vi) EC has limitless mandate to ensure free and fair election. Constitution provides for it and Supreme Court has confirmed it.

    (vii) Election Commissions observers is a good scheme but it needs to be strengthened and fast-tracked to achieve the desired results.

    (viii) Institutional involvement is important for ensuring electoral integrity. Panchayati Raj institutions could pay a vital role in checking electoral malpractices (distribution of money, alcohol, intimidation, impersonation, blatantly religious or communal propaganda, etc.)

    (ix) Involving the corporate sector and its apex bodies like CII, FICCI, etc. could be seriously considered.

    (x) More than anything else we should concentrate on the EC for remedial action instead of frittering efforts to send Memos and delegations to PM etc. As a Group we should call on the Election Commission ASAP. 

    3. Summing Up

    M.G.Devasahayam, Convener of the Forum expressed his views and also summed up the deliberations:

    (i) All the points raised are valid and valuable. But most of them are vast and time consuming in nature. As rightly pointed out by Naresh Gupta and DK Oza, in the short term we should attempt what is doable and concentrate on the EC.

    (ii) Right thinking Electorate (which is the majority) is looking for exemplary and effective action and expects EC to come down heavily in the blatant exhibition and deployment of money-power in elections. Why can’t EC countermand elections in constituencies where massive money power is being deployed — as described in Section 123 of the Representation of the People Act — that can send shivers down the spine of the ‘cash-and-carry candidates’ who are destroying the credibility of the electoral process? Is it the failure of EC or the much celebrated band of ‘Observers’ who does not seem to be doing anything worthwhile except enjoying some ‘outing’ at taxpayer’s expense!

    (iii) As of now provision for countermanding of election in a constituency is available under Section 59 A 2(b) of the Act for ‘booth capturing’ which covers the physical act of taking possession of polling stations, ballot-boxes/EVM or ballot-papers because of which ‘result of the election is likely to be affected’. Since proven pre-poll vote purchase would also have the same ‘result’ there is nothing wrong in invoking this strong psychological weapon to make the elections free and fair, which is the constitutional mandate of the Election Commission.

    (iv) Instead of we going to New Delhi on a delegation to meet EC, there is a possibility of EC coming to Chennai to discuss with the delegation and also participate in a ‘Open House’ to find ways and means to severely contain the malaise of money-power in elections. He is in touch with the EC and would work out the details.

    5th Pillar set up an information desk at the Vellore Book Fair

    ‘Noolaru 2010,' the nine-day Vellore Book Fair was inaugurated by G. Viswanathan, Chancellor of VIT University, at the fort maidan in Vellore on Saturday, 28th August 2010. A total of 95 publishers and booksellers have put up stalls in the exhibition, which was open daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. till September 5. Tamizh Studio an organization that produces small movies, set up a stall in the Vellore book fair and screened some of their productions. 5th Pillar set up the desk alongside Tamizh Studio, and distributed the Zero Rupee Note and RTI pamphlet explaining about the RTI Act and its adoption to access delayed services. Collector and local MLA visited the 5th Pillar stall and collected the Zero Rupee Note and Maattram magazine.
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    5th Pillar instituted information desk at Hotel Grand Palace, Yercaud

    Managing Director of Hotel Grand Palace in Yercaud Mr.M.S.Vijayakumar invited 5th Pillar to set up a information desk at their hotel on 4th September from 4-9 PM. Dharmapuri coordinator of 5th Pillar, Vinoth and other volunteers visited the hotel and set up the desk in their reception and distributed the Zero Rupee Note, RTI pamphlet and displayed Maattram magazine. Weekends are very active in the hill station and usually there are many guests visiting the hill resort. Guests visiting the hill resort approached our manned desk and learned about the activities and services provided by our organization. More than 100 guests visited the desk and had many queries which were answered by the coordinators of 5th Pillar, and some became our members and subscribed for our monthly magazine Maattram. MD of the hotel has asked our organization to set up a information desk every weekend at their hotel which will disseminate our goal faster to wider audiences as there are visitors from various cities and states.

    5th Pillar instituted a information desk at a Wedding in Salem

    5th Pillar set up an information desk at the marriage of Mr. Mahendran and Ms. Juliet at Salem on 29th and 30th Aug 2010. Volunteers of 5th Pillar manned the desk and distributed the Zero Rupee Notes to all the guests attending the wedding. Tamil monthly magazine of 5th Pillar, Maattram was displayed to create awareness among the guests about the activities of 5th Pillar. Many guests approached the desk for a one on one discussion of their current encounter with corruption and sought advice on how to tackle the situation. Some of them became members and also subscribed to our monthly magazine Maattram. 5th Pillar's President, Mr. Vijay Anand spoke about, “Freedom from Corruption”, and explained in detail about our ongoing projects and campaigns. Wedding is a place where the people gathered can express their concern in an informal manner and they open up easily to the existing problems. Some of them had some pending issues and hence got our office contact info to file RTI petitions.

    5th Pillar conducts RTI training for the Retired Government Employees of Cuddalore District

    Retired Government Employees meet once a month at the Retd Govt Employees Association Office in Cuddalore once a month. They had invited 5th Pillar earlier to present about our organization. They wanted to get a training on filing RTI petitions and so had requested our organization to conduct RTI training for their members during their monthly meeting on 5th September. Virudhachalam chapter coordinator of 5th Pillar, Mr. Santhanamoorthy conducted the RTI training session for all the 100 members present on that day. Training them was very interesting as they had additional information to share about their line of work. This empowers each of them to better utilize this skill to help fellow citizens.

    5th Pillar conducts RTI training for the agriculturists of Erode District

    Erode chapter of 5th Pillar conducted an RTI training for the agriculturists of the Erode district at their Agriculturist association on 1st September. Mr. Ramar, retired forest department staff who is a member of the Coimbatore chapter of 5th Pillar, conducted the RTI training for all the participants. He explained in detail about the standard procedure and how to phrase the questions to get the expected reply. Example questions for obtaining certain delayed services were very useful guidance. Agriculturists encounter corruption in many areas and the use of RTI to address their issues was very useful for them. Some of them from the participants recounted the problems they experience and requested guidance in tackling the problems.

    5th Pillar was aired on All India Radio

    Executive Director of 5th Pillar, Mr. Bhanu Kumar was interviewed by All India Radio on 3rd September, about RTI. The program was aired on 10th September, and will have a repeat once every 3 months. Right to Information Act is a blessing in disguise for the common civilian who is otherwise hitting the brick wall in regard to obtaining services, from any department. We are hoping that we can reach people of different sections by this program, and they will learn of this Act and try to implement it to their benefit or at the least approach us for help in filing these petitions. Awareness reduces incidents, and that is what we are trying to achieve.

    5th Pillar conducts awareness campaign at FEDCOP, Madurai

    Federation of consumer organizations of Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry (FEDCOP) organized a meeting on 29th August and invited 5th Pillar to present our objectives and our mission. Mr. Balaji, coordinator of 5th Pillar, Madurai Chapter addressed the event that was attended by 80 members. He explained about the operations of 5th Pillar and our field activities. 5th Pillar's goal and mission and our mode of implementation was highlighted. Right to Information Act and its adoption to facilitate access to denied services was explained in detail. Participants were encouraged to approach our organization to get free counseling in filing an RTI petition. Zero Rupee Note which is an anti-corruption tool also includes the contact details of our organization was distributed along with the pamphlets of our organization which has all the relevant details about the RTI Act. Audience who comprised of participants from many districts of the state were very eager to start a local chapter of 5th Pillar in their hometown to facilitate their neighbors. Empowerment is crucial to eradicate corruption and hence our mission will continue.

    5th Pillar takes part in the Aarush 10, techno- management fest organized by SRM University, Chennai

    Aarush 10 is a techno- management fest organized by SRM University. This year their pledge to bring out solutions to the common problems overlooked by current technologies, which hinder the development of mankind, included our organization whose goal is to eradicate corruption to alleviate the social status of mankind. 5th Pillar took part in the 4 day program from Sep 1st to Sep 4th. They organized a rally on August 31st, where all the participating organizations carried their banners and went on a procession to create awareness. Student volunteers of 5th Pillar carried a banner of the Zero Rupee Note and marched along and also took a oath to neither accept nor give bribe. Zero Rupee Note was distributed to all the participants of the event who were students also from other educational institutions and other organizations. The participants after the rally to an oath to neither accept nor give bribe, by holding the Zero Rupee Note.

    5th Pillar was assigned a stall in the SRM Campus where we displayed the Zero Rupee Note Banner and distributed it to all the participants of the event on all 4 days. We had on display our monthly Tamil magazine , MAATTRAM and  RTI pamphlets. Students from other institutions and other corporate organizations who participated at this event welcomed the idea of anti-corruption which is the root cause for the decay of our socio-economic status.

    On 2nd September, Mr. Vijay Anand, President of 5th Pillar spoke on the topic of “Freedom from Corruption”. His talk on the current scenario and the effect of corruption in our society was highlighted with examples to express the need to address this social evil that is debilitating the growth of our nation. His speech was very well received by all the participants and the students of SRM have planned to initiate a student chapter of 5th Pillar called SAC (Students against Corruption) in their institution.

    Click on the youtube link to view the rally of 5th Pillar at the Aaruush 10 fest at SRM University.
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    Monday, September 6, 2010

    Mr. Vijay Anand speaks at the TEDx conference at JNTU University in Andhra Pradesh

    Mr. Vijay Anand was invited as a guest speaker at the TEDx conference held at Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University (JNTU), Kakinada in Andhra Pradesh. TEDx gathering is where people share their innovative ideas that they are implementing to alleviate the norms of our society. There were more than 200 participants from around the world and Mr. Anand was asked to speak about the activities undertaken by 5th Pillar to tackle corruption in India. Zero Rupee Note used to confront the corrupt was highlighted as the novice tool adopted by 5th Pillar to combat corruption. Corruption has become a way of life to many and some have even started to justify their action of bribing by saying that they are smart to get things done on time. Mr. Anand's speech covered the overall aspects of corruption in our daily life and how it affects and propagates as a ripple effect, and destroys the society. He then explained about instances when the public have used the Zero Rupee Note in real situations and the ensuing success. RTI(Right to Information) Act is a boon in disguise for common man who would otherwise be hitting on a stone wall for delayed services. With this new Act people can get their delayed services delivered to their doorstep, like say for example when a person applied for a new ration card after his marriage, he waited for nearly 10 months and when he approached 5th Pillar he was advised to file an RTI petition, and was helped by 5th Pillar to file a petition. He received his ration card in 18 days. Zero Rupee Note and RTI petitions are used effectively to confront corruption and hence Mr. Anand insisted that every citizen should understand the ill effects of the act of bribery and take a stand to neither accept nor give bribe, which will only then put our country on the map towards road to success.

    Saturday, September 4, 2010

    5th Pillar campaigns against corruption at SSN Engineering College, Chennai

    In the “Freedom from Corruption” campaign organized by 5th Pillar, at SSN Engineering college, Chennai on 24th August, 2010,  Mr. Vijay Anand, President of 5th Pillar spoke about the importance of containing Corruption to establish ourselves as a super power. He emphasized that we have all the resources to elevate ourselves from the strata of third world country to a powerful nation , if we can stop the efflux of money to the offshore accounts. He stressed the importance of eradicating corruption, which if not contained would spread as cancer and will destroy the social fabric of our nation. Ways of combating corruption by filing RTI petition and handing the Zero Rupee Note to the demanding official was explained as success. Examples of success achieved by distributing the Zero Rupee Note cemented the ideology. He explained how each student can contribute by getting adept at filing RTI petitions which will facilitate their immediate surrounding. Students asked questions of different situations and Mr. Anand explained how each situation can be best handled. Zero Rupee Note was distributed to all the students who took a pledge to neither accept nor give bribe. They were very eager to form the student chapter of 5th Pillar called the SAC (Students against Corruption) in their Institution.
    Click on the below link to watch the presentation of Mr. Vijay Anand.
    View Gallery

    Friday, September 3, 2010

    RTI petition filed by 5th Pillar to retrieve payment for service provided

    The former Panchayat President of Tirupullani Panchayat in Alangulam Panchayat Union undertook an additional pipe line work connecting Alangulam and Kannangudi villages during the year 2005-2006 at an estimated cost of Rs. 40,000.The work has been successfully completed but the payment is yet to be settled even after four long years. Instead of making the payment to the Panchayat, the Panchayat Union has issued the cheque to a third person, and he has misplaced the cheque. The payment for the work completed in the year 2006 is yet to be settled. The then Panchayat President has submitted a Non- encashement certificate and has requested for payment,which was never taken note of. Representations have been sent to the Panchayat Union, Alangulam as well as the Project Officer, District Development Agency, Ramnad during February, 2010. There has been no response from any of these people. The then Panchayat President approached 5th Pillar for a possible relief. An RTI representation was made on 30th August 2010 to the Public Information Officer, Panchayat Union, Alangulam to provide information under the Right to Information Act, 2005.


    The Public Information Officer,
    Tirupullani Panchayat Union,
    Ramanathapuram Dt.

    Dear Sir,

    Sub : Information under Right to Information Act, 2005-
    Outstandings to Mangalam,
    Former Panchayat President of Tirupullani

    I request that the following information may please be supplied under
    the Right to Information Act, 2005 in respect of the outstandings to
    the former Panchayat President of Tirupullani Panchat , Mangalam for
    the pipeline work completed by them during the year 2005-06

    1. When was the additional pipeline work from Alangulam to Kannangudi
    entrusted for execution?

    2. When was the work completed?

    3. Has a cheque for the pipeline work been issued to the tenderer?

    4. Who was the actual tenderer and to whom the cheque was issued?

    5. When was the cheque actually issued and what was the amount of the cheque?

    6.Has the cheque been encashed as per reconciliation?

    7. If the cheque has been handed over to a wrong person, who is
    responsible for the issue of the cheque to the wrong person?
    8. What action has been action against the person who has handed over
    the cheque to the wrong person?
    9. If the payment has not been settled so for, when is this likely to
    be settled?

    I request that the above information may please be supplied at the
    earliest, since it is already four years, since the work has been
    completed. I have enclosed court fee stamps worth Rs. 10, as per
    requirements of the Act.

    Thanking you
    Yours sincerely,

    Repeated RTI appeals by 5th Pillar finally yields results

    Mr. Hari krishnan S/O Rajamanickam , Puliyanthurai village, Kollidam (PO) , Sirkali T K Nagapattinam Dist is a member of our organization who filed a petition under RTI Act(under our guidance) with the Puliyanthuri Panchyat seeking certain information regarding income and expenditure of the panchayat, like details of drinking water pumps provided to the village, details of ENREGA programme implemented in the village, single light scheme to households etc ., for four years from 2006 to 2009. The RTI was filed on 16.12.2009. Since there was no reply from the PIO within the stipulated time of 30 days first appeal to the appellate authority(District collector) was sent on 04.02.2010. There was no reply for the same even after the lapse of 30 days, hence preferred a second appeal to the State information commission on 17.03.2010. Reminders were sent to the commission to expedite the reply on 18.05.2010 and 04.08.2010.
    Surprisingly a reply was received from the President of the Puliyanthurai Panchyat on 05.07.210, informing that the complainant can visit the Panchayat office any time and verify the records since it involves huge expenses for sending the details called for. The same reply was given for all 21 questions raised. Instead of visiting the Panchayat office, foreseeing the problems he has to face in verifying the records the complainant requested them to inform the amount of fees to be paid for getting the information and records . Received a letter on 05.08.2010 asking him to pay Rs16890/-. When he approached the Panchayat officials for paying the fees, he was threatened by the President that he will not provide any information and sent him out without accepting the fees amount.
    Finally an inquiry came on 19.08.2010 State Information Commission ,Chennai wherein the The Block Development officer of Kollidam Panchayat union, a clerk from Puliyanthurai Panchayat, Mr. Harikrishnan along with Mr Subramani Director Operations attended . The BDO pleaded that he has joined very recently and brought replies for all except 3 questions which he will provide in 2 days. We have demanded to pass strictures on the erring PIO . On hearing both the parties The information commissioner, Dr.Perumalsamy, ordered to give the replies on or before 23rd September. at free of cost as the information is not given in time.
    We are informed by the PIO over phone that replies were sent by RPAD on 25.08.2010, and the complainant also confirmed the receipt.
    Since there is lot of irregularities /anomalies found between the records provided and the actual happenings in the execution of projects he is planning to report the same to the District Collector for further action or to file a PIL.